“Really Dex, again??”
“Dex, we have already talked about it, many times..” Venerable 14 sighed with despair. This was not the first time and he already knew how it would end.
“But Venerable, the time is different!”
“Aw, my darling Dex! You are such a good boy but your obsessions will ruin you! You cannot take away this peculiar fantasy about “the Others” from your head! Those are just stories to scare children!” He raised his voice, gesticulating frantically. “Just useless stories!” He inhaled deeply to gain some calm “…after all, I have known you since you were born and I have been a friend of your family for more that 8000 cycles…”, another sigh, “ok, tell me, but be fast, as they are waiting for me for the Third Ritual”.
“Thank you Venerable, I know, we have talked so many times about it. You are so patient and trust me, I do understand your scepticism but I have done some research and, if you happen to have some time, you could possibly have a look at my results…”
He was so excited about it that he didn’t wait for permission and he immediately unrolled tons of booklets on the table. Some of them fell heavily on the floor.
“But these are…”
“Rightly so, the stars” said Dex, not allowing him to finish his sentence “the stars, exactly, like the Scriptures tell us they are fixed and unchangeable in the heavens.”
“I know, Dex. Let me remind you I am a Venerable and I am finding it quite offensive that you are trying to remind…”
“Well, I have found out they are not unchangeable! They were different in the past! Just a tiny bit but they were different indeed!”
The elderly was startled. He thought he was quite progressive in his thoughts but that was way too much, even for him.
“Do you realise that what you are saying is a heresy? For the love of the Portal, Dex, if someone hears you… if someone finds out I am here with you…”
“Look!” Obliviously said Dex, not worried in the slightest “Look! This is the map of 300 cycles ago” he bent to to pick up a scroll close to his feet “… and this is the same map taken from the Archives of Time!”
“I do see it is quite ancient: it must be from billions of cycles ago. So?”
“You are right Venerable but, if the stars are unchangeable they should be the same ones we see today. If we put one map on top of the other they should be identical, right?”
“Well, yes… obviously”
“Well, no!” Dex shouted triumphantly “look here! In this tiny corner!”
The Venerable took his magnifying glass, looked and analyzed the two maps in the same point. Little could be done: in the most recent one there were just some tiny stars there were not present in the more ancient map.
The silence was heavy for some moments.
“There must be a mistake” the Venerable said, not looking convinced at all: a shiver ran down his spine.
“No mistakes! The maps are from the Archives of Time, the seal is there and it cannot be falsified! There is actually more: I have taken more maps, I put them on top of each other and this has happened at least 7 times already in our history! Look! Here… and here… and here too… and here! We have never realised it because they appeared at an incredible slow pace and the last episode dates back to 900 billion cycles ago. Those were not there but here they are!”. Dex could not just stop talking.
“I… need to go now Dex, we will talk about it later… there must be a logical explanation… what does it have to do with the Others?”
“Venerable, it is them! It is the Others” announced Dex, exhausted.
“There is a pattern in the stars that have appeared during the years! The stars are signals! I have tried to find a meaning about how they appeared and I have found it! It took some time but I did it! You need to be very open minded but I reminded myself: let’s assume the Others follow a time that goes by slower than ours. Way slower! So slow that one of their cycles corresponds to millions of our cycles. To send us a message they decided to switch on and off the stars but, for them to send us a single letter, well, it takes the same time of one of our geological eras – imagine how long it would take to form a sentence! I have found these seven messages but who knows when they actually started doing it, maybe it all started way before our civilization was born! Even the Archives of Time have their limit that goes back to 30 billions cycles ago! But who says such phenomenon hadn’t already started a long, long time ago?”
“Dex, please, go slower, my head is spinning… and I am already quite shocked by what you showed me but I still do not understand: why do you talk about a message? Even if these maps are correct, I just see stars appearing in a point of the sky, it’s just tiny white dots that before were not there and now they are…”
“Luckily I belong to the Computational race and I find myself quite at ease with numbers and patterns. So I told myself: let’s try and divide the sky in a grid. I assign the number 1 to every single element which has a star in it – otherwise I assign a 0. I put everything together under a power… oh, damn it: the stars did not appear in a casual way, every single group of them contains a star and if we read these letters in the order in which they appeared…”
Dex stopped as if all the energies he had, had left his body. He was shaking, no doubts about it.
“… and this is the point I don’t get, dear Venerable. Why are they talking using the singular person? What does it mean? Are they talking to me? I…”
“…What can you see, Dex?”, Venerable 14 stuttered, quite shaken.
“that’s the point… just one word appear and it is not comforting. The words are SAVE”.
It was a special day for everyone. Despite everyone being aware that they would not live enough to see the second letter appearing, it was very clear that this was a historical moment. Some lucky ones could be there, squashed and amassed at the very right spot, around the stage which had been set up for the big party. All the others were following the event through holovision.
After thousands and thousands of cycles they finally managed to find the way to switch the stars on and off. Very few of them and and very close but it should be enough.
They could only send nine letters. And they had to send them painstakingly slowly. If the blink of an eye of the Others meant ten thousand generations for them they could not send it too fast. They would have not received it, the Others simply would have not noticed.
There had been debates, fights, brilliant ideas and weird ones, contests and even jokes about what sentence should be sent. In the end they agreed on one decision, quite pragmatic and common, even obvious.
Dex was there, at the ceremony. He was very old and sick. He just had some cycles left or maybe hundreds.
Two of his grandsons were supporting him, he was visibly moved: they decided to leave him the honor of starting the transmission of the first letter. The whole Council was also there. There had been a time when all the Venerables and the other institutions had fought against Dex: they humiliated and persecuted him. But they had to change their ideas in front of the evidence: the stars were there and the maps were clear: the Life Scriptures were wrong and the stars had changed. And they were begging: “Save.
Dex the heretic was now a celebrity despite him being the messenger of such an unsettling message. So much time had gone by that for Dex it was pointless to keep holding a grudge.
Venerable 21, also known as Slimy, was always around him, trying to get some of his glories, and he was waving at the most important people, with big smiles and hypocrisy, despite him being, in the past, one of the most tenacious of Dex’s opponents. Dex knew it, maybe the old age made it difficult for him to see things when they were close but he could understand the vipers in someone’s bosom from far away. Anyway, he was not really interested in all this anymore. He was dying but, before disappearing into the oblivion he had just one last task to do.
Facing a partying crowd he pressed the massive big red button. Everyone suddenly turned and looked at the same point in the sky. The luckiest ones had binoculars or telescopes with them, the others were just using their eyes. It was absolutely useless, they all knew that they had to wait for at least a few cycles for something to happen but it was just impossible to resist the instinct.
So, in the end, in front of an almost a decimated crowd, something that was not supposed to happen, happened. Right there, in the point in the sky that everyone was looking at, the stars appeared. Just a few of them. And using the pattern used by the Others. No one had to start making calculations or conversions to understand the letter “W”.
Because the message, and everyone knew it, was “WHO ARE YOU?”
Death has no honor, no beauty, no poetry. When someone is about to pass away and he is aware of it, he can behave in very unexpected ways. When an entire species is sentenced to oblivion, its last moments are already written in the harsh rules of mass behaviors.
It did not matter how much they had progressed: in a few cycles, fear, anarchy and madness exploded and all the glory, the pride and the honor of a community that had learnt how to dominate stars was defeated, in a few moments, by chaos.
The stars had started to switch off, one after the other, with no warnings and at a constant and irreversible rhythm. In a short time they would have dissolved too. And there was nothing they could do about it.
They had tried to switch them on again, to change their trend, they even tried to move to another part of the universe where they had hoped they could save themselves from the apocalypse.
Billions of cycles had now passed from the Message. So much time that no one even remembered about it, not even the Archives. No one remembered about the Others, about Dex, about the message sent and about the infinite time spent waiting to receive a second signal. What did it matter now? The end had come. An entire civilization, born a long time ago, surrounded by mysteries and legends was now destined to the eternal silence.
So many conquests, so many stories, everything vaporised in one single moment. Nights grew darker, the ones who could have switched off next, well, it was them. Another cycle, another heartbeat but what was the point? If it was not this cycle it would have been the next one or the one after.
The epilogue, the omega had started, with no announcements nor formalities.
Some were shouting, some were crying and others were fulfilling their most prohibited desires.
They were the ones who conquered the stars, who had shaped them. They were just one step away from understanding the last of the secrets of the universe. A cruel and sarcastic destiny had condemned them when they were so close to immortality.
E poi, in un attimo, tutto cessò. Nessuna esplosione, nessun clamore. Semplicemente tutto sparì per un tempo indefinito inghiottito dal buio più assoluto.
And then, in a blink of an eye, everything stopped. No explosion, no noise. Everything just vanished for an indefinite amount of time, stalled by darkness.
…nope, still darkness…
And then, from nowhere, a star started to shine. And then a second one and a third one. !0 cycles or 10 billions might have gone by but what did it matter? The stars were shining again but they were no longer there.
“Hey Claudio, have you got a second?”
“I am sorry Alvise… hang on, yes… it is just a really bad moment. How can I help?”
“Listen, something very strange happened, I just do not understand it”
“Not again… show me”
“I was fixing the program and I pressed the button DATA SAVE but… instead of showing me the data list, only some words appeared.”
“In che senso?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, look here…” Alvise said, showing the monitor which was almost blank. “I was waiting to get the usual list of the vehicles we rent. But only the words ‘WHO ARE YOU?’ appeared. No icons, no images! Just ‘WHO ARE YOU’?”
“What?…Come on mate, this doesn’t make sense. It has been months since that part has not been touched. Have you changed anything in the source code by any chances?”
“Well, no! And it was perfectly fine until some minutes ago. I didn’t do anything!”
“And what do those words mean?… Hang on a sec! You left your laptop unattended earlier, right?”
“Aha! The mystery is then solved! I noticed Gianluca was walking around your desk. I am sure this is just one of his usual pranks. Never leave your laptop unattended when he is around!”
“Understood but what now? If he has changed something I don’t have a clue where he actually changed it: if I ask him what he did he will never tell me!”
“Listen mate, tomorrow we need to had in the assignment, there is no time to play cops, checking every single detail. Just refresh the previous version of the code, the whole code, so we are fine”
“And listen to me, once you have done that, just restart the computer – just to be sure”