Waning Crescent, or the Way You Remember the World by Chang Kang-myoung

Patterns
Beginnings
Plagiarism

“Do it, he told me,” the man said.

Do it. What’s the matter? I dare you. Kids gathered around like fruit flies swarming around a filthy summer pond. What a retard. From behind, someone kicked the boy holding the knife. Little shit. Screwing around like one fucking knife makes him all that.

The boy swung the knife. First he slashed, then he thrust. When the onlookers realized what was happening and rushed in to kick him, he swung the little balled hand holding the knife sideways. The flies scattered. The boy he stabbed died with a look that said, ‘Wait, this wasn’t supposed to happen.’ When the homeroom teacher arrived, the bullied boy was staggering ragged, broken knife in hand. He left several wounds on his own hands because he didn’t know how to properly wield a knife. The strands of hair on his head were soaked in his sweat and someone else’s blood.

The woman closed her eyes as she listened to the man’s story. She didn’t want to make the connection between the crying boy swinging the knife and the man.

The more she thought that way, the clearer the connection became.

“They didn’t hurt? Your hands, I mean,” she asked.

“Not really,” the man said, then added, “I wanted to cut them off. Both of them.”

“What happened afterwards?”

“A police station, a juvenile detention center, a regular detention center, then a hospital,” the man replied. “You get moved to a regular detention center once you get to a certain age.”

The doctors gave him medication that clouded his consciousness. But the boy erased his patterns more of his own will than the drugs.

“Ultimately, people are patterns,” the man explained. “Imagine a birdcage, and a fan with a picture of a bird on it behind the cage. If you spin the fan by the handle, you get a caged bird. That’s basically how the consciousness emerges over your neural circuits. Electrical signals are passing really quickly through the circuits, and suddenly float up like a ghost. Like neon signs blinking on and off in the city at night—they suddenly all light up, then they go dark at once.”

The drugs made by the human doctors did not erase his patterns; they merely slowed the electrical signals that went to and fro within them. They assumed that if a river flowed slowly, it would never swell over the banks. With the instinct of someone who had committed murder, the boy erased the patterns within him one by one.

By the time he was down to only two or three patterns, the boy was a man who showed about the same reaction to all external stimuli. The nurses liked him because he was easy to handle. Twice a year they took the patients to the mountains, the sea, or local art galleries. His reactions to the humid winds rising to the peaks, the glow of the stars from many lightyears away, and the desperate messages of short-lived artists were identical. Just the way he treated the nurses and his fellow patients.

The “cosmic egg” was attracted to the simplicity of the patterns that composed him. As it dwelled in the waves, it spoke to the man.

I like your patterns.

Yeah, the man replied.

May I go inside them? asked the cosmic egg.

Yeah, the man replied.

Once the cosmic egg entered him, the man was able to talk to people.

 

Yet the boy who’d killed still remained in the man. He could even relive his memories exactly as they’d happened. His past and the cosmic egg dwelled in one body.

“It’s like an arm or a leg. It’s still a part of me,” the man explained. “And there’s something like a burn or a big scar on it. I know where that scar comes from, and how I felt when I first got it.”

Do it. I dare you, pussy, the kids had said.

“Tell me about the cosmic egg,” the woman asked, not wanting to hear about the scar. “Where did it come from? How was it made?”

“It didn’t come from anywhere. It always was.”

“From the beginning?” asked the woman. “From when the universe began?”

“You have to forget the idea of beginnings,” the man replied. “Beginnings and endings are very human concepts.”

“But the universe does have a beginning.”

“The universe doesn’t have a beginning,” the man replied. “The universe is like a ballpoint pen. It’s just a mass. People say a pen has two ends because it has a long shape. But technically, every part of the pen that touches the air is the end of the pen. The ballpoint pen begins and ends at each of these contact points. It’s like that with the universe. The universe ends and begins at contact points between the space-time continuum and the void. The cosmic egg is inside it, but not outside it.”

“I’m talking about beginnings in the temporal sense, not the spatial sense,” the woman argued.

“For us,” the man said, “time and space can’t be separated like that. There’s no time outside the space-time continuum—only inside, that’s all. For most intelligent life in the universe, time has no front or back, just like space. If they have to pick, whatever they see first is the front and whatever they see later is the back. It’s a relative concept, since if you look at it from the opposite perspective, everything becomes reversed. Humans are the only ones who experience time in one direction. And they can’t even control the speed of their experiences. It’s really dramatic, since they experience all events in one direction, and only once. But it’s foolish too. I don’t know why humans are the only ones who experience time this way. Maybe there’s an evolutionary explanation?”

“Isn’t there something like a big bang? The beginning of everything,” the woman suggested, tugging at her memories for something she had read in a science textbook.

“That’s one of the contact points between the space-time continuum and the void. It might seem like the beginning of something to human eyes, since there’s no time outside that point.” The man sighed. “The big bang, the big crunch, black holes, white holes, the edge of the universe hundreds of millions of lightyears away—they’re all contact points.”

“Tell me about the cosmic egg.” The woman changed the subject. “How did it get to Earth? How did it end up inside you? Put it in order, in human time so I can understand.”

“In the ‘beginning,’ I was just scattered in space. That was when I saw a comet wandering the universe. I heard it sing a funny song. It was an unusual melody with semi-tones erratically scattered throughout, but it had a simple rhythm. All songs are patterns. So I’m familiar with all songs. I climbed on the comet.

“When the comet was between Earth and the moon, I descended into Earth. The moon was a waning crescent. I saw the pattern of the sea surging and singing along the light of the moon. In the sea, sometimes I stayed in the waves, and sometimes in other animals.”

“Other animals?”

“Like octopi or jellyfish, usually. That kind of stuff.”

“Blech.”

“Octopi are really intelligent. And I’ve even been inside mackerel and tuna.”

“Now I’m craving fish.”

“You know, the sea is full of patterns. It’s just like the Internet. Whales sing in low frequencies. You can hear those songs from thousands of kilometers away. So it’s like every whale in the world is connected to their own Internet. It’s been raining for days here in the Indian Ocean. The plankton here is really good. That’s the kind of stuff they sing about. A whale in the Arctic can have a debate with a whale in Antarctica. Sometimes their own songs circle all the way back around the world and reach them again. Then they can create chords.”

“Do you come up with these things as you go? Or do you have all this written down somewhere?”

“This is all stuff I’ve experienced.”

“Sometimes it sounds so real it’s like you really did go through it.”

“I did. This is all real.”

“Yeah, right.”

The man stroked the woman’s face. “The patterns in your heart are trembling. They’re anxious. You enjoy my stories, but you’re scared they might be real. But at the same time, you’re hoping they’re real. Because it would feel so futile if they weren’t.”

“You’ve got a way with words, I’ll give you that.”

“I could technically prove it to you right now, but I won’t.” The man shrugged.

“The other kids talked about you,” said the woman. “There were so many rumors going around school. Some kids said you got out of prison and came back home, and some kids said they saw you in an alley. Some kids said they saw how your face was so changed you couldn’t meet people’s eyes. You came up sometimes, when we talked about idols or college or old classmates. And I thought about you. I wondered how your face had changed. I worried about you, and I thought about seeing you.”

“And here we are,” said the man. “I heard you calling out to me. So I wrote ‘The Cosmic Egg’ and sent it to your company.”

“You should have just called me. Or called the company and asked for me.”

“You’d changed your name. I couldn’t find you through the company even if I tried.”

“Oh, right.”

“This is how we were supposed to meet,” said the man. “You had to have read ‘The Cosmic Egg’ first.”

“But now she knows your contact information,” the woman said.

“I know,” the man replied. “That can’t be helped.”

Do it. I dare you, pussy, the kids had said.

 

“Is this _____ Publishers?”

There was no sheen in the voice. The woman found herself tensing as she replied, “Yes.” The only calls that came to the educational comics team were ones she wanted to avoid. Some callers complained about how their child’s letter to the author wasn’t published, and some admonished them for typos from years-old publications. One lonely child spent over an hour asking when the next volume of The Time Traveler and the History Thief would be published, and suggested a plan for how the time traveler could catch the history thief.

“Hi. I recently read the judges’ comments for the YA Literature Awards.”

“Yes?”

“About ‘The Cosmic Egg.’ You know, one of the finalists.”

“Yes?”

The woman was about to transfer the call to the YA lit team, but stopped at the mention of “The Cosmic Egg.”
 

 

“Could I have the author’s contact information?”

“Pardon me?”

“I’m a big fan of the author. I . . . I’d really like to meet him in person. Get his autograph.”

“You know who wrote this story?”

“Yes.”

“How? The author’s name wasn’t published in the judges’ comments. Entries that didn’t win only had their titles published.”

...

Chang Kang-myoung is a writer and newspaper reporter. He joined the SF Club on the PC communication portal HiTel in 1994, and founded and ran The Monthly SF Webzine. He is the author of The Bleached, the novel that won the 16th Hankyoreh Literary Award, and of Lumière People, his first short story collection.