Locomotive

A train thrashes through the city. The machinations of ancient switcheries have conspired against this, acres entire of antediluvian and twitching metal all coming together, all conjugated in mute resistance, but this is happening now. The train rams itself down 202 Clumbine/Dixen, past the gurgling throat of South St and its thyroidic emanations, flecked steel and flinty traffic, now Darwyn and 34th, girdles and snappish sphincters all around, moving as if by vulgar oath – insistent, justified, bristling.

It has a purpose, there will be no meandering about it, no foreplay. The people it carries are insects, glass insects. A great borborygmic cackle is its sign and herald. Is it not true, my friends, is it not true that a message is only as good as its deliverer? People in their homes look up at the sudden braid of white metal run like a bright worm through the brain. The train bursts into the Great Arcade, moving in its own exhalations of steam and silver, breaking the glass in the trellis, a barbarous thing through which there comes evening light congealed into pale sweet fluid, a substance for which no name has been given and which falls, even if bereft the necessary taxonomies, onto the ribs and rails as they buck and buckle, a signal that this is indeed the time for this sentinel, this Being with its scatological visitations, this arachnid in a halo of comminuted steel, to reel in by mechanical means old torsions and liabilities yet unresolved. It runs a shiny fuck off past its erstwhile companions lined in their stalls and it is out again, glowered canticle shearing air from other air, even now exultant, even now inexplicable – past Miserere, through the labyrinthine airs of Downing, all its grime now shed, transfiguring safety barriers, peeling paint off the zygotic tunnels, insects inside now stirring in horror and volubility, unaware or aware of how soon they are to be borne aloft on the high spirit airs of explosion. This is one kind of proselytisation made of chrome and thudding parts and murderousness, if only you would look at it—

The train crashes into the outer Wall. It is moving so fast that it buries over half of its shaft in fabulant concrete before its crumpled arse grinds to a shudder and a halt, and finally the fire comes and takes the high section of the wall falling all the way down below where it trundles and rolls gigantic through Parkway and Sennet and Colm St, down the hill of the District, flattening thousands with the weight of its benediction.

And The Days Are Not Long Enough: 3

Part 2

Ary took the bus from the CM tent to the medical centre. It wasn’t very far away. On the way there he looked at the big generators. They hummed distantly. They were huge; Ary had never looked at them properly before. They were big and grey and had angles everywhere.

They had given him a pass for the superbunk until he took the Big Red up, since he had no legal home. He had also gotten clothes wrapped in plastic. They had had a bit of trouble finding a set his size but they had dug up something eventually. It was all greenish military stuff but Ary had weighed the parcel in his hands and tried to feel the fabric through the plastic. He thought that those clothes would be warm. It was a large parcel and he couldn’t squeeze it under one arm so he held it with both hands instead.

At the centre there was a sign that said: IMPLANTS/INTERFACE – COMBINED MILITARY ONLY and Ary went where it pointed. The corridors where long and white. No-one looked at him this time, and he liked that. He had never been a place like this before. There was a desk outside the waiting room and there was a man at the desk with narrow eyes who said nothing and just looked as Ary when he walked up.

“I’m getting my Implant today,” Ary said. He stopped, uncertain. “Am I supposed to be here?” He did know know what to say in this kind of situation.

“If you are getting your implant today,” the man said. His voice was completely flat and he looked straight at Ary. Ary did not like the look.

“I was told I was getting it today. The – Lieutenant Crane –”

“Yes, yes. Touch this please.” The man pushed a flat black rectangle to Ary and looked back at his desk. “Go on,” he said, not looking up.

It was warm and metallic.

“Ary,” the man said.

It was a shock, to hear this name said by someone else, in that manner. “Yes?” Ary said, thinking something had gone wrong.

“Is that your name – is your name Ary?” the man said.

“Yes,” Ary replied.

“Take a seat. We’ll come and get you. Don’t be away for too long.”

Ary went over to the waiting room. He looked through the glass and saw that it was full. There was another waiting room just a bit further down the corridor and that one was nearly empty. He went back to the desk. The man there was talking to someone else from the centre; Ary stood and waited. The man frowned a lot and shook his head. He moved his hands as if he was dismissing something. When the friend left Ary walked back up and said, “Sorry. I was thinking, how long will this be?”

“I don’t know. You should get a seat.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Ary went back.

The man said, “It depends. It really depends on how the doctors are doing.”

Ary stood there. “Oh,” he said.

“Everyone’s a bit different, you know? Sometimes it takes very long and some people are out almost immediately.”

“Okay,” Ary said. He went to the second waiting room and sat down. He looked at the people walking past the waiting room. They all looked very busy. Sometimes a pair would come in coats, talking to each other. There was a heightened sense of attention that places like this generated.

There was nothing to tell Ary when he would be called.  He kept thinking that this particular person would come in and call his name, kept thinking that this particular person looked like the one who would do something like that, but this never happened . The place smelt very clean and there was a chemical lilt to the air.

There was a small table in the room with magazines on it.

The guy opposite Ary was asleep but the young woman beside him was not. She had a sharp look. She was one of these people that always looked alert in a tired sort of way. She had her hair back in a messy bun and she fiddled with it. She held a small cup with pills. She kept taking out her phone and looking at it. She would flip the phone around, flip it again, absentmindedly, light the screen, glance and it, and then look at something else. She tried to project a movie for a while for she didn’t really seem to be watching it because she looked right through it to the wall, or so it seemed to Ary. Eventually she turned the movie off and then looked through the glass at the people walking past. She didn’t look like a person who would want to join CM, Ary thought. Then he wondered why he had an idea of what the kind of person who would join CM in the first place would look like.

The young woman picked up a magazine and started reading it. She riffled through the pages one way, stopped, and went a couple of pages back. She leaned over the page like she was reading it but she stayed on the page for a very long time. Ary tried to see what she was reading. It was one of those sleek things that CM put out. He tried to notice the page she was stuck at. It was something about pilots. There was a column of small text about pay and big images of aircraft, spacecraft. Things that looked restless and deadly. The young woman stayed on that page for so long that Ary was convinced she was not reading anything.

Then she leaned back and closed her eyes and it seemed as if she was going to sleep. Then she said, “Why don’t you take another copy? There’s lots over there.” She gestured at the table without opening her eyes.

Ary didn’t know what to say. “Were you reading that?” he said. “The magazine.”

“No, I was looking at the pictures.” The young woman sighed. “Take it,” she said, pushing the magazine over and opening her eyes.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t stare at people that way in the future. If you want something just ask.” The young woman smiled. It was a strange smile on her; there was something aggressive to it.

Ary held the magazine in his hands but he did not turn it on. “Sorry,” he said.

“You’re undocced, yes?”

Something clenched in Ary and was held there.

“You should take off the sticker.” The young woman gestured at Ary’s hand. “I’m Hatherance but call me Hath. Take it off, go on. No point broadcasting it.”

“Are you okay with undoccs?”

“Hmm. I don’t have a problem with them. This wait is killing me.” Hatherance went out and came back with coffee and took the pills. “They could have at least put up some movies,” she said. “Why are you in this?”

“I’m getting my Interface – ”

“I know, I know. I mean why join CM.”

“I thought it would be good to leave.”

“Figures,” Hatherance said, even though she looked at Ary curiously. She looked at people sideways, like a bird.

Ary was so relieved that he surprised himself by saying, “Why are you joining?”

“Well,” Hatherance said, and pushed herself back into her seat like she was going to say something important. Then she shrugged. “It’s awful out there, you know.”

Ary did know if she was talking about the war or about the things that were happening to the people they were meant to protect. “Is that a reason?” he asked.

“Well if it helps the people on Ebannen, Essen – I know this sounds naïve, and it is a little I suppose – we probably should sign up. At least think about it. You know what I mean. You know what I mean?”

“Is that it?” Ary asked, testing how far he could go.

She leaned back and said, “No. That’s the bullshitty part. The main thing is that two years back my brother signed up. Didn’t go to university. He always wanted to go, always watched all the movies and stuff. I didn’t have a problem with him going – your life, your choice, all that. We had lunch at Cozo’s and he said stupid jokes and then he took the Big Red the next morning.”

“How is he?” Ary asked. “What is it like. Out there, I mean.”

“He didn’t write back much. He told me about basic training but then after than they took the Gate to Ebannen.”

“Oh,” Ary said.

“Yeah, so I haven’t heard back from him since. I thought I would be okay with it, and I sort of am, but it would be good to find out how he is. See him again. I keep thinking about lunch at Cozo’s. I think I got every single word from that time memorised. I think I’m going crazy or something. Do I sound crazy?”

Ary smiled, “No,” he said, “I know the feeling.” He put his hands on the edge of his seat and leaned forward and kicked his legs.

“Yeah, lots of undocced – you know, at the university there were a lot of people who were unhappy with the way undoccs were treated. There were rallies and stuff, invites to talks. I never really went but I ended up kind of absorbing all that, just by being there. Osmosis.”

“They didn’t get much done,” Ary said.

“No,” Hatherance said.

“But it’s nice knowing some people care.”

“It kind of stays inside the university.”

“It’s still good.”

“They got the amnesty, so they managed to get you here, at least.” Hatherance stopped and thought. “Although it’s good that you don’t look too happy about it.”

“I’m getting my calibration done tomorrow. For Hynder.”

Hatherance stared at Ary. She was looking for a word. “Idiot,” she breathed.

“Should I say no? I thought it made sense.  Just now I thought it made sense but I am – I am really unsure now.”

“I mean it’s no wonder you look like you’re about to cry all the time.”

“Should I say no?” Ary asked.

“I mean – well – why did you say yes?”

“Everyone on Ebannen got it, I was told.”

That made Hatherance think for a while. “You are very, very, brave,” she said, making it sound like a warning.

“I am very, very, scared — is more like it,” Ary said. The words came out just before he thought about stopping them.

“Is someone going with you?”

“It’s just me.”

“You know people are wrecked when they come out, you know. They can’t walk, can’t talk, it’s screwed up.”

Ary said, “You know, it’s funny that both of us don’t really want to join but we’re here.”

“No,” Hatherance said, “We both want to join. We just don’t have the proper reasons. But I want to talk about this Hynder thing you are doing. Are you going to do it?”

“I think so,” Ary said, “But I don’t know.” He adjusted the bundle of clothes on his lap.

“If you want to say no you should tell them tomorrow morning. Do you have a phone?”

“No.”

“Go back to the tent.”

“Okay. I might go back.” The plastic bundle made gentle crackling noises.

“I think you’re mad.”

“Okay.”

“When is your appointment tomorrow? For the calibration.”

“It’s here, at 4.15”

“If you’re doing it I’ll be here.”

“What?”

“What’s your name?”

“Ary.”

“Is that it?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll come by at 4. If you aren’t around I’ll assume you did the sane thing. Otherwise I’ll ensure you’re still alive after the procedure.”

“Thank you.” Ary was so grateful he felt it like a kind of pain. “Thank you very much.”

The door opened up and the doctor said, “Ms Soreha.”

“I’m here,” Hatherance said. “I’m coming.” She took her bag and got up.

“Please follow me,” the doctor said.

“See you, Ary,” Hatherance said. “Or hopefully not.”

After she left there was nothing to do so Ary looked through the magazines. He turned them over and over in his hands.

Then another doctor opened the door and said, “Ary.”

Ary stood up. “Yes,” he said.

Then someone else came to the door and said something to the doctor. She listened expressionlessly and nodded then the closed the door and left. She came back in right after that and passed him the cup with pills in it before she left again. She’d forgotten. “Take these.” Ary took them and sat down.  Now that Hatherance had left he felt unsure about everything. He looked at the pills. They were absurdly coloured, like baubles. He went out and found a dispenser and got some water took the pills. The water was very cold and it felt good. It had a clearing effect. Ary went back to the waiting room and looked at the huge luminous pictures in the magazines. There were soldiers sitting together and smiling in full gear even though their faces were covered with dust and grime. Some of them lay prone in grass, some of them stood weary but happy on sunlit outcrops. There were diagrams explaining weapons technology. There were pictures of orbital snipers silhouetted against the vast curve of some world smiling up at you from their cribs and looking extremely smart with their long rifles and pointscreens. There was a page or two about medics and what they did; Ary dwelled on that bit. And there was a thick section, with no pictures, about Peregrines, and long lists of what a Peregrine could do, and all the benefits they got.

The doctor came back. “Ary,” she said. “Thanks for waiting. Come with me.”

He followed her. She walked very fast and he hurried to keep up. They came to a small white room which was very clean and had a strange chair in it.

“Take a seat, Ary,” the doctor said. “It might be a bit too large for you but it should be alright.”

“Where do I put this?” Ary said, said, raising his parcel of clothes.

“I’ll take those.” The doctor put them in a cupboard.

Ary sat in the chair and the back went down until he was nearly lying down. There was a metal structure which held the back of his head. When he first touched the metal there was a sensation that for a moment Ary could not distinguish as hot or cold.

“I’m not going to do very much,” the doctor said. “But I want you to stay calm and if at any point you feel like you cannot breathe tell me and I’ll stop things. Are you comfortable?”

Ary nodded but the doctor didn’t see as she was looking at the screen.

“You’re getting Hynder calibrated tomorrow,” she said.

“I don’t know,” Ary said. “I said yes earlier.” He felt an intense urge to discuss this with someone. He felt without warning as if this was the last time he would be able to think about it and he desperately needed to know something but he didn’t know what it was he needed to know.

“Brave,” the doctor, said, looking properly at Ary.

“Should I say yes?”

“There are good reasons to say yes,” the doctor said. “But the trick is not to think too much about it. Lean back, please.”

Ary leaned back.

The doctor was back to the screen. “Now I’m just going to take a thin layer of skin off the back the back of your neck, around here. This shouldn’t hurt.”

Something pressed against the back of Ary’s neck and it felt wet. There was a sound like a gentle snap and that was it. Ary barely felt anything.

“There’s a bit of anaesthetic I’m going to put in. It will stop you feeling the insertion.”

“Does it stop all the pain?” Ary said.

“Just the insertion. There’s nothing to be done about the actual embedding, I’m afraid. Don’t think about it.”

Now a cold feeling. It was as if something was growing in Ary’s neck. It felt like it was enlarging, somehow, but that was it. It was strange but not painful.

The doctor turned back to Ary. “I’m going to do the insertion now, and the machine does the embedding automatically after. It will take a minute or two for the initial connections to grow in. It will be bad at first but it will be better very quickly. Do you want restraints? Usually it’s not necessary. You can just hold on to chair here. Grip tight, put your thumb on top like this.”

Ary did not know very much about how the Implant and Interface worked. There were millions of little needles that went up the brainstem, he knew. They put something in there that grew. That was it.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll just hold on.”

“If you start to feel like you cannot breathe tell me immediately. This is very safe but it’s happened before.”

“What happened?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m going to start insertion in 5 seconds.”

“Okay,” Ary said, feeling very stupid for still speaking.

There was a scraping sensation. Then it felt like something was pulling at the skin on the back of his neck. Ary thought he felt fluid going down the back of his neck but he did not say anything. Then there was another feeling, a pale transparent feeling. Then it bulbed up into his head and burst into something else entirely. It was incandescent. Ary felt air coming out of his lungs and he made an involuntary sound that he did not hear.

“You’re doing good,” he heard the doctor say. The sick thought arose in Ary that this was impossible.

He tried to breathe. He concentrated so hard on his breathing it was like fire. He really felt himself breathing, the air going into him and then coming out again. For a moment his vision went. It did not become blur or fade. It simply went and then it was back. The thing inside his head was pushing out, he could feel it pushing out. Tightness grew everywhere over his body. His hands reflexively left the handles and immediately grabbed them again.

“No, no,” Ary said.

It went on for some time. Then it went away.

“Very good,” the doctor said. “You handled it very well. Don’t move.”

“It hurts,” Ary said.

“Yes,” the doctor said. “But now it’s over and done with. I want you to close your eyes.”

Ary did so.

“Open your eyes,” the doctor said. She was holding a piece of paper with a long string of numbers and letters on it, right in front of Ary’s face. She waited several seconds and then said, “I want you to read this out.”

Ary did so. Immediately after he did so he felt something open up in his head. It felt as if something was echoing in his head. Something was different about what he was seeing.

“Ary. Do you see a little red square there, at the bottom right? Is it red?”

Ary did not understand. Then he saw something in his field of vision. It was just there. It was disembodied. He could not look directly at it but it was there.

“Yes.”

“That red square indicates that Hynder is not activated. After tomorrow that should be green. Say ‘Point Test Confirm Link 1’, please.”

Ary did so and something that felt like YES flashed across his vision.

“Wow,” he said.

“It does a lot more. You’ll learn offworld. I’m going through some basic things now to ensure it’s gone in correctly. It’s not hurting anymore, I assume?”

There was a dull ache but that was it. “No,” Ary said.

“Let’s move on. Say ‘Point Test Confirm Link 2.’  You should see the red outline of a rectangle, dead centre of wherever you look.”

“I see it,” Ary said.

“I know”, the doctor said. “Now want you to picture something simple. No colours, just a black or white shape.”

After the tests were over Ary went back out and asked the man at the counter where the showers were. When he got to the showers he spent several minutes spitting into the sink and shaking his head. He had been told that his sense of taste might change for a while but he was not used to it. He looked at himself in the mirror. He was never used to the way he looked. He always found himself looking far too observant. He did not like the way he looked at himself.

He felt very alone now. There was no-one else around.

He went into the shower. The water was warm. He cried listlessly in the water. At least he sniffled a little, without knowing why. He thought it was easier to cry this way, when he was in the water. When he heard someone else come into the showers he instinctively turned his own showerhead off and listened. He realised what he was doing and he stood there feeling stupid again. He didn’t know anything and yet here he was. He stood in the water for a long time.

When he realised blood was pouring from the back of his neck he put the towel around himself and ran in a blind panic up to the counter, where a doctor promptly appeared and told him as he dripped that this was normal, this sometimes happened, it was nothing to worry about.

Later that evening Ary went to his home. Not the superbunk; he would go there soon enough. He thought the door would not open but his key still worked. He stood in the doorway and kicked mud off his shoes before he went in.

It was empty. The living room, what had always been called the living room, was still and quiet. The evening light made it look  better than it actually was.

Ary boy stood there, lost. He had no idea why he was here. He did not know what he had to do. He went to the refrigerator and opened the freezer. He had been afraid that the power might have gone but it had not. He opened a cupboard and took out a glass from where it stood with two other glasses. He put some ice in the glass and brought it to the dining table. He put it there and he just watched it melt. The cubes cracked and then they slipped and collapsed into each other. A ring of condensation grew on the table. He sat in the chair and watched.

He went out of the house and came back a while later with a box. There were only two other rooms apart from the living room and kitchen and one of them was neater than the other. The boy went into the neat room and he started taking things and putting them into the box. He folded the clothes. The books he put at the very bottom. They were mother’s but he had read all of them. He was careful to stack them. There was a small container of medicines that he held for a while and then threw into the rubbish. While he was clearing up the things in the room he started crying again. He tried to feel angry at himself for this but it simply was not possible. Then he thought that since it was the last time he would indulge himself and not feel anything more after this.

He dragged the box out into the living room. He sat on the floor held it in his arms and he thought, this is what it’s all about, this is the reason we do this, any of it.

Outside people moved past, doing their daily things.

After a while Ary got up and got a drink from the tap, even though he had always been told that he was not supposed to. Then he left.

Hath came to the Medical Centre at 4, like she had said. She told the man at the counter that she was seeing Ary and he brought her to the waiting room. Hath was surprised at how many people were waiting there and for a moment she thought that Ary had not come after all. Then she saw him.

“If you did not come I was not going to go in,” he said.

“You should not go in,” she said.

“I know,” he said.

After a while the doctor came and called Ary to the room. Hath went with him and the doctor did not ask any questions. Ary thought as they walked into the room that both he and Hath shared something which was the common anticipation of pain and to Ary it seemed that that was world enough.

Part 4

Games: 1

“I tell you it’s amazing.”

“It is amazing.”

“Surreal almost.”

“Very possibly.”

“If you think about it. If you step back and think about it it’s ridiculous.”

“I don’t even think you have to step back and think about it.”

“Did you notice how many people tuned in to watch?”

“My point exactly. Everyone could see that something ridiculous was happening.”

“The world no.2. One of the greatest. And yet.”

“It was humiliating.”

“It was humiliating.”

“Maybe we should all have expected it.”

“No, no –”

“You put Leviathan in the game, maybe you ought to expect this.”

“Two months, though.”

“It’s still pretty sick. I’m not denying the sickness of the entire enterprise. But maybe we should expect this of Leviathan. QC was being very coy about his expectations, you know? I asked it a couple of times and it went, oh, whatever happens happens…”

“It’s not even the win; really it’s the way he won it. He’s only known the rules for, what, two months?”

“It was – well, it was a model Makagonov.”

“It was the model. I mean that was disgusting. And so ambitious too. That is strange, isn’t it, that kind of ambitious play, that kind of opening? I mean he played for a full-court press. No gaps, no giveaways, no trading of strategic weaknesses, no risks. Just strangulation.”

Boa constrictor.”

“That was one of your brilliant moments, Lev, it really was.”

“Thank you.”

“They’re calling him that now, you know?”

“Of course. It’s such a good name. I came up with it.”

“Did you notice from the commentary box when h3, g4, appeared? People were shaking their heads, they were like, wow, he’s doing this.”

“Maybe this is his kind of style.”

“What? Sluggish brutality? No, no, I know what you mean.”

“The attack at the end. It came so slowly. So slowly. It was totally predictable and yet poor Hearst couldn’t do anything about it. Everything massing around the king. Boxed in and boxed in and then just swamped.”

“Did you notice when I talked to him afterwards?”

“Salix?”

“He was sort of dazed.”

“I don’t really think he was dazed, Mar.”

“I thought he was dazed. It was a long game.”

“I am leaning towards thinking he was annoyed, actually.”

“Annoyed? What about?”

“Never mind. Who knows?”

“Look. I understand he finds this all a bit exasperating. Believe me when I say I understand. I’ve been doing this gig long enough. But there is a price to pay, you see. He of all people should understand that. And I think he knows that we know that he should understand that, and I think he respects us for it.”

“You really think so.”

“I do really think so.”

“Well, maybe – ”

“Why are we talking about this? This is besides the point. What I really want talk about is the fact that we need to keep him playing. We’ve not had views like this before.”

“It’s high drama.”

“It’s such high drama. He still plays like an amateur, you can tell he plays like one, getting all these dodgy positions out of opening and defending and defending for five hours.”

“In the first league, when he walked right into all that preparation in the Dragon…”

“ ‘You don’t fuck around in the Dragon.’”

“ – and we thought, this is it, this will be a massacre, and then all these perfect Engine moves started coming out and then it was a draw.”

“The number of bad positions he’s saved.”

“The sheer number.”

“It must be calculation. Maybe he’s actually a tactical monster but doesn’t know it yet.”

“Did you notice something funny about the way he plays?”

“What?”

“I’ve been noticing things about him.”

“I tell you, this kind of fixation is very unprofessional.”

Unprofessional? You talk like a capitalist.”

“I tell you, I treat this like it is more than a hobby. It’s like I am getting paid for this, you know, getting wages and shit. I wake up and I do this. I have been doing this for a long time.”

“What I’ve noticed is that he never gets up.”

“What?”

“I was telling you I’ve been observing him. And he never gets up. Everyone else gets up. They make their move, they get up, walk around, they look at the other games. You remember when you used to play? There was just so much tension it was better to calculate while walking around. So everyone gets up, gets some coffee, stares at the screens. But he just sits there for six or seven hours.”

“The strange thing is that this should really make him boring to watch.”

“He looks like he’s in pain. Do you see that? He sits down and then he does not walk around. But he does this. Sort of buries his knuckles in his eyes and opens his mouth a little bit. It’s not like he’s thinking. It’s really like he’s gone beyond that. Maybe he’s trying to intuit something and he’s not getting it. He’s trying very very hard to do something and it’s not happening. It’s so strange, isn’t it? I mean this is the Leviathan, Mar, think about it, and he’s just letting us see him in pain for I do not know what reason. When he gets out of Stize he’s going to be doing all these really big things, you know, and he sort of needs to be infallible. But he does not look infallible when he’s sitting there being miserable.”

“But don’t you see? Don’t you see? That’s exactly it. It’s my experience that tells me that the pain and the pleasure of it are inseparable. That keeps the audiences coming, you know. It’s important that it is the Leviathan because now we see him without trappings. It’s like watching a monster struggle. You know when you first started following the First League? You would see this person who was legendary in the Second, a real class act, this person would  qualify and once this person came to the First this person got absolutely massacred. There is a certain obscenity to the entire process. It’s like watching some sleek predator come along and then get torn to pieces, absolutely destroyed, really, by a bigger sleeker predator, no fuss, just part of the job. Well we’ve got the biggest monster now, we’ve got the predator on the top of the pile and we’ve thrown it into a space where it has to struggle. It doesn’t know where or how to direct its powers. It’s beautiful.”

“Is he struggling, though? Since he started in the leagues he’s only lost two games, and he’s not lost one now for I think nearly twenty games. He’s been defending, yes, but he’s seriously good at it. Seb – Gelnik, I mean – said that all the people in the First agree that he’s the best defender onworld, you know.”

“But you see that he is in pain, don’t you?”

“There this thing he does, it’s also another one of the little quirks, where he stops looking at the board and then looks at the audience offstage, like he’s pleading with them for help or something. The first time I saw him do it he had this terrible position against Gelnik and he looked at the audience and I thought he looked so disappointed in himself. I thought he was going to shake his head and shrug at the audience and then resign. I really thought he was going to do that. You cannot think I am soft, Mar, because I am not and you know it, but I really felt sorry for him.”

“That was his famous save.”

“That was the famous save.”

“I think it’s simpler than that. I think he looks at them because he knows what’s going on. He feels it. I feel it too. It’s only a silly board game but he’s made it something greater for people. He’s made it something titanic. You know what I mean? He’s made the whole thing a giant theorem and he’s trying to prove it.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“Meh. It’s one of my best qualities. But you know what I mean.”

“We’re well into subtletyland here, if I might borrow your term.”

“It’s very deep but it’s also fun.”

“It’s fun but, well, you know. Now we have to talk about the big problem.”

“Because, damn it, it is a big problem.

“Vast, really.”

“Tremendous.”

“I don’t understand it.”

“We were just talking about how he’s in pain. I think it’s quite understandable.”

“No, no, we were talking about pain in the context of its allure.”

“In any case, he’s said no.”

“I don’t understand. It’s the Candidates. If he wins he gets to challenge for the world title.”

“It’s big.”

“It’s fucking shitdrizzlingly colossal.”

“Maybe it’s too easy for him.”

“We were just talking about him being in pain – I mean, seriously Lev you say the stupidest shit sometimes.

“I mean yes, he is in pain, but he’s just stopped losing. He’s struggling but maybe he knows the outcome of that process by now. I mean he just crushed the world no.2 in their first game. He wears t-shirts to First League games.”

“Well, it’s a cyclical thing, you know, what the young ones wear.”

“My point was.”

“We should get him to lose, then.”

“Mar?”

“I really like you.”

“Thank you.”

“Professionally I like you. On other levels I like you deeply, thrustingly even. I do really like you.”

“I really appreciate this.”

“But sometimes you are a total and towering wanker.”

“I don’t wank.”

“He’s Leviathan. If you made him lose he’d frown and CompyDust would melt your face off.”

“Hey. It was a joke.”

“It was a joke.”

“It was a joke.”

“A joke?”

“I wanted to see your reaction.”

“You’ve got my reaction.”

“Why are we talking about this? We need to get him to say yes for the Candidates.”

“Because we thought that it would be more interesting for him if he lost.”

“More interesting for the audience too.”

“Mar.”

“Yes.”

“Stop being a turd.”

“I’m not being a turd. I am trying to make this fun for people.”

“Fun for you, you mean. You have all these conceptions.”

“You know this Garfield. She’s good friends with Leviathan. Talk to her about it.”

“You could talk to him directly.”

“Hm. Well. He’s a bit scary.”

“I’ll talk to Garfield. She won’t buy any of your bullshit, though.”

“There’s no bullshit. Just say the true thing, which is that everyone really wants him to play in the Candidates.”

“Yeah.”

“We’re making history.”

“We’re all making history all the time.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah.”

When Garf got up Salix was already in the shower. He came out naked and he went back onto the bed. He closed his eyes but did not sleep.

He got up and looked out of the window. He scrolled through some assignments. He went back to bed.

She sat up and looked at him. “You know Lev.”

He didn’t open his eyes. “Maybe,” he said. He meant yes if he said maybe that way.

“He says that you should play in the Candidates.”

“Hmm.”

“Do you know what I think?”

He turned around and looked at her. “Yes.”

“I think you shouldn’t give a shit what he says.”

She had fucked him but only once. He was asexual. She had not known that. Evolutionary dead end, ha-ha, he had said, sounding very unsorry about it. Two weeks after LHB she got him the stuff they used at the college Burning and then they had fucked. He said he enjoyed it. She was convinced he had. But they hadn’t fucked since. You should use that body for sex, she had said. It’s really a waste otherwise. He had said: I’m designed this way because this makes me more persuasive, you know. And it would be a good body anyway because I’m not designed to die. And then he laughed at something he found very funny.

Salix put his face into the pillow and exhaled forcefully. “People.”

“Breakfast,” Garfield said.

“Naked.”

She went and got something. When she came back Salix was no longer naked and he was again looking out of the window as he sat on the bed.

“Hey,” she said. She looked at him sitting over there. He moved his head like he was listening but that was it.

“Hey,” he said, into the air.

“Are you thinking?”

“No,” he said. And then he thought for a bit and said, “Yes.”

“Well, you should say no. You are too much about what other people think.”

“I don’t think so,” he said, and threw a pillow at her.

“Please,” she said.

“This is all crap, you know. I don’t want to play. I don’t want to play.”

“You sound like your age.”

“I’m hungry.”

“There’s something downstairs.”

While he was eating he abruptly said, “I know what it is, you know.”

“What?”

He put the fork down and went to the sink with the plate. “Audiences.” Salix had a voice he used, without knowing it, or maybe he was trying to look like he did not know it, when he was saying something serious. “The problem is the audiences.” He sat down again.

“Well,” Garf said, “The fuckers are mostly there to see you lose.”

Salix made a brief pained look. A not-wince. “Not the same.”

“As?”

“Enjoying something more because I might lose. I’ve not been doing that too often.”

“What’s the problem, then?”

“I don’t know. Well, no, I do know, but I’m not going to say it precisely. I look at them in the middle of a game and all their faces are just frozen in this strange hungry rictus. All the white faces in that light – the light makes them all stand out – and I don’t like it. It’s like if I walked over and slapped them they wouldn’t move. It’s just a mass of symbols down there. I don’t like it.”

“They’re enjoying it.”

“I tell myself, am I going to have to care about these people?”

“Do you find people very stupid?”

“No,” Salix said, slowly.

“Really.” Garf found Salix sometimes unreadable. “I always thought that you should.”

He grinned. “I find you pretty stupid.”

“Well,” Garf said, “You should tell Lev something if you are going to say no. It will be the official story.”

Salix yawned hugely. “They don’t need an official story.”

“Say that you detest these people, you detest the game, that it is altogether and without a shadow of a doubt so far beneath your station that you only play because you want to size up the shape and texture of people’s stupidity.”

Salix laughed. “I don’t mind people,” he said, “at all.”

“Say that Lev and Mar are total shitheads and they physically repulse you.”

“I could say that I love it too much, that’s it’s killing the rest my life, that the worst thing I could do to everyone is have me shoved down some solipsistic sinkhole built around a game wholes rules are arbitrary and whose entire central being is the idea of passive aggression. I’ll say that I know I have responsibilities and that I cannot betray these responsibilities even before these responsibilities have come to be. I’ll say that it pains me but that even now I understand the necessity of sacrifice, and I hope that what little I have left recorded will give some people somewhere some small happiness, some peephole that goes straight to my medulla. ”

“Say that your grades are slipping.”

Salix put his feet on the table and spread his hands. “They could check.”

“Say that you can’t stand the audience. Say that their breathing is hideous. Their eyes are hideous. You fucking detest their faces. Their pulpy ophidian faces. You hate the air in the playing hall. It’s too warm, it’s too cold, you have a neurosis they must build around you. You hate the sound the pieces make. You hate their gloss and their shine. You hate the way people move the pieces. You hate it when they remove the captured piece and put down the capturing piece in the same action and you hear that gross click. Say that it’s alienating and monstrous. Say that the players are arrogant and worse bathetic.  They have bad teeth. They twirl pieces beneath the table. When they leave the table they don’t pay attention to their swivelling chairs and the backs face you  and you are forced to sit there in the stink of their recently departed being looking at the back of a chair and you cannot calculate anymore. You will not grace their inattention, their slovenliness, their torpidity, with your effort.”

“Maybe I am bored by it. Maybe I feel I have exhausted the game. Maybe I am tired of closed pawn structures and the knights crawling to g3 in the Najdorf. Maybe I am tired at the stupid binary structure of it all and am frustrated at the perpetuation of a game that disencourages dialectic thought. Perhaps the real issue here is that the game is a shallowly disguised metaphor for sex and I am appalled at it because I can’t fuck. I have tried everything. I have spoken to Quistclose, I have spoken to Petromyzon, I have let little robots feel me in my soft places and nothing works, I am a great sucking antilibidinous vacuum and I am a constant that even a Haccieter cannot solve. The pieces are grotesque and tumorous. They are crenellated and thorny and bald. They take too much out of me. The entire performance requires of me faculties which I do not have.”

Boa constrictor. You know that is your name.” Garf looked at the clock. “I should head to the Centre.”

“I want a walk. I’ll come.”

“Have you seen the stuff we are doing?”

“You could show me.”

“You’ll be interested.”

Salix put his face in his hands and rubbed. “I should decide what to say to Lev.”

“I’ll get the car.”

“Can we walk?”

Garf made a face. “I can continue making stuff up all the way there.”

“Sure, do that.”

“Where’d we get them?”

“Last war.”

There were ten people in this room. There were many rooms but this was one room. The people in this room were very old. Their hands and faces were like maps. They leaned over their tables. They were allowed to drool. They had wires in their heads and wires in their ears. They looked at Garf and Salix when they came in and some of them smiled. “I tell yuh whot,” one of them was saying, “I tell yuh whot, I tell yoh whot.”

Garf looked at Salix looking at the people. “It’s these people,” she said.

Salix did not say anything. Then he said, “Audience.”

“It’s these people,” Garf said again. She didn’t hear.

The thing Salix was doing was finding an uncanny gap, and finding that it was moving.

“And what happens?” Salix said.

“I’ll play them something from the Trove. Watch.”

The people started moving. Their eyes bulged and their fingers warped. Their heads moved from side to side. Swung one way and then another way. Some of them eventually closed their eyes and moved their arms. They opened their mouths and made wavering noises. The one who kept speaking was silent.

“They’re very happy,” Garf said.

“I’m happy for them,” Salix said. “That they’re here.”

“Only works with stuff from the Trove. Not quite. But that’s basically it. We can’t really use any other music. That’s very interesting. Isn’t it interesting? We get a big load of stuff from a random metavirus we happen to meet in an obscure space, it does not tell us what the significance of this is or where it’s from, and it has this effect.”

“I’ve never listened anything from the Trove. Everyone listens to it now but somehow I never got around to it.”

“Look at these people. They’ve never heard this stuff and yet then can remember it. Doesn’t that say something interesting?”

“Maybe,” Salix said, and maybe he used his yes voice.

On the way out he said, “You’ve got stuff from the Trove, haven’t you?”

Garf said, “Oh yes. Lots.”

“What were they listening to?”

“It’ll pass it to your Buds. Wait. Can you hear it?”

“Yes,” Salix said, and then, later: “It’s very good.”

Carcharodon

“You come in with this idea that you alone are inviolate. All of us are thinking it. We have to be or we would be living in permanent horror. Don’t look at me that way. It’s true. Is your head replete with the idea of sacrifice? No. There is nothing in the head. There is no passion or fear or even malice.  And after a while so many die that you don’t really feel it anymore. It’s the same as if they got transferred out or they took leave. I noticed it first with Sovas – I think it was Sovas – and Akari. I thought to myself, oh, that’s sad, they weren’t that bad, but that was it and you know what? That was all there could be.

It takes something to really make you feel it all over again. The thing that came for me – that was it. I don’t mean to say it terrified me. It was bigger than that. It was as if someone had taken an idea and given it flesh and teeth and it had run out of some  philosophical catalogue of essential objects. It was altogether whole and altogether perfect and there was nothing you could add to it. You know what I mean? It was undeniable.

The killing came from underneath. I think that was how it got the rest but I don’t know for sure.

And I swear as it came for me I knew it was not alive. It sounds mad but I knew it. It was the eyes. They were black and there was nothing else. I was like watching a big torpedo had come out of the silo and its nubby head had become teeth. The eyes were black like a rock and I knew it was not alive but the gaze was deep. Seriously, man, I tell you, I knew it was looking and me and looking right through me. And then right as it was coming for me the eyes disappeared, they rolled back and there was whiteness, all whiteness, and then even that was gone and there were two holes. It was like it was in a trance but it was violence, all of it.

There is one other thing I remember. This might not be helpful but I thought as the mouth opened that it was very pink and human. It was terrible and soft-looking, but there were those veins of teeth. The jaw was huge and flabby like a child’s. The skin was smooth like very fine sand. You can see along here where it took off my skin. I don’t know what I was thinking when I got out of the water. I had forgotten about where all the others were and I called my officer screaming like an idiot and you know what else happened.”

And The Days Are Not Full Enough: 2

Part 1

The corporal looked surprised.

“Hey,” he said, not unpleasantly. “Uhm.” Just above his breast pocket it read: A. R. Mance. Mance frowned. He looked as if he had something worn and practiced to say but was not sure if he should say it. What he said was:

“How old are you?”

And the boy said, “Fifteen.”

“No,” Mance said. “Too young. At least semimajor age.” He looked at the boy again. He said, “You’re tall for your age.”

“I’m sixteen,” the boy said.

“Okay. Give me your hand.” The boy stretched his arm out. Mance put a sticker on the back of his hand. “You can get it off after an hour. If it turns warm come back but otherwise that’s all there is to it. Now I need your name.” Mance passed a form over. “Write it down here, and then sign.”

“Sign?”

“Just write your name twice. Write it here, and then here.”

The boy looked uncertainly at the paper. It was a little slip. Mance felt sorry. A large number of undocumenteds had signed up at first for the partial amnesty but very few this young tried. “Do you have parents?”

The boy was silent.

“The best thing to do probably is just write down what they usually call you. It really does not matter. We’re not going to try to find your parents or anything like that.”

Mance thought that an undocumented child probably did not want to give anything away. Then he realised he was an idiot.

“Do you write? Can you read?”

The boy said, “It’s okay,” and wrote something down.

“Odd name,” Mance said. “Is that all there is?”

“Yeah.”

“Right. That’s all I’m supposed to do. Lieutenant Crane handles undocced applications if you’re below full majority age, so you should go over there now.” He pointed. “She’s probably in and she’ll probably be glad to have something to do.”

She was in, and she was glad to have something to do. She took a small bundle of papers out of the desk and adjusted them against the table. The cubicle was small; it could only hold two. The sound in the room was dry.

She said, “I’m going to ask you some things and you’re going to say yes or no. Some of these conditions you must agree to if you want to enlist; I’ll tell you which ones these are. Others you have a choice about but might affect pay. I’m authorised to advise you since you’re not yet full majority, which is why I look as if I’m stationed a bit below my rank. Just interrupt to ask. If you answer I will assume you have understood what I said. The full details are in here.” Crane waved the stack of paper. Then she looked at the boy and said, “What was it?”

“What? Oh. What made me enlist?”

“Yes.”

“It’s shit being undocced.”

“You know what the funny thing is? People say that, especially about the young ones, but no-one this young actually enlists. I’ve seen – what? – five, maybe, this month? What was it?”

“I thought it was the best thing to do.”

“They got your parents?” Crane said that very directly but she didn’t sound unkind about it.

And Crane was surprised when Ary said, “Yes. Well. No, they died.” And then he said immediately after, “I’m okay.”

Crane shook her head. “It’s a fucked-up world, kiddo. Anyway. Mandatory clause – do you know what mandatory means?”

“Yes.”

“Mandatory clause: Do you freely agree to join the Combined Military (CM) for a term of service not less than three years in length?”

“Yes.”

“Mandatory clause: Do you freely agree to carry out, to the best of your abilities and in good faith, all directives and commands issued by all superior officers, as specified the Codes and Protocols of Military Conduct?”

“Yes.”

“That’s it for the mandatory clauses. For all the technically mandatory clauses, at least. You get a pretty comfortable basic pay at this point. 4000 TUs monthly. All the percentages I will mention from now on are in reference to this amount. Do you understand?”

The pay was very good. Ary had always found it strange that the CM paid so much. But it took a lot too. And the CM had never conscripted people, so maybe it had to. “Yes.”

“Do you wish to waive a right to object to Class C missions? It gets you 20% more, which is quite a lot.”

“Class C –”

“Require or are very likely to involve the killing of self-aware AIs. If you object you exempt yourself.”

“Do I have a right to object anywhere else?”

“You have an overriding duty to report missions where you believe a commanding officer has ordered the deliberate targeting of civilians but that’s not a right to object. You’ve only got a right to object for Class C missions.”

“Should I?”

“Everyone waives it. It’s a big jump in pay and people don’t feel very much for the bastards. The Descendants, I mean.”

Ary paused. He looked as if he was about to say something, and then he stopped, and then he spoke. “What are the Descendants, really?”

“Small and stupidly lethal.”

“No, I mean –”

“Nobody knows.” Crane frowned. “I mean, really.”

“Okay. I’ll waive it.”

“Do you wish to waive your citizenship? Once you’ve got it, I mean. The little tab on your hand probably needs fifteen minutes to finish its job. Gets you 10% more.”

“What does this mean? Giving up citizenship.”

“It means that CM is not obliged to bring you back here once your term of service is up.”

This was difficult. Ary was not sure what he felt about Tyne. There were many things he was unsure about but this was a different kind of uncertainty. It wasn’t uncertainty that happened because he didn’t know things. That was true, but that was not important. The problem was that the more he thought about Tyne and what he had been through the more things became unparsable. It was not just that there were good things and bad things and that they were equal in number or intensity. It was that when he thought about what these things meant they unfolded, and unfolded again. It went all the way down. It was some time ago but he could remember that when he arrived back home he sometimes saw his mother, the person he called his mother and therefore was it, sitting at the table and she would be asleep in a chair and small bags of ice would lie melting on her arms as they were put on the table. There were patches of skin on the arms that were grey or blue and the ice helped to take away the pain. Its effectiveness was constant even though all the other stuff was not working as well anymore and soon would not work at all. Mother’s job, the day job, was difficult, and if she wanted to sleep the ice was sometimes important. She waited at the table for him to return and fell asleep among the bags of ice. You could tell how long she had been asleep by seeing how much of it had melted. The bags were small and clear, plain transparent plastic that bulged and sagged and was covered in condensation. If it was evening the light came in and the bags put folds of it all over the ceiling.

“What do you think?”

Crane noticed without really realising it that the boy had a habit of bringing his hands together when he was nervous. “It’s pretty shit being an undocced, you said.”

“Yes, but I’m not undocced anymore.”

“Legally.”

“I can pretend. People might not care. I don’t know.”

Crane looked at Ary. “You don’t talk like you’re sixteen.”

“Okay.”

“What?”

“Yes.”

“Okay meaning yes you’ll waive your citizenship?”

“Yes.”

“You haven’t asked about where you’ll end up.”

“It can’t be so bad, with my pay.”

“Okay.  There’s some things now that don’t affect pay but which you’ll need to make a decision about. Cohabitation: yes or no?”

“Cohabitation?”

“Fucking. In effect.”

“I don’t know.”

“Everyone says yes.”

“Is it important?”

“Eventually, yes. It’s a war, darling. Sometimes there’s not a whole lot to do. And if you say no people look at you oddly. You’re undocced, mind. I don’t think you want to stick out more than you have to. We’re the niceish people, which is why we’re here doing recruitment. Not everyone up there has much truck with trying hard to be a nonshitty human being.”

“Okay. Yes, then.”

“You can record a sexual inclination if you want to.”

“I don’t know.”

“Thought so. And you don’t want to close down options at this age, really. Next: body modifications. I wouldn’t say no. I’ve actually not met anyone who has said no.”

“What do they involve?”

“I can’t say exactly since they keep adding things to the basic suite. You’ll get a bunch of them – the new stuff, usually stuff in the blood – when you’re offworld. But everyone gets the Interface and Implant. It is considered fairly important for communication and learning. You couldn’t do anything without them, really. Maybe you could become an admin in piloting. A slow one. No promotions. You but if you say yes I’ll take you round to the back and it takes all of ten minutes to get put in and there aren’t any real medical risks. Takes about a month to get properly used to if you’ve not had an Interface before. And it hurts  — I mean the putting-in in a non-trivial way. But it will keep you alive.”

“Do you have one?”

“Yeah, of course. Hard to imagine not having one now. So: yes or no?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. This next thing is quite tricky so listen. The Interface is basically a little computer that you use for communicating with people or machines. Usually that is all it does. But it can also be programmed to cause you to lose consciousness for an indefinite period. It’s a small function that Hynder sold to CM several years back. That idea is that if you are in extreme pain, you might want an Interface that, once you reach a certain point, knocks you out automatically. They’ve got the equipment onship to get you back out of it. I know it is a bit hard right now to see why this is such a useful function but if you’ve seen an onworld op you will know why it’s helpful. People get really fucked up.”

Mostly people became very quiet when Crane said this, but Ary said, “I think I understand.”

“The problem is that if you let this happen to you – if you lose consciousness in the middle of an op – you will almost certainly die, and almost certainly within an hour or so. You can’t defend yourself, you can’t get yourself to safety. There is an automatic signal the Interface sends out to indicate where you are, but we can only get you once the op is over and if you’re still alive.”

Crane paused because Ary looked like he wanted to say something. She knew what people said now. They said, I do not want to enlist.

Ary said, “Why do people say no to this? They would be dead anyway if they were in such pain.”

Crane was surprised again. She thought about this. The answer to the question was so obvious it was hard to articulate. “There’s two – no, three things. The first is that they want to have a higher chance of surviving. It’s not a much higher chance but it is higher. It’s quite difficult when you are in full gear to lose consciousness even if you lose a lot of blood. You can run around without an arm for a couple of hours before you collapse. You can seal up a punctured lung. That sort of stuff. The little Hynder protocol cuts out all that. The second is that it scares them. It’s automatic. Maybe you’ll die anyway if you manage to get to safety but you’ll manage to get that far at least, you’ll actually know you will get an operation. It won’t just be sudden blackness out of nowhere.

The third thing is the calibration. The Hynder protocol is suicide. I mean that seriously. If you say yes to it you are saying: there comes a point where I would say, I wouldn’t mind dying now. So we need to know what that point is.”

Ary realised what she was saying. “What’s the test?”

“They put a small filament up your arm into your brain and they make you hurt until you say stop. Then the Interface remembers that and if you feel that again – technically, if you go a little above that point – you lose consciousness.”

Now the boy was quite for a while. Crane knew what she had to do, which was to say nothing. Eventually: “Why — okay. Why does the CM let people kill themselves? It looks like a waste.”

“Because the war is awful beyond belief and because it takes a special kind of monstrosity not to let people find ways to let themselves out of it.”

Crane felt that she should not have said that, or that she should not have said that that way. She didn’t know even now if she actually wanted any undoccs to join CM and, if she didn’t, whether it was because she felt for them or because she could not feel for the war anymore. But the strange boy was thinking. He had a sort of wounded look to him when he was thinking. “Can I say yes without having the calibration?”

“Everyone asks this. No. It’s meaningless otherwise. We are asking you to tell us when you are happy to die. It’s not a numbers thing. You couldn’t possibly consent to having the Interface kill you unless you actually knew when the point came where you  would just want to fuck off into the great unknown. There’s no way you know it unless you actually go through it. And even if we developed some scale, a numbers thing, I suppose, it would be meaningless because it would be incommensurable – I mean the thing wouldn’t tell us a damn thing because point on this scale on it might make someone go: that’s it, no, more, press eject now no matter what and someone else might say: I can take this.”

“Did you get it?”

“Hynder? No. The idea that I would be made to sit and be forced to experience pain until the point where I would actually want to be dead horrified me.”

“How many others get it?”

“In Ebannen, where you get the most troop landings, nearly everyone has gotten it. When the troops got sent there the Hynder protocol had not been developed yet. But immediately after it got released, nearly everyone got it. It was very surprising then. Not so surprising now given what’s happening on Ebannen, or what we know is happening there. Most of the troops there had already seen combat when Hynder got released.”

“It must hurt a lot. Does it hurt a lot?”

“What – well, yes. It’s definitional. It goes to the point where you’d want to die. It’s a constant because that’s how it works. Everyone must go all the way to that point where, you know.” Crane looked at Ary with what might have been pity although it was hard to tell. “Look. There is no need to feel knotted up about this. You can just say no to Hynder. You don’t even have to answer now. Technically you have two days before you make a final decision on any of this. You could come back and say you don’t want to enlist.”

“If I say yes now when will the calibration be done?”

“The day after you get your Interface put in, which is tomorrow.”

“You said that –” And the boy stopped and looked down. He breathed. “Hynder works because the Interface remembers when it is during calibration that you say you want to lose consciousness. Can Hynder be used for other things?”

“Like what?”

“If you just wanted to die, and you weren’t feeling any pain. Could you just.”

Ary has had a dream. It is a stupid thing but it comes again and again. In the dream a person, maybe even a thing, some living thing, carries a light in a vast blackness.  It is carrying the light and walking in a straight line, just like this, sheltering it with a hand, maybe two hands or maybe not with hands at all, just like this, going from right to left, slowly, shuffling. Sometimes it stops to look at the light because it wavers and then it raises its head to look ahead at where it is going. Sometimes the thing stops moving altogether before it starts again. The small circle of light moves as the thing carrying the light moves. That is the problem. Anything outside the circle is invisible. There is no tracking. What moves outside that circle, if anything moves outside, it is unknown. There is no line.

“No.” Crane leaned back in her seat and looked at the ceiling and shook her head slowly. “Gosh, no.” She looked at Ary. “Hey. Are you okay?”

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Part 3

The Thing About Religion

Sometimes when you read a really good book or watch a really good film you end up feeling empty inside. The reason is because you want to live in world of the film or book. Does this happen to you? It happens to me quite a lot, this kind of fantasy-bred withdrawal.

The reason why I’m try to describe that feeling is because I don’t really have a thesis. Or maybe I do. The point I’m trying to make is that religion is like that, and it’s okay. No. I think I have a thesis, and it goes either: This Is Why I Am Religious, or maybe – Why Believing in Religion Is Really Not That Special, If You Kind Of Think About It.

This kind of essaylet ought to begin with caveats, no? Have some caveats:

Caveat 1: There probably aren’t any arguments for God. There may be good reasons to believe that a God exists, but these aren’t arguments. Creationism has been properly fucked over by molecular biology and chirality and irreducible complexity is nonsense because jawless fish are missing a whole bunch of clotting factors and whales are missing factor VII and primitive molecular rotors do serve a function and we do know how the eye evolved (depressions; pinholes; closed chambers; closed chambers with convenient refractive indices & crystallin etc.) and more generally EXAPTATION woot – and the ontological argument is weird not because one can construct absurd analogies to it (which analogies really need not disturb the religious person at all) but because thinking of the existence of an object as a property of an object is super suspicious (Kant) and besides who let you define “great” that way and isn’t it internally incoherent, plus Godel was sloppy and never bothered to define what a “positive property” was (tsk) and if you want to talk about modal logic who actually, really, gives a shit about axiom S5 anyway? (Plantinga, possibly no other respiring being.)

Caveat 2: yes, I’m claiming to invest genuine belief in (some of) the multitudinous and very possibly contradictory claims emanating from the cobbled mythopoeia of a Yawhistic tribe whose beliefs liberally borrow from Mithraic traditions and pagan stuff and Babylonian myth etc., and yes of course some of this mythopoeia reads like a manual for genocide and slavery and the systemic fucking over of women and (possibly on some highly, highly, highly contentious readings of several scattered verses largely in the OT and then largely in Leviticus) sexual minorities. The relevant caveat is that I don’t believe this stuff i.e., I think it is wrong. On this more later.

Caveat 3: I’m not making normative claims. Hmm. Maybe I am, or will end up doing so inadvertently. If you see those treat them as purely incidental to the larger descriptive enterprise of this essaylet.

Caveat 4: I’m not claiming to be representative of religious people in general (because for a start I seriously am not), although I suspect the things I describe about religions are more widely applicable than religious people who might read this will claim.

[Aside: which exactly is the demographic that will find this essaylet in any way persuasive? Conservative Christians or literalists will have fucked off long before reaching this point, moderate Christians will find this entire thing far too self-aware and constructed, somehow, as if the entire argument is too mediated to be genuine, agnostic individuals might give the tiniest smear of a shit, which is only a smear of a shit, atheists of a Dawkinian disposition will be unpersuaded and indeed insulted by the bit on science below, and I suspect human beings in general will find this all too reductive or nihilistic or crude. But hey writing this is fun.]

Caveat 5: I’m not making a defense of organised religion (which I dislike), nor am I making the claim that religion that has made the world a better place. That’s a Big Empirical Question (BEQ) and I don’t like BEQs because they probably require a lifetime of dedicated research to begin to answer in any reasonable form plus what is the relevant counterfactual I’m supposed to access here, eh? and I’m lazy and seriously I’m just trying to write a nice little essay.

Hey those caveats were long. Hm.

Oh yeah obviously I’m talking about Christianity because it’s the thing I’m familiar with.

Let’s talk about fiction.

It’s nice, yes, enjoyable? Okay. Good. Now the reason I am religious is because the Bible is like fiction, except that it’s fiction that (1) is pretty good (2) is made better if you think of it as true.

That the Bible is a piece of pretty good fiction is pretty trivial. It’s a generally deeply fascinating anthology that mushes together wildly differing styles and themes (isn’t it strange how the tone changes so drastically between Nahum and Habakkuk?) and has a ton of fun symbolism whose power is not lost even on committed non-theists.

Probably all this is made better with examples. Have some examples.

This, from Ecclesiastes 12: 4-5:

When the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint; when people are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets; when the almond tree blossoms and the grasshopper drags itself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets.

Now this is the NIV, which famously sacrifices a lot of poetic power for clarity in translation, and even then this passage evokes stunningly well the what-the-fuck-is-the-point-of-this-anyway ennui/despair that existentialists with dangerous hair later came to grapple with.  Replace all the colons with full stops and you can imagine Beckett writing this.

And if you want to talk about fantastic imagery, there’s the mad psychoanalytic free-for-all of Revelations. This is from Revelation 13:

The dragon stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name. The beast I saw resembled a leopard, but had feet like those of a bear and a mouth like that of a lion. The dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority. One of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshiped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshiped the beast and asked, “Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?”

It’s so trippy I honestly wish I had written this because damn it would be intense.

But I suppose the Main Thing is that as a piece of fiction the Bible can be seriously unlifting and redemptive. Probably everyone alive in the Judaeo-Christian world has seen 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

Now: on one level this is very sappy and overblown and corny. It’s difficult to be a human being living in this generally cynical age and not think that to at least some extent. But on another level – and you get this if you actually read the passage wordwise (especially that second bit), this little thing from Corinthians is outrageously and underservedly beautiful. I suppose part of that is because it does not put itself forward as one person speaking to another in the sense of “Hey, don’t you think love is awesome?”; (I mean, okay yes Paul is writing to someone but you’re reading this without really thinking of that) instead it’s a sort of prophetic no-questions-asked-and-no-responses-solicited declaration, and hence achieves a kind of high poetic almost-but-not-quite aphoristic eloquence that isn’t really around in fiction nowadays. There’s a pulse, there’s some stark contrasts deployed, there’s a nice little (or big) message.

I say isn’t really around. But if you still don’t get what I’m trying to make emerge from these passages  read Cormac McCarthy because literally his entire body of work revolves around neo-Biblical rhetorics. Here are some short snatches from The Road, which is his most accessible thing:

“—the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time.”

“—looking back at him from some unimaginable future, glowing in that waste like a tabernacle.”

“The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true. More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already? The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality.”

You kind of get it now? While we’re on this bit about redemptive stuff in the Bible, here are a couple more passages that are Nice in the big-R Redemptive sense:

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”  “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15)

Or this:

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night – (Psalm 91:4)

Or this:

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, And a time to die;
A time to weep, And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, And a time to dance;
A time to gain, And a time to lose… (Ecclesiastes 3:1-6)

Now that’s odd, isn’t it? I began by saying that the literary merit of the Bible was pretty trivial and then wasted a lot of time bamboozling you with quotes. The reason is because I sort of realised that getting a good feel of what some bits of the bible are like is important for part two of this argument, which is that as a piece of fiction the Bible becomes better if you don’t think of it as fiction and take it as true.

Because, obviously, if it says (some) nice things, and it is true, then those nice things are true, plus reading the Bible while actually believing that those things are true is a better experience than reading it just as fiction.

Part of this is because, firstly it is actually possible to believe that Bible is true. There’s a whole bunch of reasons for this, but there are probably only two big ones.

The First Big One  is that the Bible, unlike most good fiction (and in common with many other religious texts, probably) actually puts itself forward as true. Like actually does so. It does not begin by saying: “Look at all this stuff: it is true.” It begins on the assumption of its truth and manages to be really quite compelling about it – I mean compelling about its belief in its own truth, not compelling in the form of a logical argument it makes about its truth. So it begins in stark rhythmic minimalist form:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And John 1:1 (incidentally one of the few passages that reads nearly exactly the same in all the different translations) repeats this with a bit more metaphysical flourish:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

And that is a good beginning for a myth, conceptually unoriginal as it is.

Another thing I should mention under the First Big One is that the Bible is totally sincere about itself in a way that modern writing has become quite afraid of (obvious point but – important!) It is not cynical or recursive or iterative or ironic. It is sort of self-aware in that books make reference to each other, but it is not aware in the mediated, I know-I-Am-Putting-Myself-Between-The-Words-And-The-Reader way we have become quite used to with our Pynchons and Wallaces and DeLillos. This opens the Bible up to parody but also creates a odd naïve little space for totally sincere belief.

[Aside: this is actually the problem with the Flying Spaghetti Monster. As a deity there’s nothing really wrong about it, except for the fact that it’s such an unpersuasive deity because it’s doing the exact thing that religion cannot be, which is be parodic or self-aware. Now I’m sure atheists will say that’s the point, but – how’s this for recursion – that’s the point.]

So the First Big One really is that the Bible manages to (for some people at least) accomplish something that all good literature tries very hard to do but we rarely believe actually does, or in fact never actually genuinely believe does: which is to be capital-T True. Not just look-at-the-human-condition -wow!-isn’t-it-weird-true, but true in the: these-are-moral-truths-and-metaphysical-truths-and-there-is-meaning-immanent-in-things True.

The Second Big One is that it is easy to believe that the Bible is actually true because there’s lots of people who believe it is true and act on that premise. To be honest I don’t much like the majority of Christians because they seem to me to swing wildly between being platitudinous and incredibly close-minded, but it’s probably a lot easier to believe that a book is True because lots of other people do. Those Christians whom I find to interesting people (read: not literalists), at least, certainly do make it easier for me to believe that the Bible is (partially) true, possibly purely from a social-acceptance standpoint.

Okay: so it’s easy to believe that the Bible is True. The next step in the argument is to realise that this is a very attractive thing to do. This is not so complicated to understand. (1): the nice things the bible says are now true, and (2) reading the (nice bits of the) thing becomes a more-than-fictional-and-really-quite-moving experience.  The Main Thing here is that the Bible makes moral claims unlike most fiction, and does it effectively, and then just gives those claims to people. Look at all of Jesus’ stuff involving prostitutes, stones, slapping, etc.

And the thing is it’s all really simple. I mean we all know ethics is bunk, really, don’t we? I mean logically? A Very Clever Friend on facebook (it was a sprawling megathread involving in a non-tangential sense the value of liberty, the evil of coercion, and debaters, so this is quite understandable) referenced “the futile bashing together of incommensurable intuitions carried out via the wholly inadequate vehicle of language.” You can’t really derive moral truths from anywhere, really, and all Parfit does is sort of throw around a couple of examples that he thinks are problematic and then do lots of hand-wavy stuff. If I gave you the three classical laws of logic (identity; excluded middle; non-contradiction) and then gave you access to all the knowledge in the world you still couldn’t derive a moral theory for me because Hume Actually Really Did Fuck Us All Over. And even if you could create a moral theory perfectly consistent with all the moral intuitions of everyone in the universe you’d still need to tell me why moral intuitions are things we ought to give a shit about. Kant is nonsense (but seriously isn’t universalisability just an attempt to sneak in intuitionism and what makes something a means, exactly?), Bentham is nonsense, the Bible is nonsense. The main thing is that the Bible has a story which is quite compelling, and really nice language, isn’t stupidly overcomplex, and, unlike stuff philosophers write – manages to simply assume its truth, and therefore assure of its truth. Which is not to say the Bible is better – I evidently don’t think all of the Bible is correct, and I probably prefer the Kantian over than the Old Testementary approach to genocide – but which should make it obvious why opting for the Bible has easy benefits. It offers some serious moral security; there is a God; moral truths come from it; the God is good and cares for you.

[Aside: isn’t is a little strange that so many philosophers who genuinely believe that they have figured out What Morality Is spend so much time trying to convince other professional philosophers that they are right, rather than resigning their positions and dedicating their lives to trying to convince ordinary people that they ought to act or think in certain ways? Obviously this does not apply to all moral philosophers, but it’s still surprising how un-socially-active they are. Meta-ethical question: Can you see morality as an intellectual puzzle without actually being daily agonised by it and still claim that you are in any true sense interested in the morality of things?]

Now for the Big Problem. What about the nasty bits of the Bible? As it turns out, not a Big Problem at all: the Bible is big enough and contradictory enough to give me enough room to ditch all the nasty stuff on the basis of its being culturally bounded and plain wrong while retaining all the good stuff. In fact the thing about the Bible is that it’s got two halves, and the second half differs so wildly in outlook and tone from the first that the resulting morass of tensions allows for moral wiggling all the way up to the nth dimension. I – and most Protestant Christians, probably – prefer the second half over the first, and the second half thankfully is all about loving and respecting your fellow man and all that jazz which most people are pretty chill with.

What was my thesis again? This Is Why I Am Religious, or maybe – Why Believing in Religion Is Really Not That Special, If You Kind Of Think About It. Ah yes.

Actually further to all that stuff about why believing the Bible to be True has benefits, there is also a thing – and it’s a very me thing, sorry – about music. Which is to say that aside from just the reading of the Bible, being religious opens up a biggish repository of valuable musical experience.

Listen to this. Well, not all of it. The first 9:47, by which I mean seriously waste 10 minutes of your life listening all the way, or at least please don’t stop before the high voices come in.

Now: Bach designed the whole thing to be a religious experience. It was meant for a religious audience. The subject is Matthew 27-28. Actually believing that these things really happened, and knowing the metaphysical significance of these things, makes the entire musical experience so deeply and extraordinary intense it becomes in one good sense quite noumenal. Now obviously a non-religious person can get this music too. But it’s always a comparative appreciative edge to be religious.

I think this is true because before I knew the subject of this music I liked it; after I knew the subject of the music I became positively obsessed with it. It wasn’t even that I was listening in a pensive or prayerful manner – it’s just that knowing what the words meant and being religious meant that they plugged into something that I believed to be true and that made the experience pretty special plus of course the music was fucking unbelievable.  And and and Bach’s writing is seriously just fucking replete with religious symbolism. Jesus’ words in the St Matthew, for instance, are given special treatment in the recitatives, you get diminished sevenths for prophecies and the worlds “kill” and “crucify” are highlighted with chromatic melodies. Listen to this chorale (you’ll recognise the tune). Look up the words: Know me, my keeper, My shepherd, take me to thee. By thee, source of all good things, Much good has befallen me. Imagine someone actually believed those words and was listening to this thing – you can imagine what the difference in the experience means.

You see what happened there? I came this close to saying that my belief in Christianity was a aesthetic belief. It’s not, because of all the moral claims that hang on it. It’s a lot more than that – it’s a convenient belief, is what I am saying.

Let’s talk about science.

Science, like ethics, is bunk. As in: induction is rubbish and admits of no non-circular justification and falsificationism does no better. Why should we only care about falsifiable things? Should it matter that we can’t prove some things untrue? How is this inconvenient? Religion cannot be definitively proven to be true. Neither, the falsificationist says, can any scientific theory. The difference is that while a religious claim can never be proven to be definitively false, a scientific theory can. But how is this an advantage? Why can’t we be falsity-avoiding and just punt for God while accepting science on non-falsificationist grounds? The only argument a falsificationist can make is one based on Bayesian-probabilistic grounds, but Bayesian approaches to probabilities themselves presume a consistency in the universe that is totally unjustified. If you ask a sciencey person what their objection to miracles is they will say: they  violate well-established scientific theories. But this does not follow. All the scientific method tells us is that at certain points in space and time experiments were carried out that verified certain claims about what those experiments would achieve. That tells us absolutely nothing (but only logically, mind) about every other point in space and time. What is the magic that blows up experimental results into universal-and-presumed-to-be-true-until-proven-otherwise-laws? Why laws rather than just coincidences? Why the assumption of constancy over space and time that fuels the outrage of our Dawkinian types when someone mentions people rising from the dead or walking on water? Theories don’t say anything. They can’t, logically speaking, predict anything either. If that does not make sense I suppose the more blunt way of putting it is: there are no theories.

[Aside: I think some mathematicians actually do kind of get it. It’s all a game, we have no reason to prefer these axioms over those other premises apart from the results they generate, and we are mostly trying to make things either interesting or convenient.]

But all this really misses the point of science. It does not explain the fact that I don’t give a shit about science being logically bunk or the fact that I steadfastly refuse to jump from windows (because gravity) and will bet gazillions on experiments in the future being consistent with, I don’t know, QCD. I believe in science – by which I mean I really seriously in-my-gut think it works despite its logical nothingness – because it’s very convenient, and because the results it generates are things I really really want to believe are true because they’re mindblowing and elegant and are so good at explaining nearly everything (dark matter/energy, turbulence, GUTs, why matter, why time, but otherwise.) I mean yes maybe God made the earth with all its fossils already there and the CMBR is just a deceptive superbig superfaint cosmic lightshow that was put out there to test our faith but that’s stupid not because it’s stupid but it’s stupid because it’s so boring.

Doesn’t everyone more of less treat science this way? No-one can prove it actually works but we don’t really care.

That was an analogy, by the way. With religion.

Which I suppose is the response to people who will observe that my belief in religion can’t be genuine because it’s too self-aware. I’m not sure what that means. I do pray, indeed there are many points when I feel seriously compelled to pray, and I think there is a God. I feel about my beliefs about God the same way I feel about say gluons. They’re all real. One mediates colour charge and one generates moral truth. Well yes all right of course the feelings I have re prayer/reading the Bible are a conditioned construct of the way I was brought up, etc., and I’m happy to recognise that as an entirely accurate diagnosis. But that’s like diagnosing any belief in anything in general. We’re all conditioned, and that’s okay.

[Postscript: I was going to write something alone the lines of how there are no truths out there and it’s all internally generated anyway but that opened up a disgusting can of worms viz. internalism and reliabilism that to be honest I’m nowhere near as familiar with as I ought to be, so I’m running away from this now.]

Machine Anxiety

In Wilcox, that is the Wilcox of 2987, although the timebound nature of the subject of the following is surely subject to dispute, there was a tractor. It was green and had a yellow stripe running down the side of the cab; it was a fine tractor. It was big and semiarticulated and had a four-wheel drive and its wheels with their grooved tires were nearly twice the height of a man. It had a big nose that elegantly sloped like a dog’s snout tipped with sportish headlights flush with the surface and it gleamed unnecessarily and greenly in the light although it was well-used. Its model name was 3623TR. Its demeanour was friendly and its disposition unassuming. It had 400hp (300 for the PTO) and was powered (initially and possibly only ever) by an 11.2L RRO with variable and fixed geometry turbochargers and supercooled manifold systems, evidently a new industry standard, and had infinitely variable transmission. Its hydraulic capacity was 370L/min and its hitch-lift capacity was just under 11,500kg. The front axle had a high-capacity wet clutch splined to the transmission output shaft consisting of one large coned-disc spring, six separator plates, and six friction disks. The torque transfer was demonstrably excellent.

In the autumn the tractor began killing people, indeed, consuming them really was closer to the truth of it, so vital was the sequence of events, and carried out with such lithe atavism. The first ingested subject was found on the morning of the 23rd with his head popped like a grape under the front left tire and his body mushed into the soil. The manner of the death was obvious but the sequence of events that could have encouraged or compelled a grown and largely sensible adult to lie in the path of a tractor, and such a fine tractor at that, was never made out. Indeed the local police never figured out after two weeks of their tracers going around everywhere who had been driving the vehicle with the variable and fixed geometry turbos when Stu had been creamed. Nobody had the heart in them to blame the tractor, since the very sight of it filled one with virility and hope. And in any case the thing moved too slowly for it to surprise anyone. It bore its majesty with great weight. A 3623TR weighed nearly twenty tons. Stu’s fault.

The tractor was cleaned and placed in the garage. The owner considered selling it but there was no good reason to part with it and so it was not sold. It was inspected and it was dutifully noted that there was nothing amiss about it. The second person  was found pulped in the fields a week later and there was nothing new about it except that the tractor had apparently gone over her and then back again and so she was cut all the way through the middle. The owner insisted that he had locked the garage and that he had the key and was asked severe questions but no reason for his murdering his wife could be reasonably discerned since by all accounts their relationship had been uncommonly healthy and numerous individuals of good standing in the community testified to this effect. It was while the owner was in custody that the third thing happened, which was that the tractor which had been placed in a cordon evidently left its place in the field and rumbled several kilometres through the adjoining field, leaving muddy troughs in its wake, and rolled over a full family of four, which family was spread or smeared or ground over a patch of field about twenty metres by fifteen across. The cordon had not been broken and the tractor was a bit muddy. How it managed to run over an entire family was altogether beyond reckoning.

A serious manhunt began, the owner was released, and he stopped using the tractor after people stared at him when he tried to do so. Nonetheless everyone said it was a pity, truly a pity, that he had to stop using it, because of course it was an excellent vehicle and surely the objection to its open use was only a gesture of respect for the victims’ families (owner included.) Children sneaked into the garage to look at the tractor with the yellow wheel rims and the gorgeous rhinal slope and four-wheel drive. But the tractor’s violence did not stop with its permanent confinement in the garage, for in a month it appeared in an entirely  different town quite some distance away and again there was a squelching; a man who had decided to take a walk early in the morning. How it arrived there no-one knew as this time there were no tracks although the folding mechanism on the garage door did whine and wrench and give out when the owner, hearing of the news, staggered out to see if it was in fact true that the tractor he did not use had appeared nearly sixty kilometres away. There was no sign that the tractor had been occupied at the relevant time. The media called it a rampage.

No-one ever saw it happening. No-one saw the tractor move, even if the necessity and the traces of such movement were plain to see. No-one saw it escape the garage and no-one saw it come trundling after people. People became afraid. In the evenings people shut the doors and at night they looked across the fields and the roads to watch for a gleaming that came around like murder, luminous green and yellow executions. No-one thought that if it came there would be a sound to alert them: for surely the tractor came silent footloose through the halls of the night. The tractor’s prowling spread, its circle of territory grew. It fell through the attic of a nondescript white building on the outskirts of the city into the nursery on the first floor. It got people in fields. It got people on roads, proper roads and small dirt roads. It got a woman in her car who had come back from shopping tired and had fallen asleep at the wheel two metres from her front door. The body never got retrieved, properly speaking.

The police took the tractor away. They put it in a room with blastproof doors and they looked at it with cameras, or rather the cameras looked at the glowing semiarticulated thing with the impressive hitch-lift capacity and then people looked at the records afterwards. There were movement sensors and heat sensors and sensors that sensed radio waves and infrared and UV besides. The tractor did not move. The cameras said it did not move. The sensors sensed nothing. The tractor did what tractors, even good robust tractors, did when not being driven, which was sit virginally where it was.

The tractor’s range grew and the sporadic attacks became more frequent. It made excursions into the city. It appeared in a basement where there had been a party of some sort. Its appetite must have grown for even all over its soft nose there was human muck, and its back too, not just the sturdy 2057mm wheels with the mobile supercoefficient treads. The tractor had moved back and forth in the small space … sweat and loud music, fuel injections and machine purring. The pictures were vivid and beflecked.

One notable case involved the tractor crushing to death a well-to-do couple in a gorgeous flat in Hold Ave as they were in the act of copulation. The thing had evidently just dumped itself right on top of them because the weight had taken the couple still locked together right through the floor into the apartment below. The man and woman or the pieces of them rather had Vs from the treads embossed into them really deep and at points right through them. The man’s only slightly flaccid penis poked with minimalist intensity from the mess even though it was blue in death. People didn’t say it, of course, but you could imagine … the soft sounds or loud sounds, the traffic muted by the expensive windows, the sounds all here near and far away, clean fleshy sounds and bright sounds of pure locution, darkness and reflexive arcs, the bed interpreting all this as simple harmonic motion, and then a light bright as a god, two shining headlamps bearing down with metaphysical brilliance, the deep recursive roar of the 11.2L RRO, the oil and shift of the front axle coming down. But why wouldn’t people imagine? Could one not imagine being pinned under that great weight of love, all that blatant metal, unashamed of the need to maintain some distance between the signifier and the signified, that grinding and breaking under the weight, like the grind and break of orgasm… But such thoughts would only be entertained.

This was all impossible because the tractor was with the police. The media speculated: there were many tractors. And indeed there were. But the police took in the bloody hulks wherever they found them and said that all of them were the same tractor because the signs of wear and tear were same all the way down to the atom. They had pictures with three tractors lined up: the original, and another that was the same, and another that was the same (this was not yet cleaned and so there was a little blood on the hood.) The police hounded the tractors and put them all in the room. But then at some point  there was only one tractor on the room, and the cameras said only one had ever been there, while everyone involved clearly remembered taking the rest of the tractors in, and the people who had been killed remained dead, so something must have happened involving tractors, green and yellow tractors with spacious cabs and fine raised leather seats, and death.

A possible lead emerged when a man had both legs severed by the tractor but otherwise remained conscious throughout (it was assumed) the whole ordeal. He was a gibbering mess inside his head however and only insisted that he had seen a terrible light and a vast weight come over him, a firmament of sound entire, and when asked if a tractor had been involved said only it had been Maman.

Eventually a mob attacked the tractor where it was found even before the police were told. A fire was built around it but some immanence in the thing kept it lustrous in the flames even after thermite was poured on. The second mob took it to an industrial recycling facility where it was taken apart but no effect was discerned on the thing’s murderous forays. It appeared, mulched people, and was sated and still.

There was a cult of the tractor now; this was to be expected. It was a thoughtform, it was entangled, it was projection of postmodern anxieties, it was an emanation of nascent and antinomic industrial restlessness, it was a structuralist metaphor for the internal alienation of mechanistic capital; a poet wrote a thing about it in the paper, some morbid and observant individual demonstrated a statistical link between the tractor’s confinement and the range and wildness of its excursions, and Greengage Plc. fended off calls for recalls and stopped manufacturing 3623TRs.  They rapidly became, for a select few, treasured collectibles. They had stories to tell.