TRANSCRIPT:This story is written by Ruari McDonnell. Ruari is a recent graduate from DePaul University with a BA in English that is finally being put to use. She narrates shows for the Adler Planetarium and throws axes for Ragnorok Axe Throwing in Chicago among various other strange jobs that support her cat’s instagram modeling career. She loves writing science fiction that is based on real astrophysics and will often consult the astronomers that she works with for her pieces. This is “Metamorphosis”.
There is no higher honor than being named the Philosopher, for our task is sacred: find the Truths of our world. We are advisors that consider all angles of ethics and are consulted for each major decision. The ancient Philosophers discovered the nature of the soul as something immortal, made of one piece, that can never decay or split. My focus is on the method of reincarnation. Imagine the soul as a photon, both existing as a wave and particle, allowing it to travel under any physical circumstances. When we die, that photon is released and travels until it finds a black hole. It falls to the bottom, where another universe waits to accept this soul after its journey to find another life. Unfortunately, this information is applicable to the current dilemma we face.
I sit underground in my study, a small cavern with incandescent bulbs that hang above my desk. They swing as the ships above prepare for the evacuation. The shadows dance across the insect that I am preserving, perhaps as a meditation to distract from the chaos above. Its wings are so fragile with networks of stained glass that allowed this creature the ability of flight. Why the Engineer chose aquatic inspiration for the spacecraft, I will never understand. Though, I also do not understand why they are fleeing when it is already too late.
Our sun is dying, but we have known this for a very long time. It has been expanding for generations, now finally consuming the sky in a red glow. Our planet used to be a lush garden of black foliage that soaked every bit of sun. We had cities that reached for the sky where we walked the surface without fear. Our culture was based in a celebration of the gifts of our planet instead of the frantic need of escape. We have perhaps days or mere moments until the radiation carves away at our atmosphere, before encasing our planet and then collapsing into a black hole. We should have left a generation before mine, but the constant argument for the perfect plan delayed us until we could no longer bear our red skin turning to scales and exposing the muscle underneath. The surface is ashen and littered with death. And yet, before we thought of leaving, we went underground to continue arguing about what protection we would need from the void of open space.
In my meditation, my door opens suddenly. It is Eryx, the Engineer, a person that is so unfamiliar now, even after raising them for the first ten years of their life. Their long white robes have not protected their skin from the effects of our sun. Their nose is hardly there anymore and their eyes squint as they struggle through the increasing blindness that affects us all now.
“Ambrosine, where are your bags?” they ask.
“In the closet of my quarters, where they always remain.”
“They should have been packed and in the dock an hour ago. We’re about to depart!”
I can’t bear to look at them. The exposed muscle moving in their jaw as they speak to me is too much.
“I am not going with you. I am staying here to die as I know there is no use running, just as you know as well.”
“So, you’re just giving up? What about ‘the hope that lives in every inch of the universe’? You don’t see that hope now that death is so close?”
I extend the tiny wing on my desk and pull it to match its pair. It is a task that must be done slowly and with care as to not rip it from the body.
“You misunderstand me then. For I see hope at the bottom of the black hole that is preparing to open. I see our future in another life, not running from a planet in flames, hoping to find something habitable in the void-“
“But we have! We found a planet only seven hundred light years away-“
“Seven hundred? What makes you think that you can outrun our star to make it to this planet? And what about those already there? There are serious ethical dilemmas assuming you even make it.”
“Why must you always focus on morality and philosophy-“
“I would be a horrible Philosopher for you all if I did not-“
Their outburst jolts my hand and creates a tear in the wing. It is disjointed now from the rest, a shatter in the glass. I look up to Eryx, who is flushed purple and wiping tears from their eyes.
“You always do this! You always look for every flaw in my work, every contrary point just to prove that you’re better. I get it, alright?! I get that we’ll probably not make it outside of the gravitational influence of our sun. I know that we’re all as good as dead, but why not try anyway? The outcome will always remain the same if we don’t even try to change it. You may think that you’re fifteen steps ahead from the rest of us with your ethical meditations, but you’re just giving up.”
Eryx has never spoken to me in such a way, but then again, we’ve hardly spoken since they chose their new guardians. Perhaps I should have been more nurturing, like Diamontus, or gentle like Pyra. But someone had to give them the information necessary to better themselves and that was me. Though, I was surprised that I was selected for guardianship in the first place. It is typical for Philosophers to essentially be hermits until the committees meet. And now I see why in the pain-stricken squint of their eyes.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?! Or are you just going to use your final moments to crawl into yourself and dive into the pool of your subconscious or whatever other trite nonsense you cling to?”
I look back down to the insect on my table and set my tools down. The lights sway as a rumble begins above us. The ships are preparing to depart and there is not much time left. I go to Eryx and embrace them gently, so I do not tear them, or perhaps because the gesture is alien to me. I hear the frantic flutter of each heart in their chest and the ragged breathing of a deep sadness. I close my eyes and in that moment, I feel as if I can reach out with my soul to theirs.
Their body releases into shaking convulsions of tears pent up for years. They are heavy in my arms, so much heavier now that they have grown so strong without me. Their pain resonates with my deepest self and I cry with them. The rumbling above us increases and my study gets warmer.
“We need to leave now,” they say. They take my hand and move towards the door, but I stay planted. I have already made my choice. They look back at me, eyes frantically searching to find mine with the weight of betrayal hanging as a barrier between us.
“My soul will find yours in the bottom of a black hole, Eryx.”
“In the next life, huh?”
“I promise I will do better.”
There is a long pause that is pregnant with grief. They grimace from the pain seeping out of the last words they say to me.
“I don’t think you will, Ambrosine.”
And they leave. I am alone again in my warming study, lights and shadows fluttering faster across the soil prison. All my life, I thought myself in the final stages of my evolution. And yet, I have not even left my cocoon. I stand on the cusp of a change and my feet move me forward. There is still time to be better. There is still time to prove Eryx wrong. I run up through the caverns, climbing the rungs out to the surface. The metal door is hot and melts the skin of my hands, but with one animalistic cry, I still make it to where the ships wait.
There are four metallic fish, swimming off into the sky. The dust around me settles and my skin turns to scales, as if even the sun wants me to join them. The world around me is white against the red of the sky. Flames have begun to consume the bushes and turn all that was once living into ash. The burn continues to peel back skin, even through my white robes. My vision turns black as the world goes red around me.
This is the part where I dissolve into a photon, waiting for the black hole to open so I can try again.
Kim Fukawa has been seen all around Chicago. Most recently she has worked with The House Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, and Babes With Blades Theatre Company. She is an artistic affiliate and occasional fight choreographer with Babes With Blades.
Nathan Shelton is a professional actor, writer, director, and special effects makeup artist living in Chicago. He has worked on numerous theatrical, tv, and film productions including Above Ground, The Rake, Scum of the Earth’s latest music video: Dance MotherF*&#er, and the Oscar nominated indie film, Winter’s Bone. His production company, ARCANE, is currently working on a multitude of devious dark projects, including a horror radio theatre anthology series called The Frightmare Theatre Podcast.