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III. Death

The risk we ran was living: living forever. The threat of continuing weighed, from the very start, on anyone who had by chance begun. The crust that covers the Earth is liquid: one drop among the many thickens, grows, little by little absorbs the substances around it, it is a drop-island, gelatinous, that contracts and expands, that occupies more space at each pulsation, it's a drop-continent that spreads its branches over the oceans, makes the poles coagulate, solidifies its mucus-green outlines on the equator, if it doesn't stop in time it gobbles up the globe. The drop will live, only that drop, forever, uniform and continuous in time and in space, a mucilaginous sphere with the Earth as its kernel, a gruel that contains the matter for the lives of us all, because we are all arrested in this drop that will never let us be born or die, so life will belong to it and to nobody else.

Luckily it is shattered. Each fragment is a chain of molecules arranged in a certain order, and thanks to the mere fact of having an order, it has only to float in the midst of the disordered substance and immediately around it other chains of molecules are formed, lined up in the same way. Each chain spreads order around itself, or rather it repeats itself over and over again, and the copies in turn are repeated, always in that geometrical arrangement. A solution of living crystals, all the same, covers the face of the Earth, it is born and dies in every moment without being aware of it, living a discontinuous and perpetual life, always identical to itself in a shattered time and space. Every other form remains shut out forever; including ours.

Up to the moment when the material necessary for self-repetition shows signs of becoming scarce, and then each chain of molecules begins to collect around itself a kind of reserve supply of substances, kept in a kind of packet with everything it needs inside. This cell grows; it grows up to a certain point; it divides in two; the two cells divide into four, into eight, into sixteen; the multiplied cells instead of undulating each by itself stick to one another like colonies or shoals or polyps. The world is covered with a forest of sponges; each sponge multiplies its cells in a network of full and empty spaces which spreads out its mesh and stirs in the currents of the sea. Each cell lives on its own and, all united, they live the unity of their lives. In the winter frost the tissues of the sponge are rent, but the newer cells remain there and start dividing again, they repeat the same sponge in spring. Now we're close to the point and the die is cast: the sea will be drunk by their pores, it will flow into their dense passages; they will live, forever, not we, we who wait vainly for the moment to be generated by them.

But in the monstrous agglomerations of the sea's depths, in the viscous mushroom-beds that begin to crop up from the soft crust of the emergent lands, not all the cells continue to grow superimposed on one another: every now and then a swarm breaks loose, undulates, flies, comes to rest farther on; they begin to divide again, they repeat that sponge or polyp or fungus from which they came. Time now repeats itself in cycles: the phases alternate, always the same. The mushrooms scatter their spores in the wind slightly, and they grow a bit like the perishable mycelium, until other spores ripen which will die, as such, on opening. The great division within living beings has begun: the funguses that do not know death last a day and are reborn in a day, but between the part that transmits the orders of reproduction and the part that carries them out an irreconcilable gap has opened.

By now the battle is joined between those that exist and would like to be eternal and us who don't exist and would like to, at least for a little while. Fearing that a casual mistake might open the way to diversity, those who exist increase their control devices: if the reproduction orders derive from the confrontation of two distinct and identical messages, errors of transmission are more easily eliminated. So the alternation of the phases becomes complicated: from the branches of the polyp attached to the sea-bed transparent medusas are detached, which float halfway to the surface; love among the medusas begins, ephemeral play and luxury of continuity through which the polyps confirm their eternity. On the lands that have emerged, vegetable monsters open fans of leaves, spread out mossy carpets, arch their boughs on which hermaphrodite flowers blossom; so they hope to grant death only a small and hidden part of themselves, but by now the play of crossing messages has invaded the world: that will be the breach through which the crowd of us who do not exist will make our overflowing entrance.

The sea is covered with undulating eggs; a wave lifts them, mixes them with clouds of seed. Each swimming creature that slips from a fertilized egg repeats not one but two beings that were swimming there before him; he will not be the one or the other of those two but yet another, a third; that is, the original two for the first time will die, and the third for the first time has been born.

In the invisible expanse of the program-cells where all the combinations are formed or undone within the species, the original continuity still flows; but between one combination and another the interval is occupied by individuals who are mortal and sexed and different.

The dangers of life without death are avoided -- they say -- forever. Not because from the mud of the boiling swamps the first clot of undivided life cannot again emerge, but because we are all around now -- above all, those of us who act as micro-organisms and bacteria -- ready to fling ourselves on that clot and devour it. Not because the chains of the viruses don't continue repeating themselves in their exact crystalline order, but because this can happen only within our bodies and tissues, in us, the more complex animals and vegetables; so the world of the eternals has been incorporated into the world of the perishable, and their immunity to death serves to guarantee us our mortal condition. We still go swimming over depths of corals and sea anemones, we still walk and make our way through ferns and mosses under the boughs of the original forest, but sexual reproduction has now somehow entered the cycle of even the most ancient species, the spell is broken, the eternals are dead, nobody seems prepared any longer to renounce sex, even the little share of sex that falls to his lot, in order to have again a life that repeats itself interminably.

The victors -- for the present -- are we, the discontinuous. The swamp-forest, defeated, is still around us; we have barely opened a passage with blows of our machete in the thicket of mangrove roots; finally a glimpse of free sky opens over our heads, we raise our eyes shielding them from the sun: above us stretches another roof, the hull of words we secrete constantly. As soon as we are out of the primordial matter, we are bound in a connective tissue that fills the hiatus between our discontinuities, between our deaths and births, a collection of signs, articulated sounds, ideograms, morphemes, numbers, punched cards, magnetic tapes, tattoos, a system of communication that includes social relations, kinship, institutions, merchandise, advertising posters, napalm bombs, namely everything that is language, in the broad sense. The danger still isn't over. We are in a state of alarm, in the forest losing its leaves. Like a duplicate of the Earth's crust, the cap is hardening over our heads: it will be a hostile envelope, a prison, if we don't find the right spot to break it, to prevent its perpetual self-repetition.

The ceiling that covers us is all jutting iron gears; it's like the belly of an automobile under which I have crawled to repair a breakdown, but I can't come out from under it because, while I'm stretched out there with my back on the ground, the car expands, extends, until it covers the whole world. There is no time to lose, I must understand the mechanism, find the place where we can get to work and stop this uncontrolled process, press the buttons that guide the passage to the following phase: that of the machines that reproduce themselves through crossed male and female messages, forcing new machines to be born and the old machines to die.

Everything at a certain point tends to cling around me, even this page where my story is seeking a finale that doesn't conclude it, a net of words where a written I and a written Priscilla meet and multiply into other words and other thoughts, where they may set into motion the chain reaction through which things done or used by men, that is, the elements of their language, can also acquire speech, where machines can speak, exchange the words by which they are constructed, the messages that cause them to move. The circuit of vital information that runs from the nucleic acids to writing is prolonged in the punched tapes of the automata, children of other automata: generations of machines, perhaps better than we, will go on living and speaking lives and words that were also ours; and translated into electronic instructions, the word "I" and the word "Priscilla" will meet again.