1,000,000 A.D.
Words, Fiction
2017—11    
Denver, CO




A story by Tawfik al-Hakim (1953)
Adapted by Ganzeer (2017)



Part I


Although the world of today is largely the result of the devastating wars of yesterday, war is now obsolete. So is disease, as well as the very notion of death. That’s right, death was conquered by science thousands of years ago. Exactly how long ago though, no one really knows for sure. For there is nothing by which time can be measured. No Sun or Moon, no day or night. There is no yesterday or tomorrow, no yesteryear or next year.

People live in a forever state of now, because people no longer die, and they are no longer born. They no longer breed, nor do they understand sex. For what would the purpose of creating new people be, if no one died anymore?

The people of this era are always “there”. For all they know they have always been there, and will continue to always be there. Eternals, immortals, equipped with forever renewing cells and glands that do not stop. There is no such thing as “age”, and words like “old”, “new”, and “young” have all but disappeared from language. People simply “are”, and that’s all there is to it. That’s all there’s ever been to it as far as anyone could tell.

That is, until a certain scientist, a geologist, came up to one of her colleagues, a chemist, and presented her with an item most revelatory: a human skull.

“What… is that?!” asked the chemist in utter horror. “It’s… almost… like a head! Not unlike our own, save for its rather smallish size and… those… those things!” pointing at the skull’s teeth.

“Right, not to mention the lack of flesh and blood”, said the geologist without really uttering a word, as the people of this era have no mouths by which to speak. Their mode of communication completely telepathic.

“And where did the rest of its body go?!” wondered the chemist out loud.

“I’m not sure. The head is all I could find.”

“Weeeeeeird.”

The two scientists stood there for some time, staring at the human skull they couldn’t fully understand. How much time exactly, it couldn’t be measured.

“Listen”, said the geologist finally. “I’m pretty sure this head is human. How it came to be this way is the question.”

“I agree”, concurred the chemist.

“There must exist a terrible force capable of rendering humans as such. A force we have simply been lucky enough not to encounter yet.”

“Hmmm.”

“I guess…”, thought the geologist out loud, and then quietly to herself, “Everything must eventually come to an end.”

“What was that?” asked the chemist.

“Haven’t you ever asked yourself… what’s next? After…this? After life?”

The chemist stared. She stared at her colleague for an eternity of now that no one could possibly quantify.

“I suppose”, thought the geologist out loud, “my geological practice has always had me occupied with the past. Which, yeah sure, would also make me wonder about the future from time to time. The Earth’s future, humanity’s future, both of which will be influenced by one another, no doubt.”

The chemist’s eyes, still staring at her colleague, grew wide in dismay. She might have wanted to say something along the lines of “what the fuck?” or “what the Hell?”, but without any need or knowledge of breeding, words and even thoughts like “fuck” no longer existed. And without death, “Hell” was a notion long ago extinct. Alas, the chemist was at a loss for words or transmittable thoughts by which to express her bewilderment.

“What is wrong with your head?” she finally asked her colleague. “I sense a chemical imbalance the likes of which I’ve never witnessed before.”

“Listen to me!” pleaded the geologist. “Even if the future does not exist now, it doesn’t mean that it never existed for the people who came before us. And if it did exist for them, there’s no reason it shouldn’t exist for us. If not now, then in the future. See?”

None of this made the slightest bit of sense to the chemist. Not only did notions of “future” and “past” not register, but the very idea of “time” itself had no meaning. Artificial light had long ago replaced the need for sunlight, and the nutrients people received from the gases they breathed made the need for sleep completely obsolete. The people of this world were forever awake and active, not unlike the beating hearts within their bodies, or the species of shark that roamed the seas prior to their extinction along with every other animal on the planet. Every other animal except humankind. Unlike its predecessor though, this version of humankind lived within the bowels of the Earth rather than up above on its surface, now rendered uninhabitable by mass atomic fallout.

With “yesterdays” identical, the humankind of this era couldn’t possibly have an understanding of “tomorrow”. The present is what they understood. A present so large with wings so vast that the shadow it cast across the ages made existence seem like one never-ending now.  

Staring off into the distance characterized by the ubiquitous color of virtual void, a thought came to the troubled geologist. “If existence exists, then so must non-existence.”

“Non-existence?!” asked the chemist in shock.

Nodding to herself, the geologist turned her head to face her colleague, and continued to nod without a flinch.

Uneasy and bothered, the chemist rose to her feet. “This is most unbecoming of you, doctor! What has gotten into you?”

“You mean to tell me you’ve never felt this way before?”

“What way? What feeling?!”

“The desire to… not exist?”

“Madness!” burst out the chemist in silence. “You’ve gone completely mad!” She rushed out and went straight to the Grand Temple of Sciences, where she told the Board of Directors everything that happened.

Very swiftly, the geologist was summoned.


Part II


“That is correct”, said the geologist before the Board of Directors at the Grand Temple of Sciences. “No matter how eternal existence may seem, I do not think it is inconceivable that it be followed by something else.”

“Something else?” asked one Board Member, “Like what?”

Silence. The geologist stood there in silence for an eternity of now before building up the courage to say it. “Death”.

There was muttering. Until one Board Member said “What is this word you communicate to us, Doctor?”

“It is a word I have encountered more than once in my excavations, where remnants of ancient knowledge is often found. I could not decipher its meaning before, but I now believe it to be the word used to describe post-life status. Death.”

“Doctor”, said one Board Member sternly, “Please be reminded that you are standing within the Grand Temple of Sciences, which is no place for contemplation of pre-human superstitions. We deal in facts, Doctor. Pure truth made concrete by the presentation of hard evidence.”

The geologist dug her hand into her bag and produced the human skull, holding it up high for all to see. “Hard enough for you?”

“Bring the object forward, please.”

The skull was passed from one Board Member to the next, calmly observed and scrutinized. There were murmurs of thought, but they were exclusive murmurs. Restricted only to Board Members, those elite gatekeepers of Science. The geologist watched quietly, and did her best to keep her thoughts to herself, least she get into more trouble.

“A sculpture?” thought a Board Member out loud finally. “You challenge our notion of existence and bring a horrible new word into our language all because of a… a sculpture?”

"Not a very good one at that”, continued another Board Member.

They were laughing at her. They were laughing and ridiculing her without restraint, making sure their thoughts were nonexclusive and out in the open.

“It’s not a sculpture!” protested the geologist, “It… it’s made of bone!”

“Ha! Bone can easily be created within the most primitive of labs, can’t it, Doctor?” said a Board Member, directing her gaze at the chemist, who was still present.

“Absolutely”, said the chemist, “Bone can be created in a lab.”

“But look at it? It’s… decayed!” said the geologist.

“That too!” said the chemist rapidly, “That too can be done in a lab.”

Carbon-dating did not exist in this world. And if it did, it would not be accurate, not with an atmosphere so terribly devastated and radioactive.


“Listen!” snapped the geologist, “You all know what I speak of, you must! You must’ve felt it. The peculiar delight of restfulness one feels for that brief moment when we blink our eyes. If I’ve felt it, then surely someone else has!”

There was no response. Nothing.

“Imagine that blink extended”, she continued, “Long enough for our eyelids to remain shut… forever. Just imagine that state of rest extended till the very end of time.”

“Facts”, said a board member, “Not fantasies.”

The geologist was dismissed, but not without warning. She was threatened with being barred from the practice of Science if she were ever caught toying with superstitions again. As for the skull, it was sent to the Temple of Art and Design, where the sculptor responsible could more readily be identified.

Despair had not yet consumed the geologist, for she knew she was onto something. She went to visit a friend of hers who was… different. For one, she was no scientist, she was a storyteller. But there was something else about her. Her outlook, her mannerisms, how she carried herself.

Gender, of course, was no longer a thing. Not in this era where people were no longer born and did not die. Any difference that might’ve existed between the sexes was consigned to ancient history. Everyone now was, simply, a person. national distinctions ceased to exist as well, because the people of this post-war world operated as one singular planetary society. Racial differences too had long ago dissolved, after millennia of miscegenation ushered humankind into a single monorace of the future, what was now the present.


Why the geologist felt differently about her storyteller friend, she did not know. It wasn’t her craft or occupation necessarily, it was something else.

“Do you trust me?”

“Of course I trust you”, the storyteller reassured her friend.

“And you believe in me, don’t you?”

“Of course I do, what’s wrong?”

The geologist told her friend everything that happened since discovering the skull. Attempting to explain her conclusions was, of course, hard. People understood themselves to be eternal. As eternal as the planet itself, not unlike gods. And if there is one thing a god may not be capable of grasping, it is a concept for his or her own past or future, or that things may have a beginning, middle, and end. A storyteller on the other hand… a storyteller might be a little different. After all, storytellers always tell stories, and a story must inherently have a beginning, middle, and end, right?

“I believe you”, said the storyteller, “but I’m not so sure I understand you.”

“Hm. Tell me your life’s story.”

“Uh, what?”

“The story of your life, tell it to me. You are a storyteller, are you not?”

“I mean… I understand ‘life’, and I certainly understand 'story’, but I’m not exactly sure what a 'life’s story’ might be.”

“Do you remember the beginning? How your life started?” asked the geologist anxiously.

“Beginning? But it’s always been… this. Do you remember your life’s beginning?”

“I… can’t say that I do, no.”

“Listen,” said the storyteller with a degree of compassion, “This is worrisome. I do not doubt your sanity, but I fear the implication such questions might have on society. And… as it is now, society is functioning just fine.”

“I see.”

“Certain people… unable to grasp the breadth of such contemplation could… do you harm.”

“And your association with me might do you harm as well, is that it?”

“No no, I’m with you!”, said the storyteller. “I’m with you no matter what.”

“I… appreciate that. I really do. But I wouldn’t want to cause you any harm. That would… it would destroy me.”

“What if I told you that being away from you would be the ultimate harm brought upon me?”

“I feel the same way!”, said the geologist with exhilaration. “Where does such a feeling come from, I wonder?”

“It must be the feeling that comes with the ultimate meeting of minds.”

“No, this is different. This is… a meeting of hearts.”

The geologist and her friend took each other’s hands. It was the first time either of them had done something just for the sake of it. No purpose behind it, no result expected.

“This… is nice”, thought the geologist out loud.

“Indeed it is”, responded the storyteller.

“I almost don’t care about finding Death anymore.”

“De… Death?”

“It is a word that perfectly describes that which is being shielded from us.”

“You mean this… this state of non-existence?”

“Somewhere out there… in a hidden chamber where no human has set foot in a very long time, is the secret delight of eternal rest.”

“What a lovely thought.”

“If only we can figure out how to… to not be.”

“Let’s do it then”, said the storyteller enthusiastically. “This rest, this delight, this everlasting satisfaction you call 'Death’, let’s find it. Let’s find it and unleash it upon the world together!”


Part III


Death was becoming popular.

It wasn’t that anyone was actually experiencing Death, not yet. But the geologist’s ideas about Death were spreading. She and her friend, the storyteller, spoke of Death to others in private, and the idea slowly spread from one person to the next like an uncontrollable virus, another thing gone extinct like every other ailment inflicted upon the human body in the past.

Before she knew it, the geologist had followers. A great many followers actually, some of who actuallyfollowed in her footsteps in hopes of being among the first to find Death with her. Her popularity catapulted her to the status of a kind of prophet. It would seem that although things like pain, and hope, war, and desire had all but disappeared, the need for ideas that stretched the borders of human imagination was very much present. The geologist preached the promise of eternal rest with fury and conviction. Between that and her background as a scientist, she soon became the personification of hard science and soft dreams, a glorious balance completely absent from the all too practical monotony of life as usual.


There stood before her one obstacle though. That of the ‘miracle’. The naysayers were plentiful and never ceased to ridicule this 'Prophet’ and her fanciful notions of 'Death’. A singular miracle would change all that. She needed to bring forth the Death of the living. But how?

She decided to deliver her first public sermon, in which she openly challenged her opponents. So powerful and convincing was her socially defiant speech that even those who opposed her gathered round. But they gathered in anger.

“If Death truly does not exist”, her thoughts thundered, “then non-believers have nothing to fear. Their way of life will remain unscathed. If Death is nothing but a fiction, then what is the logic behind denying us the bliss of such imaginary comfort? If that is what we so desire.”

Her followers, who chanted in her favor, were called “fools”, “imbeciles”, and “subhumans” by non-believers, who were in turn referred to as “unvisionary extremists”. Slurs flew back and forth in heated intensity, undetectable by ear, but painfully discernible by the human mind. The air grew thick and heavy with anger so tense and ugly until finally, someone snapped.

Everyone watched. And those who were too far to see anything tried to get as close to the action as possible. To say that violence was obsolete before this moment would be a lie. Violence existed, but it was a violence of language, a mild one at that, communicated only by thoughts. This, however, was different. This was a violence of fists. Visceral and tactile and terrible in its power. The sight of the victim’s deformed face and the blood gushing out of her head was at once horrific and exhilarating. Most fascinating of all was her stillness that followed. She was dead.

Several people present checked her pulse and breathing in astonishment. News of this Death was relayed from one mind to the next until it reached the Prophet, who stood there in awe of her achievement. Her miracle.

People began to kneel, followers and non alike. But before everyone could, the crowd was broken up by a squadron of androids armed with long electric tongs. Things totally unknown and unseen before this moment. The dead body was promptly removed before the droids maneuvered towards the Prophet, who –despite protests from the crowd– was captured and taken away.

* * *

The revolution that followed was relentless. A sweeping torrent of horror that made it a point to prove Death’s existence wherever it went. The movement mushroomed and grew out of control. Vital facilities were stormed, labs destroyed, and machines smashed. The nutrient gases that filled the air were no longer pumped, and it wasn’t long before people began to show signs of illness.

The Temple of Correction, where the Prophet was held, was the hardest to storm, but not impossible. Not when armed with the ruthless power of Death. Ahead of this mob of destruction was the storyteller, keen on freeing her beloved friend. The person she finally found, however, was only a shell of the fiery Prophet she once was. Her mind, having been subject to transforays, was made calm and complacent. Worse, she had little recollection of her storyteller friend at all.

Between the pathetic state of their 'Prophet’ and the slow painful sickness that befell everyone, the movement began to die down, and people soon longed for the healthy sameness of eternity. Attempting to achieve the supposed comfort of Death seemed too painful a process. It was time to restore the air systems.

Some people, however, could no longer accept the idea of immortality, not after everything they had seen and done. Chief among them was the storyteller, who led her dedicated flock to a faraway land where the edifice of their new religion was established, and a completely new culture unfolded. One that rejected the bully of the mind in favor of the instincts of heart. And with that came love and sex and poetry. Gender would eventually return as well, and so would babies. Many, many babies.

With new babies came new minds that spawned new ideas, but also an understanding of the Earth’s limited resources. The nation state would soon return, and so would war.

Whether mortality or immortality would triumph though, only time could tell. Time, something even the immortals understood at this point. They understood it along with the idea of beginnings. And middles. But not necessarily ends.

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