When humans die, their ghosts are anchored to the place of their death, but are unaffected by planetary orbit or rotation, left behind as Earth and the galaxy rotate. Metaphysical archaeologists are tracking this trail of spirits across the stars, seeking the ghost of the first human.
James shook in the fit of his fever-trance, his fingers drifting, reddened with soot. I stood up and gently took his hand, letting it drift through the infinite resting place of stars. Our craft shook gently against the phantom winds buffeting it.
“We’re now leaving the civilized lands,” called Tam, staring out the transparent aluminum out front. The afterlife’s spiral of mega structures and teetering towers festooned with anti-gravity, called afloat through harmony with the departed ones and roaring engines replaced itself with dimmer buildings when mankind had once tried to scrape the sky through sheer mortal defiance alone. Advertisements blared, constructions by old defiant spirits who hoped to still make an impact.
Presidents, celebrities, warlords, rules, desecraters. YouTube personalities. Their fingers reached high, but only the very tallest touched the bottom of the Aether-craft, festooned on the glimpse of wind and old dreams.
“Brace, we’re about to hit the history of war,” Tam called out.
“Alright, you ready to fly appropriate colors?”
For a university project, this was a bit involved, but going this far had been explored by countless other shaman-archaeologist, so who could really declare otherwise. The sum and total of human history, strung delicate like a kite behind the whirling spire of the planet, space and time stretched like complex spider webs, each anchored to the place of death, yes, but cognition twisting it into the long death; the dying places and histories that refused to leave entirely.
The place of war rang with artillery blasts and rocket impacts. Delicate whispers and radio towers blaring at all frequencies, secret, unknown. Military movements on all fronts, a thousand men dying in an instant, caught out by gas impacts.
The radio screeched about their deaths, rendered meaningless by sheer waste of flesh. An atomic impact. A roaring atomic impact that coated the sky in ash.
The wind shield wipers tucked it off, but Tam looked visibly ill. “Is James going to stay in that fever-trance long enough?”
“He better,” I said. “I spent most of the last week figuring out the appropriate dose for a shaman of his body weight. He should be getting tugged right past historical records.”
“Then what?” Tam asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, grinning. “We make history? Take a few pictures? Drift back through time on the backs of our ancestors, hope they understand how cool of a thing we did?”
“I think you’re putting the cart a bit before the horse,” Tam said.
“But that’s what we brought las-rifles for,” I gestured at the armory, unlocked and open. “We’ll be fine. We’re not straying off of the beaten path. We’re just going a bit beyond.”
Then the warring time left us into pettier and pettier conflicts; lower in scale, if not in sheer volume. Gunpowder dwindled from mass slaughters into massacres by other means. A thousand soldiers marched in formation out the window, daring to peer at us with dirt strain faces, uniforms blossomed with blood.
They saluted, and disappeared.
“Age of mortals,” Tam reported, and history got weird.
Here, mythology and mortality were nestled in on each layer, drifting across one another. Their fingertips intertwined, tugging them this way and that way.
There, a great huntress who bestrode the bands of stars we saw underneath of it all, and there, the great conflicts of religions, a thousand roaming gods seeking to smite the unbelievers. Here Tam flew different flags, and we crossed our fingers that the great rote beasts of the old worlds would not see us.
Like always, they never saw us, though James tremored in his fever, his mouth opening up, and words bubbling out; names of long forgotten deities still trying to contact us through the combined weight of fragmenting human history.
A span of pre-history where all became beautiful artistry and word of mouth. Terrifying things danced across human bones, wearing human skin but fooling nobody with their eyes full of dark coals.
“Don’t look at them,” Tam said, gently tugging me away from the mirror. “They still have power out here, remember?”
A brief mote of fear in my heart. “We have power here too.”
“So long as James remains in his state, we can get to the end, and get back,” Tam flashed me a grin. “Besides, we’re just going to throw up a beacon at the end, then get the hell back.
The beacon rested next to the crate of weapons, blinking occasionally.
Now we reached the outer limits of human exploration, sped on by desire and warped by human irrationalities. Beacons littered the path like ribcages, sketching out safe currents. Javelins embedded in space time, marked with paint and by old spirits of living earth, clinging determinedly to their hosts.
“Ready?” Tam asked, gesturing at me.
I picked up the beacon. It felt heavy, but right in my head. Would my most ancient ancestors have seen it as a weapon? Or, by the art that festooned every astral surface.
Would they see it as a paint brush?
I deployed the javelin and let it spiral through history.