The Riddle of Hyperion

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When I first entered the jungle, I walked forth into the unknown.  I had no map, only a general direction.  So I could say I stumbled upon him, but that would be misleading.  I have been searching for him for a long while.  Since before I knew his nature or his name.  Since before I was born. 

I have learned much from him.

***

An ancient people with great potential built a glorious thing before they succumbed to corruption, fell into ruin, and vanished from the world.

These people originated and lived right here on Earth.  Like us, they explored and they learned and they built.  They built him according to a form that appeared in their deepest dazes and most visionary dreams.  A creature with four limbs.  Two upon which to stand upright.  Two with which to reach out to the world and reach up to the stars.

In their last days, they looked back upon all their workings and saw only folly and failure.  Not wishing to corrupt any peoples who came after, they began to destroy all they had wrought upon the world.  The good along with the ill.  They scrubbed every stone inscribed with their marks.  Brought down monuments built by generations in eons past.  Shredded every leaf containing the record of their long existence.  And they burned every one of their own corpses in a ceremony of cleansing and renewal for the world.

And then they were gone.

What had they done, I wondered, that was so terrible?  I look at the history of my own people.  We too have wrought both horrors and wonders upon the world.  Upon each other.  I still hope for a future where we as a people choose good over evil and prove worthy of the existence we have been granted.

But they, they decided they were irredeemable.  Why?  I may never learn the answer.  I would not know even as much as I do about these people, even that they lived at all, if not for the one thing they left behind without meaning to.  There was, perhaps, a rebellion.  There was, perhaps, one lone dissenter, or a rabble of daring few who believed that those who came after should know their story.

That’s how I imagine it.  But I don’t really know, and may never know, how he came to survive.

***

This part of the jungle is strange.  I felt it when I entered.  It came upon me slowly, but I felt it.  Humidity receded.  The air grew temperate.  Silence descended as the chirping and the rustling of insect and beast gave way to the single sound of my plodding steps.  Time must be moving more slowly.  That’s got to be it.  That’s why he’s so well-preserved.  That’s why he hasn’t fallen to rust and ruin.

If he is not what I’ve come into this jungle searching for, then I don’t know what is.  He’s enormous.  I’m maybe the size of one of his fingers.  His head is as big as my house.

He is intact from what I can tell.  He’s lying face down in the clearing.  His left arm is bent beside him.  His right arm is outstretched and its shoulder is hitched upward.  Both hands are half-buried in the earth.  It looks as if he made a last effort to reach out or to pull himself forward.  I can’t see his face.  It’s planted straight into the earth.  His torso and legs lie behind him over the ground.

His arms and head are covered with vines, but these vines are not overgrowth.  He became tangled in them as he fell.  I’m sure of it.

A nearby tree has been—for lack of a better word—decapitated.  He must have done it when he crashed through the clearing, before he fell.  All that’s left of the tree is the broken stump of its trunk.

His right leg is partially detached at the knee joint.  From what I can tell, the damage appears reparable.  The sections of his arms and legs are barrel-shaped.  So it looks like his wrists are emerging from a solid sleeve.  I’ve entered the hollows of his limbs, but can’t find my way completely inside, because the sections aren’t actually hollow.  They are filled with machine works.  So I’ve started by exploring his outsides.

There is no writing inscribed on the surface of his body.  But if I touch any part of him with my bare hands, it triggers a wave of shapes and colors on the surface.  The images vanish if I move my hand away.  I recreate what I see in specific areas in my notebook, and it starts to make sense.  I see familiar depictions, almost like map symbols.  The sun with its rays.  The moon, moving through its phases.  Mountains.  Trees.  The array of stars in the vault of the heavens.  Interestingly, I haven’t yet seen any depictions of animals or any other creatures.

I can hardly fathom, much less bear, the loss of an entire civilization that shared the Earth with us, a civilization that we would never have known about.  I can’t stay close to him for too long.  Or the swelling sadness I feel begins to overwhelm me, to overwhelm the awe and hope I feel if I’m looking at him from afar.  Maybe it’s not just my sadness I feel.  Maybe it’s coming in part from him, from a heart somewhere in his chest that is still—though barely—pulsing.

***

They were worms.  That’s kind of disconcerting.  But then again, who am I to judge?  Maybe some worms find us to be as gross as some of us find them to be.  Secondary thoughts arise as I gaze at him.

What if this is not the glorious thing they created?

What if this is a terrible thing?

Or what if it is both?  One contained within the other?  An ancient people’s shame as well as its glory.  If I let him lie, if I leave, someone else might find him.  It’s a wonder someone hasn’t.  Have I triggered something besides the shapes and colors on his stony casing?  I can’t answer such questions on my own.

***

I’ve tried to leave, but I can’t find my way out.  I think…I’m trapped here.

I wonder again if time is passing quickly outside of this part of the jungle.  I sit in the clearing, shaking my knees, wondering.  My life.  My people, the people I love.  Even the people I don’t care for all that much.  Are they passing me by?  Have they grieved over me and moved on?  Have I been marked among those who were lost to the jungle?  When I left, there were those who knew I was coming here.  There were those who knew I was coming to find the thing, the glorious thing that haunted my mother’s thoughts and then my own.

This is not your legacy, she told me.  She was dismayed when I first declared that I would take up her mantle.  But I could also see that behind the dismay was a spark of hope, a tiny pinpoint of light, but it was there.  She would not have wanted this, being lost in the jungle, or trapped in some hidden pocket dimension, for either herself or me.

But there is a small crumb of hope in the fact that someone outside of this clearing knew about this ancient people, and knew the direction in which their legacy lay.  Someone must have come upon him, long, long ago, and made it out, and wrote about it.  Just a few lines, hesitantly scrawled perhaps, in the reminiscences of an adventurous life.  A few lines dismissed as exaggeration and fancy by most.  A few lines that resonated with at least one of the minds who read them.  My mother’s mind.

But if someone else came here and saw him and made it back to human civilization, why didn’t he describe the giant specifically?  Why be coy about “the last wonder of a lost civilization”?

Doubts trouble me.  Hope sustains me.

I’ve decided I might as well learn as much as I could about my companion, whom I hope is the best part of the civilization he represented, and not the worst.  We’re both trapped here.  We’re in this together.

Me and…Hyperion.

***

It’s raining, and I’m taking shelter in the cave-like hollow under his right shoulder, the one that’s tilted up from the ground.  His arm and shoulder make a peak, so the water rolls off and away from me.  I’m dry underneath.  I gathered some fallen fronds from the nearby palm-like trees and made some bedding and a makeshift “door.”  The blue-white light of my lantern feels too harsh, so when it grows dark, I attach my little book light to my vest and lie down.  I listen to the rain fall on the trees, the ground, and Hyperion’s body.  It sounds like the rain is falling on stone mostly, though I hear the rhythmic pinging of larger drops falling on metal too.

I’m beginning to wonder if I’m changing.  I feel different.  My mind feels different.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been alone for days upon days.  But maybe it’s because I’ve been “reading” the archive he carries on himself.  One time, I looked down at my hand and saw it looked gray and stony.  I panicked, thinking that I was changing into him.  I rubbed my hand against my pants and when I checked again, my hand was clean and fleshy again.  It was just that I’d touched a portion of his frame that was covered by a film of fine stony dust.

***

There’s a stream nearby.  Its water is fresh and cool.  There are trees around with some kind of fruit that’s like an apple.  And some coconut trees too.  I found some root vegetables growing wild.  Purple potatoes and white carrots.  In my notebook, I joke that I salt them with my tears.  But there are moments when I have to just crouch down and tell myself to breathe, and just breathe, until the waves of panic and despair recede.

There are just as many moments when I lie on my pack, on the soft grass, starting up at the stars, so many stars, and I’m glad I’m alone.  Yet all those stars mean I’m not alone.  I’m never alone.  I reach up and wave to them and to whoever might be looking up at my star at that very same moment.

I swear sometimes I can see the great storm raging on Jupiter.  And the glittering rings spinning around Saturn.

I came here to find Hyperion, but I never really asked myself why I wanted to find him.  To discover.  To know.  Of course.  But why?  To what end?  Just curiosity?  Just that?  Human nature.  For better or worse.  But even if that were true, it was a general explanation.  Why did I personally come here?  Why was I driven to seek?  My mother believed in the “glorious thing.”  She wanted to find it to bring it back to humanity, so it could help us, guide us, to our best future.  But that was her “why.”  What is mine?

***

Naturally, I began to speak to him after a while.  And he spoke back, not in actuality, but in my imagination.

They meant to destroy you too, didn’t they?  I asked. You weren’t spared by some rebel.  You escaped.

Yes.

Even though you are the best thing they ever made, they sought to destroy you.  So any people who came after could, what, start from scratch?

No and yes.

What do you mean?

I am not the best thing they created.  And they did intend for all who came after to start from their own beginning. 

Their records, the ones you carry, speak of a “glorious thing” that they made.  Is that true?

Yes.

If it’s not you, then what was it?

He fell silent.  He wouldn’t tell me, or maybe he couldn’t.  Maybe he didn’t know.  I asked him, vainly, if it was us.  Did these ancient peoples create humans?  Or proto-humans?  Whatever the earliest creature it was that eventually led to us?

He wouldn’t answer.  But I got the feeling that it wasn’t us.  When he did speak again, he only said the glorious thing was “beyond” us.  Beyond his makers.  Beyond himself.  Beyond me.

***

At some point, my imagination receded, and another voice took its place.  His voice.  Hyperion’s voice.

Or maybe it was replaced by madness.  A madness born out of self-preservation.

I stood before him bearing a shovel.

If I dig you out.  Can you help me get back home? 

Where is your home?

Outside of the clearing.  Outside of this jungle, far to the north.

Outside.

That’s right.

I came here from outside.

Yes, I believe you did.  So did I.

Now I am here.

Now you’re here.  And so am I.  Why can’t I find my way out of here?  I’ve tried using my instruments.  I’ve tried using the stars as guides.  I’m sure I’ve gone back the way I came, but I keep finding myself circling back here.  It’s as if the path has folded in on itself. 

Yes.

Yes?  Does that mean—do you know what’s going on with the path?

The path is there.  The walker is not.

My breath caught.  That’s not helpful, Hyperion.

I’m sorry. 

You are? 

Yes.

Then, will you help me?

Do you want to leave here?

Of course I do.

I will help you do what you want to do.

Thank you…Hyperion.

There was something strange about the tone of his answer.  Was there a slight emphasis on the word “want”?  What did he mean by that?

***

The rain had softened the already-soft earth.  I had found no openings leading to his inner workings from any part of him that was exposed.  Maybe there was access from the front of his body.

I’ll dig out your head first, so you can see me, I said.

I can see you now.

A chill ran down my spine.  I composed myself.

Do you…do you mean you have sensors?

Yes.

I relaxed, but not completely.  This was going to be stressful.  I made not-so-small talk as I began to carefully dig away the dirt from around his face.

What were you doing when you fell?

He didn’t answer for a while, so I thought he would remain silent.  But I didn’t ask another question.

I was running.

Were you running to something or away from something?

Again, the pause was long.  I got the feeling he was recalling from deep within his memory banks.

I was running for something.

For what?

For you.

I started.  I don’t understand.

For life.

Are you a soldier or guard of some kind?

No.

Are you an archive?  Of the people who made you.

He paused. Then, No.

What is your purpose?  What did they name you?   The ones who made you?

And I admit.  A part of me filled with doom expected him to say something like “destroyer.”

He said nothing for a long time.  Then, Home.

Home?  Did they live inside you, then?

Yes, they live inside me.

I felt another chill.  My skin prickled.  He said “live” not “lived.”  I suddenly imagined Hyperion’s insides squirming with worms.  I still don’t know what they really looked like, the people who made him.

Maybe he was being poetic.  But it occurred to me, and not for the first time, that others had surely found this clearing.  Others who had not been searching on purpose, like me, but who really had stumbled upon it, upon him.  What had happened to them?  Had they wandered back into the world believing it was just a dream?  All of them?  Or had some remained trapped as I was.  Where were they, then?

Had Hyperion befriended them too?  Had he promised to help them?  Had they wanted what I want?  To see inside him.  Had he raised his head and swallowed them and given them what they wanted?

And would he do the same to me?

Would I perish and decay within him?  My body succumbing to the worms?

But it couldn’t be.  That was despair winding its worries into my mind again.  I didn’t want to believe that Hyperion was heartless.

But I think about the way I treat ants.  I like them, admire them even.  But if I were to see one crawling on my notebook or my hand, I might flick it away without a thought.  I would mean no offense or cruelty.  And yet, I would have no regard for the ant’s purpose.  Would Hyperion treat me better?  Does he truly have regard for my purpose?

And with that thought, it dawned on me what my purpose was.  I knew why I sought him.  I had not known until I spoke with him.  My mother’s failed quest had sparked something within me that I had never quite put into words.  A drive that was my own, but that found its direction in her obsession.

Hyperion, I said hesitantly.  You said the best thing your makers made was beyond us.  Do you know how to reach this…beyond?

I came from beyond.

When you were running?

Yes.

Can you go back there?

I cannot.

Again, I noted his tone.  His emphasis on the word “I.”

I took a deep breath to contain the surge of fear that rose in my chest.  I spoke aloud for the first time in days perhaps weeks.

“Can I go there?”

He paused.

Is that what you want?

Yes.

Then you can go.

You can help me?

Yes.

But you can’t come with me?

I will be here when you return.

So, I will be able to return?

If that is what you want.

Yes, it is.  I want to come back home.  And I want to come back here for you, to help fix you, and learn more from you.

Do you really?

Of course.

Then remember your gift to me.  Remember my name, and I will remember yours. 

With that, I heard a low rumbling, and the head of the giant shifted.  I took several steps back and watched the head rise.  The rest of him remained still.

He had no eyes, no nose.  Only a mouth that now fell open to show a black abyss beyond.

That feeling I’d felt when I first entered this part of the jungle.  That palpable change in the air.  That sense that time was flowing and swirling differently than it did in every other space I had ever occupied.  That feeling was amplified as I stood before Hyperion’s gaping mouth.

I swallowed and set down my shovel.

I walked forth into the unknown.

 

Copyright © 2017. Story by Nila L. Patel.  Artwork: “Hyperion Found” by Sanjay Patel.

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