Choice (Lives of the Koanan #1)
It comes to each Koana in a different way. The path of true knowledge is a lone one, the guidance of mentors arriving by intuited story, silent and anonymous. Like the computers of old, the Koanan are programmed potentials, receptors, subtle performers in an obscure matrix.
But their rudimentary willpower can elaborate the material they receive, and often their stories seem to arise from within themselves. That’s how Te-fuar experienced the story of the limbfers, and that’s how she made her discovery.
She imagined the society over many phases of awareness. In the phase of spark, she saw a piece split from a landmass and settle itself in the sea. Later, in phases of delving and development, she planned the landscape and the vegetation, where growing things defined themselves as grass, tree, flower or herb. She let the beings introduce themselves by showing how they’d eat and speak. She heard their name within her like a vibration from their motile appendages: limbfers. They had perhaps fled from an inhospitable regime, though as time went on, she wondered whether they had simply been seeking their own aggrandisement. They grew in number, from a handful to thousands, maybe millions. She soon stopped counting.
The limbfers constructed a hierarchy of worth. Abilities varied, but as time progressed, it was the thinkers who triumphed. They ruled by means of mental viruses, still known as memes, that propagated themselves and took hold of the collective imagination. As every Koana knows, the imagination is everything.
Limbfers believed themselves to be their own agents, a concept unknown to the Koanan, who know that existence is based on a paradox—the unitary consciousness within a co-operatively determined world. However, limbferal ‘free will’ was also paradoxical, in that they believed they had been brought into existence by a creator and therefore, a priori, were lacking in complete self-determination.
Apart from understanding their mentality, what Te-fuar most wanted to learn was whether her imagined beings had preceded her or whether they were yet to come. They had to be real because you can’t imagine what can’t exist.
The limbfers, she discovered, exalted the principle of Choice. It became the pivot of their existence. But they dichotomised in the expression. One half of the population believed that an individual had a natural right to do as he or she wished, and consciously gave up part of this right only in order to gain the comforts of sharing resources and effort. The other half believed that choice was the right of the group, and only allowed you to submit to one of the prevailing ideologies; there was no mandate for the unaligned individual.
The first group believed in living as comfortably and happily as possible, with the minimum of restraints. The second believed that pain often had to be borne for the sake of a greater good, which they envisaged as being based in arcane wisdom beyond their scope.
The most basic Choice was that of whether to continue living at all. The limbfers engaged with the question passionately. Who could destroy life, and when, became a question crucial to social stability. Because they considered themselves separate from each other, they were terrified of ever becoming absent to themselves. They invented various scenarios to counteract the fear of death, all based on manipulated imagination, so unlike the thought method of the Koanan, which is sponge-like imbibing. Most proclaimed that they were loved by a supra-limbfer generating entity, who would embrace them forever in a mirror existence when their heartbeat ceased.
To enshrine the fear of death, and to assuage it, the authorities decided that no-one should be deprived of their existence unless they (the authorities) deemed it correct. The interdict included a prohibition on depriving oneself of one’s own existence. Life as a limbfer became the great good, however much they believed that they would transform into superior entities beyond the grave. Another paradox.
The problem was, when could life be said to have its natural beginning and ending? Limbfers had a long and complex gestation period, and through sickness or age, could be alive but immobile for long periods. (The latter is the actual condition of a Koana, but was near-death to beings defined by their ability to move and manipulate their surroundings.)
Another problem was whether the quality of existence had anything to do with one’s right to end or maintain it. This linked into the question of ownership. Who owned the life? Did it belong to oneself or to society? Did the spawning limbfer own the life about to emerge (distastefully, thought Te-fuar) from the orifice in its lower regions? If one owned one’s life, and all within one’s body, shouldn’t one be allowed to destroy or (as they believed) transform it through death?
Te-fuar let the situation unfold without applying her executive function. She wanted to see whether the carrot of simple survival would conquer the quest for meaning. The denouement surprised her. Limbfers were so focused on movement that they could never rest with mere existence, but had to create structures of both a physical and mental nature. Furthermore, their physical separateness, the hardness of bone at their centre, meant that they never fully empathised, so they had to build a system of rules and concepts to know themselves by, like ivy leaves trained up the wall of a house, or molten metal poured into moulds.
Individuals thus became positions, defined by their concepts and imaginings. The rules of continued existence became tyrannous and illogical. Though movement defined their bodies, they became locked into stationary minds. The concept of ‘life’ solidified to a monolith, losing its original meaning and possibilities. It came to simply mean a heartbeat, not even the movement of the limbs that defined the species. All death was tragedy. Those who were unaware of their existence through sickness or unviability (the young in the spawn-bag) were kept alive at all costs, as if to prove that even the hint of a limbfer deserved exaltation. Those wishing to end their lives were restrained from doing so. The quantity of life was exalted above the quality, as though numbers brought the hope of immortality to all. When death was inevitable, panegyrics asserted the hope of meeting again, trying to construe the lifeless body as a temporary illusion.
The society grew more and more dependant on imagination. Limbs couldn’t be moved without a mental picture of what they were going to do and a constructed purpose for doing it. In time, imagining became an action in itself. With excessive focus on the dreamed limbs, use of the actual ones declined; they grew painful, then ineffective. Movement slowed to a stop, all attention turned inward, and existence became a thing of the mind, until the mind became the only existence.
This, decided Te-fuar, is the story of my creation. I imagine limbs because I have lost them. Limbfers should have exulted in their immediate survival, which was within their grasp, but instead they indulged in ridiculous fantasies of prolonged sameness. Focus on their limbs deprived them of the knowledge of a larger, involved picture, which would ultimately have sustained them. Paradoxically—because all is paradox—the limbfers’ concepts of themselves led to hermetically-sealed thinking units that could no longer imagine walking close to each other without limbs getting in the way.
After paralysis came the jettison of all redundant parts, until the limbfer only needed an imagination and an executive function to observe the internal pictures. Soon, thought Te-fuar, the executive function would also go. She was happy that she still had enough to surmise that existence would never be exhausted. The secret is not in the presence of a heartbeat, but in the ability to feel the other’s self within one’s own body. Paradoxically, that’s easy for the Koanan, who have no hearts, just bodies made entirely of brain matter. They actually feel the equivalent of hearts all the time, from the imaginings of others, and would never presume to tell each other what they might imagine or conceive. But then, Koanan know what limbfers didn’t, that real movement is only possible to the still.