Friday, July 07, 2006

The Rider and the Machine. The Last Outpost.

The Rider arrived atop the Machine and dismounted, stretching his legs and arching his back. He squinted through his polarized lenses at the landscape around him.

Behind him lay the miles covered. Canyon and mountain, prairie and windswept desert. Countless hours of snow turned rain turned blazing heat. Miles of waves and water. Trails and trials of rock and dirt. Around him now, at this Last Outpost, were nature's rewards for such travels. The breeze combed lush grasslands below the elevated road. Rising on the other side were forested mountains, snowcaps glistening. Before him, the road narrowed and wound into dark woods. And immediately beside him was a great monument, towering black and endless into the high clouds above him. A long staircase climbed to a set of wide double doors that gained entrance into it.

He leaned the Machine against a tree by the side of the road, removed his helmet, and faced the tower. As he started towards it, removing his lenses, the Machine said, "Be...careful." The Rider paused without looking back, then continued to the stairway. One thousand days into the journey, the Rider ascended.

The stairway echoed a thick, hollow thunder with each of his footfalls. Not stone, the Rider thought. Of course. Iron. The fatigue of a thousand and more miles did not affect this climb. He finally presented himself before the great doors, each emblazoned with the now familiar dotted capital M.

He stood unsure now what to do. Knock? Await invitation? Perhaps the doors are locked and are meant to remain so, the journey now over and all in vain. Just then, the huge doors awoke with a noisy creak, and a shred of bright light widened unto him as they parted.

The Rider walked into the Last Outpost.

He shielded his eyes from a brightness that seemed to come from everywhere, without source. The whiteness of this room, encased in such a dark exterior, was startling. His blinded eyes watered before finally a voice, soft but easily heard said, Your lenses. Only the prepared see here.

The Rider replaced his lenses over his eyes, and in an instant the room had definition. Immense columns lined a long hallway leading from the door to a kind of stage, elevated with more stairs and hidden in shadow. The room was ornately carved with curling characters and symbols. The Rider looked closer; the characters were letters, composing names. None he recognized, but he understood who they were. Finishers. Long, massive windows near the top of the chamber allowed beams of sunlight, casting curious shadows around the room.

Rider, the voice said from the stage, Approach.

He moved towards the voice, his heart pounding. The room boomed with each footfall, and he felt conscious of himself, of his own presence, of his interruption into this hallowed place. Wherever the voice came from, whatever it was that spoke it, remained hidden in shadow upon the stage, but details became clearer. Some kind of immense throne existed there in darkness, with The Voice sitting in it, mysterious and dangerous. The Rider was suddenly aware of shining dots moving in stealth around him, between columns, behind the throne, keeping in shadow. Foxes.

The Rider arrived, and stood before the stage. Intentionally tall, intentionally still.

Second Son of a Second Son. You have come far. The Voice said.

The Rider nodded.

Do you know who I am?

"I believe I do." The Rider responded.

You realize, then, that to have audience with me means you have demonstrated worthiness.

The Rider said nothing. The Voice continued with sigh, Ah. But like others who arrive here, you still find yourself unworthy. As I suppose it should be, and will ever be.

The Voice stood then, and with his head bowed slightly The Rider looked over the top of his lenses at the whiteness. It comes from him, then, he thought. He is the source of the light. Of course.

The Rider straightened his head to regain the clarity the lenses provided, and saw that The Voice had approached him, standing at the top of the set of stairs separating them, looking down at him. Tell me, what do you seek here?

It is a question that The Rider had asked himself as many times as miles covered. There were so many answers. None and all seemed the right one. "Redemption," he said.

The room was suddenly booming with the echoes of The Voice's laughter. It finally said, Then you will not find it. Redemption is a fool's journey, for it's not to be found, only created. This alone will not satisfy that. The Voice said again, What do you seek here?

The Rider thought, then responded "Peace".

Again the room came alive with senseless noise. You have learned nothing! The Voice said, amused. This is the least peaceful thing I can think of! You do not come here in armor to make peace. You do not wage war on your ghosts in a demonstration of peace. And peace is not to be found here. The shredding of souls is what happens here! The Voice became increasingly agitated. Now angry it demanded, WHAT DO YOU SEEK HERE?

The Rider trembled. Then he whispered at last, "Myself."

Expecting more cacophony, the Rider was startled at the silence that followed. He looked up at last, only to find the stage empty. He's left, the Rider thought. I've so disappointed him that he's actually left. When from just behind him came a voice, low and sounding like his own, Then Yourself you shall find.

The Rider whirled around at The Voice, only to find empty space. He spun around again, back to the stage, and found him again sitting on the throne. Look around you, The Voice implored. The Rider lifted his head at the etching of name after name after name. Each of these names belongs to one who came here, to the Last Outpost, in search. Some did seek redemption. Some did seek peace. Some revenge, some glory, some fame, some wonder, some hope. Every search is as different as each rider. You are one of many. But your search is yours alone.

Somehow, after all, only now did the gravity of this journey make sense to the Rider. You must understand what you search for, The Voice continued, Or you will not understand how to get there. You must also understand that these are not the names of Finishers, as you thought. Their names are revered elsewhere, but not at this Outpost. These are the names of the searchers. Finishing is paramount to the race, but irrelevant to the search. For you see, all searchers are in the race. But not all racers are searching.

"But then...what's the point?" The Rider asked. The journey is for nothing? Anecdotal happy thoughts? A childish sense of accomplishment? Some pointless self test of one's limits? It broke his heart to consider it.

Ah, said The Voice, But for you, the race IS the search. The race is your quest. As you have been on it now for more than three years. The finish is your sole destination.

The Rider exhaled. So much made sense to him suddenly.

To business, then. The Voice said, again standing and putting his hands together. This is the Last Outpost. You have sixty days journey from here. Everything you have done so far has been to get to this point and no further. You will, if you choose to continue, leave with me everything you've come with so far.

"My Machine?" The Rider asked, suddenly afraid.

The Voice shook his head. No no, you misunderstand. Of course The Machine goes with you. Your final refining begins here. Here you leave distractions. Here you leave excuses. Here you leave fear and doubt. Here you unburden yourself, and go forward only with discipline, strategy, and strength.

The Rider was relieved. "Of course..."

The Voice interrupted him. Do not be callous. Think clearly of what you agree to, for these burdens also bring you great comfort. Excuses and doubt create a buffer between you and the reality of the self that you seek. Distractions make it easy to Be without really Being. And fear is the greatest unmotivator of all. The world you live in thrives on these things. To give them up will mean even greater isolation for you. You will no longer be comfortable in your world. You will find what it truly means to become made of Iron. And, The Voice paused, I can promise you that it will hurt.

The Rider stood with a lump in his throat. He finally nodded. "I understand."

The Voice smiled wryly. I know you think you understand, and that is all I will ask for now. He stood once more and approached the Rider, descending step by step, his features somehow still hidden in shadow. He stood equal to the Rider at last, and turned towards one of the great columns next to them. Then, The Voice said, suddenly brandishing a small, brilliant blade and holding it out to the Rider, Wave Rider. Wind Rider. Road Rider. Sign among the others, that you may be infinite.

The Rider took the blade with trembling hand and pressed it against the black Iron column. He expected the metal's resistance, but the blade carved through with liquid ease. He signed his name. The Voice took the blade from him and added below the Rider's signature, in an identical hand, Esse Quam Videri.

"To Be, and Not to Appear To Be" The Rider interpreted. A promise you have made. The Voice replied, And the fulcrum between us.

The Voice escorted the Rider back to the great doorway. Now go. Sixty days. Finish your journey, and accomplish your quest.

"What lay on the road ahead?" The Rider asked, replacing his helmet on his head.

That is unknown even to me. The Voice answered. He cracked the mighty doors and they opened with a groan. The Rider returned to The Machine and clipped in to the cranks.

"Will I see you again?"

Only as a Finisher. With your quest resolved. The Voice turned then, but paused before leaving. Outrun your ghosts, Rider. Your father would not have you haunted. Nor would I. Then without another word or gesture, he disappeared between the doors as they thundered to a heavy close behind him.

Rider and Machine headed into the dark road among the woods, into the unknown. The Machine said, "What did he say in there?" To which the Rider responded only, "We Ride."

1 comment:

Todd said...

Godspeed my friend.....I'm here behind you leading the tailwinds!