Calm Before, Calm After

Since its 1998 release on the original PlayStation, the Japanese role-playing game Xenogears has become a cult favorite distinguished by its intricate 10,000-year backstory and ambitious plot: As players and characters slowly come to realize, the final boss is none other than god itself, and the game ends with its defeat. In the aftermath, the remnants of humanity have free access to the past and future for the first time. But even in an age of peace, what they will discover is unsettling.

A great Calm settled on our Planet, for the Weapon where god was imprisoned had been destroyed, and god, freed, had retired to its Original Space, the higher dimension of the unified wave. Gone, too, was the Scientist, the criminal who had engineered the entire process out of love. Despairing of humanity's power to reach accord with Others, he had committed himself to a singular and horrifying course. Of the population of our Planet not five years ago, less than one out of every hundred remained. Murdered by imperial machines, mutated into living weapons, transposed into abstract Angels, or simply starved to death, the others were no longer with us. They had vanished with god and the Scientist: Binding their bodies and spirits to the Weapon where god was imprisoned, he had carried them with him into the Original Space, the higher dimension where love eclipses Being. For the first time in the 10,000 years since the Weapon's Fall from space onto the Planet, humans—the product of the grievously injured Weapon's attempt to restore itself to star flight—were alone. It appeared that our fate, for the first time, was our own.

The two heroes (lovers) who had secured our Release returned in the Great Machine that had slain the Weapon where god was imprisoned. It alone had made direct contact with god: Though our magic and technology had vanished with the Weapon that powered them, the Great Machine remained active. Xenogears crossed the world to guide the remnants of humanity lost in the wilderness to a new settlement; once we had all been gathered, it aided us in building new shelters to house us. Machines the size of atoms aided our physical recovery, and mended the tears in our clothing. We began to grow crops; we began to bear children.

We all learned how to read. We studied the world. Sorrow and wonder shared meanings. We began to compose a new literature. It seemed that we could live again. No—we were living for the first time. We understood each other, and were largely silent as a consequence. When we spoke, we spoke to make each other laugh, and we did not do so often. The sober, even somber spirit the two heroes (lovers) and their Core of friends developed during the course of their War against the Weapon had passed into us by example. At no point did they claim the glory that was due to them; they, too, carried themselves awkwardly, as if adjusting to a new gravity. The War was over, but they would be soldiers until their last day, we thought. Soldiers in a time of perpetual peace: What had they passed through to free the world? Though we read their chronicles carefully, we had only the slightest idea.

Intelligent machines tended to us; we had much time to ponder, and much to discuss. History was the subject of our most sustained debate. It was not a question of secrecy. The Core had hidden none of their discoveries from us. We knew that the Weapon had been created during a period of protracted interstellar warfare; that it had malfunctioned and annihilated another Planet during a test; that it had been subdued and disassembled for study; that the pilot of the ship on which it was being transferred had destroyed his ship once the Weapon somehow took over its systems, forcing the Weapon to crash-land on this Planet; that the Weapon had created humans to multiply into numbers sufficient to be harvested for its restoration.

We knew of the immortal Emperor and his brethren, the Elders of the Ministry. We knew of the woman, the Weapon's Emissary and Supervisor of the inevitable Harvest, and her hundreds of reincarnations; knew, too, of the past lives experienced by the Heroes and their relation to god and the Weapon that imprisoned it. We knew that our Planet's population, owing to its own follies and the will of the Emperor, Ministry, and Emissary, had been purged by fire many times before. Our appetite for knowledge was insatiable. Complicated though our history was, we were driven to understand it. We wished to understand fully our past as slaves and puppets of the Weapon where god was imprisoned; only by doing so could we ensure that our future was truly our own.

There were gaps in our past that not even the Core could resolve. Why, for instance, given the importance of the Weapon to the galactic State, had no one come to retrieve the Weapon after its Fall? Between humanity's departure from its original Planet (Earth, soon after inaccessible and renamed -Lost Jerusalem-) and the Weapon's Creation there had passed 4,767 years; from its Fall to our Liberation 10,000 years had transpired. Surely, we supposed, someone from the thousands of stars settled by humans would have come upon us. Even if we assumed that the disastrous wars that raged across the Galaxy at the time of the Fall prevented its immediate recovery, no war lasts forever: A peace, even a briefest truce born of exhaustion, would have left time for the Military to investigate the fate of its ultimate Creation and recover it. But no one had come: We were as far from contact and communication as -Lost Jerusalem- itself. Was this the doing of god? Had god drawn a veil across the eyes of the stars? But god had left the Planet, and the silence of the stars persisted: Though we designed grand telescopes to sweep the sky at every frequency, no language was detected.

We contented ourselves with knowledge of the stars. We estimated their age, judged their heat by their color, deciphered the presence of Planets, invented new constellations. But our isolation began to wear away at our pleasure. We had survived the ravages of the Weapon, our parent, and were proving we could live purely as humans after the Reversion of the god imprisoned within it. The thought of being the sole intelligence did not fill us with pride as it had when it was first conceived on -Lost Jerusalem-. It burdened our souls. For as each one of us, successful in governing our own Being, would nonetheless seek the company and conversation of others, so too did our community desire to hear from societies we had never seen, and read histories different from our own.

So, one and all, we resolved to take to the stars in the future. Our resources were abundant; our science and art were thriving. Even our numbers were recovering: Recently we celebrated the birth of our 10,000th citizen, a girl with striking orange eyes. All of us, aided by atomic machines, were free from illness; we would live forever, if so we wished. It seemed to us that we had been granted—but by whom? by god?—a gift of immeasurable worth. It seemed just to us that we should share it as widely as possible.

The more imaginative of us (the youngest of us, with no personal memory of the War against the Weapon, Deus) dreamed that, possessing sufficient wisdom, even the gates of -Lost Jerusalem-, sealed for nearly 15,000 years, would open upon our arrival. Those of us who have lived through the time of Troubles are less certain that the universe awaits us eagerly or with benevolence. Though we are decades away from launching our first Ark into space, the question of whether our explorers should go armed is already a subject of fervent debate.

Though they support the pursuit of wisdom and the extension of our language to the stars, there is a group of us content to send unmanned probes for at least a century, if not more. For this school of thought, discovering the existence of other human societies in the Galaxy, though surely a cause for celebration, is ultimately secondary to the need to anticipate their nature fully. We are all, as human beings, children of the Word and its universal imagination: Presuming that we comprehend the Word to a sufficient depth, there should be nothing we encounter that we should not be able to anticipate.

I am a researcher who lives in the southeastern section of the settlement: My primary fields of study are botany, viruses, and the design of sunglasses. Many of my friends are authors who incline toward this third party. Their conversations have convinced me for the time being. For now, I believe that what matters most is not the discovery of other worlds but the development of our capacity to imagine worlds capable of imagining our own.

Perhaps "party" is too strong a word: In contrast to the days of the Emperor, our community is democratic, and our souls, seeing in each other our own concern, are civilized. Our resources are abundant as our needs are limited. Still, it seems to me that the question of exploration is one where real divisions among the population may emerge. We have all agreed to speak, but how loudly? A voice has only one volume, and our differences are many; though I admit that the question may be resolved in the coming decades by new voices yet to be born, for the past 18 months my dreams, though typically confident, have often been charged with anxiety, with doubt.