by Charles Ta
An orthodox pan-temporal account of the fate of all occupants of Earth (from System S-108374421) before, throughout, and after the Astralect Engagement, as recounted by one of the last pre-Merger “Tamed” humans, for the Astralect Eternal Records:
When the spacefarers who called themselves the Astralects came, they took our heads and planted a “theozoan” pathogen that changed how we saw and understood the world. They had no craft to speak of, at least none that could be seen, because they were needless for the Engagement they had planned, and had far more subtle means to control us.
Over the course of several years they secretly entered our vessels of flesh, through our water, our sky, our land. As the pathogen they created covertly grew and spread, we began to lose our language, our knowledge and awareness. We started to forget our words and abandon our thoughts, as they were usurped by the vernacular of the Astralects, called Startongue. Our technology proved no match for them, and as a result, our downfall was assured. The names of faraway lands, states, and settlements faded away, books sat unread, schools turned to ash, the past and future merged as one, and pen and sword all crumbled to dust. Then whole concepts became less and less understood by greater and greater numbers of people, only to be deposed by new concepts unknown and unfathomable to our unprepared psyches.
Eventually, the bonds that once held people together broke down, for they could no longer transfer messages or speak properly, and slowly, but surely, all human art and culture fell apart. And from the shattered fragments of Earth’s old governments there arose a new, supreme government. A new hegemony and a new language unencumbered by petty squabbles. One that would enforce absolute sameness for all, and both create and preserve true harmony for everyone.
Before we knew what had happened, we were no longer people. We had become dumb subdued cattle, Tamed beasts who had been quelled by the slaughter of our vocabulary. From deep beneath our frontal and temporal lobes, now managed by our mental overlords, we were told that under the Startongue language, we could no longer speak the vowel after “e”, also known as the letter after “h” and before “j”, or say or contemplate any word, phrase, concept, or sentence that used, referred to, or was related to a word that used that banned letter of the alphabet, because such words were absent from Astralect grammar and morphology. We were told through the spacers’ uncanny utterances that the symbol was censored for our own good, and out of paramount concern. Through the necessary purge, they stated, our egos would be destroyed, our hearts would be freed from the cage that was the self, and our very selves would be prepared for transcendence, for reasons unknown back then.
We flawed, broken humans, they added, would be herded towards greatness, mended and made complete, and become perfect, gentle creatures through a Great Merger that would last for hundreds of years. We had to be. The result of that Merger would be total Oneness and peace, as had been the fate of thousands of advanced races before us across the cosmos.
From the Astralects’ frame of reference, the letter our language once harbored was not only one of the most dangerous terms throughout the whole galaxy, but also the root of our agony, our greed, our separateness—the source of all our problems and the problems of countless other peoples and worlds comparable to ours. Lethal to nonhuman orthography and the catalyst to wars and clashes across the ages. Heresy to all that was pure and holy. Before the Astralects assumed control over us, they asserted, we were purposeless, fallen, and doomed. Had they not removed our autonomy, our free agency, we would have brought apocalypse upon ourselves—an event the Astralects could not allow to happen at any cost.
Months passed. Once the Astralects made sure the pathogen they had created had overtaken all humans, they appeared through portals on Earth as many-eyed, many-tentacled archangels made of nacreous, lustrous ooze. They ushered on the world a new Golden Age—one where no one could be hurt or suffer anymore, death had been overcome, war and money were forgotten, every person was equal, the extremes of ecstasy and comfort were bestowed upon us, and the problems of resources, ecology, hunger, and energy had long been solved. Although the Astralects had helped us reach the apex of our development, however, some of us felt they were not as benevolent as they portrayed themselves to be. Remnants of our past haunted our dreams even as the Astralects had begun to delete our memory of ages long gone.
Around the year 53 AE (After Engagement), a number of us challenged the rule of those who took our encephalons, corrupted our speech, and had created dull pets out of us. We attempted to rebel, to overthrow our masters as best as we could, because deep down, though the Astralects gave us heaven, we felt…detached from ourselves. But because of the pathogen that taught us Startongue, we had no words to express our rage and sorrow, let alone understand who we were. We could not comprehend that we had been robbed of our freedom and reason, nor that the Astralects were not good, not holy, or not truthful. The antonyms of these words unfortunately featured that letter that could not be pronounced by Astralects, nor even thought of. Our sloth and secret enjoyment of Astralect pleasures further hampered our cause, as we allowed ourselves to be led astray further towards beasthood than we already were.
As a result, our crude revolt collapsed mere moments after we had made our demands by groan and grunt, and assembled a clumsy, weak assault. The Astralects soon found out about our treachery and unsuccessful upheaval, but rather than torture us for our conduct, they showed us care, love, and mercy, and sought to protect us more than ever.
They accelerated the Merger they had planned for us. One by one, they gathered every Tamed person across planet Earth and created enormous, mouthless protoplasms out of them called Gestalts, each one composed of thousands of humans and the pathogens they harbored. Then they took these Gestalts, fused them to other Gestalts to form even larger Gestalts, constructed “wombs” to house and feed them, and altered the genes they possessed so they resembled the thousand-armed Astralects themselves.
As of today, hundreds of thousands of Gestalts have already been Merged. Only a select few of us wander Tamed but UnMerged—the narrator tasked to be the record-keeper and curator of the Astralects’ deeds on Earth—among them.
Soon, we too shall be Merged, and become Astralects ourselves, no less godly or perfect than them. And for that, we thank them. We thank them because they freed us from the tyranny of selfhood and the soul out of mercy, so that we could escape our troubled, confused past and transcend our lesser forms towards godhood. The Astralects, blessed as they are, saved us from ourselves, preserved our people, and gave us a clear purpose: to usher total peace, order, gladness, and safety to all worlds, just as they had done to us on Earth.
And one day, as the Astralects revealed to me, we newborn Gestalt-turned-Astralects would travel across the galaxy to perpetuate the cycle they started, once we were deemed ready. The torch would be passed from them to us, just as the Astralects had been handed the torch from older predecessors, so that all peoples from all worlds could share and enjoy the total peace, love, and harmony bestowed by the spacefarers.
From there, we would travel amongst the stars to search for fallen worlds to descend upon, chosen for the advanced peoples seen to dwell on them. We would then send pathogens from ourselves to these planets, and watch as they assumed control of other races, compelled them to speak Startongue, and cleanse away the cultures they once held dear. Then we would emerge through portals over our conquered worlds, corral the races-turned-pets, and oversee heavenly Mergers between them, so that more Astralects could be bred to advance the sacred cause, and spread onto more worlds, and repeat the endless Mergers to forge ever larger and more numerous Gestalts and Astralects. Forever.
And eons from that era that we were foretold about by the Astralects, who knew many pasts and many futures all at once, the cosmos would at long last know peace after the last untouched planet of the farthest galaxy was Merged. The Astralects, they declared, would keep the peace and constantly Merge amongst themselves for eons more afterwards, so that true Oneness and peace could be reached. Over the ages, as the stars burned out, the Astralects would gradually grow as large as moons, then Merge to become planets, then stars, then black holes. Eventually, they would grow so enormous and Merge so frequently that only a few of these ageless gods as gargantuan as galaxy superclusters would be left to roam the endless darkness, and fuse and become One Astralect. One Absolute Whole, composed of the selves of all peoples and all races across all space and all eras, past, present, and future.
Through these events, however, tragedy would befall the One Astralect, the One Whole. A Great Cataclysm called “The Severance”, whose other name was “entropy” would eventually occur to the One at the end of the cosmos. A Cataclysm that not only could not be stopped or reversed, not even by the Astralects’ powers, merely delayed, but would utterly tear apart the One by the sheer forces of dark energy. But the One had foreseen the fate that would end the Astralects, and had created a method that would save them, and us all.
“Do you want to know why we do what we do, and how the One ensured our safety?” the Astralects told me. “The One created a portal to send our pathogens back to the past, to the early days of the cosmos, so the Astralects could be remade, and all planets could be seeded and Merged once more, your Earth just one from a long thread of many. For the Astralects truly are endless. We are the Alpha and the Omega. The Creator and the Created. Eternally One.”
Charles Ta is a teacher, illustrator, and writer based in Union City, NJ. His short story “Tough Luck, Kid” was recently published in the novel BLAST , the latest entry in the Ben Blackshaw action thriller series by Robert Blake Whitehill, while another short story of his, “Nano-Noir”, recently won Third Place at a local writing competition about technology. When not writing, you can usually find Charles reading a good book, drawing, or inspiring his students to succeed academically. Follow him on Instagram (@charlestaart) or check out his website (charlesta.com) to see his latest artwork.
“Xenogram” was initially inspired by the obscure philosophy of Symbiosism (which views language as a kind of organism or memetic virus that aims to propagate itself) as well as by the ideas and theories of anti-colonial philosopher Frantz Fanon, who investigated the relationship between language, power, and colonialism. He wrote that “to speak a language is to participate in a world, to adopt civilization” (i.e. that speaking a certain language forces you to participate in the culture and society of the civilization which that language originates from, and can even influence the way you view yourself and the world around you). Applied to colonialism, Fanon asserted language is a tool that could be used by a colonizer civilization against a colonized people as a form of “linguistic imperialism”. By forcing indigenous peoples to abandon their native languages and learn the language of their oppressors, they would be made to participate in the world of the colonizer, and thus facilitate their own subjugation. In my narrative, the Astralects are unfathomably powerful, eldritch alien entities who colonize Earth by implanting a parasitic pathogen into the brains of humans, slowly destroying their ability to understand and speak their own languages, and forcing them to worship the Astralects, as well as speak their alien language—Startongue. By speaking Startongue, humans lose their intelligence/sapience and their identities, largely forget their pasts and the history of their species (leading to the death of human culture), and become unable to conceive of themselves as individuals separate from others, because the Startongue alphabet lacks the letter “I” and also lacks singular pronouns (meaning speakers can only speak in plural—which is how the Astralects see themselves—as collectives/groups rather than individuals). The entire story functions on a formalistic, stylistic level as a lipogram—not once is the letter “I” used in the entirety of the narrator’s account of the Astralect intervention. Furthermore, Startongue lacks certain words that would allow humanity to view their oppressors as malevolent, or realize they are being oppressed. It is the ultimate colonialist language which successfully keeps humanity subservient. To the Astralects, Startongue is a perfect, divine language (a reference to the Biblical language of the angels, or the idea of “speaking in tongues”) because it eliminates what they believe is the root cause of suffering and destruction in the Universe—egoism, individuality , and ultimately , free will. “Xenogram” also elicits questions about time, identity , and ethics, and whether they are ultimately constructed or illusory. The ending of the story implies it is one giant time loop and that the Astralects eventually reach an Omega Point-like state of singularity that is inevitably annihilated by entropy and the Universe’s Big Rip, forcing them to travel back in time to ensure their own survival and recreate the Omega Point (suggesting they create themselves, causing their own existence, making them seem increasingly godlike and paradoxical, both in a secular and Biblical sense). Indeed, my story subverts the concept of “reuniting” with God or the Omega Point from something holy and beautiful to a kind of body horror nightmare. Furthermore, the Astralects don’t seem to have a conception of time like humans do, and don’t believe in free will. Thus, their Universe is ultimately a deterministic one ruled by fate, one in which we don’t really have any choices to speak of. They see all events past, present, and future, occurring at once, therefore all events have already been predetermined. The Astralects are inevitable. They are the antithesis of free will themselves, a product of their own worldview as much as the species and civilizations they absorb. As a result, the Astralects seem to espouse an extreme form of utilitarianism or consequentialism—their lack of a belief in free will allows them to legitimize their oppression and transmutation of other species, because they see the results as ultimately beneficial to the colonized civilizations as a whole. From a religious or theological standpoint, the Astralects equate free will to a disease that must be cured, to the Christian conception of sin as arising from our ability to decide whether to do good or evil. To “remedy” this flaw they perceive in all sentient life forms, the Astralects remove their ability to “sin” in the first place by turning people like us into angelic beings like them, then descend upon pacified planets to create utopias which give their inhabitants a heavenly existence, easy answers, and leaves everyone dissatisfied: is it ever morally permissible to take away the free will of individuals if their lives are made infinitely better in exchange?