The Pulse: B.C., Vicino Prossimo
The Bright Shore
Berry saw that humans were lost at sea. They craved adventure yet feared to change. They gave drugs to manic-depressives yet went up and down like yo-yos. The wave crested and then crashed against the shore, and on each shore was a priest or yogi ready to turn their despair into enlightenment.
The basic problem as Berry saw it was that every one of their vaunted religions claimed to transcend all the waves and the ocean itself. The absurdity of each one claiming The Truth, combined with the claim of possessing The Eternal Truth in one Holy Book, secretly disturbed all but the most idealistic of believers. It wasn’t easy believing that the ink of your Holy Book was magic while the ink of the other Holy Books was just ordinary ink. Or that the invisible ink of your mystics was legible while the invisible ink of other mystics couldn’t be deciphered. The mystics repeated the messages of the Holy Books, yet they used codes and metaphors. These obscured the literal meanings so that people could get past the obvious fact that the literal meanings were nonsense.
Reasonable people could see through these absurdities and manipulations, yet many of these reasonable people were so desperate for meaning that they nevertheless clung to the nonsense, or to the obscure “inner meanings” of the nonsense. They used words like paradoxical, leap of faith, and essentialist existentialism.
At least this is the way Berry saw it from his Baulian perspective, which was staunchly atheist. Neither Berry nor anyone in the Baulian Empire had even heard of The Book of Fractals. They had never heard of the Vicinese or the twelve revolving universes of the Diamond Hoop.
Those who talk of the beginning of the cosmos do not understand time. Those who talk of a limit to the cosmos do not understand space.
The first beings to seek understanding were submerged in terror and dismay. Infinite regression battled infinite expansion, and for an aeon the first beings were lost in deep roads we can no longer trace.
Five billion yers ago they saw that while the laws of nature were obscure there were no greater principles than these laws. There was no such thing as magic.
All around them chaos was on the face of the void, yet they vowed never to give in. They prayed and searched for three billion years, only to confirm that the cosmos had no inherent order. So they decided to give it one.
Two billion years ago their questioning ceased. Slowly, they expanded the infinitely small into the infinitely large, keeping their minds on the prize: an order that wasn’t merely theoretical; an order that could be inhabited.
They established their capital on Vicino Prossimo and for a billion years worked to design the mechanisms that could give meaning to the existential fact of being alive. For the next billion years they implemented this system, which they called fractextentialism.
The Religion of Art
It didn’t surprise Berry that people pretended to believe in their Holy Books yet secretly believed in the alternate versions of truth offered to them by bards since the dawn of culture. Even the most staunch believers believed that their priests were making things up while the bards were telling the truth. The reason for this was simple: the bards didn’t pretend to tell The Whole Truth and Nothing But The Truth. They didn’t confuse poetry with prophecy, literature with liturgy, construction with clairvoyance, magic with medium, or consumer with congregation. Their best stories were so cleverly constructed that they absorbed most of the spare time humans might otherwise have spent wondering why on earth they existed in the first place.
Religion competed with art in vain. To try to win back an audience, priests and ministers couched their stories in dramatic terms, offering their believers miraculous Beginnings, ultimate Struggles, and glorious Ends. But for most humans these old stories were just backdrops they were told to believe in but couldn't imagine themselves inhabiting. They couldn't believe in them because they couldn’t see themselves in the stories. And once they were outside of them, once they started looking at other stories to find what they needed, the priests called them names like infidel or apostate. They explained to the priests that their holy characters were unlike anyone they knew. They did things like lift mountains and walk on water. The meanings were so grand that the whole thing was impossible to believe. The congregation also complained that the plots hardly ever changed. It was like watching the same series over and over again. Yet to their stupefaction, the priests insisted that this was the only way that their stories could remain true, infinite, vast as the sea.