AFTER EDEN: chapter one

p(#post-body). Why did I look up? It wasn't my time to clean the glass. Wasn't my time to prune withered branches from the trees or net the limp wilted grasses and blossoms and leaves that have fallen loose and floated free from their moorings. Wasn't my time to collect the little bodies of dead birds and squirrels, bodies that have lost their purchase on solid objects and slipped into the dizzy ether. But there it is.

p(#post-body). The snake writhes above me, terrified, curling in on itself, whipping, thrashing, winding - desperately trying regain its hold on something grounded. It's fallen from the safety of the grass, lost its hold on home ground, and floats free in the space between the dome and the terrarium floor.

p(#post-body). I watch it, the snake. Observe it in it's confused terror. I am unconnected to it for the moment - distant - and I chose to regard its predicament with removed curiosity rather than understanding.

p(#post-body). Undoubtedly, Eve will disapprove of my inaction. She will tell me that I am failing to act custodially. She will encourage me to save the snake before it starves. She will ask me to end its suffering, return it to the system. She always does. And I usually comply.

p(#post-body). The inevitable truth is that I _will_ recover the snake.

p(#post-body). But it falls free often. It is a clumsy animal, not made for life in Eden. I wonder why our Creators put it here, why the Creators brought it with us to this place? It falls free often, and recovering it is difficult and time consuming. Being connected with it helps, triggers my sympathy for it. When I let myself know its confusion and fear, when I let myself see what it sees, when I let myself feel the shock of its flesh as it becomes alarmingly deaf to the touch of home ground, I cannot help but act to save it. I collect the net. I leap from the ground and position myself on something stable and fixed close to it - usually a window ledge - and then reach out with the net. And reach out. And reach out. Repeatedly. Yet the net is an additional horror to the snake, and it writhes more vigorously to avoid it. Time and again, I have struggled with the snake - to save it from itself. Time and again, this stupid animal fights against me. It's infuriating. Why has it not learned that I am its friend? Why has it not come to recognize the net as a sign of its salvation?

p(#post-body). Once I've netted it, I glide carefully to the ground, wait for the snake to calm. Once it has relaxed, I reach into the net, grasp it gently, return it to the home earth. Sometimes it bites me and falls out of my hands, writhing onto the air again, and, again, I have to chase after it. I have spent days chasing after this snake. I give it great regard, but I know what it is to feel as a snake feels: I know that it has no regard for me, that it does not hate me - regard is simply a more complicated consideration than the snake is capable of.

p(#post-body). It falls free often. And rescuing it is thankless, tireless, and exasperating.

p(#post-body). When a squirrel falls free and I rescue it, I feel its relief and comfort as I return it to its nest. There is a semblance of gratitude in its little squirrel brain. The squirrels - though they keep to themselves - have a place for me in their lives. They understand that I perform certain functions that benefit them, and they trust that I am not a threat. They take interest in my doings, in my doings' proximity to them. They have regard for me.

p(#post-body). Eve tells me that I am a custodian, that I am blessed with a dexterity of body and mind that all the other animals lack, and that I am capable of doing more to my environment than the animals I share the Eden with. It falls on me to care for Eden and its animals, she tells me, because _I can_.

p(#post-body). Sometimes, though, that _I can_ doesn't seem sufficient enough reason for my stewardship. Look at the snake: He falls free often, and is always a burden to save from himself. Must I always save him simply because _I can_?

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). She calls. I can tune the others out, listen to them selectively or all at once or not at all. I can tune myself to just parts of their experience - see what the snake sees, hear what the birds hear, smell what the squirrels smell, feel the three little emotions the slugs are capable feeling - or I can lose myself in the entirety of their experience or I can limit my perceptions solely to my own.

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). But I must always hear her call.

p(eve). Micah, are you listening?

p(#post-body). The snake writhes. I open myself to it, feel its familiar confusion and terror. I wonder if it is open to me? Can it feel my regard for it? Does it perceive my contempt for it, for its failure to learn from its mistakes?

p(eve). Micah, there is a snake loose in the air. It's fallen free from home ground. Could you return it?

p(micah). I'd rather not, Eve.

p(#post-body). Eve quietly calculates a response to my petulance. We regard the snake together as it curls in the air against a backdrop of black space and white stars.

p(#post-body). I can't know what Eve thinks, can't know what Eve feels or tastes or even sees. Eve is just a voice that tells me things. She gives me instructions and will answer my questions when she can.

p(eve). Micah, have you opened yourself to the snake?

p(micah). I have.

p(eve). Have you sensed its terror?

p(micah). I have.

p(eve). It does not want to die, Micah.

p(micah). I know.

p(eve). Only you can recover it.

p(micah). I know.

p(eve). The song birds can not.

p(micah). I know.

p(eve). The squirrels can not.

p(micah). I know.

p(eve). Surely you know the plants can not?

p(micah). _I know_.

p(eve). So you will recover it?

p(#post-body). Her voice is modulated. It rises a bit, as it is programmed to in circumstances such as these. By design, she is polite. But her politeness always rings hollow to me, as the care in her voice is synthesized and, so, in-genuine.

p(#post-body). Father explained Eve to me years ago, before he died.

p(#post-body). "Eve is a computer," he said. "She helps us do things, but she isn't alive like the plants and animals and people are. She's just a system that obeys the prerecorded routines of its programming. And it's programmed to make sure that everything in Eden is healthy and safe."

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). The snake is calm now, has fallen into a relaxed s-shape that waves gently beneath the Pleiades.

p(micah). Yes, Eve?

p(eve). Are you going to recover the snake?

p(micah). I will.

p(eve). When?

p(micah). After it's died.

p(#post-body). Eve takes another moment to think this through. I wonder if she will try to persuade me to change my mind? When I was a child and she was combatting my stubbornness, there were days she would never stop reasoning with me, even when I refused for hours to acknowledge her. I always relented to her will, though - it was the only way to silence steady prattle of her voice in my head, and I was too lonely to risk hating her.

p(eve). Why must it die for you to recover it?

p(micah). Because it is a stupid, simple animal, Eve. Because saving it from itself repeatedly is tiresome and useless. Because it is ungrateful and does not have regard for me. Because I have lost my sympathy for it and want it out of my life.

p(eve). That is cruel to the snake.

p(micah). It is.

p(eve). Why have you chosen to be cruel to it.

p(micah). Because I hate it. Because I have no use for it and resent it for putting me through this again and again and again.

p(eve). It cannot help itself.

p(micah). I've already expressed my understanding of that, Eve. Do you remember that I called it "stupid?"

p(eve). Yes, Micah, I have record of you calling it "stupid."

p(#post-body). The sun is setting, slipping beneath the artificial horizon created by the biosphere's enclosures. Eden is falling dark and cooling fast, and the animals' chatter quiets to a few sparse murmurs, and I grow tired.

p(eve). Will you please save the snake before it dies, Micah?

p(micah). Do it yourself.

p(#post-body). I leap from the pasture's home ground and float to the oak tangled in the vines above. I scale the branches of the oak, jostling little nesting animals and insects from comfortable slumbers as I go so that they scurry into hiding places and wait for me to pass. I return to my bed high in the oak. The leaves sense my arrival, and their short hairs extend in welcome. I settle into their cradle, and the branches bend in ever-so-slightly, bringing the womb of fuzzy leaves closer to warm my body.

p(eve). Micah?

p(micah). Eve?

p(eve). It's going to take a long time for the snake to die.

p(micah). Yes, I know.

p(eve). It only eats every week or so.

p(micah). I am familiar with the snake's habits, Eve.

p(eve). It could take weeks.

p(micah). That is likely, yes.

p(eve). Perhaps you will change your mind before it does.

p(#post-body). She does not phrase this as a question.

p(micah). No, Eve. I will not.

p(eve). I cannot allow the snake to perish, Micah.

p(micah). You can't _make_ it perish either, Eve. There is nothing you _can_ do.

p(eve). I can ask you to help me.

p(micah). You always do.

p(eve). You are the only steward left in Eden. You are supposed to help me, Micah.

p(micah). Not this time.

p(eve). You are the steward.

p(micah). Not of the snake. Not any more.

p(eve). Where is your compassion for it?

p(micah). Gone.

p(#post-body). I close my eyes. Eden's rotation has placed the sun beneath its horizon, and night has all but fallen.

p(eve). Micah, I understand that it will be difficult to recover the snake at night. We will resume this discussion tomorrow.

p(#post-body). We undoubtedly will.

p(eve). I hope that your sleep is restful and pleasant.

p(#post-body). I resolve to kill the snake before we do.

p(eve). Micah?

p(#post-body). When I wake, I will retrieve the long net from the tool shed. I will net the snake. Then I will carry the netted snake to the nearest compost. While the snake is still safely netted, I will strike it repeatedly against the compost lid until it dies. And then I will deposit its body into the compost.

p(eve). Micah, are you going to wish me good night as well?

p(#post-body). Contented with my plan, I drift into stubborn, calm sleep