The water of Lethe, glorious obsidian, springs of life - we were drunk like youths, intoxicated by the fire in our veins. We were sufficient unto ourselves. A word tossed out was enough to set off roaring laughter. Immortality swelled in our veins. When we leaned over the clear wells and beheld our fresh faces with their red lips, we had to be held back to keep us from kissing ourselves.

I don't know whether you really understand what I mean. I don't know whether you were ever so young, whether your heart ever glowed in this fire. The clash of the cymbals made our hearts tremble. Harps hung in the branches of Aurora, and when we looked at the women, they seemed bathed in milk. At night, when one of the five moons hung high in the sky, moths staggered through the air with heavy beats of their bluish wings emblazoned with death's heads.

Yes, we should have been forewarned, but everyone believes only what he has experienced himself. Even now I feel a pang in my heart when I remember this first and only great love of my life, this be all and end all, this marvelous spring, this new beginning, this mood, the whisper and murmur in my veins - when I remember how my pulse swelled and how a silver radiance shone into my eyes.

We had made an emergency landing on Aurora, glad to have found a planet in the vicinity of the space hole which offered us shelter and the opportunity to repair our ship, the MCCAULEY. I can still see the fire burning on the grasslands and the mighty glow from the volcanoes which spewed lava into the sky with a tremendous rumbling, a sky which was black and rained ash which darkened the sun, as we finished the security check and disembarked.

I no longer remember when they came. All I remember is that they were there, one after the other, standing side by side and then approaching us as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Bloy, the captain, who was not much older than I, spat his quid of tobacco into the grass and said: "I think we'd better be careful!"

He was the first one they got. I remember the next morning (or was it weeks later?), when his corpse hung from a tree, wrapped in a silken cocoon. They had sucked the blood from him, and it was very quiet in the grass, and dew dripped from the twigs.

Even that night voices whispered in my dream, silky, soft voices penetrating my ear with moist lips, voices which wanted to sooth me, to rock me in my sleep, voices which spoke of the coming paradise and of the miracles of space and the planets. Once, around three o' clock, I looked at the chronometer, which glowed in a weak red shimmer.

I was bathed in sweat, and I knew that nothing in life is free, not this planet which flows with milk and honey, nor the one where golden apples hang from the trees. But we are foolish, we are like children who believe only what they want. When we are content, our reason is as if nailed shut.

We laugh when we hear warning voices, for we do not want to expect what should not be. But the sweat ran down my body, and the seconds ticked on the clock with resounding strokes, as if something or someone wanted implacably to hammer the truth into my skull, as if someone wanted to say: Be careful, don't believe what they pretend to you, be on the alert, don't take leave of your common sense!

I thought of this as I lay with her, my beloved, in the grass under the spewing volcanoes, and as the hollow drums resounded, and as the blood in my veins grew solid as bronze, as we made love. Have you ever held in your arms a woman like milk, like honey, like sugar, a woman from whose lips you could eat grapes and in whose navel an emerald grew?

And her eyes! Have you seen them, these eyes which are like black crystal, glowing within, fire leaping from them as if the air all around must burst into flames? And then, when we were like two shadows playing with each other in the sunlight, I lost for a few moments the enormous security she had given me.

We are secure only with others. But how secure does one feel when one involves oneself with an entire planet, which embraces us with paradisiacal caresses? I heard silk rustling nearby. It was Handsome, burying himself in his beloved and in her veils, and for a moment, time after time, my consciousness returned, in my brain burned the barb that such a thing could not exist, that one must be careful, that one must not surrender oneself.

Then we heard the hollow drums which the natives beat, whose sound drifted over us, and then I realized - believe me - that they had golden skin and black eyes. I still see the bloody reflection in those eyes, and once, in the night, I saw one step through the protective screen as if he were crossing a waterfall, so easily, so effortlessly, so lightly, to observe the MCCAULEY on my watch.

He came very close and smelled of oil and cinnamon, and a blue flame seemed to burn above his head. He clicked his tongue when he caught my eyes, and laughed, and showed white teeth which shimmered in the night. Then it seemed to me that he climbed the next hill, above which a moon hung, but in memory all I know for certain is that I was very confused.

They had power over the strangers, were humanoid as well, but commanded knowledge which we could not have attained with all our technology. We felt at ease as the first of them approached the ship. For safety reasons we had landed in the middle of a large pond. But they had small boats woven from raffia and bamboo and came up nimbly alongside and showed their bare hands, and the flesh of their palms was red and golden.

When the moons hang high in the sky, in full flower, and when the shooting stars fall, and when the crystal grows upon our bodies, then it will be time to hold the blood wedding, the implacable marriage, the banquet, without priests, only with frankincense and myrrh to the bright notes of the silver organ.

We will meet again in this life or in the other. The native who faced me grinned, and a bright fire appeared in his eyes, and I no longer knew whether he was a man or a woman, or something in between. A sweet girl, a little child, her hair bound up at her nape, went before me sure-footed with swaying hips.

All is a dream, the stars, space. We are only the dreams of the people who lie beneath the five moons, yonder, beyond the bend of the universe; they dream there, and their dreams rise like bubbles, and the sea roars in frenzy and beats upon the shore with white caps of foam and casts up the flotsam of many worlds.

I had a dream once of another world, of another life, of a universe bending beneath the palms which tossed in the wind, and a yellow light appeared on the horizon of the universe, and a storm rose such as we had never seen before in the wan light of endless morning.

Bloy poked me: "Are you asleep?"

"No."

I am lying under the silver palms, and I feel my blood seeping into the sand. There is a tittering in my ears, and close by kittens tussle over a string. The dream of this life and of that. But only this one, I think, is given us. Don't dream!

The stags bellow in the forest which begins just back there where the universe ends. White strands run from their mouths, their flanks perspire. I hear our men crashing through the jungle, as if mad and raving. A titter rolls about the universe, for they have seen women bathing back there in a village, in a pond - silver nixies, delicate rosy creatures.

Bloy is among those who hold the machetes in their hands and slash through the jungle, and I, sucked in by the reflexiveness of it, think of a herd of pigs, and of the world at our feet, and it is morning and evening, and the moons sail beneath the twigs, and the native grins with an eye which is fixed and blue.

Today the blood wedding will be held, today we are the pigs which find the golden truffles, in this life and in the other. I did not go with them back to the pond, do you understand, did not follow the pigs to the truffles. I am bound to you across the eons. Golden threads rain from the sky, and I see Bloy's wide eyes. My God! I have never seen eyes like Bloy's!

They went in there - once they had fobbed off the native men with beads and glass trinkets and eaten of their precious fruits. As the world broke upon me, frothing, I laughed for a moment, but then misgivings overcame me, and now I know that I was merely confused. They had tickled out of us what they wanted to know, and we did not have a chance. We are not so great, so good, so beautiful that we could have permitted ourselves anything, that we could even have matched ourselves against savages.

In my heart, you know, I harbored fear as well. For they were like madmen. Even I began to grasp this as the group pressed onward into the jungle. They were alone on this star. It was like pressing onward into a deep tunnel, into a black hole which sucks you in. It was like being pulled by an incredible gravity, with a great smacking of lips, and you rush down, past grinning faces, and passed concerned looks, and you are drunk, but not on wine, on the heat and on the jungle and on your comrades.

My God! What were they thinking! The modern conquistadors! The modern riff-raff! The filth, the scum which has traveled the stars and thinks it owns them. I don't know whether there is a God. I have certainly not found one out there, at any rate, but there are questions which never leave one in peace.

But if there really is a God, then he was here, on this planet, and for no other reason than to punish us, to show us that we cannot get away with, we cannot permit ourselves everything, that instead we should doff our hats before the miracles of the universe, that we should be astonished and silent, that we should travel the planets humbly and reverently and behold with the necessary respect that which glitters under the many stars.

But they thought only of the women in the village. And they were drawn onward, still deeper than they were already. For the blood wedding was held on their backs. I believe they burrowed through the jungle with their bare hands. They broke through the bushes until the branches flew. They flailed about with the machetes and burned down everything in their path, bushes, trees, animals.

I believe once, as they were wandering through the gigantic jungle beneath the silver stars, Darling felled a comrade with his machete without really noticing it, without its bothering him or his comrades. Strange, I never knew what that is: blood thirst, hunting fever, but even I, left behind by the tanks as a lookout, was seized by the fever.

All the floodgates were opened. Even I was beside myself, and so they rushed down further and further, until the jungle opened out into a clearing where woven huts stood in the red glow of the fire, billions of cicadas and emerald beetles dancing over them.

They burst into the huts like drunken animals, like pigs running in panic through the cesspit. As they went in they tore down the curtains and wallowed in the beds. Much later what leaked out was sung as glorious deeds, but those are lies. I would rather hold my tongue, though I could tell a tale or two.

I thought that what they did could never again be obliterated. I still see the eyes of the girls they grabbed, wide with fear. They had long black hair, and they were seven. How do I know that? I felt wretched. It affects you, what they do there.

I would rather not speak of it. Toward midnight I fired a salvo from the MCCAULEY, telling them to return, for something was wrong, the radio contact to the group had been interrupted. I came to myself again and saw them on the green screen, rolling from the mattresses and out of the beds.

As they came out of the huts, the fire seemed transformed. It stood utterly still, as if it had frozen. Again I fired a salvo from the MCCAULEY, this time with the emergency signal, and I sent Morse code into their heads again, without coming through.

On the green screen I saw how Bloy was unable to restrain himself from going up to the fire and touching it. It was very cold, as I could tell from his gestures, as if made of ice, and its shade had shifted to blue. A harsh wind came up and wrung tears from Bloy's eyes. As he gazed into the fire for a while, I felt dizzy as well, and it seemed to me that I was staring through the frozen flames into another world, where grim men's faces stared.

I knew that something alien had entered the ship, passing through the protective screen without difficulty; something heavy, squat, a thing with loud breath and hot claws which brushed my nape. What do you do when you are so alone and when the stifling swamp comes to you, and when flowers blossom on the walls of the ship, and grain stands tall in the control room, and when the birds sing in the computer?

I do not know if I am expressing myself clearly. I am saying what I know. I heard cries from the screen, high, painful cries as if a diamond were scratching glass. From one moment to the next I was exhausted, as if I had been wandering up and down the ship. Hard to say what was really going on.

Sometimes one has something like a premonition. I regained enough of my composure that the image on the green screen before me was still. Just as Bloy was about to disappear into the jungle, shadows moved in the frozen fire, as if of oversized men holding heavy glass tubes in their hands and playing nimbly with clocks which looked like sugarloaves.

Absurd thought! Those were the savages! I was able to see the face of one of these men for a moment: he had great fanatic eyes and a white slash in his cheek, and one lip was split, and he wore a ring in his right ear, and he said something in the direction of the screen, which did not reach me, but the ice crackled.

The MCCAULEY, as I saw over an external line, stood in utter calm. Hoarfrost glittered on its silver spire, and at its tip the red and blue position lights seemed covered with snow. On all sides the entire landscape had been transformed. It was as if, in the middle of the summer, snow had fallen upon Aurora and transformed the trees, the bushes into glittering monsters.

The radio contact flared up and then broke off again, but just as Bloy was about to slide one foot onto the ice floe, the line began to crackle again. It sounded as if a married couple were arguing there, long and fruitlessly. A female voice, speaking high and shrilly, unending, and again and again a muffled male voice interrupting with a growl. A baby whimpered.

Before the ice floe hung an invisible barrier which the men grappled in vain. Several of them were bleeding, but not only from the hands, also from mouth and nose, and one, it must have been Joy, kept running in circles until two of the others caught him.

Bloy wiped the foam from his mouth and pounded against the barrier with a trembling hand: "Where did this come from?"

Handsome looked at his sleeve, to which a small field voltage counter was attached.

"No deflection of any kind," he reported.

The voices in the field radio began to argue again. Now individual words could be understood. HE wanted her to come to bed with him, but SHE replied that her loathing of him had been growing more and more intense over time. I flipped the switch, but though the voltage fell to zero, the voices refused to go away.

"Do you hear that too?" asked Bloy in what he thought was my direction, behind the observation facilities.

"I thought so," he said then, relieved, once I had reassured him.

Out of the void, out of the jungle, out of the snowy landscape came loud breathing, as if a great animal were approaching there, carrying itself or a burden with an effort. Simultaneously a grinding noise resounded from the white field, and now the snow could be seen moving toward the little group from all sides. It formed little bulwarks, little hills, folded over where it mingled with the dirty ground, and seemed like nothing more than the time-lapsed surf of the sea, rushing very slowly against the coast.

I suddenly sensed that Boxley was in the control room next to me, and I reached for him involuntarily, without touching him; he drew back slowly and said close to my ear in a choked voice: "Away with you, ugh, go away, I don't want that!"

But whatever he meant, it was in vain, and suddenly Boxley stumbled and fell over, and as he lay there he seemed to shrink together, as if a film were settling over him, first gathering up his face as if in a devil's mask, then his body.

I could still hear him gurgling once his screams had died away, then I saw something lace him in still further, then he was a white silhouette doubled up on the ground, then he was nothing but a blurred streak in front of the trees out of which he seemed to be cut, and then he had vanished entirely, and the air was calm, and the trees, but also the control room could be seen again.

You know, I still have a pang in my heart when I remember how I was removed from the picture as well. All of a sudden it grew dark, as if a curtain had been drawn all around. All sounds, even those of the fighting men, fell silent. The landscape roared as if I were standing under a waterfall. Two or three birds which had appeared from nowhere, vanishing again as quickly as they had appeared, fell upon me with long, sharp bills, and blood flowed from my cheek.

I cannot say that I had lost my orientation, for now all around me there was nothing real, nothing to which I could have clung. I remember how I reached into cotton-wool as if I wanted to hold onto something, and how the cotton-wool dissolved in my hands. I felt blood on my lips as well, for I had bitten my tongue, but even as I thought this my body had become insubstantial and alien. The last I remember is the two arguing voices.

I have sometimes wondered, you know, whether there might not be something like thought transfer, a link between people which functions over great distances, which we are unable to assess and which is there whether we like it or not, connecting us with someone close in spirit, chaining us to them so that we sense their life, even if it is on another planet, in danger.

I roared, and foam issued from my mouth. I flailed about. I struggled. I pulled at the ropes which surrounded me like weak photoelectric barriers, a thin silver light falling through them from far above, as if up there a few select stars shone for me.

In this moment, even before I had the smell of grease and roasted meat and drying clothes in my nose, and the smell of sweat, I knew that I was in a hut, and next to me, but hidden in the darkness, was something which I could see only as a silhouette in the silvery light - something like a demon three meters in height, with long hair which hung down like grass, and eyes which shone in the darkness, as if the thing had rubies where we have eyes.

In fits and starts I came to myself again, as if someone were adding one piece of self to me at a time, as if someone had left me and was now coming back to me, step by step, someone whose approach I felt in the same degree as a heightening of myself. I no longer know whether I remember this clearly.

Alone in the cold of space, under the glittering stars, you are nothing. You are only someone together with others, and stronger. As if someone were switching on, like an anchor, this magnetic force which exists between people, a little stronger all the time - it was as if you were advancing through the jungle, past the little watercourses and the ponds.

I staggered in my bonds, tearing at them again, and again I felt the approach of madness and frenzy which, since Aurora, I always feel when a beloved creature approaches me. But as I felt this, the lights in my head were extinguished, I heard in the darkness a rattling breath.

The thing stirred and come closer. Its breath came in long waves, as if it were sucking in the air from far away and condensing it and then releasing it from its lungs (or whatever it had) with a rattle. I felt a terrible cold at my side and remembered the frenzy, the raging desire, the longing, the stars - remembered that I could bear it neither at home nor in the stars, that I was constantly drawn on to new adventures, to new shores from which I then returned home gladly, the ship's hold full of treasures.

The five moons hung high over the treetops, I lay in the grass and dreamed, a blade of grass in my mouth, and I smelled the perfume I love above all, and milk and honey flowed, and Lethe, and heavily I sucked the blood from your lips, when something brushed against me.

Gentle as a cat, sweet as the soft hand of the beloved in a graceful gesture. When I opened my eyes the animal which had touched me had vanished into the bushes, but there was a pang in my heart, as when someone leaves, someone whom we love and who tears away.

Momentarily the feeling passed as it had come, but something moved in the moonlight and under the branches and over the water which flowed on with a dreary murmur. First I saw a great cat which broke out of the jungle with glittering eyes, then a great Something with enormous breasts, stark naked and seeking its form.

Like someone who has always known that the great moment will come someday, like someone who always dreamed that fate holds a special fulfillment in store for him, so I took the blonde girl in my arms, and she hung there light and floating, like a cloud, like perfume, like my breath.

She spoke my language and thought my thoughts. She was as like me as any human being could possibly be like another. She anticipated me in all my wishes and guessed even my most secret thoughts, read my lips and finished sentences I had begun. She became a part of myself, and as evening sank again and again the five moons, great and heavy, had risen above the trees, she took me with her, my inner self, and in her wanderings it was caught on the thorny vines and the spiny plants and on the trees which grew claws.

Yes, it is fearful to stray in an alien jungle, where the corrosive juices burn, where acid lime falls from the trees, where the juices congeal in the heart and where only the memory of the spaceship remains, standing outside the jungle, in a clearing, its position lights burning in winter hoarfrost.

I also know what happened to Bloy (I will not speak of the others). Salome in her heart, her face veiled, she came to him in parting. She was a cat which crept up black to him and entered him through his ears and through his nose and through his mouth and acted on him by confusing his sense of direction. Bloy bellowed. Foam issued from his mouth, and he knew that he had found everything and lost everything a person could wish under the stars.

Were the alien beings like us humans? Did they have to tell us what they were and what moved them, so that they could be satisfied? I am a part of this planet, said Salome in my head. We are so different that for you we are everywhere, in the water of this brook, over there in the branches of the tree, we are the murmur of the wind, and we dwell upon the mountains. He burns who comes too close to us.

For you we are everything, and we appear to you as you wish to see us. We are immortal matter. We can take any form. We have become free to the utmost degree. Long ago our ancestors subjugated themselves to matter. They invented machinery which can do anything, which can transform anything into anything, which makes gold out of the sun and lets human beings be grown from yeast.

We are happy nature which has returned to itself. We are like the children who play in the garden of Eden, honey flowing into their mouths, and Lethe, lying on the breast of nature. Alas, we overlooked one thing - that we can no longer reverse this process once it is set in motion. We have entered paradise, we are nothing and everything, but we are unable to escape this form.

Whenever we want to stand still, the wind blows us on, whenever we want to hold onto something, the tiger tears us apart. When we are a woman, we must become a man, and when we are stone, lying peacefully in the sun, we trickle into the earth as sand. Time has worn us down, so that we can hardly make out the contours of the machine any more. We are one with the planet, are its form and its shell.

Go now, Salome had commanded Bloy, otherwise I must kill you, for nothing can live on this planet which is not like us. For a few days you were my anchor, something special, a tree which does not move here and there. For a moment I was able to love you. Press this button here, and this one, and program your spaceship, and go in peace!

But Bloy hangs there from the tree. He did not believe what he heard. The vultures circle him, and black birds pick away his flesh. Were they - this matter - even capable of killing, before we appeared here? Did they know what love is, and what some of us understood by it, those who are now dead? And who, if Salome is right, live gain, and die again, for nothing stays the same on Aurora in summer and in spring? And not when the wild waters rush?

The sweet and heavy dreams. The memory of life, of the be all and end all, of everything which we, under the stars, have nearly lost. A scent of blood on the tongue. The taste of cinnamon in the mouth. The friendly faces, and cries which pierce my ears again.

And still! There is nothing which could stop us. Nothing which could hold us back, nothing, from our way to the stars! We rip from our hearts the barb which makes us weak. We climb once more into the silver, the shimmering rockets. We fill the capacitors with juice. We voyage over the stars and listen to the sound of the roaring rockets. What are the wicked dreams, what are the wicked lies! I only know that I am happy when the MCCAULEY bores into the interstice as the rockets roar and the lights of the computer burn. It shakes, and its stabilizers rattle, and its maw breaths out the red recoil flame, and, do you know, its wires vibrate in the immense pulse which carries us away from Aurora, our wounds cooling, for we have drunk the water of Lethe, and it will not be long until we lie with the immortal and beloved women, with the be all and end all which robs us of our reason, and suck at their breasts and kiss their lips and read the stars in their eyes, while Aurora now sinks slowly into the void, into oblivion and darkness, into the gloomy and distant silence where the birds perch on the trees and peck at the corpses and beat their wings.

CONTENTS


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