Kind of getting away: 12

Yesterday was pretty good. I finished compiling the migration/feeding report for Bathophores + sent off the first draft my my spec report to Stumpf[1] so that she can tell me if I’ve got the more complicated bits correct. So today I rewarded myself and headed down to O.’s. There were Fallwhales out in the Berents today, columns of pleated grey and white standing vertically in the water. We’ve really got no idea why they do that. They keep doing that for hours at a time, though it must be pretty exhausting, especially in something as unruly as the Berents. I listened to Trove on the way there. It’s now the big thing back on Stize and I might just about see why, actually. It’s not bad: Dance 7 from Suite 5 in G. Lots of stuff from Trove is named like that: the academics gave each piece a catalogue name and rather than come with something a bit more evocative everyone has just sort of borrowed these for common use.  It’s strange how ruthlessly everyone just goes along with it. Why G? Such an arbitrary thing, really. I don’t even know what it means. O. and I talked about random stuff. He asked me what I was planning to do for the Excursion. I said I was mostly planning to tag Dromeodids[2] and he looked worried.

“You know I can’t let Helper do all this stuff on its own,” I said. Helper’s a programmed ex-GHKd. It’s made to notice certain things and not to notice others[3]. I can’t use its results on their own unless I’m around to ensure it’s doing things correctly – or fanatically micromanage its routines, but I’m not going to do. “Plus I’m pretty sure I’ll be safe.”

“Safe,” he said, looking up and scratching his chin. “Yes.”

I had missed lunch because I arrived late. But I ate anyway because I was getting hungry. I read one of his books.

“Do you think Helper should get a degree?” he said. Skeffie had done something in microconducting chemistry, I think.

“I’ve asked QC. There was no time before we left.”

But O. didn’t look too happy. I think he was thinking about what that implied. I would be going back.

“You’ll be safe,” he said.

I laughed. “Yes,” I said. “I’m the one with the Hunter-Killer.”

He didn’t say anything and so I said, “Look, I’ll draw stuff if I have the time. You can keep all of it. Tell stories to the kids.”

He put on some music. Blue Heron Amphetamine, pretty old stuff. “You know what? They’re not too interested in all this. They don’t mind but they’re not really into it. Can you imagine?” He sounded exasperated. But he was happy and I could see that.

“Look at you,” I said. “Complaining about being allowed to have kids.”

“It’s not something you can predict,” he said.

“No,” I said. “Although how would I know?”

“What a strange place,” he said, at last.

“Hm. What is this about?”

“This place,” he said. “Tokata. It’s cool, obviously, but it’s strange.”

“I like it,” I said. “Desolate, but that’s the way it was always going to be, really.”

“No, I don’t mean that,” he said. He got a notice and looked it up and came back. “Heller,” he said. “Have you been reading the updates from the rest?”

“You know how I am about those.”

“Lots of problems. Basically nothing is fitting together properly. Maybe we’ve just sequenced things wrongly in one or two places. It’s probably something basic and embarrassing like that.”

“I’m not too concerned,” I said. “Teething problems.” I wasn’t in the mood, really, to talk about the technical details. I could imagine how hard K. was pushing the evol/bio people.  I’m working more or less on the fringes, in a mostly data-gathering role, so I’m spared. “I mean, to be honest, at this point I’m mostly thinking about the Excursion. I’m quite excited.”

“I like going out,” he said, “But not for weeks at a time. I went out a couple of days ago, on the coast. Looked at some caves. But I can’t imagine staying out for so long.”

“Migration scientist,” I said, “We come in mostly one flavour.”

We watched most of a movie. He talked about his kids.

Then he said, “There was this strange thing.” The thing was the way he said it. He didn’t say it like it was a problem he was working on, or something to be solved. I was full and feeling lazy and anyway he has this devastating sofa. But I listened.

“Hm?” I said.

“You know this morning there was this huge sound. Did you hear it?”

“No,” I said. “What was it like?”

He looked out and did a very O. thing. He put his hands out and said, “It was very loud. A sort of flat sound that went on and on. Really –” he curled his fingers “—shattering.”

Of course I could recognise this. Well. I could imagine it, at least. “Huh.” I said. “Huh.”

“Like a signal. If you heard it you would know, it sounded familiar. Sort of explosive –”

“Foghorn,” I said.

“Ahh. Yes. Yes, maybe that was it,” he said.

This was all extremely dangerous, of course. I saw it outside, from the window, at that moment.

It was huger than I imagined. Was it resting on the sand, on the Wash? I’m not sure. The window was placed such that I was not looking down towards the sea. What I saw was just the long sloping line of the deck, floating there. That old metal, that follower. Taking up all that space.

“Where did it come from?” I said.

He went out to show me. He pointed straight out over the water, at the ship. “There,” he said, “Somewhere over there.”

On the way back something else again. The Volkie was coming up to the bridge when I felt the weight of that benevolence and I stopped it and got out. Over the bridge, large as a mountain, the old thing like a spider, two legs straddling the bridge, the others disappearing far off, the body kilometres up in the sky. I got out and I said it. I said Maman.

I had to crane my neck painfully to look at where its body should be, that face on the bottom with all its unblinking eyes. But it’s lost in cloud, as happens sometimes. “Is something happening?” I said. “I’m fine here.” Sudden mad rush of – power, I think, that thrill coming over me. Something moved it me and it had everything to do with death. The massive legs moved and it started walking out to sea, very slowly, footfalls like tremors, steps so big it should topple, it should topple off the edge of the world in all its greyness. But delicately and hugely it moved, perfectly, taking in its own dominion.

What it told me. What indeed.

In any case I’ve just come back and I’ve sent off a message to the good peeps at Anh:

I’ve been thinking it over and I think I’m going to try to build an ultralight. It will be efficient than my Volkie’s module for Excursions – basic AG will do – and if Helper comes along safety should not be an issue. Basic camos should satisfy PMI[1]. Wondering if you could send over some materials for the Turer when I get back. Might finish things in time to use it on my second Excursion.

Understand if not possible, but hoping things work out on your side. Regos OK, I hope? Tell me what you think.


I think it’s a pretty good idea. It also means I get a chance to do some recreational flying, if the conditions are right. I’m pretty sure I can learn fast. It’d be pretty lame having to get Helper to tow me up every time.

[1] Principle of Minimum Interference. Don’t want to scare the wildlife away.

I think it’s a pretty good idea. It also means I get a chance to do some recreational flying, if the conditions are right. I’m pretty sure I can learn fast. It’d be pretty lame having to get Helper to tow me up every time.

I’m going to aim for a boat next. I’ll see how far I can push things. No harm done, in any case.

[1] Migration science is pretty long-term thing: you need to wait for several full migration cycles to complete before you can firm up anything. Which means I get to do a lot of spec papers.  I suggested that it would be good to see if thermorhodopsin/JPCRs + tk-cryptochromes in aviformes generate fast triplet reactions that are responsible for magnetoreception. Th-rhod I suggested because I think for Chondrodatus spp. temperature does affect migration. Chemical compasses are well-understood, but nonetheless this is quite interesting, I think. Stumpy is stationed at the point on Tokata that’s just about antipodal from where I am, but she’s also a migration scientist and did some work on entanglement when she was in Inkper, so she can check to make sure my speculations are at least mathematically plausible. If it works the spec paper will be sent off to Anh. and they’ll start putting together the Emlens + capturing stuff. Assuming they actually do give a shit, which I hope they do. Obviously at this stage most of the science on Tokata is focused on the very basic things. (Look, ma, no ATP! + evol. taxonomy, where the lack of Hoxes in tk-chordates is super weird + some cool standout things like the influence of bichirality on the evolution of symbiotic partnerships + digestive tracts.)

[2] They look like reptiles. The insides are completely different, though + they are all warm-blooded.

[3] Program Designate Bias. There is a lot written about this but that’s the basic idea.

[4] Principle of Minimum Interference. Don’t want to scare the wildlife away.

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