This is too intense. Worse than the torture of asphyxiating and equally out of his control, because this is not a memory he is retrieving of his own volition. It’s somehow being projected for him, against his will, and he thinks perhaps there’s a reason our memories are kept hazy and out of focus. Maybe their abstraction serves as an anesthetic, a buffer protecting us from the agony of time and all that it steals and erases.
How does one define a “simple” memory anyway? Is there even such a thing when it comes to the human condition? Consider the albatross that landed on the platform during her run this morning. It’s a mere flicker of thought in her mind that will one day be cast out into that wasteland of oblivion where forgotten memories die. And yet it contains the smell of the sea. The white, wet feathers of the bird glistening in the early sun. The pounding of her heart from the exertion of the run. The cold slide of sweat down her sides and the burn of it in her eyes. Her wondering in that moment where the bird considered home in the unending sameness of the sea.
When every memory contains a universe, what does simple even mean?
She had spent her career attempting to make contact with the most remote and alien of strangers, while in her own life she had made contact with hardly anyone at all. She had been fierce in debunking the creation myths of others, and oblivious to the lie at the core of her own. She had studied the universe all her life, but had overlooked its clearest message: For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.
At the Station, she had learned a kind of humility, a reminder of how little the inhabitants of Earth really knew. There might, she thought, be as many categories of beings more advanced than humans as there are between us and the ants, or maybe even between us and the viruses. But it had not depressed her. Rather than a daunting resignation, it had aroused in her a swelling sense of wonder. There was so much more to aspire to now.
“After all these years, believe me, I know the truth when I see it. Any faith that admires truth, that strives to know God, must be brave enough to accommodate the universe. I mean the real universe. All those light-years. All those worlds. I think of the scope of your universe, the opportunities it affords the Creator, and it takes my breath away. It’s much better than bottling Him up in one small world. I never liked the idea of Earth as God’s green footstool. It was too reassuring, like a children’s story … like a tranquilizer. But your universe has room enough, and time enough, for the kind of God I believe in.”
“I want to know what you think of us,” she said shortly, “what you really think.”
He did not hesitate for a moment. “All right. I think it’s amazing that you’ve done as well as you have. You’ve got hardly any theory of social organization, astonishingly backward economic systems, no grasp of the machinery of historical prediction, and very little knowledge about yourselves. Considering how fast your world is changing, it’s amazing you haven’t blown yourselves to bits by now. That’s why we don’t want to write you off just yet. You humans have a certain talent for adaptability—at least in the short term.”
“That’s the issue, isn’t it?”
“That’s one issue. You can see that, after a while, the civilizations with only short-term perspectives just aren’t around. They work out their destinies also.”
“The first thing you picked up from us was that Hitler broadcast. Why did you make contact?”
“The picture, of course, was alarming. We could tell you were in deep trouble. But the music told us something else. The Beethoven told us there was hope. Marginal cases are our specialty.”
“I know you think nobody has anything to learn from you because you’re technologically so backward. But there are other merits to a civilization.”
“Oh, music. Lovingkindness. (I like that word.) Dreams. Humans are very good at dreaming, although you’d never know it from your television.”
Drumlin, like many others she had known over the years, had called her an incurable romantic; and she found herself wondering again why so many people thought it some embarrassing disability. Her romanticism had been a driving force in her life and a fount of delights. Advocate and practitioner of romance, she was off to see the Wizard.
Knowing of Vaygay’s careless smoking habits, they had decreed that no cigarettes could be carried on board the Machine. Lunacharsky had uttered fluent maledictions in ten languages.