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20 August 2020, Category: this was meant to be the future


This article is Part 9 in a 10-Part Series.

The opening shot is a still lake, first thing in the morning. The sun has just started to beam down on the water. It is a mirror, reflecting the perfect blue sky. There’s no clouds. Not here. The lake is surrounded by pine trees, all pristine as if they have been copy and pasted. There’s a pier that juts out from the bottom of the frame into the lake, with a small row boat tied to it. The boat has a cloth tarpaulin over it and oars sticking out. A couple of boards are missing on the pier. Paint on the boat is peeling off. It only adds to the charm of the place. This is a place you feel calm and happy in. A place you’ve had recurring dreams about.

A thin layer of mist hangs on top of the water, remnants of the morning, soon to be burnt off by the hot sun. The water shines golden, reflecting the rising sun.

Today is going to be a hot one, you can tell. You look down at your feet. Simple sandals. You kick them off onto the wooden boards. You take a couple of steps back. Then, looking back up at the lake, you run and jump off the end of the pier. For a moment, you are suspended in the sunrise, hovering above the surface of the water like a dragonfly, before you drop and fall into the icy water.

You are submerged. You sink a little, enjoying the feeling of your clothes billowing around you like a parachute. There’s a kaleidoscope of colour around you. Emeralds, jades, turquoises and sapphires all shimmer around you. Light plays on the surface of the water. All your problems are far away. You breathe out and bubbles float away from your nose. Alas, you cannot stay down here forever. You kick your legs and push up to the surface. You break through the thin membrane that separates the muted world below from the world above. As you surface, you take a deep lungful of air, expecting to see the lake.

Only, we’ve seamlessly transitioned to the second shot. You are no longer by the beautiful lake. Instead, you are at the bottom of a canyon, emerging from a river. Its red stone walls tower above you. The current is not fast, so you swim to the nearest rocks and pull yourself out of the water. You look around you. There are small spiky shrubs that litter the canyon floor. The walls of the canyon are impossibly high. The strata of the stone is different colours, deep ochres, mustard yellows and aged terracotta. Above you, the sky is a painting, framed by the walls of the canyon.

It occurs to you that you are utterly alone here. Miles from the nearest civilisation, far from the nearest human being. This thought doesn’t scare you. Instead, in this canyon, there is a silence. All you hear is the gentle whispering of the river. Everything is still. Deep in this canyon, the peace is unlike any other.

The wall of stone in front of you contains millions of years of sand and stone compressed and flattened. You know, to the rocks, you are less than a blink. You are half an exhale. Your whole life exists between the tick and the tock.

For some reason only you know, you crane your neck to the sky. It’s still blue, not a cloud in sight. You see the sun move across the sky. It takes you a second but you realise its going faster than normal. It looks like a comet as it moves over the blue patch of sky, heading to the other side. The morning falls into afternoon within a couple of moments. The shadows around you disappear then stretch and lengthen. The sky turns from light blue, to navy, to purple to black. Stars flicker on like lightbulbs. It’s night. A day has passed in a minute. It’s suddenly cold down here in the canyon. You turn away from the sky and look behind you.

There’s a city spread before you. It wasn’t there a moment ago. You look behind you. The canyon has gone. We’ve moved to the third shot.

You are watching the city from a nearby hill. Cars pass on a busy motorway, blurring together to become indistinct streaks of red and white. The lights lead you to the city that squats on the horizon. Which city is it? You’re not sure. Skyscrapers reach to the skies, magnificent towers of glass and light. It looks like a city in a futuristic film. But you realise with a jolt that it exists now, that it has not changed that much, but it is only your perception of it that has changed. This is how cities used to look when you were a child. From here, individual lives are indistinct. The city looks like a starship, all sleek lines and wonder. This is the ideal city, a beautiful fusion of people and buildings to create something more beautiful and more incredible than the sum of its parts. You can see the individual lights on the skyscrapers gleaming gold.

The very tips of the skyscrapers almost touch a canopy of stars. You remember the stars, don’t you? How they spread out across the sky, individual points of light. too many to comprehend. You can see most of the universe above your head. The Milky Way bisects the sky. Beyond it are more galaxies, each with millions of stars and thousands of possible worlds. You crane your head up but the sky keeps going. The more you look, the more stars you see. Near a city the stars never looked like this. There was too much light.

On the motorway, millions of lives converge to head to the future city. They swarm like ants. But you are still. You give one last look to the skyscrapers that are arranged before you, then you look back up at the sky. You barely notice your feet lift from the floor.

You are floating. Or is it falling upwards? You’re not sure. Either way, your feet are no longer on the ground. You are moving away from the hill, from the motorway and from the city. We are into the forth shot. It doesn’t feel like flying. It feels gentle and peaceful, like swimming. It feels like something you’ve always know how to do, like walking. It’s that simple.

The city is already below you, shrinking as you float up. Gravity is no longer a constraint. The city is a orange star below you. Soon you see other cities and towns, small pinpricks of light on a dark canvas, joined by glowing veins. They grow smaller and more indistinct even as the pattern grows more complex. Soon you pass wispy clouds and gliding planes. The cloud is cold and wet and completely surrounds you. You cannot see your hands or your feet, just a constant grey that envelops everything. Then in a heartbeat it’s gone and you are above the sky.

You can see the curvature of the earth now. The horizon bends away from you, curving like you’ve never seen it before. You’re at the very edge now. Satellites pass by you, whizzing like flies. You never realised they travelled so fast. You thought they would float gently in the air, but they are a frenzy of movement, unstoppable as they spin around the planet. Here, where the air is almost non-existent, there is very little to slow them down.

The lack of air does not bother you. It is a trifling concern, like the lack of gravity. A passing thought and nothing more. The curve of the horizon continues to bend underneath you until the planet is a dark navy marble beneath you, shiny and opaque. The colours are different to what you imagine. They are richer than any photograph you’ve ever seen. There’s a lot less land and a lot more ocean. The clouds below you swirl and churn and it strikes you that you’ve never really seen them like this before.

Glancing down, you see you are in the void of space, cradled by nothing. It’s dark of course, but what strikes you is how empty it is. Around you is no air. You miss the weight of it, the constant blanket that surrounded you at all times in your life. You feel both free and scared at the same time. Free, as the pressure of the atmosphere is released from around you and scared because of the infinite possibility that surrounds you in every direction.

The planet lies ahead of you. Everything you know is there and it is surrounded by an absence. You realise how thin the membrane is between the world and chaos. How lucky you were to have even been born at all, the series of chances and random collisions that must have happened for you to be here, observing the planet that gave you life. In all the billions of years of this rock, there must have been countless times when it could have gone wrong. A solar storm could have ripped away the thin atmosphere. A meteor the size of a country could have hit. Anything could have happened to your home, then you would never have been.

Raising your head to look at the stars above, you realise you were wrong. The universe is not dark. Against a background of nothingness, more stars than you have ever seen cascade before you. For the first time, you realise the power and beauty of the word infinity.

So, you have a universe of limitless possibility, where would you like to go? Everything that ever was is open to you. You take a deep lungful of nothingness. You decide to stay within the solar system, just for your first trip. Saturn, you think.

Effortlessly, you are zooming through space, speeding faster than you thought possible, faster than light. Then you stop, without pain or friction. Saturn lies before you, golden in the sunlight. You drink in the view. You can see everything. Each ice particle in the great rings glimmers. Clouds of unknown gases drift across the surface. Moons orbit nearby. You’re seeing it in higher resolution than Cassini. No human being has ever seen this part of our solar system up close before. A tear or two rolls down your cheek, before freezing and floating before you as ice spheres.

You turn. Behind you, in the vast void, is a small sun, bigger than every other star but not by much. A flicker passes in front of it. That might be earth. Then again, it could be another planet, or even just a stray eyelash. It is this that finally makes you appreciate how small you really are, how brief and strange existence really is.

There’s a heartbeat in your ears, thumping out the seconds. You realise you have always been falling through time, unable to grasp onto anything concrete.

That’s enough now. You want to go home. This brief glimpse of the majesty and power of the cosmos was enough for you. Home, you think and you’re speeding through the universe again, faster than before, a small planet in front of you, then satellites and clouds and the weight of the air once more, then land and countries and cities and towns and roads. You decide against going home for the moment and speed off to the middle of the pacific ocean.

You land on a deserted beach at night, on an island in the pacific. No humans live here. You know that as your feet touch the ground. It’s too small and too isolated. You sit on the soft sand, listening to the waves lap the shore in the darkness. We’re into the fifth shot.

The sky is dark and clear. It’s good to be back on Earth once again, to feel the familiar pressure of the air. You’re not sure where the sky ends and the sea begins. It’s too dark.

From the centre of your vision, you see a gentle glow start to spread. It starts imperceptibly slowly. At first, you are unsure it is even there. You are just more sure that you can see the distinction between sky and sea. A horizon presents itself to you. The darkness becomes more deep navy in hue. Getting brighter, moment by moment.

You are not aware of time passing. You seem to be outside of the pressures of time entirely. You are not aware of your heartbeat or your own breathing. The only thing you are aware of is the orange flow.

The waves that almost drop off the horizon are tipped in gold, like the ocean is gilded.

Then, before you realise anything has happened, after all the time in the world or none at all, spread before you is a vast multitude of colours, violets, indigos, fuchsias, and pinks at the top, fading to oranges and golds in the centre and at the very middle of it all, the most perfect circle of orange, more beautiful than you have ever seen, the sun and sky perfectly reflected in the vast mirror of the sea.

It is everything. You breath it in. You can feel the power of this sunrise sinking into every pore, every atom of your being. Since the incident, this is all that you wanted. Before that even. It is more beautiful than you dared to remember. Every cell in your body vibrates and is now made of light. It fills your whole being. You are more than flesh and bone, you are a creature of the sun.

You remember days in the local park, drinking beer and bathing in the light, getting annoyed when it got in your eyes. You were young and had no responsibilities. You can feel the bright rays dance over exposed skin as it did back then. Long, lazy days with nothing to do. You took the light for granted.

How long has it been since you’ve seen the sun rise? Too long. Too many days have fallen away without due care or attention.

You watch the star we orbit climb into the sky, alone on your private beach.

The final shot is a woman reclined on her sofa, in her plush apartment. She has her eyes closed. Is she you? She could be.

She smiles in wonder and amazement at the riches being presented to her.

Text appears in the air:

“New Realities by Phaethon Laboratories.
Where do you want to go?”

There is gentle, encouraging music and the image fades to black.


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