Meditating at the Crossroads is back! A new creative cycle has begun; look forward to flash fiction >1500 words and longer pieces. I post these writings here in the hopes of constructive comments and feedback–even if you are inclined only to click your appreciation at the bottom of the posting. This story is named after a creature found in Ainu and Shinto folklore. It is a science-fiction story, but far from conventional! Please take the time to let me know what you think, and spread the word!
By Alexander Chirila
Seven generations ago, the scientists of Earth discovered that the universe was the spherical exhalation of a living organism. They determined that this organism was similar in its anatomy to their Octopus and appropriately called it the Akkorokamui.
They bent their considerable intellectual resources on the supreme task of understanding the Akkorokamui. Observation platforms stationed on the edges of the solar system, outfitted with the most advanced instrumentation, yielded a new wealth of terrible knowledge.
They discovered that the observable universe was enclosed by the arms of the Akkorokamui, each one of which was approximately 102 billion light-years in length. The universe had been steadily expanding, forcing the Akkorokamui’s arms to widen away from its beaked maw. They were able to discover exactly where this terrible orifice was. Vast currents of its outbreath had guided the galaxies into their shining filaments. The mysterious dark matter had now been identified as the Akkorokamui’s incomprehensible physical mass.
In the beginning, these discoveries were understandably relegated to scientific conferences. Few, if any, articles were published in journals or in any way disclosed to the public. The human population had barely stayed its own destruction at this time. Humanity was clinging precariously to the technological lifelines that had been hastily developed in a lunatic scramble for global survival. The years subsequent to this explosion of desperate innovation were a collective breath of relief, punctuated by a sense of renewed purpose and unity.
The cataclysm that had nearly annihilated humankind had also shaken some sense into it. Those who remained to pick up the pieces were less aggressive, more cooperative, interested in resolution rather than contention. Scientists—now held as the highest human authority—were reluctant to threaten humanity’s fragile collective psyche by publicizing their findings.
It was only a matter of time, of course. Burdened with guilt, one of the scientists broke rank and announced the existence of the Akkorokumai. She would have been disregarded had she not provided sufficient evidence to convince even the most devoted skeptic. Consensus propagated more quickly when people were less disposed to argue, but it would take some time before the average human being accepted the fact that the known universe was encased in a sphere exhaled by a cephalopod of immeasurable size.
Cults worshipping the Akkorokamui became commonplace. Heated debates on the possible sentience of the Akkorokamui circled through moderate circles, while the more impassioned heatedly argued about the intentions and wishes of the universe’s creator. One intrepid philosopher adamantly maintained that there were many creatures of this kind, each one of them exhaling an entire universe filled with galaxies and life.
It was in the spirit of this new age that another terrible revelation dawned across the consciousness of humankind. It seemed that the universe had ceased expanding; the Akkorokamui had breathed all it would into the void. There were general fears that the bubble would simply burst. Alleged experts on the subject grimly maintained that the vast galactic network of which the Milky Way was a part would be rent asunder and sent spiraling into nothingness.
The truth of it was equally distressing: the Akkorokamui was inhaling. Unfortunately, the leisurely outbreath that had taken eons to complete would be drawn inward in a fraction of the time.
Decisions were made quickly. Former systems of monetary exchange and governance were altogether abandoned. The pitiless reality of cosmological destruction finally sank in. The remains of humankind huddled in fearful anticipation.
The only sustained effort on any level was based on a farfetched hypothesis conceived by a madman.
One of the original five scientists who discovered the Akkorokamui theorized that the only way to survive the in-breath would be to reach one of the leviathan’s arms and somehow cling to it. Hypothetically, it was a matter of traversing the shrinking expanse of the universe, breaking through the Celestial Barrier, and adapting to survive in the void. Then, the Akkorokamui would exhale again, releasing a new cosmos into its embrace.
This suggestion was initially ridiculed. First, it was impossible for conventional matter to survive beyond the observable universe. Second, even light was forced to curve around the interior edge of the cosmos; the Akkoromakui would inhale every single photon that it had originally exhaled. Lastly, human technology was simply not up to the task of reaching the beast’s impossibly titanic arms, let alone converting physical matter into quantum energy.
It took three generations more before the Quantum Lightship was invented. Less than a century afterward, a means of converting matter into energy was perfected. The human race had time to evacuate a fraction of their population before the gravitational ruin of the in-breath utterly devastated the galaxy.
The Void, Generation 1856 year 28
Time appeared when the Akkorokamui exhaled the universe; time expired when the Akkorokamui inhaled it. The Pioneers watched it accelerate from their precarious anchoring on the creature’s arm. They watched galaxies race past, colliding in violent splendor. All those countless trillions of worlds—how many once filled with life?—quickening into the dusk of creation.
When it was nearly finished, the Pioneers could see, even across all those millions of light years, a prism of unparalleled brilliance. Then all went dark. There was neither light nor time. The Pioneers found themselves immortal in the void.
It was no simple thing to carve out a tenuous existence on the living flesh of the Akkorokamui, but the human Pioneers created a sustainable environment. They cannibalized the Lightship, using the onboard Particulate Modulators to build towers and walkways of quantum energy.
Immortality took some adjustment, naturally. Human beings are remarkably time-oriented animals; even their physical brains contained ingenious mechanisms that measured its passage with uncanny precision. The prospect of eternity—actually experienced rather than merely imagined—proved intolerable for some of the Pioneers.
They chose to materialize. Matter cannot exist in the void; only the deathless survives. In the void, there is only the wave function. It cannot be observed, it cannot collapse. Those among the Pioneers who chose fatal embodiment dissolved into the void.
The Akkorokamui itself was not a material thing; nor was it immaterial. It was both. The Quantum City was anchored to a vibrational frequency rather than anything that could properly be called “flesh.”
This was an odd condition to get used to. Everyone felt as if they were everywhere in the Quantum City at once, that the city itself was spread out across an incalculable distance. At the same time, one could move from place to place, and even stand in specific places. One could see spires and cobbles, skyscrapers and fountains.
Neither the architecture nor the orientation of these structures remained constant. Bridges appeared and disappeared over rivers and highways that were there one moment and absent the next. This would have been an impossible situation, of course, if the citizens of the Quantum City were not subject to the same fluctuations.
In their human forms, this constant shifting would have made it impossible to hold a conversation. In the Quantum City, everyone was speaking with everyone else at once; individual conversations and dialogues were interwoven within an intricate soundscape. It was like listening to every station on every bandwidth simultaneously, and still being able to hear individual songs with perfect clarity.
By the time the known universe had become little more than a distant sparkle in the void, the Pioneers had successfully gathered enough raw material to power the Quantum City indefinitely. They devised a suspension device that would allow the colony to hibernate in a quantum state until new matter was detected; until a new universe had been exhaled by the Akkoromakui.
They voted by an overwhelming majority to implement Quantum Suspension. When the edge of another physical universe passed over the city, the Pioneers would awaken and begin the search for a new homeworld.
This decision was not unanimous. A splinter group formed in the human community. They did not want to hibernate; they wanted to explore. They wanted to see the Akkorokamui.
It didn’t matter that the cephalopod was tens of billions of parsecs in length. It didn’t matter that an entire planet was infinitesimally smaller than a nanoparticle when compared to the entirety of the Akkorokamui. A microbe inside the human body stood a greater chance of communicating with its host than a human stood of communicating with the Akkorokamui.
It was reasonably objected that such a journey would take untold spans of time. Billions of human lifetimes would elapse before the Pilgrims reached the Akkorokamui’s body. There was no telling what unimaginable terrors they would encounter, journeying beneath that starless void.
None of these and many more sensible objections could sway the Pilgrims. They wanted to see the creator of the known universe; it was as simple as that. If their ancestors could travel halfway across the cosmos, break through the barrier of the physical universe, and successfully land on one of the Akkorokamui’s gargantuan arms, surely they could follow that same arm to the body of the creature itself.
They created a smaller version of the original Lightship designed to travel over the Akkorokamui’s arm. The substance of the Akkorokamui was unstable; every single subatomic particle that composed its form was in flux, occupying a thousand possible positions in a thousand possible ways. The Lightships were designed to match frequencies with the terrain, plowing through currents of infinite possibility.
The Pilgrims left the Quantum City behind them, dormant now until the contours of a new and unknown cosmos stretched over the titanic arms of the Akkorokamui.
The Void, Generation 100,543 year 77
Of the 144 Pilgrims who abandoned the Quantum City, only ten now remained.
In the beginning, many had chosen to materialize. The unending monotony of their journey until that point had maddened them beyond reason. Their purposed destination had been obscured by malaise. The body of the Akkorokamui seemed so impossibly distant that they would all lose their minds well before reaching it.
In desperation, the remaining Pilgrims deviated from their course, moving towards a protuberance in the shifting landscape. They reached one of the Akkorokamui’s suction cups, towering from the surface of the cephalopod’s arm.
The height of this wide stalk would have been visually incomprehensible to the physical human mind. The Pioneers had transcended their former condition the moment they broke through the Celestial Barrier. In their quantum forms, the Pilgrims could accurately measure the dimensions of entire galaxies at a single glance. One of the Akkorokamui’s immense suction cups could easily contain scores of galaxies.
From their vantage inside the Lightship, the Pilgrims could discern a pale glow hovering just over the edge of the disk. This was a monumental discovery; the only light they had seen since leaving the dimmed Quantum City. The Pilgrims halted the Lightship, excitedly discussing the possible origin of that luminous haze. They agreed that another alien race must have survived the in-breath using similar quantum technology.
Resolving to investigate, the Pilgrims navigated the Lightship over the connective tissue of the suction cup. Their pilots conducted minute calculations at faster than light speeds, impeccably matching every fluctuation in the quantum frequency of the surrounding field. They crossed a vast organic chasm—the groove between the epithelium and the infundibulum of the suction cup.
The glow they had observed was coming from numberless pinpoints of light suspended in the acetabulum. The Lightship hovered over this abyssal cavity, the Pilgrims mesmerized by a swarm of suns. These were not stars, however; each one seemed to be a pattern, a complex matrix of signals.
The Pilgrims focused the Lightship’s impressive sensors on these matrices, swirling in the dark of the acetabulum like billions of fireflies caught in a jar. Each signal that scintillated across the network of a single pattern was no less complex. They were microcosmic, exponentially smaller variations of the larger pattern.
There was something familiar about these nested patterns; the Pilgrims had seen them before. They were reminded of the Quantum City when it was still active. It too was a larger, organized pattern that contained as many smaller patterns as there were residents of the city. The Quantum City was a consciousness, the emergent sum of its inhabitants; it reflected every single shift and turn of thought. The minds of its inhabitants moved within it, changing it in a million minute ways, deconstructing and reconstructing every facet of it while sustaining the pattern of the whole.
Each one of the pinpoints inside the acetabulum contained billions of individual lives, suspended in habitable spheres of reality. These lives moved within the preserved energy signatures of their respective homeworlds, like phantoms inhabiting a phantom city.
The Pilgrims had discovered the rebirth mechanism.
When the Akkorokamui exhaled, its suction cups would flatten against the permeable surface of the cosmos. All those patterns of energy and life would pass through the Celestial Barrier, mingling with the birthing galaxies and stars of a renewed universe. They would bind to the matter of creation, assuming unimaginable new forms and shapes on a billion new worlds.
For now, every little tiny life—just one melody among the countless symphonies of countless mortal worlds—would remember the universe as it was. Perhaps they mingled among their loved ones; perhaps among their enemies. Some wandered the corridors of echoing memories, indissoluble in the hollows of the Akkorokamui’s timeless body. Others wandered heavens and hells of their own imaginings.
Did they know where they were? The Pilgrims wondered. Or were they dreaming, sleeping through the space between universes, as the Pioneers had chosen to do? Did they dream of the Akkorokamui?
The Pilgrims lingered there, exploring the acetabulum and the many worlds that had been preserved beyond time and space. They configured the Lightship’s sensors to translate the vibrational frequency of the life-patterns into an intelligible sound. The music of each world was so different; for some, it was what could only be described as a cacophony. This was the disharmony of war and bloodshed, branded into the undying essence of an entire world’s population. From others, the Pilgrims heard the peaceful tones of worlds that had found harmony, or that had never departed from it. They listened enrapt to the sinuous drone of uncultivated wildernesses and the chiming conversation of world-cities.
How would the Earth sound to the Lightship’s sensors? For surely, if these others were here, the peoples of Earth would have been similarly preserved as a single pinpoint of light floating in one of the Akkorokumai’s suction cups.
One of the Pilgrims, fascinated by a light frequency that resonated with the most curious and unexpected music, startled the others by announcing his intention to leave. When the universe was exhaled, he would remain with the disembodied inhabitants of their former homeworld. He would drift with them across the nascent cosmos; he would descend from the birthing of their star into a world ready to support new mortal life.
It didn’t matter that he would remember little or nothing of this journey. The Celestial Barrier would prevent all but the simplest patterns of energy from passing through. He would be stripped down to all but his living essence; whatsoever he held to himself would be torn away and left behind. Only echoes and imprints would remain behind in the void.
Nonetheless, he wished it. The only thing that mattered to him would be fulfilled the moment he matched his quantum frequency to that of the world he wished to join. He didn’t need to remember anything of his former world, his former life; he was assured of another world and another life.
Reluctantly, the others agreed to let him go. They calibrated the frequency of his consciousness to match the targeted pattern. He vanished from their midst, registered less than a nanosecond later on the Lightship’s instruments as another blip caught within the spiderweb of transmissions that moved among countless others.
After that, many of the Pilgrims made the same choice.
It would be a long ways yet before those who chose to remain aboard the human Lightship reached the Protocosmic Ocean.
The Shores of the Protocosmic Ocean, Generation 223,999 year 98
The Akkorokamui’s arms were reaching out from a field of energy that could not be measured even by the advanced instruments of the Quantum Lightship. The creature’s snapping chitin beak also rose above these strange waters, alternately birthing and destroying entire universes for so long as it remained surfaced.
The Lightship’s sensors could not penetrate the field; the waters were utterly opaque. In many ways, the Ocean was the exact opposite of the void. The void was characterized entirely by absence; so much so that any particularized presence was immediately annihilated. The Ocean was brimming with energy, with patterns combining and dividing in limitless profusion. Everything was moving and changing, minutely and radically.
The Pilgrims could not decide whether to move forward. Their original purpose had been to see the Akkorokamui; to interact with it, if possible. Even after all this time, these were the most devoted of the group that had originally abandoned the Quantum City.
It did not occur to them that they might return.
They reasoned over what they knew: the calculations of the Pioneers had very nearly reached the estimated time of exhalation. Soon, a new universe would blossom into the dark between the Akkorokamui’s waiting arms. The organic landscape had changed dramatically already. The arm they traveled had widened, joining the soft tissue that framed the cephalopod’s mouth. The Pilgrims estimated another 41 billion light-years lay between their current position and the beak that lay at the center of this octagonal mass.
Suggested mappings of the Akkorokamui’s anatomy suggested that the cephalopod was hanging suspended in the Protocosmic Ocean, reaching upward with its arms in the aftermath of its inhalation. The arms were already beginning to spread outward again, flattening its mouth against the surface of the waters in advance of its outbreath. Its mantle lay deep in that unknown sea. There was no way of knowing whether the Akorokamui was alone, or whether there were other beasts moving through the waters—perhaps even larger.
The Pilgrims doubted whether the Lightship could survive the fierce energies that coruscated across the surface of the Protocosmic Ocean. Several of the Pilgrims suggested that they explore the surrounding suction cups and find suitable peoples and civilizations to join. This proposal had been very nearly accepted when their Lightship detected an opening in the field; a window into the Ocean.
That is when we made our appearance.
We had seen the launch of the original Quantum Lightship from Earth. There were other variations, escapes made by other species on other doomed worlds; rocky orbs, gas giants, satellites, and suns. Some perished on the long voyage to the Celestial Barrier. Others were unable to make it through. Of all those who essayed the journey, the humans were among the few who succeeded in anchoring themselves to the Akkorokamui.
We ourselves had done the same, eons ago. How many outbreaths had been exhaled since we counted our mortal days by the movement of suns and moons?
The humans were understandably alarmed when we appeared. While their Quantum Lightship is an exquisite piece of ingenious machinery, they would not have been able to survive without it. We do not suffer this impediment. We can subatomically control our quantum frequencies. We can choose to rest in dimensions where such miniscule modulations are unnecessary.
We can embody without dissolution.
We cannot materialize in the void, however, and it for this reason that when the Akkorokamui surfaced, we learned how to part the waters of the Protocosmic Ocean. We offered safe passage to those who wished to see the creator of their universe, and all the universes before it. We have journeyed with the Akkorokamui through the depths, into abyssal plains haunted by dead gods and through shoals teeming with the colorful blossoms of gods yet to be imagined.
All that has come now to an end.
It is unfortunate to those yet preserved by the Akkorokamui, awaiting the next outbreath. How we wish all those countless lives may find new incarnations! We do not know what will happen to them; whether they will be scattered over the surface of the waters to drift for untold eons beneath the void, or whether they will rejoin the Protocosmic Ocean and become indistinguishable from it. Perhaps some will be salvaged by another Akkorokamui and allowed to incarnate anew.
We do not know.
All we know is that it is coming for the Akkorokamui. It is moving through the waters, displacing fields of energy equivalent to the combined mass of hundreds of universes. Whatever it is, it is far larger than the Akkorokamui; an apex predator.
Our only chance is to cast ourselves adrift in the Protocosmic Ocean.