When I stare out at the great sea called Ocean, watching the artificial band of sunlight we call Ring rotate to eclipse the curvature of earth, I sometimes squint my eyes until that great strip of furious red becomes a single point of bloody light and pretend that we have a star again. A star like the one we lost when the Old Ones ascended, leaving us behind like antiquarians to watch over a molding rock.
Our seas, once the clamorous exfoliations of life and passion that carved definition into our landscape, now stagnate as massive ponds that bloom with dying algae across a thousand wasted spans. The green wastewater ebbs back and forth against my ankles, whispering and pulling at the multicolored sands at my feet. Once the great cities and technological jungles of lofty civilization, now splinters of glass and plastic pounded into dust by the long aeons of gentle dissolution.
I have heard it said that it is like this everywhere; that there is no soil in the world that one can bevel into without turning up the relics of the past. If there are layers of reality below our own, just as there are layers of history beneath the ground upon which we walk, then on one of those deepest levels all the shattered shards of civilization have reconstituted themselves into the organic matter from which they were born. Alas, the useless detritus dusts the spent earth like ghosts of memories swirling in an occasional breeze.
As I look towards the horizon, the Ringlight now guttering into the Northern Sea, a scratch of fire burns its way across the sky, another satellite brought crashing down by the ravenous greed of a starving planet. I stride towards the plume of steam billowing from its impact, my footsteps provoking swathes of bioluminescence that whirl up from the shallow, plankton-infested waters. A translucent box-jelly drifts lazily to my right, and I warily avoid its long, streaming tendrils as they hunt for subsistence among the cloudy greens.
When I reach the crash site, I disturb a nest of pale white octopi that swirl away like windblown banners to disappear into shadows of pitch-black ink. The fallen satellite looms before me like a massive black tomb– one of those final space stations used by the Old Ones before they took our sun. The rusted structure, burnished black by a thousand rotations of solar striation, appears as a segmented insect with blind white eyes. Space debris peppers the blackened surface like glittering, multi-colored scales. As I approach the port, a panel lights up and a tinny, distorted sound vaguely resembling speech leaks from the grating.
“Id-d-d-dentity number, please.” The voice sounds like sunburnt plastic.
“Custodian four-nine-three-three-three-oh-one-oh.” I used my clockwork voice, marveling at the mechanical clicks like gears grinding against my tongue. The mechanism unlocks, and the port irises open to reveal the massive insectoid’s dingy interior. Miniscule nanobots swarm to me like dust motes, and I savor the tingling sensation as they enter my data ports and revitalize my systems, clearing away the parasitic mulch that threatens to close my veins. For a moment, I feel alive, truly alive, as if the biological pseudoderm that canvases my cybernetic interior has ceased to be an illusion, and I have true biochemistry once again. Then the microids are gone, as if they never were, and the bubbling, roiling illusion of life fades back into a monotonous series of zeros and ones.
I continue into the cavernous innards of the station, ignoring the threatening groans that chatter through the fallen ship. It is a true testament to the strength of ancient technology that even after a thousand rotations around our perilous orbit, terminating in its climactic impact, the station has not yet collapsed. It will hold for another few watches, or so I pray.
After passing by sleeping chambers, refectories, and an artificial pasture with giant flower-like auto-photosynthesizers still opening and closing in repetitive futility, at last I make it to the central chamber. A hemispherical ledge, blocked by protective railing, gives way to a gulf of illusionistic depth, lined with mirrors facing mirrors to provide an infinite continuity within the chamber’s finite space.
Here, the internal gears that had once propagated the satellite’s orbit through the cosmos still turn to generate electricity into its grounded host, like a heart pumping blood through the lifeless veins of a corpse. It is the central axis around which the gears rotate towards which I walk, a narrow beam of light as bright and fine as a single strand of blonde hair. A follicle stream of residual photons, the core of the photon engine. It is a memory, a splintered sprite of stray sunlight that has continued its refractive journey from mirror to mirror even as its parent slowly died.
With utmost care, I withdraw my optical device from its socket, peeling back the pseudoderm to reveal the photoreceptor hidden within. With cupped hand, I reach forward and capture the sunbeam, forever ceasing its tired journey between the mirrors. The gears cease, the wandering green lights wink out, and the satellite lets out its long, final groan.
In the proceeding darkness, I now hold a tiny glowing sphere in my trembling palm. All things in the universe are infinite, for the universe is by its very nature eternal. Yet the universe is also paradoxical, so all infinities must inevitably come to an end. Alone in that deafening darkness, I savor the tiny splinter of eternity generated by a single photon, the final memory of a sun that died long ago, of which a tiny fraction now lives on within my lonely eye.