“Someday, all of this will be dust or obsolete.” He stretched, took a quick slurp of his coffee, and rubbed his eyes.
He stood and went to the window. The rain was falling hard at an angle, splattering the glass with an angry sound, forming streaking rivulets. Outside was an assault of shapeless grey forms, roiling clouds of precipitation and evaporation, a milling rabble of early morning mist that amplified the dawn light.
Still, I waited.
There was a look in his pale eyes, a far-off melancholy. I had seen that look many times before, and I knew he was thinking of a past life. Already well into his fourth decade, he had experienced several other existences. Once a carpenter, another time a private courier, five years a stage musician, three a writer of cheap sensationalist articles for a now-dead website. What was he now? A man of leisure? He would never refer to himself as such, but then perhaps it was not his place to define.
“It’s important not to hold too tightly to such things,” he said, and sat back down. There was a hard determination in his movements, as though he was fighting to master a chronic pain. He picked a flat black device up from the table and brandished it like a switchblade. “These things we’ve made, especially these ones that so enrapture us to the point of symbiosis.” He dropped the thing. It clattered and wobbled but did not break, then laid flat and defiant, its polished surface reflecting the beams and patterns of the ceiling. “Sometimes I despair because I understand that we’re all just stress-testing the future. Making things safe for the generations to come, and that there’s never going to be any kind of peace in it.”
“How do you mean?” I asked.
“Progress is never ending. Can you foresee an end to it? Not only in the realm of technology but in all our endeavors, from the social to the political to the romantic. Every field we’ve invented for ourselves has limitless potential, because we as sentient beings have the same infinite heights. A more philosophical person than I would say that the journey is more important than the destination, but how true is that when there is no destination?”
“Would you rather that things had a definite end?” I asked.
“That’s the cruel irony of it, isn’t it?” He snatched the device up again and locked it in a white-knuckled grip, as though trying to crush it. “As a species, as a mob of creatures procreating further generations, out into that misty future, we are a line without end. But as individuals? We lead mean, small, and brutally short lives that have very definite ends. Not even one of us has managed to escape our eventual fate, have we? We are simply expected, perhaps by cosmic predestination, to embrace altruism as a means to some metaphysical immortality in the form of making a better future for those to come. And yet we are cursed with self-awareness that in turn fosters selfish desires that we must then curtail with complex systems of absolution brought about by introspection, like snakes eating our own tails. Ouroboros all, down to the last of us! And all that struggle would exist regardless of how advanced our technology was.” He slapped the device down again, as hard as a domino, his scarred hand covering it completely. “Our primitive ancestors no doubt had the same struggle. Perhaps with less overall awareness, but they must have peered into the dark of the night just as we stare into the dark of our future, and asked themselves what it all was for.”
“But you have a choice,” I said.
“Do I? Do we?” He looked at me with his pale eyes. I felt myself falling into them, caught up in the ponderous air he had conjured with his diatribe. “There are perhaps many paths away from the point you find yourself on, if you even find yourself at all. But only a few of them lead anywhere meaningful, and despite all our deepest desires to continue serving ourselves, the clarion call of a greater good keeps herding us down a particular path. Usually at the end of a cattle prod.” He laughed.
“It’s the weather,” I said. He looked at me like I was simple, then smiled.
“Maybe you’re right,” he said, and once more picked up the device. He tapped its surface and it glowed to life. He started to flick at it with his thumb, and within moments he was absorbed. I went back to my reading, and outside the rain continued to try to pound its way inside.
2015.02.05 – 2023.09.03