“The Empire never ended.” (PKD, VALIS)
“I had a dream, my people,” the Old Sage said. “It was a dream come true. Which, if I think about it, actually makes it not so much of a dream. What was I saying? Oh yes… It was real.”
The Old Sage shuffled his leafy tentacles around. He was the shape of a sage plant.
“Millions over millions of years of evolution are piled up behind us, pushing us forth. We are sitting on the summit of mountains evergreen with wonder. We are the terminal inflorescence of the infinite tree of civilisations.
“And we, my friends, are not the end.
“Today, I’m handing over the Sword of Knowledge to my beloved son, and continuator, Young Old Sage the 49th. May we transfigure reality for ever more!”
A choir of mad ovations sprang into the air, deafeningly amplified by the canyon walls. Millions of voices welcomed the young leader.
Sitting alone on his couch, his mind half paying attention to the TV, was Alan Smith. The second half of his mind was asking the first half why it even bothered with that rubbish in the first place.
The phone rang. Jane. They were friends at work. He wasn’t all that sure he wanted to be friends with her otherwise.
“Is it busy,” he asked her. “How exciting. Indeed. Yes, I’m ill. I hope to return tomorrow. Flu. Usual. Headache, fever, glands are up. Yes, sit in bed with tea. I got the TV on… it’s fine.”
Both halves of his mind had hung up long before Jane did.
It wasn’t easy for the young ruler. Soon, his father died.
So many things were already known that reconfiguring them into the better unknown was going to take more than the minds of all brilliant Sages put together. But what else?
Soon, the armies of the Known Establishment stormed the empire, and The now Middle-Aged Old Sage the 188th had to pick up the Sword and lead the way into battle.
The archangels of victory serenaded over this new beginning. He was triumphant. And with the remains of the conquered fleets, the scientists and philosophers of the empire started building the next stage of universal transfiguration.
“What?” Alan answered. “Oh, it’s you, Jane. No, not coming in. Actually, I’ve got chicken pox. Yeah, must have got it from my niece the other week. Yeah… not too bad. No. Rash came up yesterday. Imagine that, after four days. Made me think it was flu. And imagine if I’d come in to work. Sylvia’s pregnant, isn’t she? Exactly, very dangerous. Just shows you how important it is to give it a rain check when you got the lurgy. I know… It might not be, but… No, haven’t slept all night. Something between a burn and an itch. Exasperating… I’m fine. You don’t need to bring me anything. Yes, doctor put me on antivirals but said it might be a tad too late. Yes, I hope they pay me sick leave. Yeah… bye now!”
Further attacks of the Known Establishment proved to be a joke. The Old Sage the 893rd, now finally old, thought this must surely be the end of an ancient war.
His Empire was in celebration. Minds were united in telepathic philos-sophia. A new wave swept through them all, a ripple of immediate enjoyment and don’t-worry-about-later. Everything was perfect, hence everything was still. There was no need for change, for change would have brought on the interruption of merriment.
They were in love and made love to each other in so many new ways, over and over again. All, except Old Sage the 893rd, who was too old to seek any other pleasure except the happiness of the others.
And from his privileged position, from the ancient white gold balcony from where his ancestors down to his father had held their final Sword-passing speech, he saw doomsday surreptitiously open its wings and land among his subjects.
Alan had had enough. He felt he was missing all the fun. He was just about to put his hat on and pop into work during his lunch break when he all but toppled backwards hearing the bell ring in his face.
He opened the door without asking.
“I knew it would be you.”
“What did the doctor say?” Jane scolded him. “You’re not supposed to be out until next week. Rest. Your immune system needs to pick up. Do you want to develop secondary infections? You’ll be on antibiotics for ages. That means no drink either. Can I take your hat? I brought you doughnuts. You’re supposed to scoff a lot of vit C. Here’s some oranges.”
“You shouldn’t have.”
“<<Thank you>> will do. Did you hear Frazier’s leaving? Oh well, doesn’t matter. Not for another month. You’ll get to say goodbye. How you feeling anyway?”
“Not too bad.” He took off his coat, then carried on, “The itch only lasted a couple of days. Then new spots came out but they weren’t sore. Now they’re all scabbed I think. And my glands stopped hurting. I should’ve thought it can’t be the flu with lymph nodes that size. Anyway, why am I telling you all this?”
“Because you love me.”
The Empire was crumbling. Not under pressure from an external agency. Like the ceiling of an old concert hall, it was caving under its own weight. People were so happy that they didn’t see a point in carrying on beyond their perpetually immediate instance of happiness.
They were together, yet they were isolated, for where individuality fades day by day, until none is left, there can be no unity between minds. Only one of immense proportions, dangling solitary above an unfathomable abyss.
They drank themselves to death. They played and climaxed into extinction. And all that was left for Old Sage 1657th was to summon his son to his deathbed.
He said, “Boy, there’s no point really in giving you that sword you see hanging in its sheath above the window, but you can take it anyhow… might impress the ladies. The Zoster dynasty has ruled this world for millennia. A speckle of something dark, nasty, smelly and solid in the ocean of time. Our lifespan mimics our size in front of the stupendous bigger picture. But who can see it? Perhaps one day, again… who knows? We might just take it all from the beginning. If there is a purpose at all.”