a novella by benjamin kerstein

Saturday, September 8, 2007


It was Valint who gave it to them.

Short, gray haired, clean shaven, slightly overweight with extraordinarily vivid blue eyes, Valint looked nothing like the ghoul the assembled were expecting. His soft voice and unassuming yet palpably passionate manner gave him that rarest of appearances: that of a man who is extraordinary without being intimidating. It was feat which only Einstein had achieved before him. And even Einstein had never raised the dead.

This was the unspoken profundity which made Valint the most famous scientist of the modern era. Einstein had given us abstractions, concepts, intangibles. One could not look into the face of Special Relativity. Valint offered them flesh and blood.

More specifically, he offered them a lanky thirty-two year old Caucasian male who wished to remain anonymous. He was referred to by Valint, and then by the rest of the world, as Patient Zero.

Three dozen television cameras recorded the case history. Attention and rage disorders in childhood. A family history of mental illness. Psychotic episodes throughout adolescence and early adulthood. Paranoid schizophrenia followed by total dissociative breakdown at the age of twenty-three. Extensive use of electroshock therapy had likely exacerbated the situation. Patient Zero was a lost cause. For the last nine years he had been confined to a permanent care facility in northwest Virginia. Most of this time had been spent in restraints due to multiple suicide attempts. His family had given consent to his participation in Valint’s experiments. They considered his suicidal tendencies to be tantamount to a terminal illness.

They were hoping for a miracle cure.

What stepped in front of the microphone could not have been called anything else.

It was dark haired. He was dark haired. He had hazel eyes and wore horn-rimmed glasses. His three-piece suit and neatly arranged tie were an unassuming navy blue. His shoes were polished. His appearance suggested a banker’s secretary or a Wall Street stockbroker.

The eloquence of this twenty-six year old suicidal mental patient shocked the assembled press. Not a few members of the Washington press corps were glimpsed with carefully concealed tears in the corners of their eyes.

“A man whose mind has betrayed him is a prisoner,” he began. “Such a man does not live. He exists only. He is tyrannized by his thoughts. His mind torments his mind, his soul torments his soul with a suffering which is unspeakable and unknowable to his fellow human beings. He is a child locked in a cage with a monster who is himself.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I have been set free. This…” And he gestured towards Doctor Valint, standing to his left, head bowed, hands clasped together, “is my liberator.”

And the two men embraced. They embraced before the crowd of journalists astounded to find themselves on their feet, weeping openly and applauding with a childlike joy. Cameras flashed and zoomed. In bars and restaurants across the world, men and women felt a lump in their throats as they watch the live feed. A billion eyes locked on the flashing cathode rays looked up from their dinner trays and choked back an inscrutable emotion. The strangest of collective derangements, the pop culture phenomenon, had begun.

The Doctor and his patient were instant celebrities. The Doctor’s fame was fed by the fact that this is a role for which no particular accomplishment is required. As a result, more than a few admirers were secretly gratified that their attentions were now directed towards a personage of genuine substance. But is was Patient Zero who truly “captured the hearts of the nation,” as laymen are wont to describe the phenomenon of mass fascination.

It was Patient Zero who was chosen to appear on the daily talk shows, the evening news magazines, the weekend inserts, the product endorsements. Sometimes in the company of his creator, usually not. He displayed a charm and wit that led some to question his genuine status as a recovered mental patient. A question which was quickly answered by the production of the relevant official documentation. He revealed his guilty affection for Hershey’s chocolate kisses and synthmilk. He retold his harrowing experiences of madness and confinement. He extolled the genius of Doctor Valint. He expressed the hope, and the faith, and that others would soon be liberated as he had been. On special occasions, most notably the Jennifer Clay Christmas Personality Special and the Jose Manolo Comedy Hour, he appeared with his aging mother, whose face was respectfully pixilated and her voice lowered to a sluggish moan to conceal her identity. Despite these technological precautions, viewers knew she was weeping as she retold the sordid details of her son’s suicide attempts.

They wept with her.

Doctor Valint confined himself to the highbrow conversation shows and satellite channels geared towards science and technology. The rarified audience and admiring reception he received began the Doctor’s transformation from scientist to guru/prophet. Because it was not only the virtues of synthetic death that Doctor Valint preached before a watching world.

It was revolution. Revision. The fundamental transmigration. Total rebirth.

His sermon began always with the same words: For three hundred years science has confined itself to the observation of the physical world.

And he continued. The death of metaphysics, he claimed, had created an absolute but artificial division between the scientific and the spiritual-psychological. Despite the clumsy attempts of Einstein and Freud to reunite the two, this division had remained precisely demarcated and zealously guarded. The result was that the post-Enlightenment scientific tradition was based upon an absolute dualism between the physical and the non-physical.

Doctor Valint preached: the dualism can no longer hold.

The continuing observation of the physical world had resulted not only in increased knowledge but also in increased control. Man could harness the atom. Manipulate electricity. Artificially reconstitute the sights and sounds of existence. The entirety of physical phenomena was falling under the dominion of scientific knowledge. This eventuality required only time. It was not unthinkable that in the very near future man would be capable of controlling the earth’s climate and even the energy of the sun. Experiments in terraformation were in their infancy, but there were no insurmountable obstacles in either engineering or physics that precluded the inevitable outcome: man would have the power to create worlds.

The price of this accomplishment was increasing differentiation. Disciplines were fracturing, specialties were narrowing, their terminologies were becoming incomprehensible to each other. As science expanded it diminished its mass. Turned in on itself. Collapse of the structure was inevitable. It was already collapsing. It was the duty of scientists to contemplate what would happen afterwards.

The only possible solution was reunification. A reunification whose essential characteristics were already becoming clear.

It was essential to remember that the ancient founders of science considered the study of the physical world to be inseparable from that of the metaphysical. True knowledge required an understanding of both the tangible and the intangible. The relatively recent phenomenon of the Enlightenment had destroyed this tradition.

Valintism would be its resurrection.

He did not call it by this name. A man creates a discipline. It is christened by others.

But Valintism and its followers never deviated from its founder’s original thesis: science had destroyed itself through the conquest of life. It would resurrect itself through the conquest of death.

L61938 was only a first step. It was the beginning of knowledge’s expansion into the realm of non-existence. The elementary principles of death had been successfully manipulated. Man, through his discovery of L61938, now stood on the border between life and non-life. The artificial border drawn by his own science. The way forward was clear. Death was no longer unknowable. All that remained was to smash the barricades. This was accomplished by realizing that they did not exist.

A man of Valint’s ambitions could not stop there. The implications of L61938 would change not only science but humanity itself.

This claim was buttressed by the Valintist reading of human history.

According to the Valintist psycho-historiographers, the greatest of them being Valint himself, the primary motivating factor in human history was the terror of death. All other determinative factors: economics, climate, political power, geographical advantage, religious and spiritual development, paled in comparison. All the great works and all the great atrocities of human civilization had been impelled by the desire for immortality, aroused by the rarely spoken knowledge of inevitable non-existence, the raw energy generated by existential fear. This ghost in the machine was the origin of our great religions, our vast empires, our epic wars, our monuments to God and beauty, our sexuality, our mores, our social organizations, our manners, our artistic masterpieces, even our own dreams. It was no coincidence that the first great works of monumental human architecture, the Great Pyramids, works which required a concentration of mathematical knowledge, building techniques, hydro-engineering, and brute labor, were tombs vital to a cult of resurrection and immortality. Gateways to the world of non-existence.

The coming conquest of death was therefore the end of history. As a result, L61938 and the conquest of death posed a challenge infinitely greater than the conquest itself. They demanded a primary recalculation of the entirety of mankind’s unconsciousness existence. In the form of a short but impossible question: Would civilization be possible after the fear of death was obsolete?

It was with this question that Doctor Valint would inevitably end his lectures and interviews. Variations of it appear in every one of the seventeen books he published before the Schism.

It has now been answered.

I am its answer.

About Me

My photo
Benjamin Kerstein is an Israeli-American writer, editor, and novelist.

Michael J. Totten, the prize-winning author of The Road to Fatima Gate, has called him "one of the finest American-Israeli authors of his generation."

Jay Nordlinger of the National Review has referred to his work as "some of the most intelligent, clearest, most honest writing I have read in a long time."

He lives in Tel Aviv.

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