Menacce: 1

You could make a booking at Menacce (pronounced Menace) but the wait was long. It could be half a year before you found your table and sat down and beautiful dead things were wheeled over so that you could pick them up with your hands and put them in your mouth where they would explode. There were things that had come through the Gates from Naze; from Otoshk, from Nurkena and Nabilis, and then glossy things from this world, from everywhere: Atoll-Vida, Lorano, Lessing, Owens, Tularo, Anumcerrada, Ancient, Ivicara, Lakes Greater and Inferior, the long slopes of Gander, fumaroles of Klynod and its crushing black depths, nurseries of Neumangel and its famed mossbeds in the glaciers, loping plains of Habarinoye – things sometimes bred in luxuries nature had left undreamt of, sometimes merely found or foraged, all not harvested but chosen and then killed so quickly they never knew it happened even if they could have understood the brute fact of death, only knew it coming like a waver of darkness shuttling suddenly across, and then the bodies were borne immolate over great expanses by plane or watership or by mutilations performed to space/time to the twitching kitchens where hunger and craftsmanship pouncily waited, tableware gaped—

Sal had arrived early. He had not made a booking. Six days ago he had spoken to QC and then he had spoken to Mira, apologising, and she had let him have a table. Normally Menacce did not take too kindly to people arriving before their allotted time but when Sal had walked in they had let him had a table and there had not been a word of complaint. Sal knew how people reacted to him and he took advantage of it without malice. It was a fact and he would not be inconvenienced by it. He apologised again and people only smiled at him. But he did not feel sorry because there was nothing to feel sorry about. He thought that now was a good time for him to enjoy himself.

He sat and waited and thought. Earlier today he had had his first supervision with Crane. Crane was vast but his being was sleek. Whenever anyone spoke he would turn to look at them and his look was always one of concern. The eyes did not move but the face moved and it always seemed to be saying I love you more than you understand and you break my heart. The first supervision had been a simple affair. They’d arrived, four of them, having read chapters 1, 2, and 4 of Ethical Method and Borsau’s introduction to Normativity and Desire, and carrying the surprisingly thin Index of Moral Intuitions, a pamphlet that had begun as a half-joke circulated by the grads at the Ethics Faculty but then expanded –rapidly at first, and then very slowly as classificatory debates sprung into being – to become a document of hotly contested significance, these days trailing a long appendix of the relevant regressions run.

Crane had sat and started to speak. There are eleven reasons, he said, to believe that my theory is wrong. They listened and he spoke for some time. He did not move when he spoke. He stared at them and the hole in his face opened and out through the flesh air was pressed – out squirted sounds. Then Crane had asked them to defend his theory. Why am I wrong? Why am I wrong? Then Crane in response to everything said had proceeded to accuse everyone who spoke of uttering incoherences. Explain, Crane would say, looking concerned, solicitous. Go on, he would say. Is this what you mean, he would say. If not this, then this, surely? Surely you cannot mean either for no value accrues from your description of each? And if you mean neither surely you are saying nothing at all or uttering something the meaning of which refutes itself? It had gone on like this for some time, this tethered falling into a starless mouth, bright bony confusions the only hard points to claw at. Someone had asked, tentatively, what exactly they were supposed to do, and Crane had looked at that someone and suggested that they all consider if he was not himself merely uttering incoherences. I am wrong, he said. Remember that. Sal spoke. Sal said Crane had been using the word “claim” to mean one of four different things, and the resultant bait-and-switching was the root of the conceptual confusions upon which Crane’s claims had been trading. Sal had not spoken before that point. If he spoke first no-one would speak after him and he knew that there were few people who would think of being pressed between the Leviathan and the author of On Liberty as an enjoyable experience.

In any case Crane had said simply, “Yes,”, sounding perhaps disappointed, perhaps because he had expected more, and perhaps less, and then he had asked everyone if there were any questions on the given reading and after he had answered or dismissed them it had ended.

Then someone had asked about Hyrum Kasakadei.

“Hyrum?” Crane said, his entire body seeming to vibrate.

“Should we read him?”

“He writes well,” Crane said. “You should read him.” His eyes were black bores.

“I was referring to extreme quietism –”

“Should you read Devorare?


On the Silence of Certain Questions?” It was the same book.

“Yes. I was thinking it might be—”

“I have not read it.”

Hyrum Kasakadei was a name and that name was held by a person who had become belittled into myth. The myth was there because Hyrum Kasakadei had produced a piece of work, which work was a single object, only a single object, prior, indivisible, uninterruptable, uninterpretable, rolling outside aethers of abstraction, shining no light and taking none either, merely being, undefended, unaltered, unqualified, untaught, all of a throe, all of a certain misery, all of a certain resignation that must be worked for, all of a violence of thought so great it must drop out underneath to a new space where great truths are cauterised –

What had happened? There was a story and it was a true story. Hyrum Kasakadei had come to Way-on-Hill 52 years earlier. He was a small thing and he did not speak in supervisions. He did his work well. Uncannily well in some respects. He did not say anything brilliant. He had no new insights. He created nothing and destroyed nothing. Crane’s termly reports said nothing extraordinary about Hyrum. But those who studied with Hyrum knew he had an ability and it was one of organisation. The uncanny thing in his work was its clarity. He could say things again and when he said them again they were tight knots of understanding. Whatever Hyrum read he understood and whatever of Hyrum’s the other students read they understood immediately. It was a magic. In two lines Hyrum would catch objects that chapters could not outline, without simplification, without any penumbra that was not itself expressed and drawn tight.  In supervisions Crane would hand back the ragged remains of essays and he would say, you might want to learn to write like Hyrum, and he would look at Hyrum and say, you might want to learn to write.

What had Crane written about Hryum in those termly reports? Hyrum’s mind is a bleak and gray place. Nothing much seems to move in it. Everything there appears to have already found its place and everything appears to have already died exactly there in the place it was first put. He has skill at the preservation and the presentation of ideas. If Hyrum finds one fertile place in his mind he will be a great thinker.

At the end of the ethics course Hyrum took the Great Examination (called, inevitably and outrageously, the Grexam by students who in desperation sought to defang the idea of the exam with only a new name) and achieved what was then the highest global score recorded in the ethics course. He had then applied for a position in the faculty and expressed a preference to be placed in Summerlock, a college that had neither a reputation or history of excellence in moral philosophy, although it had in Pires Gebarre produced one great philosopher of science. The faculty requested at least one reference and a body of work of representative quality before it appointed him as lecturer. So Hyrum stayed at Way-on-Hill and started writing. Thus began his Early Period. What changed? Nothing changed. Most people called him an ordinary language philosopher but he wrote on many things. There was a pattern. A groundbreaking article would emerge, something new and wild and fiery or something setting the parameters for a new logic or language, and Hyrum would write an article neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the first, but suggesting a new expression, a reformulation, the elimination of an unnecessary or confusing term, pointing out a relation, offering a summary, an article making things clear: Comment on Paraconsistent Expression; Comment on P-adic Rules; Comment on Modal Egalitarianism; Comment on the Necessity of Necessity; Comment on Noneism; Comment on Lowesian Logic; Comment on New Utility. There was a pattern. The second major article in any new field or on any new theory was almost always Hyrum’s. Reading lists began with: Read X’s article, or, alternatively, the article by Hyrum Kasakadei. And Kasakadei’s was the article everyone read, because in it things were clear, these were the ones you went to, these were the foundational articles, and in them lines of attack and defence were made naked nearly to the edge of sight even if Hyrum only stood at the gate, saying, see—

Some people had expressed alarm at this. There was no interpretative neutrality, they said, but Hyrum Kasakadei appeared to have found it. There must have been lies, things must have dropped out, things must have changed, there must have been a wind moving things thus and thus, something must have come through and gone out, something must have passed by, but very quietly, clad in openness and the wraith of pure rigour, something must have been lost. But these people were rarely listened to and they felt themselves struggling to speak of something that was not quite there and so became quiet.

All this was done in three years. During those three years Hyrum asked Crane, twice, if he might be allowed to teach, and Crane had said no. At the end of the three years Hyrum submitted six articles to the faculty, and asked Crane for a reference. Crane had written only: He creates nothing. But he is clear, and maybe that is more important. Hyrum had seen the reference and he had had no complaint. The faculty appointed him to a professorship in Summerlock and a 75-year life extension which raised eyebrows and which Hyrum never sounded anything but guilty about.

Hyrum had been an excellent teacher. He was what they called, for a time as least, hot property. He was young and he taught without any grandiosity or pretension and appeared to have no final views or any great theory of language or truth or morality. He was always trying to make things simple. His comments on essays urged clarity, pointed out confusions, and recommended possible avenues for exploration. Where Robert Crane used a flaw to unravel an entire argument and deliver a marksheet of pure evisceration  Hyrum Kasakadei would suggest a patch, a bypass to the same conclusion, a new tentative distinction that might carry some of the required argumentative burden, and would then point of problems with what he had suggested, and then suggest possible solutions – and take no view himself. His output slowed in this period. His students took top marks in the Grexam in three out of eight years. This was unheard of.

For eight years Hyrum Kasakadei had been working on something. It was this one work that would define his Middle Period. He had trouble publishing it at first. The first indication that something was wrong with what he had done was when QC, having received the manuscript, expressed nothing but a rare and total confusion at what it contained. The manuscript had been sent to the faculty, which was shocked that Hyrum Kasakadei would produce something of such exquisite incomprehensibility. What was this treatise? What was its subject and argument? What was its relation to the literature? Hyrum Kasakadei had not answered any of these questions. I cannot say anything about the work, he said. I cannot accurately describe its contents. And then in response again the questions: I cannot describe it. And then yet again in response: It is itself complete.

Word had spread. Hyrum Kasakadei had produced a monster, people said. Students joked about how their professor had accidentally broken philosophy in a manner that suggested that the humour did not run all the way through, it did not go all the way down. But of course they themselves had only heard rumours of a manuscript that Kasakadei was trying to publish and knew nothing about it. The Review Board at the faculty refused to say anything despite being flooded with questions. QC suggested to Kasakadei that it might be some time before the faculty allowed the script to be published under it and suggested that Kasakadei disseminated it freely online. Summerlock in typically generous fashion offered to produce its own limited print run and QC had not objected. The copies of this first printing (there was only ever one edition) were to become objects that entire colleges would fight over for possession.

When the work went out everyone obtained a copy of it. Hyrum Kasakadei without wanting or expecting it had become a cultural icon of the type that only Stize could generate, a token of brilliance that had to be publicly worn, an abstract point that looked increasingly capable of any enormity, a maker of objects whose weight could be felt but not parsed. The man had abandoned his gift entirely, had walked right against it, against the grain of his entire world, and he had said, I cannot accurately describe its contents. There were only two parts of his new work that could be understood. The first was the title: Devorare. On the inside of the cover it appeared to continue: On the Silence of Certain Questions. And the second was the only line of language that was properly speaking part of the book: the epigraph, a quote from Kayser’s Sixth Satire: “… should light bear down …

And the rest. That was the problem and the glory of it. Was it symbolic? It could not be told. There was no pattern. It was a book of essentially benthic mode. It was a continuous falling-off. The ethics and logic faculties asked the Way and Atoll AIs, the two greatest nongoverning calculators known to man, to undertake a formal brute analysis. Nothing was found. Billions of lifetimes of human thought were spent by the Way and Atoll AIs for every second they dedicated to Devorare, oracles and architectures and hypercomputations descending upon each golden thread, each a single logic run with sudden ferocity through the book even as it was found only to be a vapour, a fact without a meaning, a description that was not a conclusion, a fat black thing fallen from the first orifice of randomness. But the book was still there. The lines went on and on without pause. What did people know? They knew which symbols occurred most often; they knew which symbols occurred only once. This was easy. You could draw plots and distributions. Neat classical shapes. But that word. Symbols. That was not correct. That was not correct at all. Pictures, pictures. Yes, maybe that. But what of? In what hierarchy or relation did they find a home? Imagine an analysand putting back each question not by force but by the logical hygiene of being inert to inquiry. Suggestions made over and over again. The calm of objects in lines progressing inevitably from one to the other. The smell of pages. Cellulose made never to degrade. Pictures, sketches, wildnesses without name or clade. 174 pages; hardback; font: Umbra Classic (Modified + New); notes and references: none; academic reviews: none; author: Adderlis Professor of Moral Philosophy and Philosophy of Language and fellow of Summerlock College and Way-on-Hill College Hyrum Kasakadei; published 2971 under Full Patent and Fence of Summerlock College, University of Stizostedion; awaiting acceptance by the Faculty of Ethics of the University of Stizostedion; open distribution within University of Stizostedion only. So much certainly about so much and so little understanding of the only relevant things.

The suggestion was, of course, that this was a joke, or that Hyrum Kasakadei had gone mad. The latter was quite seriously tendered by students of the natural sciences (the Standard Model Theorists were too busy being dazzled by their new field to care much about anything else and hence said nothing on the matter) but anyone who had read any of Kasakadei’s earlier work found that impossible to believe. A mind so much in love with clarity, that had produced so many fine distinctions, that tried so hard to know how one thing related to another – such a mind could not simply descend into madness. And Hyrum Kasakadei was not mad. He went about his weekly lectures unaffected by Devorare. A year after he finished writing Devorare his third period began with the publishing of Some Relations Between Utility and Certain Conceptions of Freedom, which was received with acclaim so hysterical it seemed indicative of a certain measure of relief, and was only considered for two days by the ethics faculty before being accepted for publication.

Which was not to say the problem of Devorare went away. If anything it became more urgent, for now everyone knew for certain that Kasakadei had written it in dead seriousness. The questions about the book never stopped and Kasakadei answered none of them. The University’s biggest paper, the Inquirer, ran a cover story entitled Cracking Kasakadei. The phrase caught: everyone wanted, it was said, to crack Kasakadei.

In the middle of July 2973 world went around that it had indeed happened. Jane Hale was an assistant lecturer in logic at Hakon and Malament. Like Kasakadei had been at first she was flooded with questions. She was silent and did not answer them apart from saying, like Kasakadei had, that she could not say anything honest about Devorare. The Inquirer after four months of persistent and gentle pressure eventually got her to speak.

The interview was now famous. It wasn’t particularly dramatic. But it had become famous because it was one of the few points from which one might attempt to deduce what Devorare said. It was a fixed point. It had started with Hale first talking about how she had heard about Devorare and then pointing out that she did not know what to say. It was best, she said, to just read the thing “from front to cover. That’s almost certainly the correct order.”

“Now you know that Way and Atoll have themselves been this great – this big problem that the book represents, and they’ve come up short. So you won’t be surprised if we ask you if there’s a special technique you used to solve this problem. Is there some way in?”

Hale was very still. She nodded slightly, in a sympathetic manner. “There is a way in but it does not, I don’t think, involve a special method. The book says what it means in quite a direct way.”

“Direct? That’s a pretty radical claim, wouldn’t you say?”

“Look. There is nothing I can say about the book that is true. But that’s the only way to approach it, I think. The wrongness of what I am saying might be helpful. Put it this way – if Hyrum didn’t find any other way to express his thoughts apart from writing the book itself it’s unlikely I will find a way to speak about it while sitting here. Does that sound hostile?” She laughed. “That’s not very satisfying, is it?”

“Well, I’m not really trained in the field – ”

“Oh, I don’t think that’s the problem –”

“—but it does sound fascinating.” The interviewer had glasses.  “So on to the big issue then: what does the book say? I mean, you have done the very correct academic thing of having all these caveats, but you can’t really avoid it, can you?”

“I can say a large number of incorrect things.”

“Go on.”

“The idea is that language is a problem. The idea is that the relations between one thing and other cannot in fact be explained. They are brute facts. But this idea – the thing that is not this idea – cannot be made clear using representation, so there is some other way. Hyrum is trying to make that way clear. Or to be more precise – he is trying to make clear the way in which that cannot be made clear.”

“So the idea that this book is incommunicable – what lots of people are saying – is this correct?”

“Well.” Hale tilted her head and looked up at nothing in particular, thinking. “No, not at all. It is very easy to convey, but not like this.”

“So – is that – what you were just talking about – is that really, for us, the key point of the book?”

“There is a huge amount in it. What I have just talked about is not even the beginning of the beginning, actually. There is in it – oh. You know, this one I don’t even know how to be wrong about in an interesting way. I did tell you this interview would be problematic.”

“No, no, this is very interesting. Can you find some way to –”

“It’s about – certain objects. Summaries of other things. It’s not a series of symbols, you know – the book. It’s a single thing. No. That’s not the right way to approach it. This is the toughest thing I’ve done, you know, trying to be meaningfully wrong in this manner. Okay. What I will say is that the book has relations to certain things that are possible to think of coherently as lacking purpose or a fixed and distinct identity. They are in a sense alive, you know. Free in the sense of untethered.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

Hale laughed again. “I’m relieved to hear that.” She shook her head. “Well. I’m not being helpful again. Okay. I’ll try to get at it more obliquely. Here’s an idea that is loosely borrowed from Hyrum’s early work – I’m going to take some time for this, is that okay? This is stuff I am relatively familiar with, so I’ll be clearer.”

“Fine, fine, go ahead.”

“There is a perfectly intuitive and commonsense idea that we associate mental impressions with words. This explains how we use words. I tell you to pick the blue flower. You go into the garden and pick the blue flower. You got a mental image of blue when you heard my instruction and you looked for the flower that corresponded to this mental impression. No problems so far. Now I ask you merely to imagine a blue flower. Clearly you didn’t imagine going into the garden and picking a blue flower to imagine this blue flower. But you can obey my command and imagine this blue flower. So you have obeyed an order without, apparently, a mental intermediary. And so the idea that some inner mental process guides the outer behavioural one loses all its meaning. We can extrapolate from this basic idea.  There are two ways by which you can tell what you mean by a word: one of them is what occurs to your conscious awareness when you hear the word; the other is how you go on to use that word in the everyday speech, writing, following instructions, and so on. The problem is that these two methods can diverge on meaning. So let’s say we have a person who, when he hears of a ‘cube’, does imagine a cube in his head, but projects this idea onto reality in a certain way such that he applies the word ‘cube’ only to spheres. Several things appear to follow. One: we cannot say whether or not this being understands the word ‘cube’ in the way we do. Our idea of words is simply not well-developed enough to account for this. Two: our understandings might be based on contingent regularities that do not obtain. Three (and this is the main thing): the idea of a word does not govern its use. It just stands there inertly, doing nothing. Is that all pretty clear?”

“It’s quite clever, isn’t it?” There was a certain glassiness coming into the interviewer’s eyes.

“It’s disturbing. It’s very disturbing. Can I give you one more example? This one is very directly lifted from Hyrum’s Necessity of Necessity. I’ll briefly outline the idea, which is designed to show that no action is determined by a rule because there is a way of seeing all actions as following a particular rule. Say in your life you’ve only added numbers below 1000, and you always get what we call the correct result.  One day you add 1000 and 1001 and you get 5. Now: did you break the rule of addition? Who knows? Maybe the plus sign means something like ‘if you have two numbers smaller than 1000, then add then. In every other case, 5 obtains.’ The response is to say: but addition has a fixed meaning. It is an algorithm. But the problem is that your rule of interpretation is itself subject to interpretation, which is subject to the same cunning little manipulation I just outlined. So interpretations are flat: they congregate on the same level as the things they interpret. If I have two people who add 1000 and 1001 and one gives me 5 and the other 2001, I cannot say that there is something different about these two people that explains their different answers. This is again disturbing. It suggests a refutation of the idea of meaning. We would all like to think that words constrain us in two ways. One: it makes some things we say true or false; two: we use our understanding of words to use words in certain ways and not others. But it looks like nothing can put is in this place – there’s a nice phrase that is used to capture these two conditions: gist-trammel, do you know? We cannot construct a gist-trammel.”

“So Devorare is about constructing a gist-trammel.”

“No, no, that has been well-explored elsewhere. But one way of getting to Devorare is to apply the arguments above to themselves, although it’s not quite that. Take the central idea and extend it and see that it goes the wrong way. And the right way implies certain things that are alive.”

“Is it a kind of elaborate joke, then? Is Kasakadei just saying that all expression is rubbish anyway?”

“Wow! Wow. Do people think that? That cannot be correct.”

“It does look that way, you know, for people on the – outside.”

“It cannot be a joke. I know it cannot be correct because if I took away just one line from the book it would change its point entirely. It carries something. It’s something like the idea that philosophy is a disease, really, and it should be put down. But it’s going – further? – than that. It’s not designed at all to be explained.”

Sal had watched the interview several times. He had looked at Hale and he had felt a great sympathy for her. He had not read Devorare. There was a little more time before Bizzo and Garfield arrived and he was thinking. The interview with Hale had been sifted through by generations of students who had tried to understand Devorare. People did not even call it Devorare anymore. They abbreviated On the Silence of Certain Questions to OTSOCQ, pronounced ot-sock. They tried to make it a thing for themselves. But only a handful of people – six, so far – had ever claimed to understand OTSOCQ and when asked about it they had all responded more or less as Kasakadei had. There was the problem that it was simply impossible to verify if a person who claimed to understand OTSOCQ had in fact done so. But it was also the case that Kasakadei, when asked if Jane Hale had understood OTSOCQ, had said (ambushed and looking a little surprised on the steps leading to Summerlock’s second lecture hall): “Jane? Oh yes, yes. I cannot tell you how relieved I am.” “How do you know?” the reporter had asked. “She was wrong about almost everything, but in the way I am also wrong,” Hyrum Kasakadei had said, starting now to look a little sad. “I’ve got to go now.”

Kind of getting away: 11

Today the sky looked capable of any enormity.

Helper and I went down to the bridge to look. We found nothing there.

“Well,” Helper said, after a while. “I’m sorry.”

But of course there was something there. Nothing is made deciduous but the thought of it.

“Sorry,” Helper said.

A big sound came through the air like a foghorn. I looked up and then I looked at Helper.

“Is something wrong?” Helper said.

Kind of getting away: 10

I ought to say a thing or two about Helper. There are not so many immarginable objects in my life.

I met it while I was back at Summerlock, just before I left to come here. The usual thing is for to meet our helpers before we leave. Just to get used to each other. It’s a good idea. I had some role to play in getting Helper assigned to me but it was not anything huge.

Helper is not like the rest. It was not made a helper. It was a HKd – Hunter-Killer drone – made for Millan/Tofael. It’s as high up as you can go without being a Descendant. At  least that’s what I think. But something was wrong with Helper because once it got to Millan it became clear that it wasn’t so much into the hunting and killing. It had not fucked up. But it had not been quite as into it as a HKd might have been. When I first met it it had the designation of GHKd – Guard-Hunter-Killer drone. It was a designation made up for its personality type. I had asked it about that designation because I had not seen it before. It told me that there were only three others like it that it knew.

“We’re problematic,” it had said.

“What was it like?” I had asked.

“Being of my type?” it had said.


“Nothing much happened.”

I don’t think Millan/Torfael was the kind of campaign where nothing much happened but I’ve not asked again. Maybe that all that happened to Helper was that it got a boring observation post and was made to stay out of the way.

Helper had figured something out during Millan/Torfael and after it ended it asked Petr. if a civilian role was possible, and Petr. spoke to QC, and QC asked Summerlock[1], and Summerlock said it knew of a research role where it would be useful, and I went to meet it, and shortly after that Helper stopped being GHKd and became a helper – and then Helper.

Helper shows its military heritage. It’s not pretty. Or it is, but not in that way. You could say it’s elegant. You take time to get familiar with it and then you can see what it is about. It’s a flat metal rectangle about half my height. It is usually featureless and dully reflective but there’s a small notch in one of its corners that it never got repaired. (“No need,” it said, when I asked about why it had not asked for one[2].)

Once I described Helper as “minimalist” and it had overheard. I suppose an ex-GHKd overhears a lot. It told me it preferred to be described as “intimately brutalist”. It’s got a sense of humour. It’s not always up here, but it’s usually there somewhere[3].

But it’s a good description. Helper has taken on civilian trappings well. Helper does not, properly speaking, have a front or a back – or a up, or a down. But when it’s speaking it turns around to face you. The little notch is on the upper left of its front side. That’s how I think of it now. Front. As far as I can tell that is how Helper thinks of it too.

I just mentioned Helper talking. It told me once that when it was a GHKd it had never spoken once. But now it’s dealing with people and it must have needed at some point to choose a voice. I’ve met people from outside the Kingdom and what they always say is that they don’t expect AIs to sound they way they do. All AIs sound like us. They sound like perfectly normal human beings. If you didn’t look at one you couldn’t tell. Obviously a voice with little inflection is easier to synthesise, and an AI could choose that kind of voice. But none of them do. Why would they do that? That would be entirely beside the point of a voice. Helper has a male voice. O. once (accidentally, I think) referred to Helper as he and Helper did not seem to mind. It’s one of those low but sharp voices. It’s businesslike but you can hear each individual vibration in the words sometimes, like Helper is speaking in undertone to someone nearby.

None of which is to say Helper is just a helper. Its field capacity is clearly well beyond what is needed for tracking + tagging + rescuing me if things go wrong. I don’t think there are any threats on Tokata that require handling by a GHKd. While most helpers use fields + AG to get around Helper can move around very fast without them[4]. It dissembles into articulated blocks and can pendulate or amble or cartwheel around. It’s very shocking to see actually happening. The entire thing looks like maths made real. But of course most of the time I see Helper it’s asleep in one corner. I’ve grown used to that sense of mass in my study.

Thought: QC + Petr. must have considered just killing Helper after M/T. It wouldn’t have minded. Not good to have something that dangerous zipping around where it might be caught and used. But I suppose it appeared unlikely that Helper and I would try to conquer some country somewhere outside the Kingdom. Helper carries no more missiles etc but it hasn’t been fully stripped out. Not properly defanged. Neither did it ask to have its personality changed.

I’m thinking of helper because today something happened with Helper. Everyday things happen with Helper but this can be put apart. It returned in the morning having spent the night over the Berents. It went and put the samples in the Store and then came back in.

Helper does not start conversations. But Helper said, “Would you actually stay?”

I did not know for a moment what Helper was talking about. But then I remembered that I might have told Helper about what O. had said.

“You mean – if Ogford decided to stay?”

“Yeah. Would you wait for the next party? Or would you want to be here forever?”

“I don’t think I would stay. We’ve not been here long, you know. We ought to wait.”

“Do you think things will be very much different from this? What we’re doing now?”

“We’ve not started on the Excursions yet.”

“Yes, but you know what I mean.”

I was getting surprised. Helper was really going at it.

“I don’t know, Helper. Are you worried about something?”

“I’m not worried.”

“You must have gotten used to spending long periods more or less alone, surely. All that time on Miller/Torfaen –”

And then Helper interrupted me. This was very strange. It’s very patient with me, usually. Which is not to say that it interrupted me in an impatient manner or anything like that. But I got the sense that it needed to say something. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen Helper act like it needed to say something.

“If you decide to stay, you need to know that I’ll be staying with you.”

That was obvious, I thought. I couldn’t get another helper, surely.

“Obviously,” I said.

It did not say anything and went out again. Then after an hour or so it came back in and it said, “You’d be quite useless without me, I’d have you know.”

I laughed.

“—and Skeffie does not even like going out. So I’m staying.”

“I’d love for you to stay,” I said. “I didn’t expect anything else.”


“You’re a bit paranoid about this, you know.”

Helper sighed. “Mock the ex-guard-hunter-killer. Mock the sad old slab.”

I laughed again and slapped Helper on the side. It tilted over to mime looking at where I had hit it.

“There was something at the bridge,” it said.

“What?” I said.

“Something came up the road all the way to the bridge.”

It is not at all like Helper for it to be vague.

“Was someone coming to visit? They should have told me.”


“What was it?”

“I couldn’t tell. I was far off.”

“Far off.”

“That might have been the issue. I could not see it properly. But something was there.”

“You could not see it properly?”

“It might be a malfunction.” I was not sure if Helper was joking.

“What was it like?”

Helper stopped for a while here. “Well, it was alive and moving. It was dark. It came up to the bridge and stopped there. I’ll show you.”

It wasn’t lying. It was a dark blur thing, a longish thing. It seemed to see Helper coming and craned its neck to look up. Then it leapt up into the air and was gone.

“I should go and take a look,” I said.

“I already did,” Helper said. “There is nothing there.”

“Nonetheless,” I said.

Helper waited again. “I’ll go with you,” Helper said. “We can leave tomorrow morning.”

Right now I have about 9 hours or so before I’ll have to leave. But I’m mostly thinking about Helper. I know that Helper is broken, in way. It is not a Descendant. It was made with a purpose. It was made with a set of desires and it was complete at that moment. It cannot escape that. But something has changed, hasn’t it? I can’t lie to myself about it. From here I can see Helper naked and the sum of all its wants has become something with a growing edge to it, something dangerous.

That’s the word I ought to use, isn’t it? Look at it. It’s pathetic, really: dangerous. Sooner or later I will have to tell Helper what I have done to it. What I have done is a kindness.

Well. I do not have to tell Helper. But I’d feel awful about it otherwise.

[1] Of all the colleges Summerlock produces the largest number of field researchers.

[2] So HKds are more or less indestructible. Must have been something pretty awful that gave it that notch.

[3] I’ve noticed that when Helper is feeling pleased (because it’s gotten a lot of work done, for example) it refers to itself as slab, as in: “Slab on way back”; “Slab 2ks South”; “I don’t know what you’d ever do without your Slab.”

[4] Typical redundancy for its type, I would presume. All kinds of things in war might make AG fail.

Kind of getting away: 9

Out and alone in this.

Why do I bother to tell.

What indeed. What indeed and why.

Not preservation.


I am not contained. Do you see? On and on like a lamentation.

What do I want out of this? What can I expect of this, even now?

Love? What from?

Better loneliness.

Things are not yet full enough.

Things are going to change.

Kind of getting away: 8

I killed something today.

Accident. Volkies are nearly invisible. It was going to happen sooner or later. Coming back from O.’s in the evening when suddenly there was something on the road improbably dark and tight against the beam. Small. It sensed the air moving, maybe it heard something, and then exploded blackly upward and for a moment it was harsh in the light. I remember the clutching feet, small clutching feet put out ahead of itself. Then there were only small motes dusting the edge of the beam and nothing else.

I got out and went to see what it was. There was blood matted into its feathers[1]. I didn’t know what it was. Its body was heavy and felt like it was coming apart. I turned it around and the colour got me. If you went and queried the undergrowths across the universe they would nominate this colour as the contraction of their being. The eyes were from another universe entirely. Small things like moths batted at me.

I should probably let the Volkie drive itself. At night, at least. It’s for my safety too.

[1] It’s the wrong word. But it’s the one we use.

Kind of getting away: 7

Usually I don’t pay too much attention to my inbox. But something interesting came in today. The people back at Anh. have compiled a picture book, essentially, of Tokata’s life. It’s called the Field Guide to Life on Tokata, but I think that name is meant to be ironic. The book is pretty well-made. You can find all the common large animals in it. There are Gossers and Greyshots and Labridines and Trammers, five or six species of each.

There is something wrong about pictures. I always tell people this. If you want to go out, certainly if you want to track, don’t look at pictures. The hardest thing to show is what is really there. Pictures are grotestque. The make the real seem small, dim, receding, shockingly bathetic. They stare out at you and they shine with an obscene excess of life. In the book they are always poised. They are aimed at some conclusion. In the wild they are never poised. In the book they are always moving such that all their features are apparent. They are whole. They become threadbare because they are trying to take you with them, they are waiting to be introduced. But in the wild they are only half-complete. They are either still so you don’t see anything or they go so fast that they are beyond the spaces of mere movement. Then they are noticed but not seen. The thing I tell people is that you must learn the shapes. Then you might see it from very far off and still be able to tell what it is. It will be nothing a smear crying out against the distance but that should be enough. This close, they are devoid of shape. They swell bigger than their natural space. They are all finesse and detail. What has been taken? Savage meaninglessness, violence devoid of intent or signal, that is the stuff which they live by and which represents what it means for them to be free, not free in the sense of some praiseworthy or admirable aspect, but just the fact of difference. There is a way of putting this that is not mystic, but it has never been found.

Or I’m just saying this because I’ve more or less forgotten to draw. I do great rough outlines, though. I really do.


Leviathan arrived on Stizostedion, as he (a he this time, it was well known) always had, with moderate fanfare indicating the confluence of huge excitement and a population too sophisticated (intimidated?) to attempt a proper expression of it. This was news passed in peristaltic fashion through long conversations had for the most part in the eternally dishevelled air that gyrated outside butteries – conversations self-aware enough to vigorously acknowledge their own speculative nature and rapidly divert themselves to the unsung mysteries of digestion—

Such were things on Stize. There were oddities reasonably to be expected of a University older than most civilisations and that had managed to swallow an entire planet. Even with the inconvenience occasioned by the intermittent closing of border crossings caused by deep methodological disputes among departments, university life built up around itself a thick plaque, a jus of joys mostly intimated, epileptic compilations that colluded to a rich mucilage without rote or indeed fantasy, a brew in which oddities accreted into institutions, into certain forms of assault . Stizostedion, so formally called, was under the good watch of Quistclose, an endlessly helpful, considerate, compassionate, murderous AI that (some argued, mostly keeping Petromyzon in mind, but of course everything was argued here, was it not? was this not essential in the specification?) was the most powerful (contested term) in the Kingdom, the most magical and hieroglyphic, the most known and unknown, the one with colour. It had loaded Stize’s fat skies with a sheen of Compydust (a tragic name of QC’s own making) soupy enough to instantaneously dissolve all unpermitted peoples into a sanguinated cloud, a halo of florid light, and to send any ships unfortunate enough to have Breached Two Tiers (of Protocol eith Notice and Without Due Consideration) hulking aflame into the sea, or if that was not possible/desirable to grind them into a metallic mash deposited as exquisite spangly powders over the spires and buttresses of the 322 colleges. QC’s favourite phrase, which was a much-checked fact on public record, was “—terribly sorry.”

Upon arrival Leviathan was admitted promptly into Way-on-Hill, starry tabernacle of the academic firmament, and before the month had passed during which people were meant to get acquainted with the air of essential shabbiness fundamental to academic life was saddled with a devastating trinity of tutors: Kramnik, from the SM Faculty, sexless, urbane, endlessly mild-mannered, vague and brilliant as cheesecloth, sometime contributor to the fabled Field Guide to the Stray Shopping Carts of the Western Paleartic (also, everyone noted, rumoured to have been once involved in a near-fatal smiling accident); Crane, sweating, massive, dewlapped, tumescently brainy, orbiculate body barely keeping viable a head in which arguments mated noisily, bred, and died; proof-annihilator, brash, antiprolix, wearyingly acute, famed amicus to the great Erskine judgment, a colossus rudely – nakedly – triumphantly!— bestride the Ethics Faculty; and the one they called Tehayanianatu, lodged nominally in the Logic Faculty, the only metavirus in stable human residence, the only tutor on Stize no-one had heard physically speaking, unknowable and brooding and black in its ancient chambers, absent at all Formals to no inconsiderable relief of most fellows of Way-on-Hill, devourer of (at latest count) three undergraduates, one colleague, and a small loop of QC itself (the furore was immense; one could have built civilisations off it), controversially described by the worshipful who braved its supervisions as speaking – speaking, despite the common knowledge! –  in a manner soft and kind and toneless and terrifying as it hung down from the dark spaces in its rooms, hierophant to infinitary logics, dripping, redolent of blood, and loose – far too loose, oh! how very loose, do not laugh – with the forest of teeth serrated and secreted in its blind head.

The Game: 2

“I keep reading about this Dragon.”

“A dragon.”

“Yes, a dragon.”

“Okay.” Sal’s voice was flat but he sounded like he was trying not to reveal something, or maybe he was trying not to smile.

“Don’t look at me like that.”

“I’m not looking at you like – that.

“What’s this about?”

“You’ve been reading about my First League games, haven’t you?”

“I was going to do it sooner or later.”

“Why are you wondering about the Dragon?”

“Well, they keep calling that game against Auerbach a miracle, and it’s got all these names, you know.”

He was up in the chair against the window and his head was back against the glass and his eyes were closed. He always did that when she brought up the games. “They’re terrible names.”

The Taming of the Dragon. Don’t wince. You like it, don’t you.”

“The game’s not that great. No, really. It’s not that great.”

“So what is this Dragon?”

“It’s theory. It’s the name of the opening.”

“But why is it called that, the Dragon?”

“That game really gets too much attention.”

“I want to talk about the name. You were supposed to lose, you know, everything I read says that.”

“Well, no, what happened is that Auerbach prepared a new move against me and I blundered in response to it. It was a good novelty.”

“But you were supposed to lose after you played that awful move, weren’t you? Wasn’t everyone saying your position was a wreck, or something like that?”

“My position was horrific but sometimes bad positions are easier to play. Every move lost more or less immediately except for one. So I played that one.”

“You played that one saving move in the position for fifteen or so moves in a row.”

“It was not that hard.”

“The commentary says that positions like these are impossible for humans to play.”

“You can just ask me directly.” Sal was looking straight at her now. “You can just ask, you know.” It was not pity but it was something like it.

Garf was never sure what to do in situations like this. She shook her head and looked as if she was about to say something but did not say anything. She looked at the computer and started reading something. Then she said, “I just want to know how you do it. Fuck’s sake, that’s all. They all say humans don’t survive positions like that.”

“Well. No, you want to know if I’m a Carrier. You want to know if I’m the carrier for Erkenne.”

When he said the name she stiffened despite herself. It was such a rare thing to heard said. She thought Sal was angry but he was not. Instead he was daring her to say a certain something and she was sure that she would not say it. He looked at her with an open look, one that said – you can go on. “All I want to know is how you do it. That’s all.”

“Calculation. That’s all there is to it.”

“Was that all there was to that game against Auerbach?”

“You know how the reports exaggerate. There have been similar games played in the past.” Sal turned around and let his breath fog the glass. It was pretty warm so only a tiny frosting of white appeared.  “There’s nothing more to it. It’s not that special.”

“Why the Dragon, though? I don’t understand the name.”

“Back to that. Well. The reasons are all quite stupid.”

“I’d still like to know.”

“Well, for a start, it’s one of the sharpest known openings. Hyper-sharp.”

“That’s another thing I don’t understand. Sharp?”

“Hmm. Aggressive. Slightly more precise that that – it means that the positions are relatively tactical, you know, very knife-edgy. One slip and you are mated. Lots of sacrifices looming, big swooping moves – there are other openings related to the Dragon, did you know that? There’s an Accelerated Dragon and a Hyperaccelerated Dragon and the odd thing is you would think from the names that these are even sharper than the Dragon but they tend to lead to quiet positions. Long positional games with lots of moves implied and only a few played.”

“So that’s not the reason for the name, presumably, the aggression.”

“Well, not the whole reason.” Sal smiled suddenly like he had been trying hard not to smile but was not bothering anymore. It was strange how he went from being so perfectly still to something jaggedly childish. “I know why you’re looking at me that way. You’re intelligent so I know what you are thinking. It’s such a relief sometimes. Really it is.”

“Do you always do this?”

He laughed. “I don’t talk about it, so that’s good enough.”

“Go on.”

“You think I’m being very unstrategic. Very naive, playing the Dragon.”

“I don’t very much about the game, so it’d be silly for me to say it.”

“But you do think it.”

Careless, really, was the word I had in mind.”

“No, no, you’re correct. A novice like me –”


“What was that about?”

“ ‘Novice like me.’ Really.”



“I’m still new to this, you know.”

“You’re in the First League.”

“I don’t want to argue over this. Must we argue over this?”

“We were talking about why it’s a dumb move to play the Dragon.”

“Because a novice like me should not be playing sharp openings and walking right out of theory into sharp novelties. A beginner should play nice, tame, quiet stuff. Stay solid. Aim for a draw.”

“When you say it this way it sounds even stupider, what you did.”

“I wasn’t just wanting to win, you know. I wanted to play something fun.”

“And you nearly lost.”


“And the game wasn’t that great anyway, as you say.”

He stared in mock horror. “You – really – well – it was decent, at least. Haven’t you seen all the names it’s been given?”

“Why am I discussing your idiocy with you? I want you to tell me about the name.”

“So for a start, it’s a very sharp opening.”

Yes. We just –  

“And the pawn structure on the kingside looks a bit like that constellation – ”

“Ah, yes, I see. What a very odd coincidence.”

“And then there’s the DSB – ”

“Look, Sal –”

“Dark-squared bishop. DSB.”

“Ah, okay.”

“The DSB on g7 is really important to the black player because white often castles queenside – that means the king is on c1 or b1 – and the DSB in that little corner rakes down the board, this diagonal  from a1 to h8 that is the books call the line of fire, something along those lines. People talk about ‘that fire-breathing bishop’, you know. So I guess if you think hard you can sort of see the idea of a Dragon sitting there, breathing fire.”

“It’s all very melodramatic.  More broadly I can say that I have no idea what you were just talking about.”

“It is melodramatic, it really, is, but if you think about it it’s also quite appropriate coming from a group of people who sit in front of a board torturing themselves for hours. That bishop on g7 can give you an entire universe of pain. It’s a real monster.”

Kind of getting away: 6

Sometimes I cannot remember the people with whom I came. It’s strange. I just cannot remember them. I can remember the names, of course. Those are not difficult. But no image attaches itself to the names. A side effect of living like this, I suppose. But Helper is almost always company enough.

Today I went to see O. I don’t forget him. This is mostly because he’s the only person I see. This is not purely coincidental. We agreed on Scafell that we were going to be the two stationed furthest away from the Main Building. I made that happen.

The main thing about O. is that he’s just a fundamentally decent guy all the way down. He talks more than I do but does not talk much. His field is evolutionary bio, so he’s horrifically busy now[1]. He often talks about his work, and it’s very interesting.

I took the road to his place. I got the Volkie all the way down to the bridge where the road began. The road is a dark resin. It is inert. It glints. I stood there for some time and looked at it. The bridge, I mean. I looked at the place where it came out of the earth. Somehow it not easy to put together. You would expect a joint somewhere. But there is none.

This bridge is a truss bridge. It makes a virtual tunnel of latticework. When I looked down its length I could see the road going on for a little bit more and then it curved out of sight around the coast. I don’t know very much about bridges. I know that they are subject to certain forces – tension, compression, bending, torsion, shear – but I barely know what a bridge does to negotiate among these. And there are so many different types of bridges. Bridges are not, as it were, alive to me.

The drive there was strange. When I lived on Dyhaus there were many times when I had to make long trips and this felt like being there again even though it was not the same at all. I kept looking into the little empty spaces beside the road, expecting to see hitchhikers, browned from the sun. I used to pick them up on Dyhaus. They were never the same. I usually listened to them talk as they sat beside me. Many didn’t talk but some did. When they did talk I listened to find some commonality among all their experience. Some way in. I tried to build them into patterns. There weren’t any, I think. There were some small things, but those were trivial, tight bundles that didn’t unravel. Some kind of unease at the idea of steadiness. A preference for tragedies of goodwill over just letting the hours roll on one way or another. But none of this was interesting. Apart from this there was nothing more. Some of them were like characters from a movie. They were mad or nearly it. They asked for permission to masturbate. Some had thought very clearly and painfully about the things happening to them and were embarrassed when they asked if I could stop to let them piss. Some didn’t know what they were doing at all, and were utterly at home with that. Some had a plan, and this was just a part of it. Some preached doctrines about the end of the world, big fluorescent ideologies, carried Do Not Fear The End badges, and ranted about sex and neon and the transcendental urges that addictions shat in their heads. Two had insisted – these ones stand out – that they were Carriers, or something close enough, that they had met Haccieters, were destined for some grotesque fate. One hitchhiker had climbed on nearly catatonic and asked for alcohol. I kept some in the boot in Dyhaus and he hit off it really hard while I watched and said nothing and then tried, I think, to kill me.

It is a little odd that I should think of Dyhaus while on this road, in this place, but there you go. It happens. It’s all strange now. There are many strange things. This road. Built with so much thought for this place. No passing through sensitive spots, no destruction of breeding sides, no interruption of migratory routes. C.D.s working from so many intricate manuals only they are familiar with. So many things to take note of, making this tiny winding thing, and I am driving over it just like that. I put my arms out of car and felt the air move past me. I clawed my fingers and could actually hold it, plump and struggling. Doing this always gives me a kind of buzz. A little undeserved rush. It’s good. I realised today that I’ve stopped thinking the air here has a smell. It’s gone. Can’t detect it anymore, even if I try.

Why did I keep picking up those hitchhikers? I can sort of guess at an answer now. I keep noticing things when I write. I like migratory things. It’s what I specialise in. Terns. Whales. All that stuff I wrote on the Littorian displacements on Stize. Things that never arrive at any place and which are only possible to understand as being about to depart.

Wasn’t I talking about O.? But the drive there was very interesting. It was just like autumn. In fact it is now what you might call the height of summer. It’s a long summer[2]. Today it was not exactly warm, I guess, but it was about as warm as it gets. It was so warm I put on the radio[3] because it felt correct.

The road led straight to O.’s. It’s a coastal house, like mine. He knew I was coming and was waiting for me in the doorway[4]. He’s a big guy. He likes to look down when he talks. There’s this demure physicality about him which is really quite unexpected. Now, of course, I am familiar with it. But the first time that was unexpected. Also unexpected, even now, is how excited he can suddenly get over the littlest things.

“I’ve got lunch,” he said, when I walked up.

“I’m starving,” I said, even though I wasn’t that hungry. O. cooks. When he was on Stize his college was Inkper and he picked up some very Inkper things[5]. So he cooks. I don’t know enough people who actually cook to tell if he cooks well. But it’s never worse than the rations we have, and our rations are quite good. And there is something else. Just looking at someone else working on something, making something – that’s nice. O. keeps telling me that when the people back at Anhedonia – yes, I’ll use the name – decide for certain what things on Tokata we are or are not allowed to eat he’ll try his hand there[6].

Will he ask me to kill stuff for him? That’s a thought. I’m not sure I could – hunt, that’s the word, I guess – on this world. And there would be amazing amounts of admin to settle if I killed things for NR purposes.

I recall thinking this when Skeffie came in and said, “He’ll be asking you to kill things for him, you know,” and O. immediately said no, he couldn’t possibly.

O. calls his helper Skeffie. Skeffie is not very much like Helper[7]. Helper likes going outside. Skeffie does not mind but likes the lab and compiles reports with frightening skill. Skeffie is also incredibly cynical, sometimes. O. never seems to mind, though.

When O. said, I’ve got lunch, he had not meant that he had already prepared lunch. He meant to say that he was going to cook lunch. So I sat and looked out of the window while he cooked. He’s rigged an oven in his place and actually uses it, so he’s got bread. He started talking halfway through about his work on tk-chlorocuorin. I listened. There is a strange quality to this sort of conversation. He talks; I idly listen, understanding quite a lot but not all of what he is talking about; I ask questions; he stops and backtracks and sometimes leans against the kitchen counter and thinks, nodding to himself, thinking yes, I did not put that well, looking at the floor. After a while when the entire place smelt of butter he started talking instead about the problems they’re having with Hox genes: they can’t find any. He thinks that maybe they’re just got the gene sequencing technology botched up. Or maybe there are – and this is truly interesting, he says – too many sets of Hox genes, and we’re staring at them without realising that there is no single basic structure for many apparently closely related species.

Today he was pretty measured. He’s not always like that. The second time I visited me he ran out, yelling slip sequences. It wasn’t even anything very spectacular; it had just been that they’d discovered that the t/DNA[8] on Tokata contains very large concentrations of apparent slip sequences.

When we were just about done when he said, “You know, I could stay here for a long time.”

“I think most of us would stay here for a long time,” I said. “It’s it strange how it always feels like autumn?” I got the plates out.

During the meal we talked mostly about my Excursion. It wasn’t going to happen until another two weeks, but that time would past fast. Will pass fast. And then he said, “I really could stay here.” His big hands moved and he ate. He ate as if he was very hungry. I wondered if he always cooked. Does it matter? Nonetheless I was seized by the thought, at the time.

“Wait for the winter,” I said. “We’ve not been here that long.”

“I don’t think it matters. I don’t go out that much.” He spooned something into his mouth. “I’ll be busy most of the time. Are you done?”

“It’s a lot of food,” I said.

He took the dishes to the sink. He never gets Skeffie to do any of this stuff. I wondered if he was always this hungry.

“If Winnfield and the rest go I would still want to stay,” he said. He didn’t say exactly this, but this was what he meant, I remember. I think what he actually said was less terse and precise than that.

“All alone?” I said. There is a little vane anemometer, a windmeter, outside O.’s place, a little way down from the house. The little turbine was going fast. The thing flicked one way and then another. The wind was coming up. I could even see, from here, the dimples and the white furrows it made in the water. This is a bad habit of mine. I do this when things become important and I’m not ready.

“Maybe,” he said. “You know, the main thing now is the place.”

I knew what he meant. “You liked your time on Inkper,” I said.

“Yes. Is it the same thing, though? I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

I’m very familiar with O.’s house. I know where the tables are, exactly, where he likes to position the chairs, and I also know what he keeps in each every drawer in every cupboard and table. My home is large; it extends all the way from my house to this place, a hundred and thirty ks in total. I know how O. places the screens for his computer on this workdesk. I know where he keeps the paper and the pencils he waited for two months to get[9]. There a notice board above his desk. It’s an old thing with photographs, the printed type, and things he writes to remind himself. On one corner of the board he keeps the drawings. I used to draw a lot when I was studying. I was attracted to it because it was something people did in the past, when there were no pictures. They went out and what they saw they drew. I like the idea of being perched on that past, gripping it just so. A couple of times since I’ve arrived I’ve drawn things. The second time Helper and I went into the woods I saw a Gosser and I let Helper go ahead and I got a sketch, nothing more than lines, a contour, some inkling/suspicion of its bearing, that kind of compressed aggression. I got a few more detailed things done, but that was the first one I drew, and even though it had been a silly impulse it set something going. O. likes talking about his children. They’re very young. QC had given him permission seven years ago and he gets a little breathless talking about them. Not breathless, but he talks like he is, the sentences come out tapered. You cannot imagine, he says, its not just like you’ve made – its growing in you, like you’ve become bigger and its taking away but also giving – but suddenly you’re given this, and you are holding it feeling, you know, I don’t know, miraculous. So the first time I visited I got my drawings out and said, you could bring this back for them. He had taken them and said, looking down again, thanks, thanks a lot. He knew they were not good drawings. He hadn’t even looked at them properly, which I suppose was a relief for me. But the next time I came he had put them up beside the photos of his kids on the notice board and there was a note saying Keep!

So I was looking at the drawings, thinking how I’d forgotten everything I’d taught myself about varying line thickness, when I said, “Give it time.”

He said, “I’ve given it time. I’ve given it too much time, probably,” and winced. He looked nervous. He always looks nervous, a bit surprised at his own big body, but this wasn’t that kind of nervous.

“I understand where you’re coming from,” I said. There was a cup of something warm between my hands and I only noticed it then and remembered when he had put it down. I drank a bit of it. “Sometimes I think of that myself. But I have not thought properly about it. There will be a lot of things to do if we want to stay, you know. Who knows when the next research group will come.” Something occurred to me. “Can you imagine how many people there would be?  All waiting to use the road? I wouldn’t be the last house in the line anymore. The construction drones would come up and make it come from the bridge all the way up to my place.”

“Doesn’t it go to your place?” he said.

I hadn’t told him. “You can walk,” I said. “The bridge is there, but then it stops. You can walk, or just fly the Volkie.”

“What difference does it make, the road stopping there?” he said.

“I don’t know. But the idea of a road coming all the way to my place – I’m not sure how I’d sleep with that.”

“I understand where you’re coming from,” he said. It was funny, the way he said he it. He can make something like that sound like a joke. That makes it sound like he’s never funny. Oh well. That’s not true, but it’s not something I can put across like this.

(You see the way we both are? This kind of sameness must be unhealthy. It’s all on some level I can’t detect but it’s probably there. )

Skeffie came in again and said, “If Ogford wants to stay that’s all fine and good but you know it hurts me very much when I’ve not asked about these things.”

Skeffie is like that. We both know it would choose to stay without a second thought if O. stayed. But it will say these things. “We couldn’t possibly doubt you,” I said.

“I like it when you say that,” Skeffie said. I laughed.

[1] The ecology of Tokata is quite conventional in many respects – I’d place it somewhere near the middle of a Bridger-Green diagram (I think Bridger-Green diagrams are actually useful, which puts me in a rapidly shrinking majority). But there are some very striking things, the sorts of things that evolutionary biologists get very excited about. The most obvious thing is the fact that the biology of Tokata does not exhibit amino acid homochirality. Approx. 44% of the chordates here are use right-handed amino acids, 56% left-handed. This makes Tokata one of the only two planets so far known that does not exhibit biological homochirality, and the only known world where non-homochirality extends into multicellular creatures. Cue major puzzlement/excitement from the molecular+evo. biologists.

[2] It’s not a summer generated by axial tilt. Blame Tokata’s elliptical orbit.

[3] Have I mentioned this? Well, we have radio. Radio! The people back at the Main Building had been discussing this for some time. There were worries about how it might affect the environment, but eventually the consensus formed that it was probably alright if we used tropospheric tightbeam. So now we all have radio. We have three channels. One is basically a cycling update of discoveries, papers, possible new lines of research – functional but interesting stuff; one is devoted entirely to music from the Trove (I suspect Max was responsible for that – he’s attracted to obscurity); and one plays the popular stuff from Stize+Naze – what was popular when we left, I mean. Today I got Coyly If Anything She Comes and Torrential Train. Me, on the new road, on a new world, listening to Torrential Train. I must remember this.

[4] Volkies are great vehicles. You can’t tell if one is coming unless you’ve been told. They’re absolutely silent and nearly invisible.

[5] On his desk he always keeps a copy of Hyrum Kasakadei’s The Silence of Certain Questions. I tried to ask him about Extreme Quietism once and he told me immediately that he did not understand, quite literally, a single line in SCQ. Why had he bothered to obtain a physical copy of the monster then? He found it comforting, he said, and he didn’t know why.

[6] Ordinarily we can’t eat anything that’s right-handed; us poor left-handed biologicals can’t use right-handed amino acids to build proteins. We’d probably be able to digest a little, but most enzymatic processes would be so retarded as to be useless. But they’ve thought of that, of course. We’ve been packed full of artificial gut flora to do the digestion for us. Nonetheless can’t be too careful re these things I suppose.

[7] I’m not good with names. So my helper is called Helper. It does not seem to mind at all, and I’ve asked.

[8] The phosphate backbone is oddly constructed. I’ve not read up on the details yet. Also: 5 base pairs. Very inefficient, but maybe that has something to do with the fact that only about 85% of the t/DNA in large organisms here is non-coding.

[9] He has no need for pencils. But this is, yet again, an Inkper thing. I go out far more often than he does and I don’t think I have any pencils.

Letters: 2


Now I am crossing the seracs. The worst of the icefall is behind me. I cannot tell you what this place is like and how terrifying it is. The grinding ice moving in the matchless dark – bergs that have come down the broad valleys between the mountains – that have stayed too long and too late on land – all wrongfooted and impatient all foundering towards the sea – all this cruel seething rock in the cold.  This place is bigger than Lyskamm or Kanchenjunga. You cannot imagine the sounds that come at night – sometimes a great crack will ring out and I will startle, thinking it is a weapon. But it is only the ice. From where I am – I am on a thin ledge of ice, and I am following it around the glacier to reach the station – you can see the scale of this scene. Each moving block of ice is the size of a skyscraper leaning brokenly. When the glacier heaves these blocks turn and topple – it looks slow but that is only because of the distance. Some of them, even though they are a  very pure chalky blue, reveal undersides dirty grey and brown with the rock they have crushed beneath them. Such majesty – that is the word – but this also brings with it a certain sadness – not the sadness of a tragedy, but a different kind of sadness that continues all the way down – sadness that occupies the same space as breathing – if you asked me now I would tell you it is the fact of witnessing this kind of destruction, but on all honesty I cannot truly tell. Two days ago – before I started the crossing – I saw from a ridge a section of the sheet the size of a city, miles and miles of grinding and broken ice, collapse in on itself, into the water. The sound of it – it was shuddering – it was of the great order of noises – like the Cannons at Toven. It was like birth. I couldn’t tell when the calving began at first, but the movement caught my eye and I stood for a long time to watch – I wish very much that you were here to see this. The whole place reminds me of you.

Remember me,