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Flotsam

by C. Rommial Butler 9 months ago in Short Story
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Floating in Space Unperturbed

The aftermath of an experiment in symbolism through sound

Life: tender moments of light surrounded by pummeling darkness. If we did not cherish those moments, would we create such vast wastes between them?

These are the thoughts that occur to me as my escape pod drifts aimlessly through space.

Always the same. The finality. The irrevocability. Reality is real after all. We must accept failure, accept that success did not secure immortality, accept that liberty did not guarantee joy but merely its pursuit, accept... accept the pursuit of happiness as a distraction from the beckoning end, the bleak horizon, fade to gray and then black, no light, not even the light of a single star, no.

I do not know where I am, as all navigational systems are down.

Accepted, the end becomes a gentle embrace. We can be lovingly laid into the soft folds of eternity, absorbed, dissolved, relieved of the burden of awareness. The blotted moment, the stain of light on darkness, a sunspot, confers the grace, the meaning and the moral justification for staring into the sun, drawing closer to the source of heat, breaking free from a torrential stream of consciousness... or finally giving in to the undertow, to a somatic peace induced by a nervous system overwhelmed.

I ejected myself from the cargo ship on which I worked as a deck hand. Cregarian pirates had punctured an antimatter engine with a phase pulse and it caused a chain reaction of explosions throughout the ship. I had little time to think of the consequences of my actions.

Does the precious moment draw all of the surrounding space-time to itself, like a black hole? Could all the interminable rot and decay of our life be but the price, the cost of producing those singular, epic moments?

The name of the ship was Flotsam. It is an old word from a dead world, defined as the wreckage of a sea-faring ship. My ancestors fled from that world as it was destroyed by a superior race, so I will never see it, as it is in its own way only so much flotsam. As am I.

We only ask ourselves if the precious moment was worth it when we are paying the price, but we never question its quality, its veracity, its irrevocability, once we have already given in to it. Even when we conclude that the price is too high, we go on paying it anyway, don't we? How could we fail to move toward the powerful draw of the light which breaks free from so much darkness? We must move toward it, for it is an eidolon of the will within us.

I ignored protocol and fled, commandeering a pod to myself. I certainly must have doomed at least a few fellow passengers who could have otherwise rode with me. It was a mistake, and I want to say: I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.

Yet here I am, doomed as well. So I speak into the log on this pod, leaving my final thoughts for anyone who might find them; but most likely for no one.

I grew up in a colony my ancestors settled after many light years of passage through the cold, long dark of space. Their technology was primitive compared to what we have now, but it got them to another world. Once they were settled there, life became more primitive for many generations, but the old world knowledge remained, stored in various drives, files and devices to be built up and adapted to the resources of the new world.

Eventually, we found our way into space again, this time voluntarily rather than compulsorily. We found others, many others, in our own solar system—not like us but still also the same: drifting, dreaming, dying, but struggling to survive through the generations. We made a federation of planets, pooled resources, sailed the stars.

Yet we found others, also not like us, but still all too much the same: raping, killing, conquering. All over again, it seemed, the sordid history of the old world, that decimated planet of yore, would repeat itself in the stars beyond its fateful wreckage.

I fought alongside many fine soldiers, my brothers and sisters. I loved and laughed with them, I lost myself in the fever of battle, in the lust for experience, and experienced much pain and pleasure besides.

There were those above us in the chain of command who were more concerned with their own personal ambition than the resolution of these conflicts. They sold us lies about the other side to inflame our bloodlust while simultaneously selling our technology to the other side for profit. Of course, the other side was doing the same.

Before all of these facts came to light, I had been perusing the literary archives from the old world to pass my downtime on the front. I read extensively about the twentieth century, an era on the old earth following some sort of great war. People the world over referred to it as The Great War, the war to end all wars. Sadly, this was not to be the case.

During my reading I encountered a pamphlet written by a man named Smedley Butler, a decorated general. War is a Racket was the title. In it he describes the profits made by the businesses who provided weapons and other materials for the Great War. This spurred me to read about the unfolding of events throughout the rest of that century. It turns out that this burgeoning practice would grow into a behemoth for which one great leader coined the term “military industrial complex”. I thought to myself at the time that my compatriots and I were very fortunate to live in a future where such things no longer occurred. How naïve I was.

What's old is new, what's new is always getting old. These discoveries disillusioned me, and I had to walk away from the Federation, from my friends and family, from the life I loved. My culture still believed the lie I could no longer live and I could not peaceably exist alongside them. No matter which way I turned, people shunned me if I spoke up at all about this unfortunate truth, and I could no longer sing songs of praise to their respective ideologies, for I did not share a belief in any of them—or even any part of them.

So I drifted from job to job, ship to ship, planet to planet, keeping to myself while remaining disentangled from anyone or anything that might draw me back in to that web of deceit which seems to be the inevitable result of social interaction on the scale of civilization.

Yet here and there I still found lovers and friends, as well as serene moments that can only be born of solitude. Sunspots. I am merely flotsam floating aimlessly toward some unknown fate, but I know now that beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, but in the experience of the knower. I regret that I had to leave everything I once knew behind to know everything I know now, but it can't be helped. I do not seek to make excuses, to absolve myself, to save myself from these final lonely moments in the vacuum of space, for here too is beauty, both in my memory of the past and my experience of the present.

If drifting in this waste were a price I had to pay for those sunspots, those cherished, blazing stars in the vastness of my own unfolding life, then I am content to drift until the oxygen runs out, which I believe will be soon.

No price is too high, really, to achieve the irrevocable.

***** * *****

Afterword:

This story is a fictional reimagining of the title song from my second solo album, but it was also inspired by the following quote from an interview with Allen Ginsburg, who was fondly recalling the final years of his good friend Jack Kerouac, who was known to weep openly and frequently.

“Grief is not unadulterated pain. Grief is also mixed with a sense of majesty. And finality. And realization of ultimate reality. That's why people weep, because they realize the ultimately real is ultimately real. Irrevocably so, and there's only one life and this is it.”

Short Story

About the author

C. Rommial Butler

C. Rommial Butler is a writer, musician and philosopher from Indianapolis, IN. His works can be found online through multiple streaming services and booksellers.

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