Invincible Silence (novel excerpt/chapter 6) The morning sun rose predictably in the east but Khanda knew not whose side it was on. He had laid awake, revolving the entire night in his bed, moving from thrill to dread, from perturbation to anticipation, and now his stomach wrung as the sun's rays prowled in through the gaps of the shades and crept ever closer towards him. After reading his own book of verses many times over and contemplating on his words ad nauseam, Khanda still did not know himself now anymore than he did a week ago. Just as his mind (lulled by the exhausting of its own self) lapsed, and his eyelids began to sag, the Integrage initiated its matinal salutations.
Khanda’s mind defected from his body at the station- both the severity and surreality of the situation made it hard to fathom the test that stood before him and so he kept to the corners of his post with head hung low, bumbling his way through his words whenever prompted to speak. To register as indisposed would warrant a house call from the proxies, whereas leaving after his work could give him a full weekend head start before anyone noticed his absence. Arriving at home, Khanda threw off his clothes and pushed the grey ON button as he hastily stepped into the shower; the disinfectant steamed out of the vents, engulfing him in its cloud. Khanda observed the mass of micron air-born droplets, harmoniously billowing in cursive movements. How were they different from the molecules that constituted his own body? The relative space between the droplets was prodigious and yet, Khanda simply couldn’t distinguish the water from the air. He mused on the similitude between the two elements in their greater forms: how they moved in currents and rested in stagnation, how they required matching mechanics to propel oneself through them, how they both contained particles perpetually drifting within them, falling to the floor only to be kicked up again by some updraft or creature. As trite as the mulling was, it contained the capacity to deafen Khanda’s urgency. Stepping out of the shower, he pushed his leg into the floor, flexing his thigh and calf, extending his bones, and drove onward, taking in each step completely. He gently kneaded his shirt in his hands before putting it on. A shout on the street below, a bus gearing up, his two bags slipping over his shoulder, the door delicately closing behind him and locking, his wary, not weary, but wary tromp down the stairs out the back, the opening of Simone’s car door, its scanning and accepting of his key: the faintest of sounds made themselves felt in Khanda’s core- he became the sounds, and fear resided in him not for he heard it not, his imagination remained at ease.
Khanda activated manual drive and refused the system's request for a destination. He drove south on the rapid-pass for an hour before exiting the citadel’s nucleus and finding himself on an open highway straddled by ivy walls. A couple more hours elapsed before he approached an unmanned border station with a massive sign that read:
YOU ARE LEAVING THE SANCTITY & PROTECTION OF ZENITHIA. BEWARE THE DANGERS OF THE MARGE.
Once passing through, the ivy barrier on the east side abruptly ended. Running parallel to the highway ran the Induction Rill, the main means of transport between the seven sister citadels. And although it ran directly next to the highway, Khanda could not see it, for an infinite line of pine trees hid the glass tunnel’s entrails. Khanda remembered his suspicions during the championing of the initiative to plant 100,000 trees in the Barge. The High Priestess had already proclaimed that any expansion of Zenithia into the barge to link the satellite citadels would require a complete re-planning of the devastated landscape, which included further decimating anything still standing amongst its wreckage. "Why plant trees where there will be eventual reconstruction?" he thought. Now he saw that the trees were all planted on the sides of the Rill, so as to block the sight of past cities from the travelers.
The most negligible of signs indicated the I-85, the main westerly road. Khanda's surprise came less from finding the junction closed off, and more so from the fact that only the simplest of iron chains was employed to restrict its access. He got out of the car and halfway stood on the chain to test its integrity, then backed the car up and accelerated towards it. If the chain held, the injury to him or the car could be fatal to the mission. However, it did not, and with a great snap, Khanda was driving onto the highway where the outlook had changed considerably. Khanda felt relieved that the highway still stood, however, its condition forced him to question whether it stood still; reaching fissures, broken hunks of cement, and man-sized potholes that riddled its facade, and the considerable overgrowth of plants that sprung up right in the middle of its lanes, all presented a significant obstacle to the expeditiousness with which he wished to travel, causing him much consternation. The highways connecting the eastern citadels were only moderately maintained in case of an emergency with the Rill, and this road which only ran westward didn't look like it had been traversed or maintained since the last blast. Although Khanda questioned its drivability, he did not wish to guess his way through the underlying streets, moving only by his amateur knowledge of the sun and its trajectory. “What an idea- being led by the sun”, he thought, "that ghastly eye-soar, that scorcher of earth, that searer of skin, that agent of suppuration."
He pushed on as quickly as he could, weaving through the surfeit of obstructions. Long stretches of advertisements in the form of dilapidated billboards enclosed the sides of the highway once more, some of them stretching for a hundred meters- once necessary for the blazing drivers that used to cross this track like sparks from an arc weld. Every few meters or so, a billboard either busted or missing, rhythmically exposed the scenery beyond and for only each second, Khanda glimpsed a past city stretched out before him like a once writhing, now smoldering body upon the pyre. Hunched buildings resembled desiccated ribs and with limbs mangled and deteriorated, the borough was now just a filthy carcass, no longer screaming in despair, but whimpering in silence amidst its own smog of corrosion. He found it inconceivable that any humans still lived there.
Khanda drove on for hours through the barren and decrepit wasteland, wondering about what life was like before the war, and what his life was like before the crash. To combat the somniferous effects of such excessive thinking and driving, he vigorously shook his head. He considered the old radio Simone had given him sitting in the passenger seat, observing its wooden exterior and metal knobs for a moment before looking forward once me. He then brought his attention back to it. It sat there looking back. He extended his hand and turned it on. He knew the Yugari provided a 24 hour loop of programming via radio only to the Barge, presenting the ideas of Zenithia in hopes of converting the destitute. He turned the knob slowly back and forth, getting only static until the one clear channel came through. An address of some sort was being presented by the High Priestess, Augustine Zarathustra herself. The level of austere calm with which she spoke made her voice instantly recognizable. Khanda listened as he slalomed through the bushes that made themselves known through the concrete.
"Individuality- what was it about this pretense the Post-Modern Phase found to be so beneficial, glorious even, so inspiring, they regarded it as a suitable object of worship? A better question might be: what does an addict find in their addiction? As far as we can see, even when taking their vantage point, with all their detaching classifications, individuality, from the governmental aspect, to the social, to the personal, holds but two overriding traits: dependency and destructiveness. Both of these traits are the product of but one emotion: fear... and what is fear if not illusion?
To see oneself as oneself, that is, as an individual, is to perceive oneself as an isolated fragment- never the environment outside the skin, never the stars, never the community, nor the land- only that which goes on inside the body. And yet, even they knew that humans grow out of this world as does everything else. We can only imagine the alienation, the separateness, the feeling of being cut off from being, this way of thinking inspired. By separating self and other, naturally, or quite unnaturally I should say, fear arose and conflict within and without became the norm. You see, you cannot describe anything without taking into account its surroundings- how could you speak of a bird without the air it flies through or the branch it sits upon? In the same way that you cannot have a person without Zenithia, for what does this person walk on? What do they breath and eat? How are they supported as living beings? How is anything discernible without its ecological surroundings and relativity? And why should anything be discernible in the first place- for all is Zenithia.
This illusory thinking was compulsive, governing every interaction amongst themselves. They called the agent of their self-identification "personality"... such a puerile word. The few surviving etymological resources reveal the word "personality" derived from an ancient word, persona, which was the name of the mask performers wore on stage in the theatrical performances of their time. In the same way, every interaction between citizens was a performance in itself, a performance to win a false impression over the "other"- a false impression of security, of wealth, of superiority. To win over others was to be successful and to be successful was to be happy. Not at peace, but happy. Just the sound of the word happy, invokes some kind of plastic, joke of an emotion. Personality was a farce, personality was pseudo, personality was that which was given to you by a masquerading society. Personality was imposed on you from the outside; it was a mask. Personality was aggressive, violent, dominating, political. It fueled their thinking in the distinction between themselves and the supposed world around them... and it was their destruction.
Based on a theory labeled "competitive individualism", their capitalistic economy reduced beings to pathetic, advantageous microbes whose only purpose in life was to get the best of each other. Their competitiveness, however, was only a symptom of the root problem-that fatal, contagious disease of individuality -that little worm in the brain that grew large enough to rule all the humans on Earth. We can see from this, that it is a matter of fact, that where there is individuality, there is oneupmanship. Where there is oneupmanship, there is a class system. Where there is a class system, there is oppression. But we cannot blame those of the Post Modern Phase for they were still stuck in the process of evolution, and could not stand and see from the supereminent precipice of Zenithia, the quintessential intersection of space and time. But we must know that no one gains victory when it is you vs. the other, illusion vs. illusion, for there is no other and there is no you."
Khanda remembered in the first speech he heard from the High Priestess that 'Zenithia paradoxically, is you and yet is much greater than you.' Her words over the year seemed to ramp up in their zealousness.
"Self-will, self-interest, self-centered thinking, selfishness, if you feel any of these within you, know it is the residue of evolution tugging at your mind. We have turned that corner already. Out of the sanctity of our spirit, out of enlightened action, out of the goodness of our hearts, Zenithia allows you to live amongst us. Chase your selfishness out for we live in the sacrosanctity of Zenithia, where personality and selfness have fallen to wholeness. Zenithia is unity itself. Zenithia is impassable; for where this perfection and unity, there can be no suffering. The capacity to suffer arises where there is imperfection, disunity and separation from an embracing totality; and the capacity is actualized to the extent that imperfection, disunity and separateness are accompanied by an urge towards the intensification of the creaturely conditions. Selah."
Khanda felt as if he had heard these words before but not from the mouth of the High Priestess. And although he knew the Yugari had an aggressive, dominating, political, and even violent intent of its own, he could not argue with their philosophy. He had no ground to stand on and no means of leverage by which to assert something to the contrary.
"With all the humility in my heart, I urge you to let go of your archaic idea of identity, your primitive desire to stand above, and immerse your mind into that which you are already inextricably immersed," she continued.
"Recognize and accept that you are (beyond your mere thoughts) already indelibly engrossed and rejoice. Zenithia is the stream of life, and to swim against its current is futile. To swim with its current is to force that which is already being taken care of. The key is not to swim at all, but to float. The more you relinquish power and trust the Yugari the more powerful you become- you must trust the job to everyone else. Remember, organic power over political power. Selah. There are those of you who still desire, who resist Zenithia and the peace it has to offer. Letting go of unadulterated and untamed addiction can feel near impossible. Communication with progenitors, ingestion of supplements outside the prescribed meal order, pleasure seeking in all its forms: these types of practices will forever feed your insatiability. Have you not seen how pleasures are only temporary and for all the pleasure they may give in the moment, they create pain afterward. It was this kind of attachment to worldly pleasures that ruined the Earth, reaping its resources in its quest for “things”. This is unacceptable. We will not be dragged back to the Post Modern Phase because the few, the dim few, refuse to see the light. For a moment I’d like to direct some hearty advice to you all:"
Her voice rose sharply.
"Observe the resistance within yourself! Observe the attachment to your pain! Be very alert. Observe the peculiar pleasure you derive from being unhappy and know the root of your suffering is desire. As you let go of identity, you must give up desire. Now, in the wake of the Post Modern Phase, is the time for humility!"
Her voice dropped significantly. "This is why we move by the art of simplicity. Our food, our gowns, all simple. We must be on peaceful guard against attachments for they come in all forms but perhaps the most illusory and difficult to evacuate are our conceptual fixations."
Kandha had been white-knuckling the steering wheel, but now relaxed his grip.
"Thoughts: when are their representations the real thing? The Post-Modern Phase, obsessed with words, with talking, confused symbols with reality, thinking the sun came up at the command of their clocks. They're constant rambling gripped them so much, that they identified with the mind. Western philosophy with its trivialities, grammarians, and mathematical logicians only sought to question and argue and quarrel and their achievements accomplished little more. Were not the most progressive scientific inventions and theories halted by those rutted in patterns of thought? Patterns of thought they called reason. Patterns of thought they accepted as axioms. Patterns of thought that could not, would not accept a new way? Reason is resistance. Reason is the grating against the rough underside of a new time. Reason is pain. Reason is the shadow cast by Zenithia, Zenithia is the Sun. To question is to resist what already is. Accept. Surrender. Float.
The Post-Modern Phase had its pioneers, those who were on the last cusp of evolution. They saw the vanity in disquietude, and worked to make their realizations heard, but could not be heard in the cacophony of the modernist malaise. Few of their auspicious writings have been salvaged and often there is no name attached to the teachings, and that is fitting, for truth belongs to no one but Zenithia, in all its glory."
Khanda knew that the Yugari had worked tirelessly to block any reprinting of Pre-Zenith literature by indiscriminately incriminating any printed word on paper, "in honor and reverence of trees and mother nature" as they stated.
Being that the Yugari controlled the Integrage, Khanda suspected that certain algorithms might be censored, if a brave soul with access decided to transmit any writings that were not already approved by the High Priestess.
“Quietness is a submission to fate," she quoted. 'What has submitted to fate becomes part of the always so, to know the always-so is to be illumined, not to know it means to go blindly to disaster.' How prophetic that this person saw the inevitability of Zentithia, which he called fate. The same person wrote the words read over many of our cafeterias entrance ways,
'He who knows does not speak; He who speaks does not know.'
It is true, 'you cannot practice too rigid a fast from worldly talk'. Listen not of news from the other citadels. 'What need of so much news from abroad, when all that concerns either life or death is all transacting and at work within us.' Nod to your neighbor in the morn, in respect to Zenithia within them, but talk to him not. Your words are an extension of your thoughts, of reason. Silence reveals all, but most importantly, when the mind is quiet, you are open to the now.
Another prophet of ours in their time, Jesus Christ, said, "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.' Fate, Heaven: these are all synonyms for Zenithia. Be as children he is saying- Zenithia is your parent."
Khanda’s foot on the accelerator became heavier. He blinked several times with his whole face, so as to relieve the tension behind his eyes.
"Be thoughtless, be present, be at peace. The past, where false identity is built, where there is regret, the future, which holds the unknown, therefore fear and anxiety, are illusions, for even when they are thought about, they exist only now. Zenithia is a ship cradled by sea of the cosmos and is never driven by the wake it leaves behind. Zenithia's organization is so perfect, so organic, there are no more things over which to worry. With no family, no career choice, no war, no money, what is there to worry about? All outcomes are perfectly predictable. There is no greater obstacle to your happiness than time. The New Modern Phase dedicated whole fields of research towards history. They celebrated the past, and from there derived their sense of identity, of pride. Empty your memory- and deliver yourself from sorrow, grief, and sadness, imperfections and sins. Any dissatisfaction is non-acceptance of this moment. This is why we also shave our heads- to rid ourselves of yesterdays seeds. We are a collective, indeed, the collective that time and humanity has been waiting for and building up to. There is nowhere else than now, nowhere else than the eternal Zen-"
A shaking Khanda turned off the radio. He found the drumming of the word "Zenithia" maddening. It continually ricocheted within the walls of his skull. He knew the High Priestess' claims were false, or at least misleading, and yet, he couldn't think of a single point on which to dispute her. Were her words not commentary to the ideas of his poems? He continued driving for hours, stopping only once to pass water, passing city after city, each as derelict as the last, hoping that he could find a decent, more hospitable place to park his car to sleep.
The night and its never too far accomplice, the cold, settled and dug in for the night. The solar powered city lights gained presence with the retiring of the day, and now eerily lit up a dead city ahead. This left Khanda with an unsettling feeling, like bearing witness to someone who has died with their eyes open. Khanda's focus started to slump, the structures around him melded as lights traced passed him. He couldn't put off stopping any longer- the next off ramp would have to be his last for the night. Grand views of far a way places always cast them in a cleaner, orderly light. Even with the horrific picture presented by Khanda's view from the highway, he was not prepared for the unnerving sight on the street level. He cautiously drove through the thrashed streets, now weaving through abandoned objects in the road, burnt up cars and rubble from nearby buildings, looking for a safe place to park for the night.
Spotting a softly-lit, vacant parking lot, Khanda pulled up to a tattered brick wall and deactivated the car, before climbing to the back seat. Without heating, the cold descended upon Khanda so fiercely that he put on an extra robe while keeping his shoes on, then pulled the two blankets tighter against his body, but these measures were of little help, within minutes he vibrated like a jackhammer. His exhaustion was no match for the cold; he would not be sleeping tonight. Just above his shoes, through the window, Khanda noticed flickering flames far ahead. He pushed himself up to look more closely through the window. The flames belonged to a lit trashcan- a handful of people huddled around it. With robotic movements, he got out of car, paying little attention to the foul stench of the outdoors and walked hurriedly towards them, figuring the fire would supplement for the blankets he left in the car. His experience interacting with vagrants was limited being that there simply weren't homeless people in Zenithia, and as he approached, Khanda began to fathom the precariousness of the circumstance: it was not just a possibility, but a probability that these men would rob him of his supplies, car, and life.
As he approached, the air worsened from malodorous to mephitic. The men made no acknowledgement of him, and it was not until he stood just a few meters length from the opposite side of the fire and began to speak that a few of them lifted their eyes.
"Uhhh, hello, I was wondering if I, umm, if I could give you some of this," he stammered through his nervousness and cold, pointing to his bag of grains and fruit, "for that," he pointed to the fire with his other hand.
Suddenly he had everyone's undivided attention. They were a wretched bunch- five of them- all men, with leather faces and coal for eyes, bundled in the most unusually tight fitting, threadbare outfits instead of Zenithian robes. These were accessorized by head scarfs, blanket capes, and ripped gloves that displayed their greasy hands and unchecked fingernails. A wide man, with a grizzly whitish-grey beard and wild green eyes approached Khanda. "What you got there?" He bellowed in a cavernous voice.
He took the bag from Khanda's hands and began tossing its various contents to the seated men. The man then turned back to Khanda with a confused expression, as if surprised to see him still standing there.
"What you want? Off with you."
A bemused Khanda froze. He began to stammer when the grizzly man guffawed.
"I'm just pulling your leg, boy."
He gave Khanda a hearty slap on the shoulder.
"Please, do sit," the man light-footedly curtsied in comical irony, gesturing towards a cushioned crate.
Khanda sat and tucked his limbs in, looking at the fire but keeping his head down, hoping that he would not to have to answer any prying questions.
"So, what's your purpose here?" the man with green eyes barked.
"Oh, uh, just passing through,” Khanda prevaricated.
"I see. Say, where you off to? This isn't on the way to any of the citadels."
"Yeah, I must have made a wrong turn somewhere. I'll figure it out in the morning."
An uncomfortable pause was made to feel seemingly endless by the older man who never took his animal eyes off Khanda while they quietly sat before the cackling fire.
"So, just passing through, uh?"
"Say, what do they call you in the city?"
"Not much of a talker, eh, Khanda?"
"I'm sorry, this cold, it's paralyzing." Khanda uttered while dramatically rubbing his hands together.
"Cold is like defeat, it is a state of mind."
"Then why the fire?"
“So you haven’t questioned why we’re out here and not inside one of these buildings? Have you ever seen such a beautiful thing?"
Khanda returned to silence.
"Well, have ya?"
"Well, I mean, its fire."
"Oh, its much more than that-"
The man who still hadn't introduced interrupted himself with an uproarious fit of coughing. Once finished, he continued unphased.
"You can't understand this but our line is a long one. We are the last purists, as it were. You see, fire is never a fixed thing, although the same flame is maintained, new fuel makes up the flame each and every second. This whole place has felt its wrath, and yet, right now, it's giving us warmth."
The man stood up, retrieved a large pine branch, and threw it into the trash can. The fire roared ferociously with gratitude. He then cast off his blanket in regal manner, stuck out his chest, and began to boom.
"I changed the sky’s color today, from vital blue to daunting grey, and noone believed that I could. The hills I undressed of their gown of fertile green exposing a mundane brown that defeatedly steamed, and triumphantly I stood. I convinced the people to all run away, although it would have been much more delightful if they had just stayed, for I had brought warmth to their homes, that once stood so frigid, and upright, geometrical, unblemished and rigid.
The other men, who had been entirely mute until now, apparently found the performance laudable, and reservedly cheered after this line and continued to do so throughout.
I made it snow today, floating soot colored feathers, a blanket of despair, now I feel much better. The sun I made orange, yes, I, with just these two hands, oh to conquer nature, how glorious for one man! Conducting like God, creating in my image, transforming all that is, till all that is, is diminished.
I changed the color of the sky today, from vital blue to daunting grey, and all it took was the strike of a match."
He took his bow amongst the applause of his comrades. Khanda smirked. He regretted not bringing his blankets from his car.
"Very good", Khanda appeased with his head lowered, rocking in his seat.
“The fire still isn’t enough, is it?”
“I’ll be okay.”
“Nope, its not enough. Its never enough for you people.”
Khanda snickered, “Us people.”
“Yeah, you people, you self-righteous zealots in that hellhole of a city, with your Procrustean values, your spiritual pride- you very lost people.”
Kandha could not believe he was referring to Zenithia as a mere city.
“You’ve been there?” Kandha questioned.
“Yeah, I’ve been there."
"Well, forgive us for dedicating ourselves to eradicating the transgressions of your predecessors,”
Khanda retorted indignantly.
The men howled. Khanda felt silly for defending the place he was escaping from. For the first time he doubted the tenability of Zenithia’s claims, but he doubled-down on his obstinacy, and continued.
"If you want to live here, in this filth, next to this fire, speaking nonsense go right ahead. No one is stopping you.” “I know, our ideas too provincial, our means far too abject- You're so far above this, eh? We have love, we have food and drink, we have fire- but it’s not enough. Let me ask you, how far would you go for warmth?"
The trenchant man stood up and walked towards Khanda. A shot of vulnerability ran through him. The man bent down to look him in the eye. Just then he pulled a blanket out from under Khanda, nearly toppling him over.
The men jeered.
"You were sitting on it the whole time."
Khanda embarrassedly wrapped himself up.
The man returned to his more benign, avuncular form.
"I'm just having fun with you, boy, that's all. Make sure you keep warm."
He handed Khanda some warm water.
"Thank you. In all fairness, I should be giving more to you, not the other way around."
"Well, I don't know about that. Besides food, we don't want nothin' you got. You know, we used to be able to give, too, but our purpose was ripped from us. I've been a drifter all my life, and I'll tell you, before the war, before they could just throw up a city in a matter of months, we used to serve. You see, then, we were still the downtrodden, the utterly useless in the eyes of all- looked upon even worse than the Apostates. We have long been known for offering nothing to society, but up to now it has been quite the contrary. They used to call us beggars, but giving was perhaps the biggest part of who we were. You see, us beggars used to give people like you an opportunity to give- and one is never closer to God than in the act of spontaneous giving. In those halcyon days people would approach us with a fist of change, or food or whatever, and give it to us- then their hand was left open. I cannot tell you how many times someone who was walking with their hands in their pockets, suddenly dig in when they saw me, give me some change, and then with their newly empty hand went to hold onto their partners hand- but thats what we did. We made people go from this," he made a fist, "to this," he opened his hand with palm out, "to this," he interlocked his hands. Now you might not think that's much, but if you ask me, we offered something much more valuable than most, and now we have been driven out of the citadel, into the dirt, and now the citadel is cold and sterile and everyone is alone."
Khanda sipped the water.
"A tree that does not give its fruit is a perishing one," the man with green eyes quoted.
"That's good. Where is that from?" asked Khanda, to which the man grinned with an odd gleam in his eye. "And in the end," he continued, "that's why we're still here, waiting, so that you might give, so that you might feel, so that you might accept."
The fire cast towering shadows that danced on the brick wall behind the men. Khanda stared at their glowing, filthy faces, then gazed into the fire. His eyelids fell for seconds at a time, disclosing a muted orange universe through which infinitesimal pixels of light moved like electric starlings, swooping in and out of mobius strips. He perked back up and surveyed the night sky. One never saw so many stars in the citadel, seven he could count from his seat alone. He looked back into the flame. Before long, his mind merged with the primal wordlessness of the fire, and the darkness of the ghostly night sky made its way under his eyelids, rectifying all the angst cast earlier by the day's morning sun.