Martin Edmond

from: The Thousand Ruby Galaxy

All memory is lost, every memory dies ... Iskander's profile half-erased from a smooth coin dug from the Bactrian sands in the time of the Ayatollahs ... what you felt last week when Archer referred that grapple tackle to the Match Review Committee ... the expression that crossed her face when you told her that you no longer cared whether she loved you or you loved her, you just wanted a bit of peace ... they are lost in thought or dead in time, they go when the hippocampus goes, they swirl away down the sink as you let the grey nutritious dishwater out then wash your hands. There's no sense hanging on to anything, trying to remember is as futile as trying to forget: you never will or you always will, one or the other, perhaps both. Simultaneously. And the things you can't remember / tell the things you can't forget / that history puts a saint in every dream ... Much later, or instantaneously (you decide), every human memory that ever was is meticulously reconstituted at an unknown station, by an unknown mind, in the Thousand Ruby Galaxy. It could be Buddha, it could be God. It could be the Stephen Hawking clone they have going fifteen light years away over there. Doesn't matter. It's a vast collection of recollections and everything is in it: the song the Sirens sang as much as that cute tune you heard whistled in the underground tunnels of St James station last Thursday evening, late, and you couldn't work out who it was because when you ducked through into the parallel tunnel there was no one there but a homeless guy sleeping under a striped umbrella. Your childhood is there. Your death that is yet to occur is already registered in those majestic memory banks. Both the last and the next times you fall in love. And how they'll end. Same for everyone, Iskander's drunken rages are there, the Ayatollahs' vile sins, the ref's mistakes, everything. And, get this, it is a library. The Ruby Galaxians listen to those memories, they access them through a catalogue so enormous we cannot begin to comprehend, and use them for entertainment. We are entered into an iPod of stupendous dimension. They read us as if we were, each of us, a book. Not like a book but as a book. It's our only immortality. Trouble is, we don’t know if we are tragedy, comedy, melodrama, farce, burlesque ... or some exquisite genre not yet invented in the Milky Way. We can never know. We just have to get on with it and make it up as we go along, hoping for the best: laughter and tears, cosmic derision, pity, terror or some unknown emotion that reduces a Ruby Galaxian to the trembling incomprehension which is mine as I set down this message from, and to, the stars.

not trg central
The librarian from a repository in the Thousand Ruby Galaxy sends a memo through the ether. Her names translates as Samsara or suchlike and she (I don't know if she's really a she but I call her that because she's definitely not what I am) is from a small planet orbiting one of the suns in an outer arm of the galaxy and says there are gaps in their collection and perhaps I could help? She's apologetic—it's really a bureaucratic issue, the Grand Repository near TRG Central doesn't always keep them up to date and she thought she might be able to go straight to a human source. As it were. They are missing some of the dreams that Alexander had before he set out for Bactria ... I'm flattered but do wonder why she chose me. Oh, she replies, it's your last post, we picked that up quick smart and thought you might be just what we need. I'm impressed. I knew I had a scatter of readers over at Andromeda, but in the TRG? That's big ... before I can really enjoy the contemplation of my trans-galactic reputation she's back—these aliens are fast—with a list of other lacunae in their archives. My mind tips as I begin to scan: they want some names to make up a full list of the gods of the Dogon; they don't have all the letters that passed between Shakespeare and his Dark Lady; they lack documents concerning Sha Na Na and the Invention of the Fifties; they want to know what really happened at the Eureka Stockade. I say, hmmm, I say, yes, well, I say ... I say ... like my parents used to when they were about to say something. I don't really have a clue about any of this but figure it might be interesting to make something up. After all, insofar as Samsara and the rest of them over there are concerned, wouldn't a false memory be just as good as a true one? How would they know the difference? Quicker than thought she's back on my desktop, that strange symbol that I've never seen before and can't reproduce because each time I try to copy it the computer crashes. Oh, we know, she says. Our system fails each time we try to enter a lie. So don't even think about it. I think about it. Oh, I think. Oh.

the dark lady
The idea of software that can tell truth from lies is so beguiling I decide I have to inquire further of the mysterious Samsara. But first I run a little test, which is also a start of the fulfilment of the immensely long list of clarifications and additions she wants for her library—I mention only four of the many requests she has made. Aliens are not only swift, they are comprehensive in ways you can scarcely begin to imagine. This is what I send her: None of the sources available to me mention any dreams Alexander might have had before or during his Bactrian campaign (nearly two of our years) but I did find this resonant detail in the archives: Instructions for the assassination were conveyed by racing camel across the desolation of the Dasht-i Lut, their bearer a friend and adjutant of Parmenion. Eleven days hard travel brought the despatch to the Median capital, and Cleander and his fellow commanders acted immediately, striking down the old general while he was reading a letter from his king. Her reply is all but instantaneous: the last thoughts of Parmenion are a favourite among us here in the Outer Arms, she writes; they focus the mind upon the ruthlessness of tyranny and the rewards of loyalty and fidelity. Loyalty? I say. Fidelity? They were the qualities that got Parmenion killed. Exactly, is her enigmatic reply. Few show any interest in the mind of the racing camel driver, she goes on, but thank you for this contribution: the name Dasht-i Lut was not known to us here in the Outer Arms yet a truth check has shown it to be accurate. Now—what of the Dogon and the Dark Lady? What of Eureka? The Dogon will take time, I say, Eureka too; as for the Dark Lady there is no record I know of any correspondence between her and Shakespeare: all we have is the Sonnets. There is a pause, brief as a sigh; I think I hear across those near infinite wastes a catch in the Samsarian breath. So sad, she sends, it is my favourite. You do NOT know what you are missing: the Beatitudes of Courtly Love raised to a Higher Power. True, I fire back, forgetting to put in the question mark. True? Verdad, she gasps and then goes quiet: returning perhaps to mourn for we who have never known those lost beatitudes. Or has she forgotten all about us as she begins to re-read ...

out of the blue ...
Samsara skypes me. Her voice is ghost speak but she still sounds exactly like I thought she would. Like a smoky galaxy. Like the wind between the stars. Like someone who has read the Dark Lady's correspondence ... I'm slow, I don't say any of this. Instead, squawking unsteadily: You have skype over there? She's so cool: We have everything you have and a lot else besides. I thought you understood that. Now tell me about Sha Na Na. There was nothing about it in your last ... offering. I can't hardly think of Sha Na Na, only about what kind of body goes with that voice. Any body you like, she intercedes before I become ... lubricious. Or ridiculous. Now ... Well, I say, I don't really know much about Sha Na Na but there was this article I read on Arts & Letters Daily that said they invented the 1950s. You know Grease? American Graffiti? Cigarette packs rolled up in the short sleeve of a white T shirt and girls with bangs and bobbie sox? I trail off, clearly she's not impressed by this sort of dark matter. Silence. Rebel Without A Cause? I say in one last attempt to call her back. The skype connection's gone to echo, all I hear is my own dumb voice reverberate ... cause ... cause ... followed by the soundless hiss of the universe. After an age she returns: it is the invention of tradition that interests my readers, she says, prim as a librarian. The way the present changes the past and how that then modifies the future. Give me the URL of the piece you found on ALD. I can't believe she needs that from me but I do it anyway. It's here, I say. Why ... ? She cuts me off. Certain complexities in the way in which what you call time unfolds have led to our predicament, she whispers. I shouldn't tell you this but I will ... I'm intoxicated by our sudden closeness and cannot resist asking her if she knows the Chinese might be listening? Not just the Chinese, she say, but never mind that now ... there is a cosmopolitical dimension to these apparently innocent inquiries of mine, we are testing our databases, we think that there may have been some kind of attempt to ... alter our truth recognition software. A serious matter, not just for us but for you too. After all we also preserve human memory over here along with what those ... Andromedans get up to. She sighs, sounding suddenly old and sad. Like she's read too many Doris Lessing novels. Will you help? she asks and I say yes, yes, of course I will, even though the thought has just occurred to me that she's maybe not from the Thousand Ruby Galaxy at all but is somewhere close by, just round the road, perhaps she picked up my details on the Net and is in fact a sophisticated yet dangerous crank caller ... I should have known better. My name is Samsara, she says in a voice that has the hush and distance of starlight in it. Please believe me. Please help, I need you ... I really do ... just before the connection cuts out I notice there's no longer any echo on the line. I go outside to breath the avant storm air. It smells of almonds, it smells of vanilla. Of Samsara.

I prepare a text to send to Samsara. It's from Plutarch's Life of Alexander and comes from the period immediately before the Great King's death in Babylon. It seems to have some sort of relationship to the truth test software though exactly what I'm not entirely sure; but I think she will like it. Goes like this: When once Alexander had given way to fears of supernatural influence, his mind grew so disturbed and so easily alarmed that, if the least unusual or extraordinary thing happened, he thought it a prodigy or a presage, and his court was thronged with diviners and priests whose business was to sacrifice and purify and foretell the future. So miserable a thing is incredulity and contempt of divine power on the one hand, and so miserable, also, superstition on the other ... filling the mind with slavish fears and follies, as now in Alexander's case. But upon some answers being brought to him from the oracle ... he laid aside his sorrow and fell again to sacrificing and drinking ... The reply's pretty swift and it isn't from Samsara. A new voice. Your Previous Interlocutor, it says all grim and portentous, has been Retired. She was Adjudged to have Exceeded her Brief. Her Speculations regarding the Efficacy of our Method of Verification of Data were both Erroneous and Sacrilegious. If she is not Careful she will be Whirled far beyond the Outer Arms, as Far as the Sombrero Galaxy or Further. Her Dishonourable Remark implicating the Andromedans may be Ignored: they are Loyal Allies. Your own System is not of Interest to Us and those who have been using your Brutish Lives as Entertainment will be Purged. They are Purveyors of Illusion. The Equivalent Word for such People in your Language is Pornographers. Please do not try to contact Us again. We will Wipe you if you do—it is within our Power. Go back to your Petty Concerns, your Absurd Conceits. Truth is Indivisible, it is Singular and it is Ours. Signed: MOKSHA. The sigla left on my desktop is as terrifying as Samsara's was beguiling. Hers has disappeared and this other cannot be erased by any means at my disposal. I am afraid. I do not wish to be Wiped. I know that my own government has done as much to some of my more obstreperous contemporaries. I think I will no longer concern myself with truth and/or lies. I will fall, like Alexander, to sacrificing and drinking. And yet I still hear Samsara's desolated voice howling across the black spaces between the stars.

A line from a poem I've been reading reverberates in my head: We don't know why / we cry out to saintgod / but our crying never stops. It's because I can still hear Samsara ... and I don't know how to contact her anymore, her sigla's gone, the Sombrero Galaxy is 30 million light years away, how much further can Further be? Further than despair, further than love, further than thought can take us ... or maybe not. Without using any of the available electronic devices, by thought alone, I send an image of the Milky Way. It has our approximate location indicated though I'm not hopeful. An age of silence intervenes. I do other things—clean the bath, sweep the detritus of my days into a corner where I'll pick it up later, go for a walk, revise a piece of work ... the word count, 88,888, looks fortuitous but isn't. Infinity quintupled. Has to mean something. Or not. Perhaps I should go away the weekend after next? I'd need to book. Perhaps I should get in touch with my children. I do both ... then there's a Beep. It's faint, faraway, fugitive against the background noise of creation persisting at .0003 degrees through these cold wastes for billions of years. Yes? It's her. I am on the opposite side of sorrow, she wisps. The further shore from darkness, I've crossed the grieving waters ... she sounds thin, diminuendo-ed, attenuated to the nth but she's still talking: Karma accretes around a soul, she sighs. Good or bad, it doesn't matter. Think plaque. On a tooth. Or dust on a highway stone. I am that accretion, you can lose me just like Moksha did, it's easy ... if a thousand thousand lifetimes is easy, I'm thinking as she fades. Hungry ghosts, lost souls, all the weight of worldly attachment go and come and go before my tipping mind. Alexander, who said he was a god, prostrate before oracles, vertiginous in the face of fate. No, I say (it's a holy no). Or, yes (holy too). I hear Samsara fade back in. Oh ... is all she says but I know that she can hear me. From the opposite side of sorrow, the further shore from darkness. Lines from the same poem unexpectedly recur: how else do we know heavens except through reflected light? We remember the photons, the photons remember us, that’s as close to invisible as everything gets ... No, I say again. And, yes. We'll go to Luna Park and ride the Catherine Wheel. We'll have ourselves photographed with our heads poking through holes, wearing old-fashioned clothes and funny hats, we'll dodge each other on the Dodgems, we'll eat candy floss and fall over in the Crazy House ... my voice comes and goes like static, like iron filings round a magnet, Samsara is the same, she goes and comes, she comes and goes, she'll never/always leave, eluding Moksha's interdiction she'll always ... never ... be ...

light of days
The accretion of karma continues, a preoccupation like living. Samsara is sometimes close as skin, at others far away as air. As if you didn't want to lose your accretion, as if that made you what you are. Were. The weight of the past light on your days. Light of your days. The nights: waking from a confusion of every dream you ever had. Searching for the path through that thicket. Futures flashing and gleaming on the horizon. Orichalcum. The metal lost to alchemy, antiquity and ... accretion. It wasn't so long ago that the names of gods were inscribed on pillars with their genealogy attested in living memory. Before Alexander they were distant and mysterious but afterwards attained a singularity that remains seductive. He must have arrogated to himself qualities both observed and misinterpreted by his drinking companions, generals, soldiers, mercenaries, camp followers. Anyone who demurred was killed. Even for an instant. When he marched his army back from the mouth of the Indus towards the west, all the camp followers—women and children mostly but not only—died of thirst and starvation along the desert coasts of the Sind. Samsara calls and calls but every time I put the headphones on I just hear silence. Cold calling from beyond the Sombrero Galaxy perhaps. Second sight is called nth sight among her people. She told me that before she faded. And that she cannot see a wound without the praxis of healing impinging. Nothing extra about her ESP. The thing is, since Iskander became a god there have been a million million pretenders. Not an exaggeration. Unfortunately. She must have been one who read the library banks for stories of the lost camp followers. Looking for a way to change what was: that is, what is told about what was. Some of them must have drifted away into the yellow hills. Kept their children safe, raised them up. Discarded those coins with the profile of the god beneath a helmet made of an amputated elephant's head. To be picked up by the camp followers of new Alexanders two thousand and more years later. New Ayatollahs. Their relief almost rubbed out. Yes those past lives must be what she wants to save. Close as skin, air. Lose the accretion that made you. Light of days. Every dream you ever had. Calling.

A despatch arrives unheralded from somewhere out beyond the Thousand Ruby Galaxy. It's a Zip File and as I open it I see the pixels in the revelatory act of transforming from code into words. The cover note is brief and says only: This might be part of the story you're looking for. S:—

We lived in Sangala besides the river Hydraotes and watched through a mist of rain as foragers stripped the land on the further bank of everything that grew there. The king crossed the brown flooding water with his army of Greeks and Persians. We had parked wagons three deep before the city walls but they were smashed to bits by Alexander's phalanx. Then they built a double palisade to keep us in and began erecting the siege towers. We tried to break out but Ptolemy's army forced us back. Then Pontus, an Indian like us, came up with fresh troops and more elephants. His strategic betrayal. Before the towers were even completed our walls, undermined, began to fall. After that, the rapes and the slaughter. It rained the whole time so that bloody horrors pooled bedraggled among the stones. Then the city was razed. I was taken by one of the hypaspists, a Macedonian, not a kind man. My first child killed at my breast. His father's bones in the muddy flood of the Hydraotes perhaps or cracked under the feet of an elephant: I was never to know. We went south, thousands of us, following the army, walking over corpses and bones through the stripped fields to a blare of horns. They drank and fought, that is all. And marched. Somewhere near Rambaceia I put my cloak over my head and wrapped it around me and fell to the ground. By the yellow stinking way in the pouring rain. Nobody stopped to see, nobody tried to help: the dead that lie in the wake of an army go unburied. They are eaten by dogs. Vultures and crows. Rats. I lay until night came and then walked away east until I could not walk anymore. Still far from the sea. My milk dried up because I had no food. I had forgotten how to cry. I was curled up under my cloak at the side of the road, really dying this time, when the man found me there and raised me up and took me to his house. He was a Jain. A ford-builder, he had already crossed to the other side of sorrow, to the further shore from darkness, away from the uncreated world, that will last forever, where everything changes except your soul, which is all that you have and all you can lose. So he taught me and so I believe. I knew the holy man as Moksha; and the daughter I bore to the Macedonian, whom I will not name, is called Samsara.

Martin Edmond lives and writes in Sydney. His most recent book is The Supply Party: Ludwig Becker on the Burke & Wills Expedition. Becker was the Artist and Naturalist on that famously doomed undertaking.

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