It was a cool clear morning. A young man stood alone, cold stone steps beneath his bare hard feet. He turned his face and beheld the harsh glint of the rising sun. He stared into the sun as long as his eyes could stand its gaze, and then blinking, raised a cup of hot tea to his lips and sipped the steaming bitter liquid. He felt the thin stream trickle down his throat, burning slightly, until it at last collected in the reservoir of his empty stomach. He sighed and turned his back to the sun.
One day, the Prophet came. The multitude listened. They listened, but they did not hear; they listened but they did not comprehend the words. The words were sharp enough to cut through the weariness that had descended upon humanity's soul, but not sharp enough to cut through the haze of lies and self-deceit that traced its hidden origins to the sins of mankind's youth.
"I come" the Prophet said, "not bearing a message of hope, nor a message of love, nor a message of peace, but a message to end all hope, to destroy all love, and to abolish the very need for peace." Such were the rhythms of his words.
"You have all stumbled from one false god to another" he intoned. "From false idol to falser ideology. Where has this led you? Each successive master has promised you happiness, but has any master delivered? Each king promised freedom, but in the end did not each one come bearing chains? When will you stop being deceived?"
"How do we know you have not come to deceive us?" asked the multitude. "We have been deceived many times before. We are tired of being deceived and would rather believe nothing, follow no one. We have learned to empty ourselves and live. What new thing can you promise us?" They had heard such speeches before.
"I promise you nothing," said the prophet, "but nothingness. You say that you have emptied yourselves. Then you must know that you know nothing and accept that nothingness. If nothingness there is, then there is nothing to live for. But you continue to live on--is this nothingness? No, verily I say unto you, you do not believe in your so-called nothingness."
"No", they responded, "Not nothingness, but mere unadorned life. The acceptance of our mortality, the unsteady but true acquiescence to the god that lives and dies in the moment. A reliance on the minuteness of bare pity and empathy that prevent us from embracing that final nothingness; that hideous end. We have accepted our place as the pinnacle of the evolved animal kingdom, but know that we are nothing more. You unsettle us."
"What end does nothingness suggest?" asked the prophet. "Do you suppose that you have understood my message?"
"Yes", replied the multitude, stirring. "You suggest that end which we have rejected, which we reject, and which we will reject; the annihilation of a whole race of beings--the wholesale suicide of the human race. You ask us to take up the mantle of violence, as did all the prophets of old. Except this time, you wish us to turn not only against that external other, but against our internal selves. To kill ourselves as we would kill others."
"Destruction is what I offer," said the prophet, "that much you have understood. But further you do not understand, and I have not the power to make you to understand...but there will be another."
The Prophet fell silent. He retreated into the wilderness. He waited. They came for him. They murdered him and displayed his head as a trophy.
Humanity grew older. There were wars and rumors of wars. Weariness quickened in their hearts. Some dreamed dreams and saw visions of the Prophet. Clans of dirty and deluded men slaughtered in the Prophet's name. For a time, it would seem as though that galaxy of silence might re-descend upon the face of the waters. But each time humanity rallied...for a season. Faced with the coldness of oblivion, they united. For a time some even dared hope that they had thwarted the Prophet and his message. But the weariness always returned in the end. Some new devil would arise and the cycle began anew. With each successive triumph, more weariness.
Then came the one the Prophet had foretold--the Teacher. The Teacher spoke as the Prophet had spoken, but he spoke with authority.
"I come to show you the way" he said. "Will you listen to me?"
"We will listen," said the multitude. "We will listen but we have not the strength to respond or to obey or to object, for we are weary."
"I know that you are weary," he said, "and I know why you are weary. You are weary because you have lost that which was your birthright. You were given this world to live in for a time, to love in for a time. This was meant to be an abundant world, if only you would love one another and abide in that love. But long ago you marked those who loved as though they harbored some hideous defect. You killed those with love in their hearts, for they illumined the lie of your soul's lack. For a time some of you, having no love yourselves, yet recognized its necessity and protected those who still had love in their hearts. But such was not to last--in the end, you murdered your lovers alongside the rest. At last, love's bloodline was extinguished--life was all that was left. But this life could not sustain, was empty without the love that you had lost, that you had killed. Yet still you clung to life. You cling to life still out of habit, but you are weary and will grow more weary until your last gasping and futile breath. Now, now I offer you salvation. Are you ready to hear?"
"Tell us," they said. "We do not know if it is salvation that we yearn for, but we feel empty. We are weary. We will not cast aside our lives and we refuse to let anyone else take what is ours from us--for we are selfish and afraid--but we are weary. Tell us."
"My burden is light" answered the Teacher, "my yoke is easy. For too long you have multiplied--spreading this doomed race upon the face of the earth. You desired an end to your torment, but fought back against the hands of those who would deliver you to oblivion. You did not know why you did thus, but I tell you that you were right to do so. Those violent men who claimed the sanction of the Prophet knew not his message; nevertheless they did my will, but they knew it not. You did my will, but you knew it not. They quickened your weariness, prepared you for the end. Are you not now ready for the end?"
The multitude stirred. Some replied, "we believe the end is nigh, but we know not the way. If the way of the sword is not the end, how may we be freed?"
"The answer has always been with you," said the Prophet. "You have ignored all of the commandments but this one...'Be fruitful and multiply.' If you would but forget this one commandment as you have forgotten all the others, you would be saved."
At this the multitude laughed. "Do you not think we have considered that?" said one. "Do you not think we have tried?" spoke another. "Many who took up the mantle of the Prophet sought this end to no avail. What you propose is no solution."
"I tell you the truth," said the Teacher. "The power to do this thing has always been with you, but to sacrifice yourselves for the sake of those who should never be requires a love greater than you have known since the very beginning--and in those days such need not have been your fate. I could give you this gift, I could take away from you the power to reproduce which has become such a burden to you."
At this the multitude trembled, but whether it was in fear or in expectation, they knew not. "Would you give us this gift?" they entreated.
"No," replied the Teacher. "I have come only to teach. This is the final act to which you have been called, the fate assigned to loveless humanity. You have known this for millenia, but you refused to comprehend. I tell you the truth, this is the final generation of man--this is your final chance. If you fail in this you will become as the walking dead and the weariness which you feel will become so great that you will not be able to bear it. If that end comes it will be monstrous. Hear me and ponder on the riddle of my words: in the end the result shall be the same. The universe shall live on in either case and shall not mourn you. Such is the fate of all life. But the end that I offer unto you, which will gently undo the scar which you have etched upon the face of creation, shall be the one creative act of which you are now capable, and it will be good. It will be good even if there is none left to call it good."
With these words the Teacher fell silent. The multitude stood in awe and pondered his words. An acolyte of the Prophet emerged from the throng and struck down the Teacher. The Teacher fell to the earth and breathed his last. The multitude stood impassive--then wept.
Thus began the age of the Students, who went out into the world to spread the Message of the Teacher. The Message they taught was a hard one and found infertile soil across much of the face of the globe. But they tilled the soil until some of the seeds they sowed began to sprout. Some seeds bore good fruit; communities blossomed in their wake. Some floundered and failed. Some, in weariness and despair, turned from the Teacher. In the renewed vigor of mankind--for such was the paradox of the Teacher's philosophy--some forgot the gift of death and oblivion that was their birthright. They tried to rebuild upon the lost promise of a long-forgotten and buried age--creating new empires that prolonged the suffering of the just and the unjust. These were the first death pangs.
Slowly, the Message took hold. One by one the peoples of the earth accepted the Message and rejected that which had once been the gift of procreation but was now the curse of a weary half-life. In some places, this process of natural life annihilation--which did not kill, but merely resisted the urge to perpetuate itself--was aided by policies of good government and wise council; in others it was unduly hastened by an unnatural desire to quicken the end and caused great pain to millions. These were the second death pangs.
The peoples of the world began to age. An aging humanity sang songs of the past--of adventures that belonged to mankind's youthful vigor. These old men and women saw visions, both horrible and grand, of an heroic and vital infancy. These songs saddened them, but they were content--for such things were gone and their like could never more be. Such were the beginnings of wisdom in the last days.
Some began to be afraid. "What if," they said, "we all have done this thing only to have some remnant of our doomed species that was hidden away, unknown and unseen, arise and repopulate the world? What if humanity is fated to relive this tragedy all over again?" For a time, those who remained pondered the possibility of this question and were filled with hate and fear. Some hunted the earth for this supposed remainder. These were the third death pangs.
Humanity became, finally, wise. They ceased to build. They ceased to fear for the fate of their planet in their absence. One by one, each light flickered and went out across the face of the planet. Slowly at first, and then more quickly--the antithesis of the spark which sets off a roaring blaze--the earth descended into the darkness.
It was a cool clear morning. A man sat huddled under a blanket. Shivering, his leathery barefooted soles perched atop cold stone steps. He was very old, wizened with the wrinkles of a lifetime's worth of cold mornings. He sipped a cup of hot tea as the rising sun spread its warm embrace across his shrunken face and hands. He lifted his eyes and smiled, slightly. He smiled because he had just felt the last faint beating of his heart. As his body pitched forward all pain, and suffering, and hate, and evil slipped into the abyss--a fitting coda to mankind's brief sojourn in the universe. It was good. There may have been no one left to call it thus, but it was good.