To See

by Edward.Bryant

through eyes . . .
          Eyes of crystal, mirror.
          Eyes: reflecting, refracting. Eyes lit bright with fires from infinity.
          Infinitely subtle eyes registering the invisible.
          She sees through eyes of quasars . . .
          —blazing in night’s countenance.
          “God is gracious,” says the voice.
          “What are you speaking of?”
          “A loose translation from the Hebrew.”
          “Don’t try to be subtle.” Amusement—a shade of impatience? “Who are you?”
          “You could call me Charon.”
          “Then I’m dead.”
          “Charon’s ferry voyages each way.”
          “I still don’t like it,” she says.
          “Then call me Guardian.”
          “Where are we?”
          “Our feet are on Terra.” A gust of hard radiation blurs the final word.
          “Tara?”
          “Close enough.”
          “I’m not sure I know what I’m seeing,” she says.
          —but she looks away and sees

*

          —behind her, the ranch, the house on the mountain. Diminishing. The hills rush in; it is like leaning over a topographical map.
          Distance2.
          The continent below, cloud-crossed.
          Distance2.
          The disc of the planet, shadow crescent eaten away by the sun.
          Distance2.
          The star system. See the dot of light in the center called the sun; around it circle the almost infinitesimal planetary motes. Count them.
          She gauges the orbit of the outermost world; the entire star system is held like a tiny cat’s cradle between the taunt stretch of her thumb and index finger. It takes light eleven hours to travel across this pool of planets.
          Distance2.
          In a sphere fifty light-years across, the sun has thirty-six neighboring stars: gasballs such as Capella and Procyon, Sirius and Pollux. Alpha Centauri, the closest, is little more than four years away as the photon flies.

*

          “My love, she speaks like silence—”
          At the speed of light, it’s said that radio signals just keep on traveling to infinity. Perhaps the songs play now on the planets of Arcturus or Beta Hydri under alien skies. Unhuman audiences listen bemusedly.
          “—without ideals or violence.”

*

          Distance2.
          The sun’s neighborhood of stars dwindles. Massed thousands of millions of other suns glow.
          Distance2.
          Comprehend the radiance of the Milky Way, our galaxy; a great turning pinwheel of stars. In 200 million years it ponderously revolves only once. In a ragged spiral arm, perhaps two-thirds the distance out from the hub, somewhere there is the sun. Our sun.
          Distance2.
          Eleven galaxies congregate in our local group. No one’s counted exactly, but those who have tried estimate there are perhaps three billion galaxies in the observable universe. If each galaxy contains an average 100,000,000,000 stars, and if maybe each hundredth star has a solar system with an inhabited planet, then there could be 3,000,000,000,000,000,000 populated worlds.
          “Are you paying attention?”
          “How am I supposed to comprehend all the zeroes?” she says. “I want to be able to see it.”
          “Start out small,” says Guardian. “Envision the number of atoms that make up the Earth; or try counting the seconds since the solar system was formed.”
          “I’m not amused.”
          Distance2.

*

          A stellar shark charting the deeps between galaxies . . .
                                           inviolate in the void
          She swims space, dives toward time.

*

          She sees through eyes of supernovae . . .
          —burning in the mind.
          “Those dots,” says Guardian, “are groups of galaxies.”
          She stares into the spangled blackness. Synesthetized, the dark touches velvet to her eyelids. The bonfires prickle, but do not hurt. She starts to count. And stops.
          Distance.
          She could span the glittering cloud with one step.
          Distance.
          The vista actually appears to remain unchanged. Guardian says, “The farthest of the galaxies we can see from Earth with telescopes lie 2,000 million light-years distant.”
          “Numbers,” she says disgustedly. “Figures. I want to see—”
          Distance.
          The perspective still seems unaltered. “Why doesn’t the universe of galaxies diminish?” she says.
          Guardian’s voice sounds uncomfortable for the first time. “We’re up against the curvature of the universe now. There is no further point from which to observe.”
          “So find one.”
          “I cannot.”
          “Show me.”
          “I cannot.”
          “Then I’m disappointed,” she says.
          “Wait. What I can show you is

*

                                                                     the other entrance to the star-tunnels. You can view through a singular eye.” Guardian chuckles. She is puzzled. Guardian explains the joke. “Cosmologists call black holes ‘singularities’. . .”
          Her impatience vaults the explication. “Where do they go? When?”
          “All places. All times.”
          “And to get there—?”
          “Just go. It

*

                                 —works thus.”
          She is delighted. “Anywhere?”
          “And any time.”
          “I’ve seen all of space now—”
          “You’re so thirsty in this mode,” says Guardian. “This mood.”
          “—so show me time. Show me the end.”
          “What about the beginning?”
          Eagerly, “That too.”
          Guardian says dryly, “They are the same.”
          “All of it.” Her voice trembles slightly with excitement, as though from the exhilaration of riding or swimming, or about to make love.
          “I’m not sure you are ready.”
          She badgers him.
          At length he agrees. With resignation Guardian says, “All of it.”

*

          “Aren’t you tired yet?”
          “No,” she says. “Why should I be?”
          “In the nineteenth century,” Guardian says, “Clausius killed the age of the perpetual motion machine. His theory of entropy asserted that all energy systems must finally run down.”
          “Heat death—”
          And then again they sail beyond the black event horizon.

*

          She sees through eyes of final darkness . . .
          —through the hearts of guttering suns.
          In the beginning there was life. And a microtomed section of a second later, there was death. The universe was birthed, and then began to die. Call it the big bang, the primal egg, the crack of bloom. Energy flowed, flooded, filled the cosmic circuits. Matter shotgunned into the immensity.
          So it all began. For some 41 billion years the forces of countergravity overcame the tendency of gravity to pull everything back together. Indeed, the center could not hold; not for more than forty eons. The stuff of the universe pushed ever outward. All that we know formed, cycled, died; and lived again, but diminished. With every exchange, something was lost. Available energy.
          Some points are not negotiable. You are either on a diving board or off it. You are either pregnant or not. Even on a scale of 41 billion years there comes a knife-edge time. No tangible intelligence was there to mark it.
          But we are.
          It is a time of final balance when gravity and countergravity have canceled each other. The universe expands no longer; no energy persists to push the limits further. Stasis. Equality of time and energy and matter pushed to its logical extreme.
          Even time has slowed and stopped. A function of speed, time depends for definition upon differences of potential. All potentials have been satisfied. No peak remains unsmoothed, no valley still unfilled.
          All spectra are silent.
          Yet final peace can never—cannot—exist.
          On the knife edge of forty-one eons nothing balances. Almost . . . but not quite. From our vantage we sense one final unit of gravity slide back from the brink and affect a final amenable particle. It takes no more. Raveled spacetime reverses, begins again to weave.
          Tilt. Backward from the brink. Slowly at first. But surely. Collapse. All falls toward the center. It takes another 41 billion years. Time runs backward. The universe reverses history. And who is to say which is the positive and which the negative process? It’s all relativity.
          Finally—and after how many times before?—it all comes together. The gravity tide pulls all the universe into the focal point, down to the critical mass of the primal egg, the ylem, the incompressible point at which the universe-seed explodes and the cycle begins again.
          At the end there is life.
          Or to put it another way . . .

*

          She woke to night-darkness and the sound of crickets. The glowing dial of the alarm on the bed-table told her it was just past midnight. The moon had not yet set; furniture surfaces appeared softly phosphorescent. The drapes shivered as air moved through the half-open window. Something—a moth, probably—batted against the screen.
          A night-bird cried to its hunting mate. A confused day-bird twittered softly. The woman spread arms and legs to the sides of the childhood bed that had seemed to grow smaller with the passing years.
          Someone called her name. “Are you all right?” Shape was indistinguishable from shadows in the doorway. Her mother.
          “Yes. I’m fine.”
          “I heard you cry out,” said her mother. “I didn’t know whether you were afraid, or having a nightmare, or were hurt—”
          “It was a dream. I don’t think it was a nightmare. It woke me, but I’m all right.” It had not been a nightmare, but still she wanted to reach out, hold, be held.
          Hair silver and luminous in the moonlight, her mother moved across the bedroom and carefully sat on the edge of the bed. As though by touch, or perhaps from long custom, she reached through the night and picked up the hair brush from beside the alarm. “Here,” she said. “Sit up against the pillow.” With slow, gentle, steady strokes, she brushed her daughter’s hair. And again broke the silence: “If you’d rather not, you needn’t tell me.”
          “I don’t know.” She considered it, let her taut neck relax against the seductive hiss of the strokes, decided. “All right. I grew old.”
          Her mother’s hand never faltered.
          “I never expect to be old, but there I was. It was a process and not sudden. I started by remembering my birth.”
          “Do you really?” said her mother.
          “I did in the dream. More than that, I remembered my conception.” She sensed her mother smiling. “All of it—I followed everything through: birth, infancy, childhood, youth, adulthood, maturity. I grew and gained and changed until—” She hesitated.
          Her mother set down the brush and gently but firmly drew her daughter against her bosom.
          “I was old. Everything turned gray and unchanging. I hated it.”
          “It happens,” her mother said.
          The daughter shook her head. “It was like climbing a long, steady slope, with not so much a peak ahead as a plateau. I almost made it. Not quite. An inch short, a millimeter, whatever, I started to fall back. I couldn’t help myself. It felt right, so right. My entire fragmented life cohered again as I plunged backward through adulthood and youth and childhood and infancy; back through birth to the beginning.” She smiled and felt her lips curve against her mother’s neck. “It was an inconceivable conception.”
          Her mother kissed her gently.
          There is no one more beautiful, she thought. No one I would rather be.
          And realized that they both—mother and daughter—were points on the same continuum.

*

          Cycles. She is silent for a long while. Then, “All of it? All over again, repeated?”
          “Yes,” says Guardian.
          “The specifics too? Even—me?”
          “Context and content obviously aren’t the same. The particulars may change.”
          “But you aren’t sure?”
          “I am not certain.”
          Wonder steeps her voice. “But haven’t you looked?”
          “Not yet.”
          “Then let me.”
          “You’re sure you want to—”
          “Didn’t I say so?”
          Guardian is silent for a time and a space. “Are you to be denied nothing?”
          There is certainty in her voice. “Nothing.”
          The final free warmth in the universe flows between them then and Guardian says

*

          “Look.”
          She sees . . .