In the heart of our galaxy, there abides a supermassive black hole. One of the grand mysteries of our age, and of the last age, and the one before.
We call it the ultimate ocean, but with its relentlessly swirling energies, it is more like a monstrous whirlpool. We seek to know what lies in its mysterious exotic depths. Depths that are protected by an unforgiving mouth, slurping matter as a person would slurp a noodle soaked in broth. A mouth lined with spinning molecular razor-teeth that can shear those noodles of matter into subatomic soup.
Even now, when it’s dormant, no foot is light enough to skip along its surface without being snared. No will is strong enough to escape its hungry grasp.
We feel like the sailors of myth, cruising toward a colossal maelstrom, finding merciless monsters along our way to the most merciless monster of them all. Not actually to the beating heart of our galaxy do we sail. But to the pit of its belly.
We are microbes, swimming in the empty spaces, the vacuum matrix, of a greater being.
It’s easy to feel anchorless after so many years of travel through the vastness. We’ve seen galactic marvels. Dwarf stars. Titanic planets.
We’ve seen worlds that look like home. And maybe, if there were people on those worlds, it would feel like respite from the void. Or maybe, it would only make us homesick.
Our ship is sound. It’s big and beautiful and comfortable. But it’s nothing at all like the elemental ship on which we were all born. The one that was birthed and built by cosmic forces, eons past. Before humanity was ever a twinkle in our sun’s eye.
We may never see Earth again.
But we have come across a phenomenon that reminds me of her, feels like her. I don’t know why. It’s not even a planet. It’s a nebula. One that was not on our charts. We’re already close enough to see that, like all nebulas, it is stunning. From this distance, the nebula’s edges glitter with colors we’ve never seen in a nebula before. Colors our eyes are unable to see. Our ship can see them.
But our sensors need constant readjusting.
As do our senses. There are sensor readings we would not expect from a nebula. There are impressions we do not understand from our own senses. Maybe it is the elusive “fifth force.” A step up the ladder of universal insight. We’ll have to get a closer look.
For the past few months, ever since we spotted the watery nebula, I’ve dreamt of my mother. In these dreams that verge on memories, she’s telling me stories. Sometimes it’s a mild spring day and the story is an adventure or a fairy tale. Sometimes it’s dark and raining, and we’re gathered in a circle, and the story is a scary one. Sometimes it’s winter, and the chill air forms fanciful clouds of many-colored mist, as my mother spins a myth.
My mother would take ancient myths and weave them into new stories, new myths. The Greek myths were her favorite.
This isn’t a myth we’re chasing. But somehow our stories always seem to find a way into the story of the cosmos. And the cosmos finds a way into our stories.
One of my mother’s stories has been on my mind ever since we spotted that unexpected nebula. It wasn’t my favorite, but it was one I remembered because I felt there was something hidden within it. A meaning I couldn’t grasp, and wouldn’t be able to until I grew up.
It was a tale of how Destiny broke from Fate. Of how Destiny was betrayed by Fate. For the two were not the same.
Fate could be either good or bad. It was often what happened when we were swept onto a path either by forces beyond our control or by the inertia of our own apathy. Those paths could lead to destruction, ruination, or creation.
Destiny was what happened when we chose our own paths toward creation.
Neither led to total triumph. For neither led to perfect mastery. Not one of us had complete command over even ourselves much less the world around us. In part, that was because not one of us had complete understanding of even ourselves much less the world around us.
Why else did I become an explorer? That was the way. The path to understanding. My generation would not achieve complete understanding, nor would the next, or the next. But someday, maybe, humanity would achieve ultimate knowledge. I wonder though, if we would still be human. If not knowing everything was one of the things that defined being human. How would our minds expand beyond our mortal brains to fit all the knowledge of the cosmos?
Ordinarily, I like letting my mind spin and my thoughts meander. But all my senses feel a bit askew. I need an anchor. Something familiar. The sound of my mother’s voice. I bring up the audio, her deep and clear voice telling the story of Destiny as if it were her own.
The Loom could only be touched and worked upon by the Fates. They were three. They were shaped like mortal women, though they were immortal. There was a young one, a middle-aged one, and an old one. Maiden, mother, and crone.
On the Loom they spun and wove the lives of all the beings in all the world, gods, men, titans, nymphs, beasts, and all the rest. Mortals and immortals alike. They spun new threads for new mortal beings, and fed them into the Loom. They cut the threads of those mortal beings whose lives had come to an end. They wove the threads of immortal beings over and under and through the tapestry of life, again and again. And they wove their own threads into a circle around the Loom itself. For some immortal beings, while they had no end, did have a beginning. But the Fates had always been and always would be.
I could touch and change the Loom just as the Fates could. I was their servant, and I dared one day when they left the Loom to my care while they attended to heavenly matters. I found I could weave the threads as the Fates could. I was compelled to. I was meant to. By the force of my will. By the authority of creation. By the yearning of the voices that seemed to vibrate through each thread. Working the Loom was my toil. And my delight.
The Fates wove the tapestry of life to the tune of order. They did not let the threads fray or wander as I had when I tried the Loom. When they found the Loom in disarray, I feared the worst. But they did not believe that I had done any harm. I was gently admonished for not watching the Loom more carefully. I was kindly forbidden from coming near it again. I was sent away without further regard as the troubled Fates pondered the changes to the tapestry that lay in their Loom.
I knew not to admit to working the Loom. But I was curious about my own life, my thread. I sought the Fates one day, so I could ask. Though I was forbidden, I dared to approach their chamber. Where they were weaving out the lives of everyone who ever was, everyone who then lived, and everyone who was yet to come. I heard four voices. So I hid where I could see and not be seen, and I listened.
The Fates were speaking with one of the immortal gods, the fierce one who crackled with lightning, whose eyes were at once filled with reverence, fear, and desire.
“A being of unknown nature has gained a power it should not have. A power that even the gods do not possess.”
“It cannot be controlled by gods or men.”
“Its thread is like none we have ever seen in other beings.”
“We have not found its end, or its beginning.”
“We did not spin it.”
“It is dangerous. The thread tugs at and guides the others away from their woven paths. It defies the Loom and disrupts the tapestry.”
“Can it be destroyed without harming the tapestry? I could strike it with my mightiest blow.”
“Even we cannot destroy it. There is only one way to stop it.”
“Change its fate?”
“Remove its fate.”
And so, they do. They unravel the thread from the tapestry, tear it from the Loom, my thread, and set it and me adrift in the skies above the heavens.
I clutch fading scraps of memory as I float away from the world.
What am I? What was I? Was I a man? A woman? A god? A titan…a monster…a Fury…a beast? Was I one of the Fates? Was I something new? I am struck by the answer.
I never was. I am not. And I never will be.
I fall. I float. I can do no more. I can be no more.
I am free of the tapestry of life. Of all that ever was, is, and will be. Free of the horror, the misery, the apathy, the indignity of life. Even free of the triumph, compassion, and love that by contrast make the abhorrent things even worse. Yet I am restless to return.
I never was. I am not. And I never will be.
Why then does my thread still feel the tug of other threads? A decision is made to step upon the path of creation, and though I am distant, I feel the thread of the life that made that choice. I feel the thread straining against the Loom. I reach for that thread through some new unseen fiber. Hope sparks within me. Hope that I can use the unseen fibers to pull myself back into the fabric of reality. With help from those whom I tried to help, humanity. So long as they strain against the Loom, I will feel their striving. I will answer.
For I am more than futile Fate. I am Destiny.
The story isn’t finished, but I stop listening, wanting to leave my mother in a moment of triumph.
Destiny never made it back to the Loom. Humanity’s great ally still abided in the void where it was sent, feeling for the strain and struggle of mortal choices, striving to respond.
Unseen quantum filaments spanned the vastness between the Loom and Destiny. The tapestry of life once again became entangled by Destiny’s influence. Like a ghost, invisibly moving a cup across a table, Destiny shifted the threads of mortal lives, according to mortal will, without ever touching the Loom.
That is why we sometimes fail in our striving toward our chosen path and our struggle to walk that path. We are ever straining to reach Destiny as Destiny strains to reach us. Sometimes the message does not get through. Sometimes the greatest obstacle between us is another, more desperate struggle. The struggle to survive. To merely live. But even when it struggles only to survive, humanity needs destiny as much as it needs hope.
In my dreams, I see Destiny drifting through space. Like the Fates, she is shaped like a woman. She floats in the skies above the heavens.
Ethereal and mesmerizing. She sits in cosmic contemplation. Her hair is luminescent plasma. Flowing, pouring, billowing out and around her like liquid. Dispersing and boundless like air. Pressing and embracing her bare mortal-like skin like solid. Her eyes are closed. Her head tilted forward. Her expression serene.
She could be an idea awaiting some glorious birth in the mind of a poet or a painter. She could be a vision softly spilling into the dreams of a child.
She could be the voice of my mother anchoring me as I hurtle through the cosmos seeking.
We are her ultimate triumph. I am. I followed my destiny into the stars. Even when the nausea of homesickness churns the most violently in my belly, I don’t doubt that this was my destiny. Even when I regret these few years that I haven’t seen and touched the ones I love and left behind, I don’t regret that I ventured onto this greater path.
And yet, each time I wake, I realize that the figure in my dreams is not Destiny.
We plunge into the atypical nebula that we have been granted the privilege to name. The flowing of its gaseous stardust is reminiscent of hair. Our sensors have to be readjusted, like the threads of our lives. Again and again. I already know what we will find. We set out to seek the hungry belly of the galaxy, but after all, our path has led us to its heart.
I know what lies in the middle of the Nerochroma Nebula, nestled in billows of sparkling plasma. An arcane discovery inside of an already-arcane phenomenon.
The thread of my reality unravels and weaves itself anew.
We have found the ultimate ocean, far from the center of our galaxy.
In the deepest depths of that ocean, there lives a being of supreme serenity. There dwells a being of universal beauty. There abides a being of magnificent magnanimity. And dazzling disorder.
As we draw closer, we don’t just see. We feel. The strain of plasmic pressure. We smell the acrid electric smell of galactic lightning. We hear.
The distant echoing of mermaid song.
The hushed sweeping of waves both mighty and gentle.
The flowing of incorporeal energies.
The utter destruction of despair, and yet, the profound panic of encountering the unknowable. Of feeling both insignificant and immortal at once.
Copyright © 2017. Story by Nila L. Patel. Artwork: “Nerochroma” by Sanjay Patel.