Place of learning

The university was structured like a dream, infinite and incoherent, broken around the edges, a ruin and a metropolis folded into one narrow building which towered over the city and glided like a needle into the clouds. Central to the floorplan was the staircase, the highway between uncountable (yet meticulously labeled) floors, which thousands, perhaps millions, of students ascended and descended every period, creating traffic jams which took hours to disperse. Worsening matters were the workmen in orange suits who worked tirelessly on the staircase, perpetually renovating and restrengthening the concrete, tightening the passageways where they laboured such that only one student could slip by at a time, slowing the stampede to a trickle.

Beyond the stairway, each floor was its own labyrinth, the well-lit and central classrooms giving way to increasingly dilapidated corridors as one wandered further outwards. Dark and damp, in the outer walls of the building were alternate stairwells, which few dared to climb due to the lack of electricity and the way they crumbled underfoot.

Rising too far upwards through the university resulted in a similar gradient of decay. The upper floors were often abandoned and unelectrified, though the plumbing of the entire building was remarkably uniform. There were rumors of grand reservoirs in the topmost sections performing fresh water catchment, though all architectural details had long since been lost. Not even the exact number of floors was known for certain.

Thus, when plague began travelling through the city below, I knew that the university’s aeries, far from civilization, were where I wanted to hide. I ascended until traffic was obsolete, and made camp in a shadowed lounge, lit only by moonlight streaming through a filthy window.

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Looking out from my perch, far below, the streets and blocks of the greatest city humanity has ever built sprawls towards the horizon. Maybe ‘built’ is a misnomer - ‘coalesced’ or ‘evolved’ or ‘metastasized’ are better. The same goes for ‘greatest’ - not quite the right word for what I know is unfolding far below - .

The university draws its many students in by the very promise that it will elevate us from our base natures to become the leaders and scholars that drive the great engine of civilization forward. It’s such an obvious allusion to build it so tall as to show the students these vistas, pulling them to believe that they are above it all.

When I was a child, the library was where I would hide from the houndings and harrassments of my peers. Among the books I could find the solace and friendship unavailable from my fellows. The conversations those friendships bred eventually lead me here, in the pursuit of transcendence along with my fellow students. But here I am once again, seeking safe harbor amid the chambers of knowledge, hiding like a frightened animal.

The irony of choosing refuge in this place is not lost on me.

Nor is the singular avenue of escape, should my luck run out and my new viral tormentor find me here.

I move closer to the window.

And the streets below, with their mayhem unfolding, is linked in my mind to those experiences long ago, and as I lean over the edge of the unstable window, I teeter on the edge of my own internal abyss; the abyss that whispers to that base animal nature of mine, they deserve what’s coming.

I did say like a dream, but I did study at the university, I was at study, once, and as such, being critically minded, within reason, I have to ask myself, whose dream? Structured like a dream all the same. Not my dream. But like a dream in the sense that it was only real through memory. I say through memory, but when one wasn’t there, at the university, and one was often there, it was memory which kept the university alive. In a sense. Like a dream in the sense that it meant everything and nothing, depending on your disposition. And how that disposition affected how significant you thought dreams.

I realised, ascending, as I said, and entering the university, to escape the pandemic, which was the latest of a series of virus’ to affect the overcrowded, poorly planned, poorly maintained, poorly sanitised city that surrounded the campus, I had never been here at night before. It wasn’t nice. It was unpleasant for what was normally full of noise was now quiet, and dark. It’s disturbing. Of course, I knew I wasn’t the only one with this idea. If others had done the same classes as I, the critical reasoning lessons, the dream analyses, the psychogeographic mass, the mass of mental concrete, and so on, well they would’ve also come back here to wait out most normal people being sick. Made sense. I am not an original thinker. If I came to the university, so must others. And do they deserve what’s coming? Who is the they? I need to focus. Where are my pills? Yes they deserve yes.

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I awake in the morning after a fitful night. As a learned individual, I resist the petty superstitions that the full moon has a tangible effect on our biology, but while correlation does not imply causation, I cannot dispute the data presented by my journal, the work-in-progress map of my psyche, indicating that nights with full moons bring with them a statistical significance of strange dreams and poor sleep. Or maybe I can explain it away by my pill consumption.

I lie blinking on the couch in the morning light. My humble perch on top of the citadel is sufficiently far removed that the cries of the city below is scantly heard. The only voices heard from this altitude is the wind singing as it caresses the wood and stone, and the creaking of the ancient structure sings to me a desolate duet. Their loving relationship pulls suddenly into perspective my own solitude.

If last night’s episode is any indication, I will lose my mind up here if I do not keep it from wandering. It is time to explore this forgotten section of the ivory fortress.

The lounge I occupy is beyond dusty and I count myself lucky that I do not count being emphysematous on my significant list of ailments. Nevertheless I make a mental note to seek for a broom on the foray I launch myself into.

Passing through a door and the corridor behind it and another door, the room I enter seems to be unlit, the intricate web of mirrors and windows and flourescent fungi that otherwise serves the chambers of the citadel with adequate illuminate the citadel, apparently broken down in this deteriorated wing. I come prepared for this of course, and as the light from my lantern reveals the room to me, a gasp of joy escapes my throat involuntarily.

“Friends! You are here!”

I have found salvation for my tortured mind! I look upon the spines and collections of books with glee. So much better to be exiled in the company of good friends. I tenderly run my fingers across the dusty jackets, allowing them to feed me with the intuition of which one to choose first.

I crack open the tome with both hands, lantern handle in mouth. My eyes dart over the letters in the flickering light… It reads,

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I laugh. What nonsense! Pure Gnosticism, and utterly out of line with the scientific consensus. As a student of the galacto-ph/sysics department, I am well-versed in the latest theories of cosmogony; Multiversal Hypertrophy, the Coalescion Hypothesis, Relatio-centrism. I cannot remember the last time such dualistic fluff dominated science philosophy; it has been centuries since archetypes of Light and Dark have been abandoned in favor of the Egg, the Hammer, and the Orchid.

Disappointed, I discard the outdated text, glimpsing for a moment by my flickering torch the name of the strange alchemist that wrote it: Soleimaxim.

Something else from the library, then. I take a large, heavy book, illustrated, and perhaps intended for children? The text and the drawings are both beautifully, meticulously rendered.

THE EGG, THE HAMMER, THE ORCHID

The egg envelopes the orchid.
The orchid distracts the hammer.
The hammer crushes the egg.
The egg envelopes the orchid.
The orchid distracts the hammer.
The hammer crushes the egg.
-This continues in all eternity.-

  • THE EGG represents the potentiality of things. It is the time traveller. The softness that lies within, a shell of ones one bone. The egg is in constant flux between the before and the promise of an after. It is a meditation on the reality of uncertainty that all things in the universe hold. The universe is an unconfined egg, a becoming of ones own mother. The egg shows the potential of egg(mother)hood, beyond the capsule or container. The egg is the start of time and the ghost of the future. The classic ”chicken or the egg” question, is the very foundation of the physics of time in a entangled word. The egg can be viewed upon as food, but not by the chickens, never by their creators, food is merely a meal, and the chickens know that their are bigger philosophies than the philosophy of the meal.
    Every 10 year old is obliged to carry an egg with them at all times for a whole year in order to learn about care and the fragility of life.

  • THE HAMMER strokes your chin oh so softly. The hammer is the constructer and the destroyer. The hammers is the thing that falls on your foot, the thing that hits your thumb when your looking away. The hammer is a useful tool to build useless castles. The hammer is the giver and the taker, it is the emotions we carry, the rollercoasters we live. One could say the hammer is the ocean, but the water itself would then be the orchid. If the hammer is the wind, the orchid is the air. The hammer is the cause of a-lot of sleepless nights and mornings, its the glue and the scissor that lays between our neighbors (between relations). The hammer is double egged in that sense that, if you hit someone with the hammer in their kneecap, your kneecap will be broken too. Every mark you leave on other bodies will appear on your too. The same applies when building a house or a chair.

  • THE ORCHID is a mystery, a question, a guess we will never know the answer too. The orchid is the artist, portraying the worlds as a mirror image, as an afterthought, as an imperfect replica designed to expand the consciousness of the world. The orchid is the very representation of the universe (the egg) constantly expanding through its tapping into what is already there. The orchid can swallow you whole, its vulnerability is its greatest strength. The orchid is the observer that sometime shares clues about the world that we can try, but never fully decipher. The orchid has felt the dinosaurs disappear, they remember it clearly, and store the information in the water they touch through their roots. The orchid touches everything.

It’s been half a month since I made my ascent to the upper levels of the citadel, these decadent halls that have suffered such neglect by the Servicers that it would boggle any mind why the whole place hasn’t simply collapsed. Any mind except one that knows of the genius architecture and materials that the core of the building was wrought from.

It is a thing of the past, this place. It was built in a time when power and natural resources were abundant and civilization used them to play supply-and-demand games on a global scale. Rare earth elements could be collected from 16 different locations across the planet and alchemized into amazing machines that could just barely assess their own existence, but could think incredibly fast. And not only fast. Their ability to solve problems was, in comparison, like dolphins gliding through water to our feeble paddling.

It was these machine minds that made the core architecture of the university. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say they evolved it, for their immense thoughts were grown like a living thing rather than merely reasoned out. And then fashioned by materials in a way that cannot be committed to books, and therefore is a thing to worship for its divinity.

One professor once told me it had been standing for three thousand years, and would easily stand for another thirty thousand. It wasn’t always a university, but its original purpose is a matter of myth and speculation at this point. The indestructible core that wraps the inner staircase once housed some sort of elevation device, but of course such things are of the past.

Which is why I assess this to be a safe place. Who in their right mind would make the effort to crawl three thousand mietres vertically up to a place that has no resources but knowledge and hasn’t seen any use for centuries?

There is a point in the tower where noise disappears. The noise from below that is. The voices of the students, the slamming of doors, the endless shuffling of feet on the staircase, they all disappear if you climb high enough. It was not a gradual change.

It was like there was a point where the structure simply decided that the cacophony created by its human inhabitants no longer had any right to exist, and simply cut it off. At first, it was unnerving to say the least. I spent the first few days making as much noise as I possibly could. Dragging my feet, coughing loudly even though I didn’t have to, opening creaking doors really slowly.

I soon grew accustomed to it, but not because the absence of noise became something I was used to, oh no. As it turns out, as is the case with every major structure of course, the tower had voices of its own.

The whisper of wind through broken windows and long hallways. The flutter of ancient pages as they traversed the floors, carried on those winds. And the moan of the tower itself, as it shifted and settled, a process that would be ever-lasting, as long as the tower remained standing. The earth below moved, pushed and pulled by gravity and forces unknown to me (because who in their right mind would study anything as banal as geology or rudimentary physics?), and in so doing, moved the tower. This in turn created other sounds, as bookshelves swayed, however minutely, and floors and walls shifted ever so slightly.

But there were also actual voices up here. The fragments of the machine minds responsible for the tower’s construction and indeed many of its secret wonders, roamed these halls and chambers. They whispered to each other and to no one in languages that left the realm of words and continued into pure heliomathematics. I heard them yet did not. None of their voices vibrated my ear drums and none of their light reflected into my eyes, yet they were there.

Maybe they had made their way into the dream that was the tower, interwoven themselves with the tower’s geography not merely in the physical world but in the beyond, and I, so removed from the daily routines of the university and immersed in that dream, could somehow perceive them. It was something which I spent many hours pondering. I scoured the shelves for books on the subject. I appropriated what might have been a kitchen once as my study, and set to work.

This symbol, is as far as i have come in my research. Its a thing that keeps reappearing in many of the oldest books of the tower. I also found it carved into one of the former kitchen walls. So i am doing my best to decipher it. I’ve been staring at it for god knows how long, turned it and looked at it in all directions. Sometimes it looks like two canes walking and then at some point i thought it i some kind of diversion of the pi symbol, maybe it is a symbol of the infinite? Maybe it is the tower itself or a table of some sorts. Or maybe its something really stupid, like the word for ”you wanna fuck?” In some ancient forgotten language, in style of the very frisky tags on the walls of Pompeii.

Yesterday i perhaps went a bit too far into the obsession and stick and poked it on my wrist. Its silly but i felt like maybe carrying it on me would bring me closer to the meaning. I also sent it away to a couple historians working with symbolism and lets see if someone replies and has a hum. The urge of finding this out grows stronger as the voices that i hear appear more and more clear, maybe at some point i could even distinguish a word out of this mumble.

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I’ve sat at the window watching the world turning, as days turn to months and months turn to years. At first sustaining myself on the stocks of the university, moving myself little from my perch. Conserving my energy so I may contemplate. Contemplation is a precious thing, a value that once inspired a civilization to build this citadel. But for all I know, I am the last contemplator alive, and I see now the way of science as if from the outside. Knowledge is worthy of worship, and all that worship of knowledge is now waning, funneling down to one last person sitting here, staring off into the horizon as the worlds fall apart inside and out.

I am the last worshipper of the strange god of knowledge known as The Egg, The Hammer and the Orchid. As the city is enveloped by the pandemic, as the distractions of humanity becomes a thousand destructive fires, and as fires turn to ash, and the city crumbles to dust as surely as the Hammer crushes the Egg, the cycle of enveloping, distraction and crushing continues in endlessly on the inside.

Eons pass. My body is enveloped by worship, distracted from the physical, which is in turn crushed by the hammer of time, but the cycle continues, and still I stare across the plains. Below there is little but ruins left of what once was. The sides of the university have worn down to their stony center, leaving the core of the place, an upright tower of stone. On the plateau that is the roof, the gardens there continue growing, yielding sweet fruit, but I am beyond such things.

A tribe of sentient apes, the product of selective breeding and biochemical alterations from a time long gone, move into the area below and settle into a strange equilibrium, climbing daily to the top of the citadel, eating fruit, then sliding back down again. They avoid my perch.

I am the wild ghost waiting for justice, locked in the eternal cyclical dance.

Until ages past, my guest finally arrives.