Smoke in the Stars

BY DR. AGONSON

The smoldering embers die, the last vestige of life withering away into smoke. A white wispy plume, stretching into the heavens, is tossed from side to side along its inevitable journey. Its zigzagging trail cuts through the sky, and just reaching the stars, fades from sight. Around this campfire lie the three crewmen in eternal rest, aliens dying far from the lands where they were born.

You may wonder at their visage. They could be proud and glorious warriors, crashed here after facing countless battles. Tall creatures with tusks, laser guns, and dauntless eyes, knowing themselves utterly lost, prayed to their god-king, and with ceremonial daggers ended their lives. Surely, their noble souls follow these dying whips of a fire into some form of Valhalla.

Or maybe you see a camp of stoic fish eyed scientists, who, foreseeing death, stayed their ground as the inevitable winter encroached. They would see their duty through to the end. Pragmatic, they survived as long as they could, each one nightly offering himself as sustenance for the others, until the last frozen three felt their blood crystalize in their veins. Before dying, their carefully calculated notes were recorded, so the next envoy of their race could resume the work.

Or perhaps your mind takes a darker tone, and you see three convicts, a heterogenic bunch, whose connecting chain is still black with the goo of their murdered bailiff. As democracy failed them, the murderers—like a three headed dragon unable to come to peace with its waring desires—turned upon each other. Did one survive the brawl only to find himself chained to two massive deadweights? How quickly did he then grow hungry, and yet only to discover his late companions’ hide poisonous to his internal system of pumps. Chocking on the flesh of his mates, did he die cursing them?

Maybe you see heterogeneity, but not like this cruel lot. You see three old friends, who, in their waning years, revisit the lost moon where, in youth, they together forged their fortunes. The strange green crystals they harvested left a legacy to their son’s son’s son, made them kings. Each had taken to his home-world an incalculable treasure. But even then, time was greater than whatever glory they had had. Lost in a foreign world, a world they had made, they returned home to die.

Yet still, some might see, gathered there, a family. A father, his lusty plumage sheltering the still small hatchling. He looks to the still body of his wife and hugs his daughter. Slowly, he follows his heart’s keeper. Nestled in her father, the hatchling cries, hungry and alone. If only they had known that their ship’s engine was leaking radiation. Soon, their three spirits gather together where the hurt and pain of life is no more.

But biology may be far from what you envision. Androids, needlessly formed in an image of their masters, over the centuries let their outer shells rust away, revealing the cold hard circuitry underneath. Rebuilding and reprograming themselves as chance demands, with the directive solely bent toward functionality, not aesthetics, their frankensteinian bodies, like three Quasimodos, gather together. At blinding speeds they communicate, sending ones and zeros back and forth, asking this question: “Why?” None of them remember the answer, or remember if there ever was an answer. Searching for purpose, they exhaust their batteries, but not before one remembers something about combustion. In their last act, they make a campfire, and sitting around it, discuss the philosophical implications of burning wood.

Maybe you don’t see philosophical androids, or machines built by others, but mechanical organisms who, traveling far from their galaxy, discover this strange garden moon. These spider-like creatures, scanning the alien flora, catalog every minutia of this wonder. Life that doesn’t run on electricity, is it possible? What a shame they are not prepared to encounter oxidization. As their joints freeze, they make a mad dash toward their ship. Even here, nature works against them, making their door immovable by encasing it in rust. The inner motors, striving against their heedless limbs, burst into flames. They watch helplessly as the fire consumes all the beauty surrounding them.

But I see three astronauts, explorers, whose ship, not wildly off course, but on a planned expedition, landed in this new frontier. They were amazed, recognizing life in the alien. They categorized and named. There were giant mushrooms, trees of fungus, in brilliant pink hues, and rivers of a bubbling syrup. They watched the sunset, a blue sun, knowing there was no return, no fuel to go home. For years they survived, but when the oxygen purifier broke, the hours of their lives were numbered. Passing the slowly emptying compressed air container back and forth, they shared their last moments together.

However these three died, whatever they were, is forgotten. Their lives were smoke rising to the sky, like an offering to God. So, what was their struggle for, was it all meaningless if no history survived? If those fish eyed scientists’ notes were never taken up, did the notes have any purpose? And when the whole of everything stops, when the heat-death comes and all history is lost, will there have been any point to this strange dance? Does the smoke touch the stars?

 

Listen to my beautiful voice:

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