Letters, Rewritten: 1

Dear John,

I am not dead. We are all waiting and tense – scouts never came back – but I am alive. This is my first letter to you – isn’t it strange that we are forced to do this, to actually write on paper before they scan it all – and that we enjoy it – maybe it is the sentimentality of it – what Hatherance calls Old School – but I am not familiar with this, and so I think I must right away reassure you that I am alive and well because that is probably what you are thinking about now – at least I must hope so.

I know what you will be thinking – but do not doubt this. I am alive. It is true, what you are thinking – what I know you must be thinking, if I know you at all – there are others who have written dozens of letters, prepaid for all of them, and asked for them to be sent in staggered order, automatically – one every two, three weeks, or so – all this so that even if they die the letters from them will continue to be sent – I ask myself when their partners will discover this and what they will think and if this is a kind of compassion or cruelty. But this is a letter from me, alive.

Exactly four years ago we met. I intend for this to be a brief chronicle of things that have happened to us – that we did – a remembrance of what I am told I should call an anniversary, when I saw you standing there over the opponent in the Ring, looking flatly, coldly – that is how you look – up at me, the one from S1P5 who had shot the exercise drone by accident – of the night we first spent together, I terrified, you amused – even now I am not sure, you are unreadable – amused, or wondering – us at the graduation where I tasted Muscatel for the first time and was shocked at its brilliance, and where you had far too much and sat there perfectly still and only very slightly smiling when I slowly slipped and fell off the chair without realising – and even then everyone too afraid of you to laugh – how I woke with a blinding ache the day after finding that the commanders had been honest about not letting the nanos help with the alcohol for that night and realised that I had to be carried back to the bunk and put to bed – that you had done it, impossibly, and I wondered what people must have thought who saw it. The first paired mission in Afar – two of us, two very soaked sergeants of the CM in the night not saying anything, just leaning over over the stele-light, looking at the warmth between us like a miracle – night over the great plains and navigating by stars that were only just familiar enough since we had no Globenet – no easy task even for me, you said – and then I for the very first time knew that maybe you respected me, in a way – finding the abandoned convertible and learning to make it move – the picnic, or so we called it, of rations and terrible coffee – the tent of light and warmth we made in the space under the rusting hulk of a while we did the twonight recce – the  bootlegged music you brought that Gryzhas had taken off the Stize web – Emperor Concerto, you had written on the black chip, assuring me that was not its real name – us listening with the muffler around us in that space and me wondering where such music came from and how it had been discovered as it roared around us in that small flickering space. After the success of that and our return the dinner at the Auburn – the privilege of that and the people who stared because we were too young and unranked for such a thing – the mission call – promises made – and back again this time to Lamarck – two nights before the departure us, again a little drunk, spending all night in a cinema and falling asleep locked in each other’s arms – waking and the shock of it and realising that we had not been discovered – me actually laughing in relief and you looking annoyed. Hatherance wanted a meal before we left but we – without speaking – agreed it was better if no-one felt our leaving and so we left her request unreplied to.

On Lamarck again nights like a prayer all strung together and punctuated by the fighting that you longed to throw yourself into but which we were not supposed to be a part of – the mountain pass and the wards all along it that made my heart hammer and that you said would not hurt us – the firefight in the ruddy mountain dawn – you losing an arm and high-fiving a child you saw on the way back down with your remaining arm, high on the meds – the bunk we found buried there in the mountain – the flare I sent up – cold blue in that crow sky as we watched  – I know what you noticed. I know you noticed and you did not speak to me about it. There are things about me that are not necessary to know about but I tell you now because we might be together again that what you saw happen was not something I willed – was not something that was important to me – not a part of me – come back and ask me and I will tell, I can explain. It was only a light, John – it was only a light.

Back and still surprised at our survival – at least I was and that was all I could tell those who asked – you carried already the awe around you that suppressed questions – the first time we fucked in my bunk and the first time I asked  – just after you appeared at the door and again people stared. Us hoping that because we were lieutenants we would get more time – but two weeks and then the mission call came – the misery of realising that we could not go together – your anger – I know it was anger although you called it other names – the dangerousness that you carried with you – you hurt Gryz badly when he asked, do you not know? – and me standing at the seawall at Thysbe – we said goodbyes, you fonder than I ever remembered – me tearful and stupid – Hatherance calling you a bastard for not saying anything or telling me your departure hour – that did hurt – I wanted to tell her about your way of doing things but that too felt like a betrayal, and my stupidity can govern me. The last quick drive over the cliffmount to the perch you showed me where the ships leave – your great metal insect borne speckling into the light and a roar that came through the air long after.

I watched till I could no longer see your convoy and everyone though again that I was staring into nothing. There was a long contrail left that glowed after night fell, catching stray light.

Do you remember at Afar how I told you that – looking up at the deep sky – it was hard to imagine that there is not a kindness looming somewhere – and you told me how many of the people we knew were dead and I was a stupid dreamer – I must confess that is a large part of what remains with me, this looming kindness I postulate to myself in my head over and over again – what else is there? We come into this place, this world or rock or planet perpetually falling in whatever rut it is lodged in, we improvise, and then we leave, never having had a chance to practise. Everything turns out so thin. I want this war to end.

I hope I see you soon, my love – I will write messages from the field for there is no one here to talk to and you have quelled my tendency to silence.

Remember me,

Ary.

This Man Is A City

This man is a city. He carries a city with him; he is bowed under its huge weight. I can wander across – through – this city of flesh, if I want to, but I am unfamiliar with it. In this city he puts up signs. Signs for roads and other ends. They corral the arteries through which blood flows inert and unblinking. Cars in their haloes. At some point all the blood was emptied out and replaced with this. He could if he wanted to turn all the signs to red, make all the lights red, making the huge stammers of the vehicles clench to a halt. At night I insult him and the city comes alive. With a static hiss, a roar smeared across a million little radios, it comes awake. The corrugated eye levers open. I give him a wound and

the city gives me in return a vast pallor of skin curled up like a fist. In the city buildings come up; construction happens, intricately. Buildings come up, all wonders of sutured concrete. People go in and out of the buildings, which are all empty, and some of which are burnt. The buildings gleam. The buildings share the noon’s tyranny, standing there godding the sky. I try to go between them but they close down, they close in on me and the spaces quickly disappear. Junctions emerge, bud and stiffen like nerves. I turn and a full fathom of blocks comes up in the space of a breath. He is a constructor, and he works fast. I laugh and an asylum rises and snaps shut around me. This is a rude joke.

I move in him and highways fold back on themselves, bend and crack and join, building a cage for an iron queen miles and miles across. Apartments slip and slide down glaciers of tarmac. He is a palaeontologist, an industrialist with an immaculate sense of place. Gates are put up in the veins, bald bones with hinges. I move again, testing, offering condolences, but the red savannah of the liver is in my way, choked with life and fixed in a grin. The grin is made of paving, or something much like it. Doors and gates flap open and shut like teeth. Gates, so many gates. There are things outside the gates,

even. He knows the need for commerce. Risks have to be taken. All cities have defences. There is a luminary in him that is not the sun. The luminary indwells the city and the city indwells him and I can hold the outline of his heart for ransom, but not from here. Maybe

now, exactly now. Along the estuaries to the heart the cars stop. A voice volleys the blood, the ribs hinge open, his cells grow bald and gibbous. He doesn’t bother to wait. It was never really like him. A static thunder comes wedged against the sky, lengthwise. He might be awake now. This might be the way the city says this. After all cities do not usually speak. And they do not speak clearly.

All That Air Outside

There is a good wind going outside. Pale clouds lighter than the sky going very fast and low.

Waves come all the way, almost, and then move back.

As you would expect none of this can be heard as it is quiet inside.

Unless he tries very hard, of course. Then he can hear something although he cannot tell exactly what it is.

In all likelihood it is the wind, or maybe the sound of all that water.

They are the last ones left.

That is one way of looking at things, that much must be conceded.

Alternatively they were the first ones to leave.

The difference between the two appears to be entirely one of timing.

“To be honest,” it says, “it really might as well be the same. It all looks the same from here.”

He is not upset by that.

In fact he feels entirely new.

That is not the orthodox word but it appears appropriate, for reasons that are proving harder than usual to articulate.

In any case he is no longer tired.

A pity, therefore, about the house.

It is looking out of the window.

It does that so often that it might be called a habit, even.

“All that’s left,” he says.

That sounds sad, but he never intended for it to be. That was not put very well.

“I suppose we’ll be here,” he says. “If this is all that’s left. I wonder for how long.”

“How long,” it says, not turning from the window.

Yet again he is left to wonder if this is in fact a query of some sort.

He is thinking about time, of course, that is what he is referring to.

He is not certain that it will understand but he says it in any case.

“Time,” it says, and dwells on this.

Possibly it is thinking.

In fact it simply does not move or say anything and thus creates that impression.

“I suppose so,” it says. “What a word, though.”

It turns to him and gapes at him.

Its eyes close.

It comes across as a familiar gesture.

“In any case I’ll be here,” it says, closing the mouth, “So things can’t get that bad.”

“I wonder about the rest,” he says.

There is a fire in the house.

Thankfully it is contained in a particular place in such a way that it gives off only some light and a little heat.

A generous amount of heat, come to think of it.

If there is smoke, which there ought to be, then it goes somewhere else, goes out of the house into all that air outside.

It comes between him and the fire.

He can feel the heat all over his front, on his feet, on his knees, his thighs, his chest and abdomen, his neck, his face.

It isn’t so bad here, he thinks, looking at the fire, looking at it, what with the view and the rest of it.

“It is just us,” it says, from where it is between him and the fire.

It stretches in a manner that suggests that it is contented, or perhaps a little restless.

“I wonder about the rest,” he says, again.

“Do you want me to let them in?” it says.

“Could you?” he says.

“Yes,” it says.

“And you could keep them out, naturally.”

It appears to be asleep.

In fact it is very often asleep, is it not?

This occurs to him now.

Nonetheless it speaks.

“Well. Even I could not keep all of them out – forever, if you want to talk about the time.”

But then it is an open question if anyone will see them or want to come in.

“They might not see us,” it says.

It is true that the precise location of the house is obscure.

That is to say uncertain, even though not unfixed or imprecise.

“How will we see them,” he says, “if they come?”

“Look through the windows,” it says. “We don’t have to be down here. If you go up you can see quite far.”

There seems to be no reason to think that untrue.

There was that occasion where they saw that ship.

Although that might have happened down here.

In fact that might be happening only later.

They had both gone out, then.

He remembers that it had been raining.

Predicate

“Wycliffe,Wycliffe, someone’s dead. How can we be talking about this when someone has just died? Can we please stop talking about this? Shit. Shit.”

“You killed him,” Wycliffe said, accusatorily, but without an excess of passion.

“You don’t have to tell me that, Wycliffe. You’re so obvious sometimes…” Real anxiety now, real distress.

What had happened was that Capt. Samuel Wycliffe, sometime commander of C Company, 2nd Battlegroup of the Heavy Transporter Dropsy, had proposed one of the secure meeting rooms as the place in which to see Sigmund, and forgotten to lock the door. Pt. Tsigalkis had opened the door and said: “Um, oh. Good afternoon, sir.” And Capt. Wycliffe had said, “Could you close the door, please?” And Tsigalkis had closed the door behind him. Then he had seen Sigmund, who said “Aaaah,” and Tsigalkis’ jaw had dropped. It dropped to the floor and he made a slight moaning noise with his mouth (because no tongue) and he fell down dead.

“Isn’t this what you were meant for, hmm?” Wycliffe said, loudly, to get past Sigmund’s grief. He was fascinated. It was a quality inherent in him, that he was always interested in learning, in observing. He was not intrinsically a soldier, see, but he could put two and two together just like that, and that was helpful – Major Head had said so herself, affirmed it, so she said, in no uncertain terms.

“Shit, shit,” Sigmund said.

“It’s just one person,” Wycliffe screamed. “Aren’t you made for this?” He needed to get Sigmund to focus, to come to the issue at hand.

Sigmund turned this way and that, bobbed up and down, “Please, Wycliffe. You know better, why must you do this now… Descendants aren’t made for anything. That’s the entire point of it, that’s the whole reason…”

Wycliffe was relentless, “But why,” he said, “Why are you so upset? This is a war, you know, death is in the bond, it’s the interest.”

“Oh, Wycliffe, I need time, I need time. This is so affecting.”

Wycliffe allowed himself to feel some pity, secreted a small drop of it and held it there, poised, a tingling between his nipples. He reached out to Sigmund, who flinched, he imagined, jerked in the air a little, and ran his finger across the bottom the little black sphere, a gesture intended to comfort. Sigmund liked that, he knew, has an animal indenture in – him? her? it? – that had not been shaken off, and he could thread that needle…

“Thank you, thank you,” Sigmund said. Its voice quavered. “You don’t know, you really don’t know how much this helps, this human contact, these small acts of kindness, you really don’t know.”

“It was my fault,” Wycliffe said, reasonably.

“It was,” Sigmund says, “Wasn’t it absolutely? I told you, didn’t I? I told you. I said if we used these rooms I couldn’t tell if someone was coming…”

“You could,” Wycliffe said, now stung, convolute movements of the finger almost now stopping, poised … “Surely it must be an easy thing for you.”

Sigmund was in a real state. The poor thing had killed someone –“How can you demand this of me? I tell you now as I told you then, I tell you, it takes effort, it would have been a waste, people might have detected it, oh, Wycliffe, there are all these reasons –

“So killing him was a right thing to do, then,” Wycliffe ventured, cooingly.

“That is not it. That is not it! It was so unnecessary, Wycliffe, I hate it, this loss of life. It’s fucking awful.” Sigmund floated off, a little higher, beyond the sympathetic writhings of Wycliffe’s finger. It fixed Wycliffe with a look, it turned and made sure that the little eye spot, what appeared to be an eye spot, had Wycliffe squarely in its gaze. The deep dispensaries in Wycliffe consulted manuals … generated, even now, after so many shared moments, moments of love, almost, and confidentiality, a recipe for fear–

“Do you think I am not being serious?” Sigmund asked.

Wycliffe merely observed. His sphincters were tight, quiet, expectant.

“I am being serious, Wycliffe, I am trying to be as honest as possible. I hate killing people. Now poor Tsigalkis is dead, and what can I do? I didn’t have to do so, something else was possible, maybe I could have done something with the memory… it was all an accident, you must believe me when I say this will come with me to the grave, I acted without thinking –”

Wycliffe drew himself up, put down his terrors. This was the moment. He must intervene. “There will be no grave,” he verily shouted, “There will be no grave because we will succeed. Am I not my brother’s keeper?” Wycliffe knew that Sigmund could not die; it was the tragedy of its nature. But the gesture counted, surely, in this war that was a tissue of gestures, what harm could one more do, but also what good, what good indeed…

“Yes,” Sigmund said, still hovering slightly out of reach. “Yes, I am sure we will succeed.”

“What about the body?” Wycliffe said.

“That’s the thing.”

“I am sorry.”

“All this effort …” Sigmund said. “I’ll put a lie in the computers. Do not worry about it.”

“When they ask me, where has he gone? I will have to say something…”

Something will do, you must trust me on this, doesn’t something always do? Don’t make me dwell on this any longer than I have to, Wycliffe, this is cruelty. This is the basest kind of cruelty. Now we must be about the business at hand.”

“I have noticed things, you know,” Wycliffe said. “There are signs, there are signals. It must be your work.”

“What signals, Wycliffe? If you see things you must tell me, we must discuss them together. This is an enterprise, I’m sure you know that…”

The swerve of the conversation was much to Wycliffe’s liking, and he enjoyed the power. He had made the title of observer into a high exalted thing, an object of envy. He expanded. Was he an anarchist or a humanist? He did not know. But he was moving somewhere, he was gravitating, that he did know, with clear and terrible certainty.

Wycliffe paced in a manner that be believed to be stately, hands moving, always moving. “I was reading the reports on Ebannen, you know. Every big installation there has been destroyed. All of it, utterly reduced to rubble, a real tragedy. Except of course for the train station at Fahrer, the network there has been untouched.”

“I know that,” Sigmund said.

There are no E carriages.”

Sigmund reeled back like it had been physically hit (although it might have been the case that in its entire existence it had never once been physically hit…) Then it said, still frozen in that position, “I am afraid, Wycliffe, that once again you have gone in a direction that is beyond me. You must explain, you must explain, my state is so fragile, you see. Help me out here.”

“You see – on the North Line, and the Southwest, and the Circle, the trains all have E carriages. A, B, C, D, E, F, and so on. But on the Crossline, on the Crossline, I was looking this up, this is the line we often use if we have slow-carry weapons we need to bring to Borundum, on the Crossline, there are no E carriages. They have gone. The Es are gone. Maybe they are still there but they are called by a different name. Do you know what I am saying? Do you sense the weight of it?” His voice rose, trembled. “There is a pattern, something was changed before we came…”

“Fascinating.” Wycliffe had rarely seen Sigmund like this. He could sense the thoughts in Sigmund, could feel odorous layers of them coming off it.

“I can read you like a book, Sigmund.” Reckless. Triumphant. (In fact Wycliffe also knew that Sigmund smelt like a book, like old heirs of lignin and cellulose, ancient admixtures of benzaldehyde, ethyl benzene, 2-ethyl hexanol, akyl ketene dimer, furfural, acetic acid, tolulene, all the assorted halituous products of lipid peroxidation … even vanillin, yes, even that, Wycliffe could detect it entombed beneath all those aromatic strata, rudely agamic perfume that reminded of cream, of cake, strangely generated by this thing made purely, he was told, of metal, and nothing else, not even a soul with which to guilt it…)

“I am not a book,” Sigmund said. “Why would you read me like a book?”

Wycliffe was shocked by this rudeness, this kind of naiveté, he was actually staggered by it.

“Tsigalkis!” Sigmund cried, shrilly. “Don’t step on Tsigalkis!”

Wycliffe was annoyed at his boots getting dirtied that way. For a moment he was about to say something vehement, something about Tsigalkis and Sigmund going around like that, killing people on instinct, the inhuman bastard… But he seized himself. He was above that.

“I can read you,” he said, coldly, “And I tell you there are no E carriages.”

“There is a solution,” Sigmund said.

Wycliffe beamed.  He was not offended, not offended at all – this was part of the frolic, it was how they played it, the quodlibet (the whole bloody thing was one, you know?), it was how they had to move, not stepwise but sliding

“There is a solution. Right before the attack, the Crossline – it got sold to Massive Transit Operations, a company that offered services, that made the trains move… but it was flawed. The divination of its monies said that the way to make the trains work well on the Crossline would be to switch the carriages around; a flexible-coupling arrangement. They would move. They would mix and form new trains, strange and wonderful new combinations constantly pulling in – can you imagine coming into one of these, stepping into a permutation that is actually unfamiliar, actually new? All the others, all the other lines, had fixed combinations. Do you see? And it was decided that E had to go. It would be too confusing otherwise. Just imagine the sounds! Bee, Cee, Dee, Eee… Do you see how a reasonable person might find it too much, if a train was all eee sounds in the wrong order? Dee, Cee, Eee, Bee. Hellish!” And Sigmund looked sad at this. “So E had to go. No E carriages. A, B, C, D, F. It was called for. A fundamental reordering, all so that passengers would experience the very minimum of confusion on the system, and travel in maximum comfort and relaxation. There would be no compromise.”

“I was meant for this,” Wycliffe breathed. “These deep things. It is hard for me to speak about such things, sometimes, it can be so hard to find the words, but it is good that you are around. You resonate.”

“Aah. Aah. ‘What could the world have to be like for language to be possible?’”

Wycliffe was on the very verge of seeing the connection, he could feel it against his skin like underwear, it lay just beneath open statement, just beneath the level of explicit feeling… but it was gone.

“What?” he said, his anguish suddenly apparent.

Sigmund was being carried away. “This is important,” it said, “This might be crucial for what happens on Ebannen. You have led me here, you have a hand in this too. ‘What would the world have to be like—’

Wycliffe snapped. “Well,” he huffed, “Well,” he swelled, “Well, it would have to be like this –” (he stamped his foot; a little of Tsigalkis’s blood jumped into the air) “It would have to be like this, the one we’re in right now, wouldn’t it?”

“But why, Wycliffe, why, we must be rigorous in such fundamental inquiries…”

“We’re using it now, you traitor, we are talking –”

“Are we?”

“What do you mean?”

“What if this, all this, is a wilderness of coincidences—”

“Are you saying that all this time, we have not been talking, hm? We have not been –communicating? Has something gone wrong inside you?” One could not simply throw a relationship like that aside. “I will not help you anymore, if you insist on this, and then you will have to kill everyone on this ship yourself. There, and there.”

Sigmund was so appalled that he immediately recognised this as the petulant joke that it was. “Wycliffe! Wycliffe, you could not, this is not in my brief, I could not possibly contemplate such a moral horror. Tsigalkis alone, Tsigalkis – I need you to help me, this is important. We want the mission to succeed, yes we want it do, very dearly so, don’t we? So you must help me, we must guide each other along…”

“Yes,” Wycliffe, says, “Yes. But you must say different things now.”

“You led me here, Wycliffe, and I am profoundly grateful. After this –”

“On with it, on with it.” Shrieking, beating the air with his fists in gratitude.

Eventually Sigmund came within reach again, so that Wycliffe could stroke it sullenly.

“What I want to know,” Sigmund enunciated carefully, delicately, a dark sheen in Wycliffe’s hand – (Wycliffe imagined playing tennis with Sigmund, not against, but with – tha-whoosh, and a 250 km/h screamer that smears over the net, Sigmud screaming in the panic of it and letting it all go so that the spectators bubble and topple like dominoes…) “What I want to know is, what we should figure out is, does a nonexistent object have properties?”

“No,” said Wycliffe with finality.

“Ah,” said Sigmund.

Wycliffe knew that he had to be patient. “What?”

Sigmund was silent.

“The thing is,” Wycliffe said, carefully, “The thing is, that if it does not exist, then there’s nothing to it, is there?”

“But if you know – but surely if you know that something does not exist it is because of something that has been ascribed to it that allows you to say it does not exist? Things in the stories? Fictions? Hmm? I need your assistance in this, Wycliffe.”

Wycliffe thought hard. Little torpedoes behind his eyeballs, exploding, bright things of sputum—

It struck him like a thunderclap, and he held Sigmund at arm’s length, goggling with revelation. “No… I know what it is, what it is – it is this – are there nonexistent things? I have it, Sigmund.”

Sigmund looked exactly the same, but it was a look of awe, Wycliffe knew.

“You must see where I am coming from, Sigmund – you cannot think of something – you cannot say anything about something, not even that it does not exist, without first thinking of it existing.” Words like a flood, today Wycliffe was inspired, he was in a different place altogether, the phantasmagory rising between his legs, in his telencephalon – “‘There is’ and ‘There exists’, they’re not the same – look! If only things with meanings can be true and I say – ” Wycliffe pointed at Sigmund and said, “You have no mother, surely you have no mother.”

“I do not,” Sigmund affirmed.

“A name, I need a name!”

“Maman,” Sigmund offered.

“If I say – Maman, your mother, does not exist, then surely if this is true then this statement must mean something – but then each part of it must mean something – and if Maman must mean something – ” Wycliffe was flushed with the intensity of this exhalation. “Do you see what I am saying, Sigmund? There is a contradiction here because ‘Maman does not exist’ – for that to make sense, if we are to put our hands together and say this is true then Maman must denote something, and therefore exist…”

Sigmund was contemplating Tsigalkis’ jaw. “There is a way out,” it said, at last. “I must puncture your rapture, Wycliffe, although it is something to behold, quite, quite extraordinary … Let me say this. Let me describe, let us not use the name – names, they are so devious, they lie, you know, I have experience … Let me say, instead of ‘Maman does not exist’, let me say ‘It is not the case that there is exactly one Thing, which is my mother.’ My terms are general, they are uniqueness terms, there is no problem –”

Wycliffe chewed his lip with ferocity. “You said this was important for the war.”

“It is crucial.” Solemn now, in its unpinnable way.

“Well then,” hands together, numbness in his skull, violence all wrapped under skin, MIRVs poking from his teeth, “Well then! Then I say to you you are naive – for we do not – aaaahh – there is no need, if you look at what we do – we do not need these definite descriptions, sometimes our idea if what something is is not a unique thing at all even if we think it is – all I know about Leviathan is that he rules the Kingdom, but there have been many rulers of the Kingdom … or my identification of him might be wrong, the correspondence might not be clean – ahh, this is deep, Sigmund, this is what I like about you…”

“Solution!” Sigmund egged. “You stand on the abyss now, you daring – you, mad little cumlet—”

“I have said it, I just said it – do you not listen to me, Sigmund? After all this time? Never mind, I forgive, I am always forgiving, anything for victory, you say… The solution is that these things are different – ‘There is’ and ‘There exists’, there is altogether no relation between them whatsoever.

Sigmund was testing this idea. Wycliffe felt it like cancer in his marrow, like hot lead. He dabbed at his trembling lip. “So if I say there is a round square –”

Trivial. Wycliffe batted something away. “No, no, it is impossible, it is not in this world. In this world, in this possible world, it cannot be – it is a contradiction. But in all the other impossible worlds – I have no right to divine, who can say what things lurk there? All our nonexistent Things have all their properties. But they’d better damn well stay in their worlds…”

“It’s a jungle out there,” Sigmund offers. “All these worlds, these repositories of nonexistent things, this concrete theatre…”

“A big jungle, you are damn right it is a jungle.”

“And all these things hiding in there.”

“Bright spangly fish, little darting things.”

“Empty names. Monsters. Big things with teeth.”

Wycliffe was suspicious of Sigmund when it spoke like that, like it had been expecting the answer from the very beginning. He had an ear for these things (even though he did not know it; and Wycliffe was a person unusually aware of his own talents). A wild suspicion took hold of him and he felt like reaching out and grabbing Sigmund, thought what it needed was a good shake through and through – but he was magnanimous; he could give Sigmund this small taste of victory. The heavy lifting had been his and a sense of sickening robustness gripped him with ferocity. “And now on to Ebannen,” he proclaimed, “who can say what lies there?”

“This was important,” Sigmund said, “Merely speaking about this, conjuring – I tell you this will have effects – ”

Wycliffe moved towards the door. “There is no more time,” he said. “They will be looking for me now.”

“Yes,” Sigmund said, “Yes, you should go now.” It turned wearily to the body.

Wycliffe was nearly at the Officers’ Mess when he realised that he and Sigmund had never got around to discussing that matter at hand. But he was too joyful to care. He breathed in, he breathed in so many smells.

Carrier

It is at the window, looking out. The window is open.

There is the question of its forelimbs, which are on the sill.

It puts its head out.

Water lashes its face.

He comes beside it and looks. “There is ship out there. Isn’t that a ship?” he says.

There is something with lights moving among the waves. It looks like an old one.

It does not reply. Then it says, “There is nothing wrong about that.”

It cranes its head out, all the way.

It likes the air outside, or so it seems.

In any case it does not talk about it.

“I have not seen a ship come this way,” he says. “I hope it makes it to shore.”

It is in fact true that the light is dim. This is the time of the evening when it goes fast.

“Is that in fact a ship?” it asks.

Water is running down its body into the house.

He says, “Look. All this water. Let’s close the window.”

It waits a moment and pulls itself in.

For a moment it is huge, but then it is small, and all of it inside the house.

It shakes itself although it is entirely dry.

It is dark.

Not outside, that is, at least not yet, but the other one speaking. It is entirely black.

That had escaped his notice.

Well, that would be inaccurate. It has never been entirely black before.

In fact it was something else.

He closes the window, and looks out. The ship is barely visible.

A dipping light out there. A little warmth.

“It is a ship, I think,” he says, and turns to go back to his room.

“No,” it says, “Not a ship.” It is still looking out through the glass like it is not there.

He goes back to the window.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Isn’t it a ship?”

It contemplates this.

How does one know if it is contemplating?

It is strange not to have an immediate answer.

In any case it thinks or perhaps it watches and then it says, “No, not a ship. The idea of one.  That is the idea of a ship, the things that make a ship a ship. An old friend.”

Water lashes its face.

But then again it is all dry inside.

He is very tired, impossibly so. He cannot bring to go into his room now. He sits in the chair and leans back and does not say anything.

Perhaps he should sleep here, head back, with his eyes closed.

“Should you go out to meet it?” he says.

“Always with these questions,” it says, “I don’t know. It’s been so long.”

There is also the issue of the rain but it does not mention the rain.

“Should I go out?” it says.

That might be a question, even.

He hasn’t taken his shoes off. That’s how tired he is.

“It’s not for me to say,” he says.

“I will take you outside. We will go together,” it says. “We have not gone out together.”

That is a bold claim. But it might be correct.

“It’s rough outside,” he says.

“Don’t worry,” it says.

And it picks him up and stands and puts him on its shoulders.

He is very small and very light.

It holds his legs.

It does this with hands, of course.

The door opens, perhaps because it opens it, and they are out in the wildness and the water.

He feels very safe.

Water lashes his face.

“This is something,” he says. “It’s really something.”

“Yes,” it says, holding him tight, bearing him, “Isn’t it really?”

And The Days Are Not Long Enough: 4

Part 3

He is in a house, in a home, in his home. There is something scratching at the door. It wants to come in. There is a window and outside there is a dim landscape with rain. There is nothing else. Outside it just goes on and on.

It wants shelter from the rain so he goes to the door and takes the handle and turns, and the door opens.

It comes in slowly into the light.

Water goes on the floor and then he closes the door.

The sound goes away.

It looks up at him and blinks, even though it has no eyes.

“After all this time, still all this water,” it says.

It goes into the kitchen and lies there. It shakes its head like it is disappointed or curious at itself.

He follows it and looks at it. He stands in the doorway.

He stands in the doorway and looks at it.

There is no rain outside. When did it last rain? It is hard to remember.

Maybe there never was any rain outside.

That is a possibility.

“How long will you be here?” he says.

“Don’t worry,” it says.

What is there to worry about? Except for the rain, perhaps.

It will make it difficult to go outside.

“I’ll watch,” it says, finally.

A canopy opens above, a dark pupil dilating down. The wood floor shines.

The superbunk was a big building and it took Hath ten minutes to find Ary’s bunk. Room 4364 was empty and Ary was in the lower bed right beside the window. He was curled up with the thin blanket all around him and was visibly shivering.

She stood there, unsure of what to say. “You should get food.”

“Hey,” Ary said. “Don’t, worry, I’m fine.”

Hath stared. She found herself doing that a lot around this boy.

“Its just the, shivering. No idea, no idea, why. Stupid.”

“I’ll get something from downstairs. It’s not too bad.”

He pulled the blanket back and sat up. He waited and then he said, “I’m fine.” He drummed his fingers against the bedframe.

“We could both go down,” she said. “If you are fine.”

“A drink would, be good, actually.” Ary said. “I’m not sure if, I can walk yet. Properly.” He put his hand out in front of him and stared at it. “This is not, not really, stopping, is it.”

“I’ll get something.” Hath said. She sat down on the bed opposite Ary’s. “Hynder’s not treating you too well, huh.”

All this for a little blinking green square. Ary could not understand it. But he must have understood it because he had made the decision. “Twenty,” he said, meaning minutes, meaning how long he had sat there while it happened. “Not bad. Not, bad, what do you think, hmm?”

“Do you smoke?” Hath said.

“Aah,” Ary said, looking pained and then thoughtful. “Expensive.”

“The thing is, I don’t smoke. But I feel I should get one now. You should think of trying it, you know. It might be good for you.”

“I think, what I need is just, a drink, really.”

“Okay. But I think you should try it.” Hath stood up to go and then she sat down again.

“Do you think it would be mad if I got Hynder? Do you think so?”

The blanket was a mess. Ary kept want to pull it over himself but he resisted the urge. “Don’t know,” he said.

“Hm?” Hath said, missing it, and Ary shrugged forcefully.

There was a roar. They looked at the window and saw one of the Big Reds rise on a column of blue flame.

“The amazing thing is, and I learnt a bit about this at uni, was that you hear none of that if you are inside,” Hath said.

“If they could make, that, they could get, me better blankets.”

“You are not trying to be funny, are you?”

Ary shrugged again, but he was smiling.

“You’re lucky I was there.”

“Yes.” Ary was looking at the Big Red. He frowned. It was very high now, going straight into the sun. The line of smoke threw a faint slanting shadow in the air behind it. Waves and ripples. “I wonder how many, can, can go in there.”

“Lots,” Hath said.  “We’re all due the day after tomorrow.” She went over and looked out. “It’s something, isn’t it. Just imagine.”

Ary didn’t say anything because he was imagining it. It was not at all easy. “Yes,” he said. “I can’t wait.”

Hath stood up suddenly, as if she was offended. But she was not offended. “Are you serious?” Ary did not say anything.“You’ll have to learn to walk all over again before you start talking like that.”

Ary was quiet again, looking out. “Not CM, not all, just being, on the Big Red,” he said. He voice was getting steadier now and he thought about going down for the drink. “I’ll come down for the drink,” he said. “Thirsty.”

“Have you ever wondered,” Hath said, “Why it’s a cube? I know it’s not really a cube but it sort of looks like one. Isn’t there a better way to make it?”

“I don’t know about these things,” Ary said. “It looks, good, you know, bold. I don’t know.”

“I don’t know how you’re still alive after that,” Hath said. “Gosh you know I could really use a smoke right now. Isn’t it awful?”

“Let’s go,” Ary said.

“I think I’ve got a cig on me somewhere but I have no idea where.”

“I’ll go down,” Ary said. He put his feet down and tried to stand up.

The door opened and a young man came in. “Hath,” he said. “I’m going to get us dinner, put us on the Big Red.”

Hath’s face changed and it was not good. She looked at Ary. “Hey, Gryzhas,” she said, “This is Ary.”

Gryzhas had a slanting look about him. He looked at Ary, at the shaking boy without compassion or hate.

“Is this the undocced guy?” he said, lightly. His voice was soft. His smile was dry. It was not cruel or smug or anything. Not even curious.  It was just dry.

“Yeah,” Hath said, “Don’t be an asshole about it.”

“I’m not an asshole about it,” Gryzhas said, and laughed. He had a soft voice but a laugh that was too big. He had one of those laughs that was big but controlled.

“Was at uni with me,” Hath said to Ary. Ary nodded and looked at Gryzhas as if he was afraid.

“He’s scared of you already,” Hath said to Gryzhas.

“No,” Ary said, looking away.

“Why would he care?” Gryzhas said.

Hath looked at Gryzhas and said, “You must give a speech, go on, give it.”

“A speech?” Gryzhas said. He spoke very softly almost all the time, it seemed.

“Tell him what you think.”

“What I think. Why should I tell him what I think?” Smiling now.

“It’s now or later, up there.  Better now, probably. Look, the thing is – that there are lots of people like you up there and he needs to know.”

“He already knows that. They all don’t like undoccs in this city. I am sure he has lived long enough to know. Nothing more I can do.”

“You know the speech you gave me? After the rally. We were out on the balcony and you said those things.”

“I can remember a bit of it but not all of it. Did you care so much about it?”

Gryzhas came over and sat on Ary’s bed, still looking only at Hath. Ary felt his weight on the bed, feel the frame move.

“You care so much, Hath,” he said. Ary realised he was not mocking.

“It must be a real relief for you, I think. Getting out of university, all these people and all their caring. Hm?”

Gryzhas shrugged. He turned to Ary. “You’re undocced,” he said. Ary nodded.

Gryzhas came very close. It was the wrong kind of intimacy. Ary tried to look at Gryzhas but could not. He spoke in undertone. The voice was silky and immovable. He paused a lot. “You should not be here,” Gryzhas said. “You are here but you should not be here. I’m not saying that I hate you. I don’t know you, don’t know anything about you apart from what Hath says, which is that you’re undocced. She lets things slip. But I don’t hate you. It is only that the idea of you, here, in this place, that is wrong, don’t you see? It’s tremendously simple. The amnesty was wrong. It was an easy solution, it was a way to get rid of you. It was wrong. People like you will come in, come here because they want to leave, because they want the money. But will you consider dying in this war? No. There is nothing about you that is about duty. I am so trite, I suppose, I am so old-fashioned. But these things are all true. I know you can see where I am coming from. CM is not an escape valve. It is not a tool of convenience. Most certainly it is not a tool to help the undocced. You only take. That is the problem. You take and take and give nothing back. If the undoccs knew better they would walk to the police, they would turn themselves in, they would go to prison and die there, or live and come out as new people. They could become citizens and they could work and help us all here, together. But that does not happen. And CM takes you in, helps you, and then says, come here, save us, save this society. Isn’t that absurd? How are you to fight to help us? How are we to work together? But now you are here. Not you, I mean. I do not mean this personally, any of it. But now that the undoccs are going to stream into CM we must learn to work together. That is difficult. That will waste time. That will make cohesion difficult. So the idea of you is wrong. I have nothing against you but the undoccs should be been gotten rid of. Do you know what I mean? Was that a good speech?” He smiled and turned to Hath, who was looking at Ary.

“You’re not like that at all,” she said, to Ary, or maybe it was directed at Gryzhas. “That was a good speech,” she said, now talking to Gryzhas.

“I knew all of that,” Ary said.

“Where are your parents?” Gryzhas said.

Ary was silent.

“Gryz,” Hath said.

“Wait,” Gryzhas said.

“Not here,” Ary said.

“Did they work?” Gryzhas asked, without malice, again.

Ary looked lost. He looked at Hath and looked at Gryz. “My – mother, she, she worked.”

“Really? How? Where?”

“Gryz,” Hath said.

“At the docks.”  Ary looked at Gryzhas. “Canner. She put things in cans. She put fish in cans.”

“I think you are lying,” Gryzhas said.

“No,” Ary said.

“Gryz,” Hath said.

“It’s all machines,” Gryzhas said. “Why would anyone need canners?”

Ary said, “They couldn’t buy anything. It was cheaper. I don’t know. I think that was it.”

Hath said, “Gryz, there’s no need to bully him, you asshole.”

Gryzhas put his hand on Ary’s head. “I just wanted to know. He’s not so bad.”

“He’s got Hynder in him, do you know that? He’s braver than you.”

“Oh? That’s not bravery. That’s fear.” But Gryzhas had stopped for a moment before he said that. “You’ve giving it away to the machine. It will make the decision for you to abandon the war. That’s not bravery.”

Hath said, “Gryz, get out.”

He stood. “I’ll wait for you outside,” he said, mildly. “Do you want a drink?”

“Not now, Gryz,” Hath said, as Ary said, “Yes.”

“I’ll get you something,” Gryz said to Ary.

“We’ll go down,” Hath said to Gryzhas.

“I’ll come along,” Gryzhas said. “It won’t be that bad again.” Hath looked like she was about to say something but he went out and the door hissed shut.

Ary sat there like something stricken. Hath had thought that it would be much worse but he looked like he was trying to understand something.

“He’s not that bad,” Hath said.

And was surprised when Ary said, “I know.”

“He’s really committed to these things. His view was very unpopular in uni, you know. But he would write these long articles, explaining himself. They will be more, many more like him offworld. He really believes it, that stupid stuff about duties. He presses it way too far sometimes.”

“Aren’t you all supposed to believe it?” Ary said.

“If we knew no better, yes. But we were at a university. Yet he thinks he knows better than all of us. Sometimes I feel so close, really, so close, to hitting him. But he’s not all bad. We were in the same classes and he was pretty fun – after a while – and he helped me a lot with my work. Made some ridiculous sacrifices, if I’m honest. I think he felt obliged to do that.”

“I really need that drink.”

“He’s still outside.”

“Let’s all go down.”

They did.

Ary spent two more days in the superbunk before they all went on the evening Big Red to Anchor. It was not an unhappy time. The superbunk had been provided by CM as a gesture at something like generosity. CM had little to give except money offworld. It needed something onworld to make it seem right, make it seem kind in a way it could not be. So the superbunk was a nice place. The blankets where thin. But the food was free. It wasn’t bad, Hath said, and Ary thought it was very good. There was a theatre for movies. Hath took Ary once, for the first time in his life. He was so happy – “Like a fucking four-year old,” Hath had said, laughing, looking at him about the hour mark as he sat grabbing the seat in a paroxysm of sensation – he did not know what to say afterwards. He wanted to go again but as things turned out they only went once. There was a gym which many people went too, but Hath only mentioned it and never suggested going. There was too much of that coming for them, and there were too many people there who would look. Instead they ended up watching the Big Reds. Ary was hypnotised by them in a way Hath could not understand. “I don’t know,” he said, when Hath asked about it.

The afternoon when they were due to leave he asked Hath when her parents would come to send her off and was surprised when Hath said, “They’re not coming.”

“Okay,” Ary said, and did not dare to say more. There was too much grief that was shared. The sameness of it confused him.

But Hath had fallen back in her bunk and talked to the ceiling.

She said that her parents had their own problems. When she was young she remembered them being in love with one another, really being in it, or maybe at that age it only seemed that way to her and could not have seemed like anything else to her because there was nothing else that she could tell. But at some point it had just went. There were bills, many bills, and arguments over them, and many birthdays and arguments over them too, but these arguments were not in the living room but in the kitchen and the involved claims of ownership, of commitment, of truth, and of caring, and of daring – how could anyone possibly – but daring to use the children this way, to say these things about each other… And there were issues of money that Hath said she even now could not understand because they did not lack money, really, there was no problem over the money. She and her brother had listened, sometimes, and she knew there must have been a lot there that they did not see, and they had both wondered about what else was happening. There was violence too, violence once she had seen when her father had returned drunk or drugged for the third time in a week and her mother had stood in the doorway like a guard and said get out, get out, don’t you dare come in like this, in front of the children, but he had come in anyway, and when her mother had tried calling someone he had taken the console and hit her hard across the face with it, maybe broken the nose, and she had went down saying you don’t deserve the children, you bastard, you bastard, and even after that had refused to make it a police issue while the father had let the guilt metastasize into other things, even those same things that started it all, a desolate line bent back on itself again and again, and the mother had been silent because who knew the pathways of guilt and its weight, who knew how to tie off the arteries this way, and what with, one could ask, what with? for past a point remorse was no longer enough, fidelity neither, no appeal to the lie of love without injury, and the courts had come and put them apart, and the children were now also apart, and later the parents would not come because they would then have to be together, and because, even if she could never know if this was true, Hath thought that they thought that their own flesh was fleeing them and how could they bear in good conscience – that was the wrong word but one simply had to bear it – to come and celebrate, after years of silence that university had bought, their departure, stepwise, one at a time like a bleeding, how could they celebrate their children’s departure and death, likely death – why should she hide it – of their two children, in fact could there be any more cruel way to close a relationship whose internal life was all pain and mystery to everyone else outside it, and even to people within it, caught within it, insects in amber and all the things coming through and going out again, all the seams falling rather than coming apart, a tangle of gestures too chaotic for meaning and too horrifying to pull apart?

After Hath had said all of this she closed her eyes for a while. “I don’t mind telling,” she said.

This is what it’s all about, Ary thought.

“I don’t mind telling. But the other time I’ve told, the other times, I’ve said, ‘So you know why I’m so fucked up,’ which I always thought showed that maybe I was not in fact fucked up inside, or even forced people to think that because who wouldn’t pity me from that height, but I can’t say that to you, can I?”

Ary felt it like it was a fire. But he had never consoled before, because there had been no chance before now. He said, “You don’t know. I think you can.”

And then Hath had cried. Then she called herself an idiot for running away like this. But who knew if it was running away? Maybe she was going to her brother after all, the other person who knew all this like she knew all this.

“I’m sorry,” Ary said, and Hath said, “You know I don’t know what that means,” but tried to smile anyway.

They took their numbers and went in the evening to the Big Red. There were many people around them. Relatively few people chose to stay in the superbunk before the left; and Ary knew why Hath had chosen to do so. They all walked over to the gate in a ragged line, out on the cooling tarmac. There were people standing around, people who looked very formal in CM attire. They were not doing anything, since the computers did all the scanning and checking off names. But Ary thought that the people were here because this had to represent something, had to be made to represent some kind of rite. These CM people did not speak, except to each other, and only occasionally, and they did not smile. There were not like the people back at the recruitment tent. Crane had said that they were the nice ones.

People kept to their small groups. There was little taking and many tight smiles or still faces. Some people were alone after they left their parents and friends at the port and tried to make friends with one another, those small tight friendships that sprung up in unfamiliar and dangerous places for a short while and then either disappeared or lasted forever. The shadows of people were conveyed over the tarmac and were long.

Ary and Hath and Gryzhas did not talk. Gryzhas had been friendly in his distant way since that first meeting. Ary did not understand. He had not told anyone about Ary being an undocced. He seemed in a strange way no longer to care.

The Big Red was the final luxury before Anchor. They had two days before they arrived and there was little to do. There was a briefing that had to attend right before landing, but little else that was compulsory. Most people went straight to their rooms, went to sleep or fuck to not think too much about what was coming.

An announcement came saying that those who wanted to could watch from the viewing areas as they left. Some people went to watch. A surprising number did not. Gryzhas had gone to his own room, as had thousands more. Ary and Hath went to Bay 23 and after idling down a long curving bulkhead had come to a vast wall which showed the view, straight down. It was not the real view, Hath said, but Ary thought it looked real, completely real in a way that stopped him.

There was a slight rumble but there was no feeling of acceleration at all. For a moment a tremor of smoke obscured the view and then they were rising. The view shook slightly. The city in the evening shrank and the lakes became splashes of white fire. It shrank even more and became like skin, details alive but invisible, and then a wall of asperatus was between them and the only place Ary had known, and another wall of cloud, layers building up in the vastness of blue and orange air, and Ary could see in one corner a white pillar of white, its own faint shadow, marking their ascent. It was terrifyingly fast. At some point the curve emerged, the bulge of the world, and a line signifying where the air had finally ended, just there, and just like that. After that the lines became sharper, became geometry and colour, and the grey line, the terminator separating day from night, that became clear too. It was a strange thought to think that in that line all evenings had their existence.

And then of course the whole thing was before them, irrefutable, a world whole and entire. Ary was shocked and he did not exactly know why.  It was not that it was small. It was not that it was huge either, though both were true. It was the starkness of it, the sense of everything pared down, the sense of a fact, that sense that this was really it. It was not a sense of majesty and it was not a sense of severity and it was not a sense of beauty but it was a sense of form and symmetry which spoke  though necessarily dumb and silent, spoke to a revelation of things unsupported, a communion to some engram beslumbered in the devoid grindings of the brain, and the more he pictured it he more he could imagine it coming all apart just like that in the manner of all things not held but suspended whose lines furrowed through the night even now are a body problem whose collapse may come just here, just so, and all it would take is some surfeit of pity or contempt to unfurl things all the way down to the very quick and meter. The strange compassion inherent in purely ballistic objects. There was no reason for it, no reason at all. But there it was. There it was and what was to be done about it.

So much compassion and nothing upon which to spend it. It was a trite thought and Ary knew it but he felt it, he felt it right there.