“It sure is quiet out here, isn’t it?” she asked.
“Hmph,” he replied. “Ever since last week it’s been nothing but quiet, hasn’t it? No car stereos, no airliners, no motorcycles… Just good ole peace-and-quiet.”
“You know,” she said, leaning in closer to him, “I think I could get used to this.”
“Nice thing about all this is that there’s no radiation. A nuke would’ve had radiation, you know. We’d all be sick or dead right now. I like the idea of the… What’d they say it was? Some kind of computer virus?”
“Yeah, something like that,” the young woman replied. “I’m not a big techie, so it didn’t really make all that much sense to me.”
“That’s okay, sweetie. We seem to be doing pretty well so far, right?”
“I guess so,” she said.
The silence was deep all around them. Not even birds, driven to the south by hundreds of thousands of years of migratory habits, were present to disturb the quiet of the night. Summer was coming to an end; and besides, the cicadas wouldn’t hatch for another few years now. This was truly a silent night, holy night, all was calm, all was bright.
“How’d you ever convince me to come up here with you?” she asked, bemused. “You know we don’t have much gas left in the Wrangler to make it back to town after this little adventure of ours. What if we get stranded out here? Did you think of that, Mister Eagle Scout? Hmm?” She playfully nudged his ribs with her finger.
“Of course I did, sweetie: Scout’s honor! Besides, what would we do in town anyways? TV’s out, internet’s out, plus all the refrigerators at the grocery store have been emptied by now. Good thing I bought all those MREs a while back, right?”
“Yeah,” she laughed, “I guess it is. I did give you a lot of crap for that, didn’t I?”
“You sure did. Said we’d never use them. Well, who’s laughing now, huh?” he said, nudging her right back below her ribs. She jumped a little at the touch; she’d always been ticklish there.
“So tell me, Mister Eagle Scout, what stars can we see now that the all the streetlights are dead?”
“Well, you see that one over off to the south? The one that kinda blinks red-and-blue all the time?” He tried to point it out to show her, but it was too dark for his hand to be seen. “That one’s Alpha Centauri, the closest star to us. Well, other than the Sun, of course…”
“And what about that big blue one right there?”
“Where?” She was having the same problem of her arm not being visible.
“That one right there, silly! The big, sparkly one. Which one’s that?”
“Oh, you mean Rigel? Yeah, that’s a really big star. Way bigger than the Sun.”
“I think it’s pretty,” she said, hugging her Eagle Scout a little tighter with one arm.
“It is pretty, isn’t it? You’d never know if you were in the middle of town before all the lights went out, would you?”
“No, I guess not.”
The lights went out about a week ago. Most people in town didn’t know that from now on they would need to survive in the woods, much less how to do it, and so many simply stayed put. The elderly and the sick were hit the hardest, since even the generators for the nursing homes would run out of gas sometime. Children cried for a few days that none of their shows would work anymore but once they got over that, they were regular children again, bouncing in puddles, eating worms, coming home all covered in mud. The best part, said their parents, was that it wasn’t yet winter: summer was on its way out, with autumn shortly behind. Days were cool, nights were mild, and the only rain that fell was a fine mist that made the grass sparkle like a carpet of diamonds in the early morning sun. Tonight, the moon was like a brilliant fingernail clipping in the sky, wrapped in endless stars. It was the perfect night for both getting lost and trying to find yourself; either way, it was entirely up to you.
“You got your Astronomy merit badge, right?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he replied. “It was like the second one I got at camp. Why?”
“Well, how many stars you think are up there? You’re the expert here.”
“Gee, you know… Beats me. I remember reading that there’s something like a hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. Then you think that there are a hundred billion galaxies up there too, and…” He whistled to show how impressed he was. “You get the idea.”
“That’s an awful lot, honey. I don’t think I can count that high.”
“Well, that’s okay. If you could, I think I’d be worried for you.”
“You never know! For all you know, I could be some kind of robot or something…”
“Oh, I don’t think you’re a robot, sweetie. You would’ve gotten fried right along with our phones, remember? Besides, I thought you said you weren’t a techie.” He gave her another playful nudge.
“Right, right. So I’m not a robot… Maybe I’m just a human after all!”
There are two things that the human mind absolutely cannot comprehend, no matter how hard it tries: annihilation and infinity. The first because to imagine how you’d feel if you one day ceased to exist is a counter-argument against annihilation in and of itself, and the second because the mind lacks even the creativity to imagine a single new color, much less an infinity of colors marching on forever across an endless spectrum of light waves from the moment of the Big Bang to that incalculable future wherein even the strings within the quarks within the electrons within the atoms of the physical universe grow cold and still with age. This, however, certainly doesn’t stop us from trying.
“Whadya think’s up there?” she asked, staring quite literally off into space.
“Gas. Same as farts, only bigger.” This one earned the Eagle Scout a light punch on the arm.
“Oh c’mon, be serious! What’s up there?”
His silence was swallowed up in the world’s as he thought thoughts he’d never really thought before.
“Is that it?!” she said, mockingly flabbergasted. “‘I dunno’? We’re out here in the dark, all alone, discussing the important questions of human existence, and all you can say is ‘I dunno’? You’ve gotta have something…”
“Hmm… How about aliens?”
“Now that’s something. And what do you suppose the aliens are doing up there?”
“Probably laughing their heads off, now that I think about it. ‘Oh look, Zorgalfax, the humans have destroyed their computer systems. How ever will they play Halo again and fantasize about killing us?’”
“You think they’re just waiting up there, laughing at us?”
“Well, yeah. I would too, if I were them. Or maybe I would cry… How about a combination of both?”
“Maybe the aliens don’t feel sympathy,” she suggested. “Maybe they don’t cry.”
“No,” he said, “trust me: it’s the humans that don’t feel sympathy. For all we know, that might be what makes us human.”
“Oh please, don’t be so cynical. Of course humans feel sympathy!”
“Right. Isn’t that why you said you’d go out with me the first time I asked? Relax, relax, I’m kidding! I don’t think you’re an alien.”
“Well, if I’m not an alien and I’m not a robot, then what am I, exactly?”
“An excellent question,” he said. “I think I’ll investigate further, if you don’t mind.”
“And how do you plan on doing that, exactly?”
“I’ll need to test you for empathy, like in Blade Runner. You’ve seen that movie, right?” If it hadn’t have been so dark, he would have seen her shake her head “no”.
“Well, in the movie, there are these robots that look exactly like humans. Like, perfect replicas of humans; the difference is that the robots don’t have empathy, so Harrison Ford’s character does this little test on them to see how they would react in different situations.”
“Like what kinds of situations?”
“Um, you know, I can’t remember. I think one of them had to do with a turtle or something.”
“How am I supposed to feel empathy towards a turtle?”
“If I remember it right, the turtle’s like flipped on its back or something, just kicking its legs in the air without flipping over. The test was that the tester guy told the robot that he wasn’t helping the turtle, just watching it.”
“Well, why wouldn’t he help the turtle? It can’t flip over on its own, can it?”
“See, that was the point… They were testing to see if the robot would get mad at the idea of seeing an animal in distress without helping it.”
“So what happened?” she asked curiously.
“Well… The test worked.”
“Whadya mean, it worked?”
“The robot got mad. Then he shot the guy giving the test.”
“Sheesh! Sounds like it worked, alright! He shoots a guy, just so he can prove that he’s capable of empathy…”
“Yeah, I remember being a little weirded out with the dynamics of that one.”
The third thing that the human mind cannot comprehend is the concept of love. The mind can determine in rough terms what it believes to constitute love in various contexts: two people grasping each others’ hands, putting their mouths together, even mixing chromosomes in order to instigate cellular mitosis. This, however, is indicative of the human mind’s general failure to comprehend love. A majority of the problem lies in the conflation of various states of mind and hormonal imbalances with dance steps choreographed ahead of time via millions of years of compounded genetic programming. By stopping at this convenient juncture of the chemical and the physical, the human mind essentially saves itself from the horror of trying to comprehend the concept of love on a level deeper than just body reflexes and neurotransmitters.
The reason for the above phenomenon is simply this: love is both annihilation and infinity. Love is the act of annihilating the self, in order that the new pair of non-selves thus formed may march on forever with the infinite colors of the electromagnetic spectrum, until “even the strings within the quarks within the electrons…”, so on and so forth. Perhaps love, like nirvana, can best be described by what it isn’t, rather than what it is. Love isn’t eternity, because eternity starts now and keeps going forever after; infinity never started in the first place. Love is neither gained nor destroyed based on another human being’s seemingly conscious efforts to make themselves lovable or unlovable; if that were true, then it would no longer be infinite. Love isn’t the combination of two bunches of chemical compounds that coincidentally resemble Greek letters, but it should be the laboratory where such experiments take place. Love isn’t simply getting lost in the stars; it’s coming back down to Earth again.
“Do you think the electricity will ever come back on?” she asked.
“I can’t say,” he replied. “Maybe, maybe not. I guess I don’t care much either way. It’s not like you’re missing anything on Facebook anyways, right?”
“You’ve got a point.” She hugged him just a little tighter now as they both started to stare at the vast swath of stars above them and individually try to comprehend the three incomprehensibles; neither would admit to the other that they had failed.
“You know,” he said, still looking up with his face next to hers, “I’ve never seen this many stars. And seeing them now, it really makes me think about a lot of things.”
“Like what?” she prodded.
“Well… I don’t know. It’s hard to put into words, really. It’s just that…”
“Oh, forget about it. I’m not too good with this kind of thing anyways.” He turned his head to face her; the stars and fingernail-clipping moon gave little light to see by, but something inside revealed what her eyes held for him.
“That’s okay,” she said. “I think I know what you mean.”
What the world around them wouldn’t give for the electricity felt as their lips met under hundreds of billions of stars, all winking away like hundreds of billions of flashbulbs trying to capture two human beings in the act of trying to comprehend the three incomprehensibles.