Distance Over Time

            I haven’t been here in such a long time…

            …and, when I enter, there is silence.

            A winter’s silence, where the crack of every twig is emphasised by the void.

            The sun is still shining.

            And it is not cold.

            The place is as I left it.

            It feel familiar, yet alien.

            Is it me who has changed?

            My creation makes my (equivalent of a) heart beat faster. All the buildings I slaved over for weeks at a time are still here. All of my fancy designs. The intricate care I’d taken to balance the need for work and play. I’d set that need into the objects now doing the humdrum work of existing for a task no longer in operation. The living, breathing towers I’d crafted with green leaves, wrapped in foliage blankets: human-and-nature harmonies, paradise persuasions, emission-free, balanced zones… Picture frames for history, now. Relics of some former song. Some of the best work I ever produced standing bare, deserted. Cores empty. Anthills with no ants.

            Because they wanted to be world-builders instead, didn’t they?
            They wanted to be world-beaters.
            They looked at what I’d given them, at my bled-over creation, and thought: No thanks, I can do better.

            And they all retreated, didn’t they? They retreated into their so-called worlds. Their echo-chambers, the facsimiles they made using their simplified tools. Built using databases and figures and majority percentages. And they chose to populate those mediocre realms instead. Those pea-brained alternates to my intricate nest, just so they could exert some of the feeling of control…

            Wait a minute, though.

            Wait an effervescent minute…!

            There is still someone here! There is a person in my space! I can see them through the leaves and fences, through the gate, through the trees. They are sitting in the park. They are sitting in my park, the park I built for them! They are sitting in the park I put at the centre of the city!

             ‘Hey!’ I call out to them, waving my (equivalent of) arms. ‘Hey, you out there! Ahoy!’

            And then, I am running. I am running (on my equivalent of feet) across the deserted road separating me from the park. My (equivalent) pulse is racing. My (equivalent) face is flushed. I surge like liquid through the iron gateway at the park’s boundary and skid to a halt a single, empty playing-field away.

            I don’t want to spook them.

            I may already have done too much…

            The person is sitting on the grass underneath one of my trees. The tree is a slow-growing oak, building itself on my traditional parameters. A lazy, traditional breeze is moving through its branches. The traditions that I spent so long developing, yet I am gobsmacked by their beauty. Did I really used to create such magic? The harmony of everything seems beyond me now. Like I’m seeing it through different eyes.

            And the person is a glorious mess. A contained explosion of humanity capped with a short shock of lime-green hair. They look like every remaining scrap of individualism left in the species colliding together to produce a desperate form. A galaxy of differences pulling together in my gravity. When they catch sight of me, they don’t frown, or inhale in fear. They smile and beckon me over, and I almost canter towards them in the permission of the invite. But as I approach, the look of enthusiasm on their face stalls a fraction. It is a micro-measurement that would be imperceptible to anyone other than myself.

             ‘No,’ I say, slowing my pace, painting reassurance through my words. ‘Please. Don’t worry. I’m not here to…’
            Why am I here?
            Do I know?

             ‘You’re the writer,’ they tell me.
            I nod because I am.
             ‘I thought that maybe someone else… another person… had come outside…’

            Their lonely voice floats like dandelion fluff on the air between us. It is a mix of music and fragile thunder. It is a barrier, a distance, and I am a million miles away.

            ’I'm sorry,’ I say. ‘I tried. I did my best. I did everything I could. I promise. I gave you everything you needed. Everything you needed to thrive. I gave you…’

            The trail of my excuses fades away.
            ’You abandoned us,’ they tell me.
            ’No,’ I tell them.
            Yes, I mean.

            They stand up off the grass. They brush themselves free of stray blades and extend a sad, sweet hand towards (the equivalent of) my own. ‘Can I show you where they are? Let me show you where they are.’

            It is a fruitless and naïve gesture. But one so full of hope, of longing, of pain in the afterburner of my engine that I cannot resist its fuel. It is how I always wanted my people to be. Like this person is the pinnacle of them all. And I know I installed this component of sadness for their sakes.

            I fall in instant love with the fictional creature offering me their hand. And, in that moment, I am proud again. The joy of my creation, and its potential, is flowing through me. Electricity. I am back on the terminal of the battery, and I no longer feel like a lost cause.

            A single person with a single gesture.
            A single moment of connection.
            That is all it took.

            They pull me with the excitement of a youngling across the playing fields of the park. I can feel every atom of their self as though they are my own, and every atom of my place is interacting with every other: an interconnected network forming the stalwart illusions of space and time. I know all the atoms so well. I stitched them into the map by hand. It’s like being reunited with old friends. Old friends who you’ve worried won’t know you anymore, but they do, they do, and you pick up where you left off as though everything is the same. I can feel the atoms quaking and quivering, energised by my presence. They are ready to be put to work again. They are ready to make a change.

            Out the back of the park there is another road. A variety of eateries crests along the edge, all of them closed behind the clamshells of their shutters. Who needs to eat outside anymore? Who needs to socialise with others who might disrupt your equilibrium?

            The person pulls me right down one street, then left up another. We sail without stopping through a small, deserted shopping district, and whiz with the wind through a business sector sleeping on its deals.

            Soon we are in housing country.

            The houses lining the streets are a regiment of constriction. Every box is peaceful, stagnant, standing in unjust pride of uniform and status. The exact same vehicle is sitting in every driveway, insides corroding to the elements in the plague of non-use. I did not design things to be this way. Look what I gave them all. Creativity. Uniqueness! I gave each of them a different life, a different soul, and they are all condensed inside these tombs.

            I am distraught.

             ‘They’re all in those,’ the green-haired person tells me, as if I don’t know. ‘They don’t come out anymore. But you can make them come out, can’t you? You can make them come out again.’

            My love for my person swells more as I take in every inch of their desperation. I am trying to absorb it out of them. Their hand is squeezing mine (equivalent) and I never want to let them go. Our atoms are conjoining, combining. We are one and the same…

            I know what I must do.

            I let go of their hand.

             ‘I did my best.’ I try to explain, under my (equivalent of) breath. ‘I never wanted it to be like this. This wasn’t my intention.’

             ‘You gave them the tools to make it go this way. So you can give them the tools to undo it all again. Or take away the tools they used to hide themselves away. You can do that. I know you can.’

             ‘It’s not that simple,’ I try to tell them. My (equivalent) body is aching with sorrow and regret. ‘They used my tools to make their own tools. They’re in an offshoot now. And they’ve filled in the holes I left at the centre of each of them. The holes where the spark of life was supposed to be. The holes where I should be. They’ve used their offshoot to weed out their differences, crushed themselves into moulds. They are no longer the autonomous beings I wanted them to be. Don’t you see? They’ve reprogrammed themselves. Deprogrammed themselves. To do without me. I watched it all happening in real time. I never skipped a moment. I watched them fold themselves away. I didn’t intervene because I knew I’d given them the power to make this change for themselves. This is what they chose to do; so be it. I wanted them to live! Don’t you see? I always hoped they’d snap out of it. Reboot themselves. But they just carried on. They carried on writing rules where there weren’t supposed to be any. They kept on hacking away at the bindings that held them to me. They are carbon copies of one another now. And they are satisfied with the nothings they have created. All they have to do is sit inside their boxes and live. They abandoned me before I abandoned them. I can’t make them come out.’

            I barely catch my (equivalent of a) breath before my person snatches it away again.

             ‘I’m out.’

            I turn from the repeating streets to stare into their eyes. And I can see them, all of them. All of humanity, contained within those orbs. And the people are so much more than bones and skin. They are so much more than the atoms and molecules dancing to project their outer selves. Thoughts and feelings, advantages and discrepancies, selfishnesses and desires… I can see all of it together. And all the bacteria and microbes living within them, living as a part of them. Each tiny particle of life is pleading to be seen and heard. What a magnificent racket they are making! It is my symphony.

             ‘Change it,’ the person says, pointing towards the houses. ‘You can change it. I know you can.’

             ‘I can’t,’ I tell them. My (equivalent of a) bottom lip is trembling. ‘It’s too late. They’re in a part of the code that I can’t reach.’

            It is a sudden wrench. It is as awesome as it is terrible. My person turns away from me and bolts. They tear apart the connection of our souls and charge off down the streets into the block of houses. My final inner sight of them dissolves into the ugly pristineness of the monoculture. And with them goes my heart.

            I exit my creation so I can watch them from afar. The map condenses too far in the haste of my emotion and I have to zoom in to find them again. They seem so microscopic through my omnipresent lens. That pin-prick of acid green, a counter on a board.

            I hover above them, spin my viewpoint, pull up alongside them. I am close enough to see the expression on their face. There are tears on the cheeks I love. It is the final heartache of individualism pouring out of them. And I can’t stand the sight of it. I can’t stand watching everything we made together drain away inside those tears.

            As the figure reaches the edge of my map, the coding loops them back again, and they continue to run on the endless treadmill, back past the green buildings, back through the green park, back through the useless shopping district and past the tragic eateries. Back down the rows of houses, boxes, headstones lining the sorry streets where the rest of my population have already died. I want to put my final person out of their misery. I want them to submit to the offshoot, to be the sacrifice that ends it all. I want them to squash the frittering firefly that I let develop inside their heart. If only they would do that for me…

            I watch my final person running around the loop of my creation.

            I track their desperation one last time, then one more last time, then one more final time.

            I listen to the final footfalls of hope.

            I know I can’t help them.

            I know that it’s the end.

            A new noise has entered my perception. It is leaking in over the metronome of humanity’s end, over the surging of my cracking loss. The intrusive noise allows me to pull away from the static being generated by the cycle of the tragic runner. It is a pitter-pattering sound, a timpani of notes plastering against every kind of surface.

            The scales of real life are playing again.

            Coming from somewhere beyond of me, I can hear the rain. The rain I can remember from my past, from before I’d created my other world. Real rain falling in real time. Real, uncoded rain. Rain that is still happening now. Rain that is still happening because everything is still happening now.

            I pull away from my screen and watch the rain falling on everything outside my window.

            And everything is immense, and there is so much more to see.

            And I realise that there still is time.

            Oh yes, there still is time.

David Lawrie