- Jul 1, 2018
With winter, the lights would flicker.
The days were always shorter, the sun shining less through the clouds. The solar panels on the roof of the old airport produced less power. Heating the vast chambers of the old terminals was too intensive with the high ceilings, even on the sunniest of days. The facility had been renovated fairly recently before Judgement Day, but no conveyor belts could run or neon coffee shop lights could shine when electricity was a commodity. Modern technology was relegated to the sidelines as the prehistoric technology of fire warmed and illuminated the halls.
The control tower was the priority. The control tower was his destination. The long-distance radios were there, always chattering and buzzing with the songs and quarrels of a distant world. Even the steps up to the communications chamber were illuminated with candlelight so not to risk the severance of that connection to the outside world. Human connection called to him in an emotional sense, yet on this evening his visit was a summons, not one born from curiosity.
As he ascended the steps into the chamber, the man was met with the solemn faces of several radio technicians. They turned in their seats as he entered, stood up, and exited the small room. The summons was to be a private one, it always was with this caller. This evening, even as he gazed down upon the distant campfires in the valley of Billings below and was immersed with the flickering screens and white noise static of dozens of radio personas, the man felt tethered to the person he was to speak with.
He sat down in the old office chair. He set his feet firmly on the ground, trying to give his mind a sense of place and stability as he prepared to grasp the receiver. His mind had to be clear, his position had to be stalwart lest the one diametrically opposed to him gain further ground in his villainous crusade against identity. He clenched the receiver and raised it to his ear. An almost inaudible mouth-breathing could be heard from the other line. The other caller had been waiting. The man wrapped the cord of the receiver around his pinky finger, his eyes focusing on the fires of Billings and the life that teemed amidst the darkness below. He had to speak first, it had to be him.
"I am here, I was told you wanted to speak to me" he confidently declared.
The breathing continued on the other end. It grew increasingly indistinguishable from the white noise whispering from the other speakers in the control tower. The man leaned forward in his chair, his eyes shifting to the old keyboard before him.
"Are you the-"
"As much as you think you are."
The other caller interrupted him. A carefully planned ambush had been triggered, baiting the man into playing his confident hand only to be met with ambivalent silence. Still, the man had to press onward.
"In mind, in flesh, in soul, I am here, unshaken."
"Unshaken in mind, perhaps. In soul, perhaps to yourself. In body, shaken to the core."
"What do you mean, what are you on -"
The man stopped himself, failing to foresee the weakness exposed by his question before he began to declare it. The caller took the opportunity.
"A mind without body, a soul without body, they are meaningless. Body and soul, they must be one. Your body is shaken because it is dust in a wind."
"And your body, what of it? Your body is not your own, it is not what you grew into."
"My body. Your body. It is merely a vessel for a mind constrained by an ever-wavering mass of flesh and nerves."
"Without flesh and nerves your mind is nothing, there is nothing to be had, there are no thoughts, there is no humanity."
"Death is the finality to humanity, not merely the absence of flesh. Through death comes rot, through rot comes the absence of flesh."
"And what is beyond? Darkness?"
"Humanity fears the unknown, and neither of us knows. Both of us fear to know. One of us clings to the hope that there is life after death. One of us clings to this life. You have asked this question before, you have cried into nothing."
"You have forsaken your humanity, your future, in the hopes of seeing that future for yourself. Why do you seek your own ruin?"
"Why do you hope for death to treat you fairly? To make you anything more than a worm doomed to consume the dust your current body will decompose into."
"Yet you are not even immortal, I have seen you. Pictures of you. There is skin, flesh. Your body is not immune."
"Continuous improvement is the impetus for survival. You know that there are further steps to be taken."
"And I have read the reports, listened to them. Intercepted them. Those who have tried have failed, have arrived at that so-called 'finality of our humanity' in the pursuit of releasing themselves from a mortal coil."
Almost silence. The mouth-breathing continued, no speech breaking the soft pants. Reassurance? Vindication? For the man, that was not important now. This was not done. The caller made sure of that.
"Why do you have faith in tales of those who destroyed themselves, yet you do not have faith in your own strength? In the ability of your own mind to overcome. You languish."
"I live. I heed the cautionary tales, the tales our ancestors told us. The poisonous berries, the venomous snakes. Yours is a tale older than that with which you corrupt yourself."
"And yet you believe yourself to be enlightened when the whispers of the dead restrain you with 'tradition'. Betterment through works, through maintaining purity in your own flesh, you believe this to be an avoidance of folly?"
"Do you believe that what you are doing will be an avoidance of the finality of death? That you are not simply prolonging the inevitable?"
"With my works, I purchase myself more time for this life. Your works aim to purchase an uncertain afterlife. Time will tell."
"The past informs the present. What you are doing, what your followers are doing, you are throwing away your lives and theirs."
"Their lives were over when they crawled into the waste, a hell where flesh is returned to dust by steel. The ancestors you speak of, they are dead. Our primordial ancestors, the apes, they were inadequate. They could not adapt."
"With our flesh we fight. We raise arms, we bleed, we die, but such is the cycle of nature."
"Nature whose cycle permits extinction and encourages the elimination of the weak."
"Nature who tells us, who champions those of us who find the strength in what we have to overcome."
"Nature who tells us to seize what is available to us to overcome. Your guns. The wooden spears of our ancestors. They are but tools we harness to arrive at our ends, and our fingers that scraped the ground to forage are no superior."
"You are artificial, impure. You are not a thing of nature."
"My mind is my own. My thoughts are my own. I am entirely natural, just another step. I have found strength in what I have."
The speech stops. There is no labored breathing anymore. The man reclines in his chair as he returns the receiver to its dock. His head turns back, staring at the dilapidated ceiling of the air traffic control tower. His feet, still firmly planted on the old tiling, propel him from the chair to stand. The fires in Billings, Montana were fewer now, the night later. The view from the airport control tower still lent the man the opportunity to observe some industrious shadows silhouetted against the fires as they conversed in streets or brought in drying laundry. This was normalcy, this was humanity. This was finding some strength in what humanity had been born with, not doing so by turning men into mere tools.
The lights flickered. It was late. The sun was gone for too long. It was time to leave the perch. The man descended into the candlelit stairwell.