- Sam Cromwell
I am Addicted to Emptiness
I am addicted to emptiness.
A Breathing Crevice is a phenomenon on Cateri VI, where the porous tunnels of rock are deep enough that they connect to vast, capricious underground climates. When night falls, the air cools and sinks into these tunnels, and when day returns the air heats up and is expelled. That is why I named them Breathing Crevices. But the force of the air was much stronger than I had anticipated, and although I had tried to stay clear of their openings, I wandered too close. The wind sucked me in, pulling me down a chute of smooth rock, to smash against a barren cavity below. Both of my legs shattered at impact, before the suit could slow or stop the fall.
I felt the pain only for a brief moment, before the suit injected my blood and turned the sharp needles into a numb absence. I lay on my back, swaddled in darkness, surrounded by featureless rock and buffeted by the wheezing inhale of a planet. I think that is when I first began to enjoy emptiness. The feeling was, paradoxically, exhilarating. All I could do was wait; that was everything.
The air began to shift and, in that interstitial moment between two extremes, the wind paused. My suit, with its micro-thrusters, lifted me into the air and flew me back to the ship. Once there, I dragged myself to the med-bay and engaged the First Aid control panel. The ship filled the small space with gas, and I plummeted again, this time into a dreamless sleep.
When I woke, the ship had operated on me. My legs were fine, good as new.
Memory is always tragic.
A million years ago, Lamberii’s sun began to swell. The planet was beset by constant streams of solar flares and invisible whips of radiation. Its plants withered; the animals starved. All of the sentient species that lived there evacuated while they could. Now the rainforests have turned to desert, and the world is filled with great plains of sand that are beholden to the tides of the moons.
Where I land, dusk is high tide, and so the only thing visible are the dunes. They are sweeping curvatures of sand, coloured with striations of amber, sierra, and burnt umber. The fierce orange of the swollen sun glitters along their length. The wind flicks plumes from their crests, whisking the top layer into streams of mesmerizing movement.
As the night passes in cool, near frigid temperatures, the sands begin to recede. Come morning, they have moved back a dozen feet, and exposed the stone city below, which once housed a billion beings. It is a city only accessible for a few hours of the day, until the sun begins to dip low again and the sands return, cascading over stone roofs and weeping from open windows.
Every evening, the sand fills the empty rooms, the long streets, the courtyards and marketplaces; the desert smooths over the entire city, replacing its hollows and crevices with a vaster, flatter emptiness.
I wanted to feel what the city felt, so during low tide I strolled its streets and found a forgotten palace, into which I wandered until I found the throne-room. There I waited, sitting in the ancient seat of a long dead king or queen. Had the ruler been around to watch their kingdom become swallowed by sand?
I waited for the sand to bury me. I heard it before I saw it: susurrations and secretive hissing coursed around me, the sound echoing from both above and below. Then a wave of sand washed past the arched windows, pooling below. The hours passed to the whispering and rushing of sand, as if I were trapped in the glass chamber of some enormous hourglass. The spaces between the buildings gradually filled, and dunes spilled in through the doorways and arches, piling into the throne-room, the golden tide reaching all the way to the tip of the throne before it stopped.
I was sealed in. My suit had plenty of oxygen; all I had to do was wait, and the sands would free me of their own will. But for those interceding hours, there was only chill darkness. As if I were far, far under the surface of the world, or buried under the bottom of a dry ocean.
You can not build yourself out of your mind.
Refforia’s third moon is a graveyard, although it was once home to one of the most architecturally innovative species in the galaxy. Refforians were known to construct exquisitely complex palaces, mansions, and tombs. Their cities were planned for a century before even the first stone was laid in place, with teams of mathematicians, architects, and stone-masons debating and outlining for years at end. Then, once all was pre-ordained, they set to building. From this arduous procedure arrived cities of breath-taking geometry, which verged on illusion: the perfect array of bridges, set against equidistant staircases, connected by colonnades and arched tunnels. Various planes of courtyards obscured distance and provided strategic vantage points at which one could overlook the masterful display of urban design.
But then their architects became possessed with a debilitating madness, some unknowable and infectious obsession. This cosmic disease rotted their rationality, and drove them to compulsive creation. Their palaces and cities became labyrinthine. Bridges rose at ninety-degree angles, terminating in empty sky. Tunnels arced downward for miles, only to stop abruptly. Some structures had no interior at all, while others featured branching systems of rooms without windows that defied convention and logic. Long hallways spiralled up and down, linking in bizarre and maddening circles. Domes and auditoriums swelled into absurd sizes, exhibiting nothing but large swathes of emptiness.
To walk through a Refforian city is to feel the irrational. Doors are of the wrong proportion. Streets go nowhere. It is an architecture hostile to life, to living. No longer does any living soul prowl these ill-proportioned paths. Rumour tells that the workers built themselves into rooms without exits, tunnelled themselves into unsolvable mazes, and trapped themselves into a geometry that they could not escape from.
Here it is all too easy to become lost in cold shadow, enshrouded in a nightmare of shapes that slowly close over you and become all that there is. Rooms and halls and stairs and alleys— all are devoid of features, fripperies, tapestries, statues, or any other artistic flourish. After three days of hopeless wandering, I collapsed, facing the underside of a staircase I had already traversed thrice over in my confused circles.
That was where my ship found me. My suit’s micro-thrusters lifted my too-weak body out of the maze and into the ship’s med-bay. Was I hoping to infuse some degree of life into these barren landscapes, or was I only trying to punish myself for something I could not have prevented?
All things in the universe have the same fate.
Xuun is the only planet in its system. One organism became dominant by cloning itself through its roots, and, over the course of four billion years, it expanded to fill the entire planet. It spread up mountains and dipped into oceans and slinked across plains. Its branches and limbs and tendrils and feathers reached into every crack and fissure; its mouths and feeders and gills and teeth fed on every source of food until it had eaten all, and was then forced to begin to consume itself to stay alive. So it continued to grow and digest itself as its sprawling mass smothered all the other life on the world. Then it was the only being left. And then it too died.
Now to visit Xuun is to traverse a world woven with a single corpse, part skeleton, carapace, shell, tusk, trunk, root. Pale and cold and slowly evaporating. It makes me wonder…does something similar occur after a seed of longing takes over a soul and feasts itself into oblivion?
For months I wander this world, strolling through the graveyard of a single entity. I walk beaches where white ribs rise as tall as towers. I walk across the palm of a vast hand, its numerous fingers jumbled together like trees of a forest. And I walk the mountain range of a spine, making my way toward one of the creature’s many heads, now only a crumbling skull that rests on a bed of stone.
I enter the skull through its mouth, climbing between broken teeth that are ten times my height. After hiking through a path of bleached bone, I find my way into the cranium. Old blooms of dead lichen decorate the inside of the curved walls. Gaps in the top of the skull allow sunlight to lance down, giving dimension to the dark cavern. But there is nothing left to give indication of the dreams and nightmares that once coursed through this alien brain, what fears once fomented in its glands, and what love once lavished in its lobes.
I am a crater, left from the meteor of nothing.
Adrix Prime, many billions of years ago, was struck by a stray asteroid, which killed half of its population. The other half gnashed their teeth and pummelled the ground and thrashed their limbs and acted in any way possible in attempt to expel their grief.
They contradicted their laws of science, they burned their literature, they smeared their art. And, in eventual solution, they worshipped the god of Nothing. This worship consumed their every effort. They built great invisible monuments to this god, and they re-fashioned their old structures in the image of this god. All architecture is presence, so they were forced to disassemble every tower, temple and tomb, one brick at a time. Slowly, the geometry diminished, making way for the intrusion of nothing.
Soon the only buildings that existed were in their own minds. This too, however, was something. So they erased even their own memories. Finally, they succeeded in inviting their god into their hearts and souls so that the nothingness would assimilate all their serrated despair and crippling anguish.
They were no more; they had no grief.
I walk a desolate planet, its only distinguishing mark the crater left from some ancient meteor. How can I possibly know this history that has dismantled itself and left no trace?
(I would have built a home for you).
There is a single house on a nameless world, where the geology has never reacted to organic molecules. Who built the house and when? It overlooks bare rock and featureless land. When I sit inside its single room and look out the bare window I feel something enormous stretching my chest past its confines, into vast proportions where it simply takes too long to feel anything at all; the emotions become desiccated long before they can cross the internal desert of the heart. And then the organs become hollowed and eroded like the relics of a failed civilization. The lungs become breathing caves. The mind exchanges places with buried cities. Finally, the little zaps of electricity between neurons have to jump too far to register and so they fizzle out into dark cerebral spaces; and everything alive and beating within the framework of curved ribs slides out to diffuse across infinitely smooth plains.
Sam Cromwell is an emerging writer, with work published in Curiouser Magazine.
Amber Allen is a contemporary painter whose work combines her passion for space travel, environmentalism, scientific theory and feminism. Always on the lookout for fun yet meaningful subjects, she explores the connections between our past and our future with a focus on space age themes as a metaphor for the human condition. Born in Indiana in 1992, Allen knew from the moment she completed her first still life painting at age fifteen that she would become an artist. Often moving from place to place growing up, she settled in the Bay Area for college and began to explore her disparate interests. A graduate of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Allen has exhibited her work in solo shows in California, and group shows across the US.