Kind of getting away: 5

Helper and I got quite a lot of tagging done along the coast yesterday. But today something happened. I was compiling a migration report when Helper called. Usually helper is quiet. That is why it’s mine. So I know something was happening.

“They’re building a road,” it said. “I thought you might want to know.”

“I told them I didn’t need one,” I said.

“Well, you mentioned it before you left. They might have forgotten.”

“I’ll talk to them,” I said. “How many are there?”

“I can put you through directly.” Helper was like that.

“No, don’t busy yourself with this. I’ll go out and talk to them.”

Helper assumed that I would not be taking to Volkie. It knows my habits very well. “Get the allweathers on. It’s cold. There are two of them.”

“How far away are they?”

“About four ks from the house.”

Helper told me where they were and I took the allweathers and went out, walking quickly. I know the terrain around the house very well now.

The weather was more wet than cold and I reached them about a kilometre and a half from the house. The two construction drones were the durable heavy-duty type, the kind with the yellow stripe. They were working very fast.

“Hello, Erth,” the closer one said when it saw me. “You’re getting your own road, now.”

“I don’t need it,” I said.

They were finishing the bridge that linked my bit of the archipelago to the main island. It was a sleek and delicate structure. It’s a classically Kingdom thing: light on the material, big on the structure, unobtrusive. Volkies can fly without any problem but they spend a lot less energy when going overground. This road linked my place to O.’s, and O’s to the next one over three hundred ks away, and so on.

“Oh,” the C.D. said. It was very polite. It tipped towards its partner for a moment to indicate that it was talking to it. “We weren’t told. We’ve just finished the bridge.”

“I know,” I said. “But I’m fine without the road, really.”

“It will be very convenient for you,” the C.D. said.

“I mentioned this when we were all in the Main Building,” I said. “I said it was okay, I didn’t need the road to come to my place.”

The C.D. talked to its companion again. “It’s really no trouble for us. We’ll be quick about it and we won’t make much noise.”

I felt like telling it to take apart the bridge and the road all the way back to O.’s place. I’m the last one in this line, after all. “I don’t want a road,” I said, and then I asked them to take it apart. But I felt bad about it. I could imagine the two C.D.s  all alone in the wildness, building that road for thousands of ks, following their instructions, avoiding all the sensitive spots, trying to disturb as little of this world as they can. I guess in a strange way I felt sorry for them. It was an irrational feeling. They like building; they were made for it. In any case I couldn’t simply tell them to take that the road and bridge apart. That seemed a bit – cruel? Maybe. Of course they could have said no to me, but c.d.s aren’t particularly assertive. The few I’ve met don’t like fuss. So I said, “It’s best if you stop here, just after the bridge. They can walk the rest of the way.”

“Are you sure about this? It’s about two kilometres to yours.”

I looked at the bridge. “Look, thanks a lot for the bridge. I think that’s good. I think that helps. But, you know, I’m not really trying to get people to come over to mine or anything like that.”

The C.D. tugged a large bundle of carbon fibre into the air. “I understand. For a moment there I thought we might need to get rid of the road all the way back to Ogford’s place. I hope we’ve not caused any trouble.”

“None at all. I hope you’ve been having a good time.”

“This is the best assignment we’ve gotten so far. It’s interesting. We’ve got the next road on the far side to build. Do you want us to put up a sign here?”

It is silly, putting up a sign there,  since I suspect nobody will take the road, and anyone who does will know where they’re going. But I said, “That’s fine.”

“We need to tell the rest about this, just in case – you know.”

“No, no, that’s not a problem.” My hair was dripping now. I was starting to feel sheepish.

That’s all that happened, really. I can see the bridge if I go a little way up the mountain. No harm done, I guess. It’s not ugly. If it looked bad I might have had a real problem. But it was never going to be that.

Kind of getting away: 4

So I’m having the same dream again. This tells me that I’ve properly adjusted to the place. At least that is the meaning I have given to it. Should I ask for more? I don’t dare, not yet.

I’m standing on a shore and there is a vast creature that is coming through the water towards me. A tiny, pitted, bulbous body, shiny in a metallic way, propped on eight many-jointed legs, hooked at their ends. The entire scene is grey. The legs go up so high that the body is in the clouds, kilometres up. The legs come out of the body nearly horizontal but then bend downwards sharply. The creature might be wading through the ocean or walking on top of it. Its movement is ancient and jerky. One leg moves at a time, or two. But no more. It might be alive.

This has become a shared ritual between my mind and I. It is a naked relationship. Our expressions are only ever blunted. I wonder what the message is, this time.

Now that I think about it, this is not in fact the first time I have dreamt on Tokata. The night after the storm I did have a dream. It’s interesting how dreams are so difficult to remember. They’re always there but I find that I need something to remind me that they even happened. What I have now is this image:

I am on a shore yet again. But this is a different shore. Or maybe it is the same shore but the water has gone away, has retreated or wandered up some snarl of rivers and simply forgotten to come back. So the sand goes on nearly to the horizon. There’s a huge ship, an oil tanker[1], stranded on the shore, pointed straight at me. It is old. The bottom half of it has been painted red; the upper is grey. Mute calligraphies of rust come down its side. It is not quite falling apart yet. I can remember this quite clearly, actually. I don’t know why, but this is very clear: scrawls quietly going down the great flanks of metal. Pouring out of the hawsepipes. There is something intimate about rust, and that is true here also. Even though I am standing quite far away from the ship I remember looking up at it. It must have been big. Maybe too big, about a hundred metres in height. A small section of the bulbous bow has collapsed. A sound comes. It is like a foghorn, loud and distant. Now life erupts out of the hole in the bow, a mass as solid as basalt. Animals, things with eyes and mouths and teeth and things without, all pouring out. Lithe things lope away across the flats. The sand churns. Winged things shriek, taut with antipathy, and go into the sky. Their sound is a giant whisper. Soft things bubble out of the hole like viscera and writhe on the drying sand. Invertebrate agonies. Huge objects loll out of that hole, expanses of shining skin made limp out of water. Forked tongues go hesitant into the air. A bellow lumbers out across the sand. Nameless muscular things fan out from the ship, moving as if unfamiliar with their own weight. Slit pupils glare without blinking at the sun. The sun is setting, I think, and the water is red, the air is rosy, the sky very high and limned everywhere with amber. Warm colours to cope with all that atmosphere.

I have realised something. I mean right now, at this precise moment, as I write this. Just imagine – if I had not written this, this would never have occurred to me. What I now know, and this is certain, is that this is a gift. This has been given. And I am supposed to receive it. I must go out and receive it.

Is this the Wash? I cannot remember clearly enough to tell. It might be the Wash, but the Wash is not so dry, maybe. This might be the Wash at the lowest tide. I don’t know.

One more thing about this dream I had in the tent after the storm. But this is not that unique. It’s happened to me several times and I don’t worry about it. But I was lying there, in the dark, and my eyes were closed. And there was something all around me, breathing, a fraction of a millimetre from my skin, walling me off from everything else. I didn’t know how to react to it because it had no real signature. It was not menacing or anything else. It was an imagined thing. I think everyone gets that feeling sometimes, actually. Or maybe that’s not true. That’s possible. I have every right to assume that there is something different about me.

[1] I think it’s an oil tanker. I have a picture in my head and I’ve looked it up.

Kind of getting away: 3

I’ve not written about the arrival yet. That strikes me as rather strange. Now that I think about it I didn’t particularly enjoy the arrival, but I certainly do enjoy the memory of it. So I should probably write something about it.

We arrived on IMV Scafell. Scafell’s a really nice ship. It was kind to me. Mostly its kindnesses involved arranging things so that I didn’t have to be at the long planning meetings. It’s good knowing it’s never too far off now. It’s having a good time. It told me as much; coming to an unexplored place like this was something it had wanted to do for a long time.

We all spent a couple of weeks in orbit. It was an unbearable time, but in a good way. I could feel moments passing. It’s what anticipation is like – it’s like having, for the first time in your life, a new sense, or a new limb, one that only detects time. There were many things to do and this new sense ached at it, chafed. We got the immunisation treatment and all felt strangely exhausted after that. I talked to Henroe about it and she told me that the treatment basically put the immune system into a calibrated overdrive and then grafted a great whomping cocktail of Factors onto it so complex that it was likely that no-one onboard could fully understand how it worked. There is a sense in which this complexity represents the brute totality of what we are doing here. First we are up there and mystified by things of our own making, then we go down and are mystified by things which we have had no part in.

So we were all tired for four or five days, getting used to that. We looked at the pictures that the satellites sent back.  O. printed them out and lined the walls of his room with them. I went to his room and touched the pictures. They were, indeed, nothing more than that: pictures. Quite often I went to the viewing port and just stood there. Only rarely was I alone.

We also got our blood changed. It didn’t really feel like anything, since the atmosphere down here pretty similar to standard and the changes were minor. More to prevent oxygen toxicity than anything else[1].

Did I enjoy that particular period? I don’t know. The people who volunteered for this are not the most sociable bunch, naturally. Scafell had some beautiful public spaces but they were usually empty. I’m not complaining; I appreciated this very much. Even Scafell was a quiet ship. It generally spoke only when spoken to. I think it took a liking to me, but it is entirely possible that it was a good to everyone as it was to me. I didn’t ask about this, of course.

I came here to be alone, in a specific sense. It was that stuff with L. and the child[2] that settled it. Well, this is not totally honest, is it? I like coming out and sort of getting away from it all. But L. helped to make the decision clearer.

Eventually we had to come down, and we did. There was nothing dramatic but there was nothing to compare it to either. The air outside turned from black and blue and then we were there.

It’s called TKTA-11, but we call it Tokata.

We spent another three months at Base, now the Main Building, when we all touched down. It was a good time. The first four days in tents while the Main Building was erected. There was an unspoken communality to the whole thing. Us living together in little fabric spaces, caught up in the unexpected simplicity of what we were doing. I think people – we – were aware that very soon we would all have take our stations. It was like holding something small and thrumming alive in the hand, knowing it soon had to go. People were generous to each other, even more so than usual. Do you know what really captures this? Running out. Because something was going, was disappearing fast, and we could tell, but it was going in a direction at rights angles to everything else, going outwards, escaping and glad for it.

At night people would make trips to each other’s tents, tell big stupid stories about the things they planned to do. Laughed a lot. This was really strange. It’s obvious now. But we were all on a new world, staggering about, and it was inevitable.  We’re really not by design the most sociable bunch[3].

We had landed on a clean site. The landing had been near the base of a big low rocky hill and some of us went up it, a kilometre or so, in the long evenings. A bunch of us went on the second day, to watch Tokata’s sunset. Deep light, a whole morningtide of it, a flood without form or function except for wildness. Blueness that looked like it could never be covered or made to go away. Tokata has got 4 moons; only two were visible then. I am remembering all of this and so I might not have gotten all of this correct. But I’m trying to record my memories, not the real thing, so I can’t get worried about these small things.

We watched sakers[4] sky violently up into the air, a raft of dark points. Some of us started at the noise. All around we could sense peripheral life. Small things, the sorts that seem in perpetual retreat from the world, things with black odorous sounds. Coloured the common colours of the undergrowth in all possible worlds. From the height we were at we could see our tents quite clearly. Those that had put the allweathers on were dim zygotic bundles, but those who braved the cold nights and wore the allweathers instead had let the tents deform into lanternlike shapes, crumpled things standing against the evening. The evening gave the image vintage. The air here is slightly denser than standard. There is a mantling quality to it, a big arch that comes over your head, and it can take away your warmth fast. It is fat and tactile.

On the third day, I think, there was a massive storm[5] and people didn’t leave the tents. I was in my tent with Ogford & Co. and we thought we heard Mika’s tent get blown down. Turned out that it hadn’t but it had come pretty close. All around us for 6+ hours yellow fabric pulsing and flapping, struts bowing in & out terrifyingly. The rain made a very specific sound against the sides of the tent. It was a hard and flat sound, like branches snapping.

I remember that O. said something like, “I swear I’m going to get away from the equator. This is just not acceptable,” and I said, “As long as you still contribute to the power and the glory –” and we started laughing like complete idiots. That does not look so funny when I write it down like that. But it happened.

Scafell asked to help the next day. Come through the clouds and came up to the site and asked if Winnfield was around.

“I could help with the building,” it said. The Helpers were doing a good job. I think by that time we had one Turer going, and the south wing of the complex was already up.

“It’s all right,” W. said. “The main thing now is just raw material.” It was funny, seeing W. standing there while the vast shadow of Scafell sort of loomed over her.

“I could help get the metals from V4[6].”

“Are you cleared for superlifting?”

“Well – no. But it wouldn’t be too difficult. I’d quite like something to do.”

“BrightWhiteLine[7]?”

Scafell is really big and has some old-fashioned expressive mannerisms. It sort of waggled a bit from side to side[8], a small motion that was incongruously exaggerated by the fins. W. smiled. Scafell said, “Will it know? I mean, it will know, but will it really bother to ask? But in any case I’m pretty sure I could justify things[9].”

“If you say so. Thanks. As the helpers for the details of what we need.”

“Already did. I’ll get going.”

[1] Although we did get an infusion of Very Fast Clotting Factor (VFCF), which I am told can do some miraculous things. O. said that they don’t fool around with haemoglobin too much since – and I quote – “iron is very promiscuous”.

[2] This was w.r.t. the TOA we signed with the Union. Am I allowed to say this? Well. Not much can be done about it now, so it probably doesn’t matter. We’d gotten the 3rd House largely swung to our side. It had been a very difficult thing to do. Getting the Faroes bought over had been meant to settle it. It didn’t. The rest took lots of effort and gentle cajoling and calculation from Petr. It was very difficult. When the Outer Region Conference proposed a bill to extend a very minimal redistribution regins to Index Class II services it passed (furore in the U., lots of celebrating on Stize) in the 3rd. but then got stuck at 2nd. Things rarely got stuck at 2nd. It was unelected and the understanding was that generally it might comment but not interfere. But there were two representatives who were giant assholes about it. Petr. thought about it and decided that all things considered it was the slightly more junior of the two who was probably the gutsier. So we spoke to him personally. I say we, really it was L. and Petr. who made the decision. I think we might actually have sent the message via a Descendant. It must have been terrifying for him. We thought we’d scare the shit out of him – call him Giant Dickhead (GDH). But there was some hidden variable. This was a shock. There are no hidden variables with Petr.; it does not happen. But something was there, embedded just outside detection, because GDH said no. He said no. He understood what we were doing; he thought it was not democratic. Here was something we knew about him: he loved his family. Utterly devoted to his children (wife had died; unimportant), in particular his second daughter – 2 y.o. He didn’t use his children for political gain. Was of what Petr. called a rare type. He’d left office for 1 yr to get his first son through school. We put something in his second daughter that caused something like 55?56? very specific point mutations in approx. 90% of her cells. Effects were varied. Illustration: one of the mutations was at position 1824 of the LMNA gene; a CàT switch.  Gene encodes prelamin A, which becomes lamin A – stabilizes the nuclear wall. The CàT switch means that the mRNA transcript is usually short. Effect: abnormal protein folding. Effect: farnesyl group cannot be removed from prelamin A. Effect: protein is anchored to nuclear wall. Effect: abnormally shaped nucleus. Effect: cell division is fucked. Effect: aging at approx. 11X? the normal rate. Effect: death at approx. 13 standard years due to usually arthrosclerosis though many fucked-up ways of dying are very plausible. Union tech could detect the mutation; best treatment involved stopping bodily production of prelamin A altogether. But the other 50+ mutations produced shall we say extremely painful and unbelievably debilitating diseases some of which were designed with the sole object of making normal treatment paths impossible. So the 2nd daughter sort of drowned on her own blood + lost all her hair & gastrointestinal tract & lived off machines for 2 yrs before GDH realized what was going on. GDH must have considered going public but at some point recognized the obvious risks, so we got a message: okay, I’ll do it. So he pulled off a major policy turnaround and apologized to his electorate and said he would not run for office again, and pulled enough votes from various places to get the Bill passed in 2nd. He might have assumed that we’d help the daughter. We didn’t. She died. So the point was made. GDH did resign, and ended up running for office again; got reelected largely on the back of an apparent perception that he had drifted towards the center. We asked him after the first time, without ever mentioning his daughter, for a few more things. He never said no. He had other children.  Do I have thoughts about this? Well, yes. It was the best thing we could have done. There might be something more, though. Why did I just write all of that using “we”? That has to be understood in purely nominal terms. I’m trying to be outside all of this. I’m trying to look in. It’s not easy. The only way I have of knowing is to be there on the inside, but I’m trying, I really am.

[3] The Main Building was officially christened Anhedonia. What can I say?

[4] One of the few good names we came up with. The sound of the word matches them.

[5] What W. says is that Tokata’s air at the equatorial latitudes is oddly clean; no condensation nuclei. So there aren’t many storms, but when they do come they are huge and almost inevitably hurricane-force.

[6] So one of the things about Tokata is that there are some (sort-of) open bodies of water whose chemical composition differs substantially from the rest of the ocean because of very concentrated undersea volcanic activity (Gerring is so excited he looks sick most of the time). One of the big sides was called V4, and the exudate there was rich in REMs. I can’t actually remember this; I just looked it up on the records.

[7] W. always uses the full name. Everyone else says BWL.

[8] “Meh.”

[9] It’s to be expected, in a way, but I find how blasé non-descendant AIs are about their possible death a bit unsettling. As in – how do I say this – they don’t like dying since they get upset on behalf of all the people they know feel affection for them, but they just cannot understand the pure atavistic fear of not existing that infects (I think) most of us. It’s an entirely rational assessment of death. The metaphysical has been entirely crowded out. It is very strange.

Kind of getting away: 2

It’s November here. There’s no particular reason to call it November, but that’s what it’s called. I think it’s because of the trees here, always looking like it’s autumn. When we came we went with October straightaway, so now it’s November. It’s a good enough reason.

The sun has finally come out after about two days of cloud. At this moment right beside me there comes a surgical slit of light that illumes a soft fume of dust. I did not plan to do anything this morning so I went out and looked over the Wash. The idea grey is not at all simple and the Wash shows that. This morning it steamed like flat metal, like mercury. It really does go on and on. Not very far out there were two seahawks, nearly but not quite out of sight. I sat and watched them for some time. I watched them diving in the air. That’s not the right word, actually, diving. But that’s the problem. How do I convey this? This sense of movement. What I can say is that it gives me a sense in which this place, this entire place, is fundamentally unwreckable. It’s a strange, unjointed kind of movement. We’re just not used to thinking in three dimensions. We know of the three dimensions but we have never actually occupied them. That’s why it’s just not possible to look at that movement and understand it. The understanding comes a moment immediately after. But as I stood there looking at the seahawks actually move I didn’t understand it at all. Wings tremulously feeling out an element with whom the relationship does not quite rise to trust. A whiffle and then a dip, mirrored by the other. When one of them dipped it looked simply as if it was falling, until it uncurled itself suddenly in a sharp caustic spasm. The movement was erratic but urged towards some kind of obvious pattern. I did not know and do not know what bound the two seahawks together. Maybe they were a breeding pair or maybe they were simply hunting together. It was a celebration that held apart the air between them. This is how seahawks move. A whole forest of lines and chords taken in the air, a language that is completely spontaneous and therefore indecipherable.  I don’t think I’m really managing to get any of this across. But that’s natural, I suppose. It’s an alien thing, to see so much life contracted into points so small, folded this way, and wedged so furiously into the air.

Anyway, that’s the only really interesting thing I did today. I might take the Volkie to O.’s place to see how he’s getting on. W.r.t work – well, it’s not a huge amount I need to get done at this point, and Helper is often out.

Note Concerning a Wreck named T—, Published in Mariner Issue No.455, 2983rd year, aut: The Golden Whale

It was called Unsinkable. Not unsinkable, but capital-U Unsinkable, to indicate that this vessel did not merely possess this characteristic, but fully owned it, exercised dominion over it. As if the very nature of unsinkability was to be found embedded in its hull, inside the metal frame, the antithesis of the idea of weakness. Was not to be disentangled from it. Maybe this capital-U Unsinkability was nestled placentally among the ropes, or maybe was stashed, glowing secretly, in the cargo hold, or made its home in the forest of davits that lined pockets of the deck.

It was very beautiful. (The “is” does ask itself, but maybe later.) It was made during that time when people didn’t really think about beauty when building something, but thought more about things like, I suppose, weight, size, solidity, nobility, aristocracy – and so really it must have been beautiful. Unconsciously. It is very easy to see even now its big bronze nose opening the pages of the water. Lumbering along. Well, not lumbering, but with the feeling of lumbering. With weight and confidence.

At seven minutes past midnight on June 1246[1] the ship collided with an iceberg. A miscommunication meant that its position had been relayed wrongly, and by the time it was spotted and the 113-tonne rudder was turned to move the ship hard to port it was too late. The inertia of a 80,000-tonne ship travelling at over 40 knots is very substantial.

The iceberg collided glancingly with the bow, crumpling a W-shaped section of it about 20 metres across, and then dragged itself along the starboard hull. It was the damage caused by the latter that proved fatal. The hull was too thick to break, but buckled inwards at portions along a 400-foot span, pulling the rivets that held the plates together loose and allowing water to flood into seven of the forward compartments. The total area of the openings that were created was less than four square metres. Water came through this space at a rate of 10 long tonnes per second. There is a bitterness to the thought that if the T— had not attempted to avoid the iceberg, and have collided with it head-on, it would probably have survived – only two compartments would have been flooded otherwise, or at least this is as much as I am willing to guess right now. Just before the collision a radio cry went out, tangled in the ionosphere, but the nearest ship, the D—, was too far away to be of assistance.

At 1.12 a gangway door was opened in the port side of the ship to load passengers onto the lifeboats. Four minutes later a wall of water came through this opening, and to the horror of the engineers it was found that the massive door could not be closed; gravity and the increasing lean of the ship made it simply impossible. At this point Engine Rooms 1 and 2 were fully flooded, and water was coming through Engine Room 3 into the main gangway of the lower G deck, where nearly two thousand people were crammed. Most of them died.

One hour later the bow had filled with so much water that its weight lifted the stern clear of the sea, exposing the propellers, each 7 times the height of a man, and causing one of the funnels to crack. The stresses building up on the middle of the ship soon became catastrophic. At 2.35 the water in Engine Room 4 reached the main cable bundle that carried power to the rest of the ship. The housings had peeled off as the entire room had warped with the ship – one end of the room was a full two feet lower than the other. At 2.37 the lights on the T— that had filled its corridors and halls with brightness and made the sea shine flickered once, came back on, flickered again, and went out.

Then the T— cracked in half. The sound was so alien that very few of the passengers recognized it for what it was. It was a groan, a rattle, an agonised tearing noise that went on for over 20 seconds, not the explosion that many expected.  The T— broke in two at one of its weakest points in the structure, the area of the main engine room hatch. All the decks were ripped in two, but the double-bottomed hull held for a minute longer, so that as the bow descended it pulled the stern along, lifting it over 45° out of the water, until the two-inch plates holding the two halves of the ship together snapped and the bow rolled free into the freezing water.

The hydrodynamic leading edge of the bow meant that it descended smoothly at a steep angle and gained speed fast. The water flowing over it sheared the funnels away. As they detached the tangle of ropes they took with them scoured the decks clean. The wheelhouse crumbled away. After eight minutes of relentless descent in the dark the bow crashed into the seafloor at 42km/h, digging itself 20m into the mud. The impact bent the hull in two places and caused it to buckle downwards by about 16° under the forward well deck cranes and by about 7° under the forward expansion joint. The weakened decks at the rear, where the ship had broken apart, collapsed on top of each other. The forward hatch cover was also blown off and landed a couple of hundred feet in front of the bow due to the force of water being pushed out as the bow was crushed against the bottom. A slipstream formed behind the bow as it was falling, and when the bow hit the seafloor a 6000-tonne column of water crushed the bridge into an puzzlement of broken steel.   The vertical steel columns supporting the decks were bent into C-shapes, railings were blown outwards, and the roof of the crew quarters and main hall were pushed in.

On the surface the forward section of the stern, having fallen back into the water, was filling so fast that in 20 minutes it assumed a near-vertical position and was dragged beneath the surface. It lacked a streamlined leading edge, so its descent was traumatic. As it sank the rudder swung around to a 40° angle, so it tumbled and corkscrewed tightly as it fell, rotating slowly like a Dipterocarp seed or a helicopter blade. A large V-shaped forward section just aft of midships, the weakest portion of the ship due to the two large spaces it contained (the First Class Stair and fuel store), simply disintegrated into nothing, spitting its contents into the blackness. The engines tumbled out like hundred-tonne marbles.

Unlike the bow the stern had not fully filled with water, and so for five kilometres it made its tortured descent to an overwhelming symphony of sounds: compartments imploding, bulkheads rupturing, steel support warping, hull plates ripping out, the poop deck folding in on itself, spraying out debris over kilometres of ocean floor. Crackings and slow grinding peals echoed for hundreds of kilometres.

When the stern reached the seabed the decks pancaked so violently that today no single deck is more than a foot in height. The hull plates splayed out to either side of the shattered section. The center propeller is totally buried, while the force of the impact caused the two wing propellers and shafts to be bent upwards by an angle of about 20°. The naked eye finds it difficult to believe that this is the stern of a ship.

When T— sank she carried over 2000 to the bottom with her. Imagine what is was like to be them, sitting in this celebration of metal feeling to the grand shudderings, the soft buffetings that muffle the catastrophe outside, hearing the colossal wrenching and trembling sounding everywhere. I want to say that this is too terrible to imagine, but of course it is not. We are all drawn to this kind of grandeur. There is something hortatory about it.

It is all too easy to imagine.

For those of you who are kind enough to read my reports regularly (enjoying, I hope, my writing) and are aware of my hobby then this note comes as a small surprise to you, concerning as it does a great tragedy of no particular importance happening on an old and primitive world. I suppose I owe you, in some form or another, an explanation of my fascination with T—.  It reminds me of me: a great new vessel golden in brass and manganese and steel nosing its way into the night, a ship with too much love in its name, a symbol of a gilded age, weighed down, pushed forward by the pride of an entire people, faultless and nimble as it darted across a sea, ended by something as old and slow as ice. There are many things out here that are older than me, and slower, and I fear that one of these will nick me fatally, and bring me to my end.

[A brief biological survey of the site was undertaken. The results were extraordinary. For the new organism discovered I suggest the name Halomonas theophagia.]

[1] Local reference

Kind of getting away: 1

I came here to be alone, and now I am alone. I’ve done it, then. I guess I’ve done it.

My house is finished. It’s on top of a rocky outcrop, overlooking the ocean. The Berents is grey now. Helper is sleeping. The house is spacious. On the first floor there is the living room and dining room and on the second there are two bedrooms and the third is the attic. The Store is a little attachment out back with food and the allweathers and the car and all the other supplies. Helper wanted to make a little observatory, but I think that will come later.

In between my place and the water is the Wash. It’s a flat so big that it cedes from where I look right out to the horizon and into darkness. I went out there yesterday. I did not tell Helper. It’s meant to be dangerous, very dangerous, but there you go. I went out and it was mud and water everywhere. Very windy. The blue hour here is more a blue hour and a half. The mud came up to my ankles at first, and then nearly to my knees the further in I went. I think it must have been two kilometres before I turned back. I could see my house looking very small from that distance. I am fulfilled; I have done it; I am now fully cut off and twined in. The Wash is a place of deep sameness. Only the tides change it, a play without any syntax or drama, just two dimensions of very fine sand. Deep sameness.  It’s the sort of place where all changes you detect are canted by affection.

The house is good. The Perimeter is up. I wish I could do without it, but it’s part of the rules; protocol. I’ll have to stick to at least some of it. The window of my bedroom looks out to a peak. It’s very sharp and there’s snow down one half of it and some mornings the light catches it and bathes it in fire and that wakes me up. It’s not a bad way to be woken at all. This particular peak still does not have a name. But it won’t stay that way for long. I suppose, since I am the closest one to it, I should name it. But I’m not at all good with names.

Every day more names come in through the computer. So many names; piped in here, right to me, building up a taxonomy, putting down the quivering things. Sooner or later someone back in the Main Building will see that this part of the archipelago lacks names and will solve that problem. I will wake and find that the mountain has a name, this little outcrop too, and maybe even the Wash. That’s one thing I have named at least. I should log the name. It’s very easy to do, but I’m probably never going to get it done.

I’m here to be alone. Not completely alone, I suppose. That would be impossible. And I’m not sure that I would like it. The rest of us probably don’t mind being alone; it’s part of why we came, probably. But mainly the rest are here because this place is so absolutely new. They’re here to learn, for the big wet noisy concussion of knowledge. Look at how they jostle to get things named after them. They really do like naming things. There is no strategy to the names. They are static so they pile up. They accrete and for now measure out time. Fair enough. But the slate is so clean here that it’s bigger than the urge to arrange and when we arrived that was an unspoken arrangement and we all defaulted immediately to old names. Oaks, Elms, Fish, Birds, Snakes, etc. Now that I think of it, we haven’t used mammal names very much. Maybe something there traverses too close to us. We can’t have too many things made in our image. Or named in it, or put in a clade with it, so few junctions off the amniotes, a countable number of accidents of history, although I suppose it’s not quite the same thing.

Meeting Leviathan

“So what exactly do I call you? Am I supposed to go, like, yo, Leviathan, or do I kneel and go O Leviathan, or do I just go hey dude or what?”

Late Heavy Bombardment was pretty crowded. Way-on-Hill did not have a surplus of good bars and LHB was much treasured among the studentry. The World Championship was going on, so people had slowly pooled over the course of the evening to watch. No-one was using an engine; those were for later.

Leviathan was not sitting with anyone. He was alone at his table. He looked up at the screen and frowned slightly. He was young, maybe around 16 or so, and kind of thin but in an athletic way. He was wearing jeans, sort-of-sneakers, a plain ochre T-shirt. Not one of those loose-collared things so common in the current heat. His hair was short, brownish, maybe messy, with a tuft over the forehead and at the nape of the neck. He was both very good-looking and very nondescript. He hooked one heel over the other foot and leaned back in his chair and put the knuckle of his thumb up to one eye, rubbing.

When he heard Garfield he turned around quickly. He moved with a gangly kerfufflement that appeared to broadcast what were more or less good intentions.

“Hey,” he said. “Uhm. My name’s actually Salix. I guess you’d call me that.” He extended his hand.

“Salix,” Garfield said. She extended her hand; he shook it. She dragged a chair over and dropped into it. “Salix. As in, line?”

“As in line.”

“Hmm.” She rocked the chair backwards. “You should get something to drink. Do you drink?”

Salix shrugged; Garfield left and came back with a small shot glass of what looked like water.

“What’s that?” he said, eyeing it warily.

“What I’m wondering,” Garfield said, “is where all the descendants are. Shouldn’t there be a ton of them just sort of hovering around?”

“I’m not really attackable here on Stize, I think.” Smiling slightly.

“Fair enough. That’s Sudden Acute Paralysis, by the way.”

Salix looked at the shot glass. “So what’s this about, really?”

“Bet.”

“What do you get?”

“I can’t really tell.” Garfield gestured at the glass. “They say it’s good if you want to think. After – you know – after the paralysis wears off, obviously.”

“Fair enough,” Salix said. He downed the clear fluid and winced. “You’re not going to get –aack – anything more than this, I’m afraid. Aack.” He shrugged.

Garfield looked disappointed. “Well. It’s still a bet won. Must say I was hoping for a little more, though.”

“Sorry,” Salix said. “None of this stuff works on me.”

“Is it a design thing?”

“It’s a design thing. Poison etc.”

“It’s not poison.”

“Well, it impairs judgment.”

Garfield looked at Salix, aghast. “This is a university,” she said.

He toyed with the shot glass. “If you were in my position –”

“Yes, yes,” Garfield said. “Some blood factor?”

“Something like that, yeah,” Salix said.

“Let me see,” Garfield said, and grabbed Salix’s right hand. It was a tight and wiry thing. She peered at the veins. “Looks like the usual colour, though. I got told it was sort of greyish.”

“It’s not the usual,” Salix said. “I’m red all the way through.”

“Ahh,” Garfield said. “And your token?”

“Token?”

“You know, the –”

“Oh, you mean this.” Salix spread out the index and middle fingers on his left hand, exposing the little web of skin in between.

“There you go,” Garfield said. “The mark of the beast.”

“It’s a semicolon,” Salix said.

“It does look like one, doesn’t it?”

“I’ve got a little semicolon printed on me.”

“Can I ask you a slightly macabre question?”

“Um, yeah. Sure.”

“So you have this blood factor and it’s not the usual protective suite.”

“Yes.”

“So say that we were not on Stize, say that there was no CompyDust around, say there were no descendants either –”

“Oh dear,” Salix said. “No, or maybe yes if you went to great lengths.”

“So what exactly would happen if I stabbed you? Or shot you? And say you didn’t expect any of this.”

“It would hurt. A lot. From a close enough distance at least. I’d be pissed,” Salix said. He stopped and thought. “Probably really pissed.”

“Not death.”

“It’s all probabilistic, but yeah.”

“That’s very cool.”

Salix raised his eyebrows. “I’m sort of valuable, you know.”

Garfield stared and started laughing. Then she said, “Do you know what’s so strange? There’s all these people going at you edgewise because they’re so scared and it turns out you’re just like this.”

“Like what?”

“Bizzo!” Garfield yelled. People turned to look. Ordinarily people might have shushed them (Game 5 had started as a Greenfield and descended rapidly into a subtle and murderous tactical slugfest; the analysis was not easy even with the mind-clearing aftereffects of Sudden Acute Paralysis) but at this particular point in time they chose not to.

Bizzo was a person. He came over, coughing, shoulders inbent as a hierophant’s, greenly painful hair without conceivable symmetry or function under a polypoid flat cap, eyes dead.

“Hello, Garfield,” he said. His voice was oddly mild. It was nasal and soft-vowelled and sounded like it came through an ancient radio. Rhotic Rs. He was missing several teeth. “I thought you’d be here.” Bizzo had odd breathy Ts and his Is were more like OIs.

“Garfield,” Salix said. “You didn’t tell me your name.”

“I must have,” Garfield said, “Didn’t I?”

“Never mind,” Salix said. “Hi, Bizzo.”

“Bizzo, meet Salix, Leviathan, soon of the House of Leaves, the Latter Circuit, etc. Salix, meet Bizzard, singer-songwriter, fluid dynamicist, environmental terrorist.”

“Ex-environmental terrorist,” Bizzo said. Salix and Garfield waited as a curiously regurgitative cough intervened. “Nice to meet you.”

“Are you unwell?” Salix said.

“No,” Garfield said.

“Yes,” Bizzo said, “But I like it this way.”

“He’s from Hakon,” Garfield said.

“What about Hakon?” Salix said.

“We talk strange,” Bizzo said.

“They’re positively freakish,” Garfield said, with enthusiasm.

Bizzo coughed in protest or just coughed. “QC let me have the drugs,” Bizzo said.

“Was this in return for the terrorism?” Salix said.

“He was very good at it,” Garfield said.

“Did you do ecoterrorism for your Justification, then?” Salix said.

Bizzo scratched idly behind one ear. “On Ditarod, after Habermas,” he said, wistfully. “Those were damn good times.”

“I considered going there,” Garfield said, “But eventually I settled for the Undercover Infrastructure programme on Domis. Nothing as vivacious as terrorism.” She looked sad.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Bizzo offered. “You did a deep insertion.”

“It’s not like anyone actually died, though,” Garfield said.

“It’s not that great.” Bizzo said.

“Still.”

“Question,” Bizzo coughed, looking at Salix.

“Hmm?”

“Well – hrrm –not really a question.”

“Yeah, sure, go ahead.”

“More like a directive, really.”

“Okay.”

“You know, it’s a bit weird, you being Leviathan – you know what I mean.”

“I don’t mind at all, really I don’t.”

“Well, you’d better solve Ditarod soon. That’s it. You really have to solve that place.”

“I will,” Salix said.

“He’s got strong feelings about this,” Garfield said.

“I can tell,” Salix said.

Bizzo coughed again. “Salix, you could kill half of the people on Ditarod and it wouldn’t make a difference. I tell you the place is a total horror for the people. They have jobs, it’s unimaginable. All the days, again and again, they can’t choose, they don’t even have any time. I was thinking about what it would be like. You just sit there and your life is parcelled out and monetized away and when you get home you are so tired nothing can be done about it anymore. And then you realise you need to get your own food, or whatever, you need to get out and do more things – and the thing is you’re doing all this just to stay alive. They tie themselves to some office, it’s a really tiny space, can barely move, can’t talk, all that just so that they can pay for having a house. You know? It goes on like this for years and years. They’re so fucked-up – so many of them are so fucked-up – they’re better off dead. They don’t know that, of course.”

“Rant,” Garfield nodded. “Truth.”

“Sorry about that,” Bizzo said. “I must have sounded really condescending.”

Salix shook his head. “You should get a seat,” he said. “You can’t stand all night.”

Bizzo delicately angled himself into a chair and leaned back, eyes filmed with exhaustion. “Aaah,” he said.

“All those recreational drugs,” Garfield said. “Mainly I disapprove of the green hair.”

“How long was he on Ditarod?”

“Two years or so.”

Salix sighed. “He’s right, he’s right, but there are other ways to go about it.”

“Ask her about K8,” Bizzo wheezed enigmatically. Now his voice was so soft it was hard to catch what he was saying.

“Does he know what’s going on?” Salix asked.

“He’s perfectly fine, this comes and goes.”

“So what about K8?”

“Oh, she’s talking about K8 again,” Bizzo murmured.

“He looks properly blissed out,” Salix said.

“It comes and goes,” Garfield said.

“So what about K8?”

“I went all the way up it, in a bike.”

“Just a bike?”

“A mechanical mountain bike. It was a very good one, though.”

“No oxygen.”

“Just standard-body. Lost most of the fingers on my left hand on the way down but it got replaced. It was really weird.”

Salix stared. “You went up Stize’s fourth-highest mountain in a bike.”

“There was a lot of hopping around involved. I carried it sometimes when it got really steep.”

“That is ridiculous.”

“It sort of makes up for my not being a terrorist. And the training was awful. ”

“Wow,” Salix said.

“You’re not going to ask me why I did it, I suppose.”

“It’s not that hard to understand.”

Garfield went quiet and looked thoughtful.

Salix waited.

“You know,” Garfield said, “I went up K8 alone.”

“Well – ”

“I told QC that I didn’t want any help.”

“Okay,” Salix said.

“Actually this reminds me of something I was hoping to ask you.”

“Go ahead,” Salix said.

“This was when I was nearly at the top. It was very cold, still a little dark. You would expect all of that. And then when the sun came up it was so bright it was difficult to see. But just beneath the summit there was a dead person. Not all of it, I didn’t see the whole body. But there is this small overhang on the East Face, and these two rocks come together like a V, and there was – is, probably – someone crouched there. Sheltering from the cold, obviously. One hand stretched all the way out. That’s the first thing I noticed, actually. There was a stiff hand all wrapped up in a heavy jacket, orange, the normal colour.”

“I see,” Salix said. Abruptly there was something about him that was very observant.

“I’ve always wondered about that,” Garfield said.

“QC.”

“Why did QC let the climber die?”

“Have you asked QC?”

Garfield stared at Salix as if he was some kind of strange object. “I want to know,” she said, “what you think.”

“Whoever it was probably asked to be left there.”

“Do you think someone would do that?”

“Yes.”

“Why would someone do that?”

Salix put his head on the table. It was a strangely childlike thing for him to do. “I really cannot say.”

“You don’t think QC let it happen just because it could.”

“Just because it could.”

Garfield did not know how she ought to elaborate. “Just because it could.”

“I don’t know. What does that mean?”

“Was QC responsible? Did it do it?”

“The climber asked QC to stay away. I think that’s what happened.”

“I suppose,” Garfield said.

A little time passed. Around them on other tables pieces clacked softly on the analysis boards.

Salix cocked his head. “What?” he said.

He could imagine it, a hand out there, bright in the ice and the air, nearly all the oxygen gone.

“Nothing,” Garfield said. “I’m going to get some Sudden Acute Paralysis. Do you want some more?”

“It doesn’t work on me,” Salix said.

“Could you turn it off?”

“As in, my blood?”

“No, obviously. Just the immunity.”

Salix spread his hands in a gesture meant apparently to convey some sense of futility. “Oh well,” he said.