Beneath the Wrecked Church there was a single Hasp. Its name was not known. The consensus among those in the SM faculty was that it was not of the usual order of Hasps; no. It was a Category I, expressed in Form II. And it was the last line of defence, for nothing could stand against a naked Haccieter, against the final idea of a basic force. Why The Defence was where it was no one knew. The Wrecked Church was around 12,000 years old, and as far back as records went it had always contained the Hasp. In that ancient past some deal must have been struck, a trade of some still-incomprehensible value. What was in it? Friendship? That surely was a heresy. It was impossible to imagine.
In any case the Hasp could not be moved. Of course it had been tried. But it could not be done. It was fixed relative to the gravitational centre of Stize. There was also the problem that anything that came within a metre of it (99.2 cm, said the notices at the entrance) would disintegrate as a result of absurd tidal forces. Outside that radius, however, those gravitational forces simply disappeared. They did not tail off; they simply did not extend there.
They could see the Wrecked Church now, the shattered spire of six metal plates, most of the top half entirely gone except for where two of the triangular sheets stretched skyward, nearly touching before cleanly cut off as if by some unnoticed catastrophe, some antiseptic violence that had come tumbling from above. Copper green with intimations of wisdom, flying buttresses broken and left clawing at vaulted notes the hearing of which was like a musical gesture in the middle of its enactment, like a sign paid out in instalments, the long spinal nave of stone and its interdenominate vertebrae locked in place, the high holy orifices of the windows agape, unprepared after all this time—
“It looks pretty good for a ruin,” Garf said, sweating a bit now. “I know it’s a stupid thing to say but it doesn’t look very – ruinlike – doesn’t it?”
They stopped to look.
Bizzo leaned back and shaded his eyes. He said nothing.
“It’s a bit like that Cubist stuff. Not really Cubist, I mean, but like that – who was it – Worthow, I think.”
“Ah,” Sal said.
Garfield drew a hand across her forehead. “I wonder why I never noticed before.” She took two steps back and stretched out her hands in the direction of the structure, moved them mechanically up and down as if measuring something. “You really get a sense of its size, hm? Standing here. I suppose that’s it.”
“In Canon II there is a section on the influence of prehistoric art,” Sal said. Canon was the vast university library.“I think Worthow is mentioned. There’s a book called The Lineage of Art from Before Time. Brewer and Fentiman. It’s good.”
“It isn’t really a church, is it?” Bizzo said. He coughed. “All the later ones that were copies of these two, those were churches. But we’ve not got any idea what this was for.”
“No,” Sal said. “Although there are many theories.”
“Why isn’t there anyone around?” Garf said.
Sal went up to the door and pushed it open.
Above the long darkness of the nave light seeped from the clerestory, touching nothing. At the end a great flood from broken spire.
“I spoke to QC,” Sal said. He grinned.
Garf took in a deep breath of cold air. “And it didn’t let anyone in today.”
“It re-arranged things,” Sal said. “So there would be an empty window.”
Bizzo stood just inside the door, his hands in his pockets. “There’s something, you know, oppressive about this. This place.”
Outside was the human noise, the human suffering.
The very thought.
Garf opened her mouth to say something but Sal said, mildly, “No. No. I understand.”
They walked over in silence to the crossing. The North Transept was ruined and from where they were they could look out at the sun pluming outside, the trees, the rolling air. In the middle of the crossing there was a shallow bowl worn out of the basalt floor and at its bottom there was, incongruously, a lift, a large steel box.It looked like it could take ten or so people at once.
They got in and the doors hissed shut and they immediately began to descend.
Down hypodermically through rock. This is the song of an unassailable people.
They did not stop for a while.
“What the fuck?” Bizzo said when the doors opened.
They were at the edge of a vast rectangular chamber tiled entirely with what looked like white ceramic. The scene was a study in perspective; the dark lines of rock which showed between the tiles ran from where they stood to the opposite wall nearly a kilometre away, across the floor, walls, ceiling.
The light came from everywhere and nowhere and was painful.
Near the far end of the chamber there was a black square, so dark it looked nearly unreal, like something projected into vision: a perfect cube ten metres in height. Around it the neat lines formed by the tiles appeared to bend, to warp and wrap in on themselves again and again. A space around where light congregated endlessly, fawned without end.
“So that’s the casket,” Garf said. “Trippy.”
“Is that lensing?” Bizzo said.
“Yes,” Sal said.
“Hmm,” Garf said.
“This shouldn’t be that surprising. What do you know about The Defence?” Sal said.
“It’s Type I,” Bizzo said.
“If you go to the SM faculty page you can find a list of well-defined Hasps and their properties. One standard way of classifying Hasps involves a Reissner-Nordström transform. You express properties about the Hasp by treating its derived properties as if it was a charged spinning black hole. Once you figure out a Hasp’s effective implied charge you can give it a certain mass. It’s not an actual mass, but you can treat it for certain calculations as if it has one. Basically you can figure out what Hasp in Form III would look like. The Defence is in Form II. But its inferred Form III mass – and it’s probably the only Hasp whose Form III mass has been precisely calculated, for obvious reasons – is approximately 4 billion solar masses.”
“Urk,” Bizzo said.
“That’s a big number,” Garf said.
“If you rank the well-defined Hasps by mass it’s pretty high up.”
“That is frightening,” Bizzo said.
Sal said nothing. He looked at the dark cube and said nothing.
The stuttered world made fiduciary to this.
“Is that number a limit?” Garf said. “What does it actually tell us about what this can do?”
“It’s not a limit,” Sal said. “That’s not what a Hasp contains. It’s an expression of actual gravitational potential, not potential gravitational potential.”
“I don’t –” Garf began.
“Garf,” Sal said, voice clear, cordial, knowing, “Don’t worry about it.”
Bizzo was staring. “We can’t go near that,” Bizzo said. “If the gravity is strong enough to bend light like that there’s no way we can go near that.”
“If it was a gravitational field, we’d be dead by now.”
“Terrorist!” Garf said, but put no heart into it.
“What is it? It not a gravitational field why’s the light fucked up like that?”
“I can’t get QC,” Garf said. She turned to Sal. “I just tried to make a query and got nothing.”
“There’s also no Composite Dust in the air,” Sal said.
“What is it?” Bizzo said.
“It’s a field,” Sal said. “It’s complicated.” He grinned like he had made a joke. “It only affects massless particles – photons – the way gravity does.”
“It’s safe,” Sal said. “Let’s go.”
Garf looked hesitant. “Is The Defence doing that?”
“And what’s that?” Garf pointed to the long gash in the floor where the tiles had been crushed in an arcing path that ended with the casket.
“Continental drift. The casket moves a tiny bit each year as Wassea drifts underearth it. Let’s go.”
As they walked the lines around the casket slipped and dilated like liquid. They came to the door in the side of the casket.
“We’re standing right here but I can see you just fine,” Bizzo said.
“Yes,” Sal said.
“I shouldn’t be able to,” Bizzo said. “Not if this was bending the light.”
“It’s strange that the door’s just like that,” Garf said. “I’d expected something more impressive.”
“Security?” Sal said.
“It would make no sense trying to keep the Hasp in. And it can’t be damaged or moved, so there’s no sense keeping anything out.”
The door was visible only as a faint outline in the smooth black surface. A handle was set into it; Sal took it and pulled and the door hinged open smoothly.
Inside the light was dimmer.
It was on a small plinth and it was black.
“There’s a smell” Bizzo said. “It’s like the smell you get when you get into the car in the morning and the air-conditioners come on. But it’s sweeter than that.”
Garf went up to it. There was a circle inscribed into the floor: come no closer. She stopped a metre away.
How to stare this cruelty away?
A monument like the word if and just as improbable.
“It’s sort of muscly,” she said, “Very lean, like you can see through the skin to the muscle underneath. Is it crouching?”
“It’s like you took a military jet and made it into an animal,” Bizzo said. “You know what I mean?”
“It’s crouching,” Sal said. “It has its head between its knees. It’s digitigrade – you can see how the legs fold beneath it. It looks like it has an extra joint there. If it stood up in this form it’d be well over two metres tall.”
Anatomy. How to embroider a wound.
Teeth do not rot in the grave.
Garf shook her head. “It’s black.”
“I can’t make out the – the contours of the limbs. Those are the arms wrapped around its – knees – that is the neck, the neck, going down between them. It doesn’t look alive.”
“It’s not alive,” Sal said.
“Why would anyone want to come so close to something like this?” Bizzo said.
“If you look inside the circle,” Sal said, “You can see – although it’s hard to make out since the floor is so dark – you can see human remains.”
Garf brought one hand to her face, rubbing, checking.
“Those smudges?” Bizzo said.
“Yes,” Sal said.
“Oh,” Garf said.
“This is such a strange place,” Bizzo said.
“I can’t get a feel of it,” Garf said. “It’s not – you know – threatening, now that we’re here. But it doesn’t have a present the way a sculpture has presence. It’s a gap. Do you know what I mean? I’m not sure if I’m putting this across. I feel sad for it. I know this makes no fucking sense at all but it looks sort of sad. Not to move after all this time. It’s so fantastic it’s beyond fascination. I can’t even describe it properly. Seriously. If I go back out and someone asks me, ‘What was it like,’ I’m pretty sure I’ll say ‘I don’t know,’ and it’ll be really honest. And if they person says ‘What did it look like?’ I’ll say, ‘It was dark and crouching and made the light funny and smelt strange,’ and that sounds ridiculous.”
Garf looked at Sal. Sal looked at the Hasp and did not say anything for some time. Then he said, “Look at this. After all this time this is what we rely on.” His hands had been pressed together but he spread them apart now, raised them. “Look at this.”
A child before the blackness, hands raised, wrists loose, lost already in ritual.
“Uhm,” Bizzo said. There was a look on Sal’s face that he had no seen before, the look of something caged and now finding its larger intention, the latch in its trammel. It was not a rapturous look. It was slightly sorrowful.
“Rely on?” Garf said. “We’ve never used it in any way.”
Sal turned to Garf. Then he turned to Bizzo.
“I wouldn’t know,” Bizzo said.
“This is the basic threat.” Sal pointed at the Hasp. “This is under everything. Isn’t it absurd? Isn’t it obscene? It is a threat so powerful it cannot be used. It is the basic violence under our structure. Do you know how other nations see us? To them we are already a Kingdom of totems. Providence picked bare. They don’t even contemplate conflict with us. And then they see this, our Defence. And what do you think they think? And we use that. I use that. Its hint is in everything I do: you cannot overcome us. Even if I did not want to I would be forced to.” He stopped and looked thoughtful and nodded, or maybe that movement was only imagined. “Look at this thing. I am the same as it. Don’t you think?”
Bizzo and Garf stood and looked at him and did not say anything. There was a light in his eyes and a deadly calm.
“Don’t you think?” Sal said. He held out his wrists. He smiled and there was nothing in it that was not genuine and warm. “Come on. Do not believe that I am something else. Under my skin there is a violence. There is a violence. Don’t look at me that way, Garf. It’s the most basic eloquence and it’s all here, all inside me. Hm?”
A wild and profligate gesture.
Him receding now, just like this, taken by therapeutic quantities of darkness.
“That’s not – a problem,” Bizzo offered. “It’s not easy, being the Leviathan, but it’s not a bad thing, I guess.”
Sal looked up and titled his head and looked at them out of the corners of his eyes, as if puzzled, thinking. “Oh, Bizzo, I’m not complaining.” It was a terrifying look, alien, suddenly, maybe cold, haughty. “But this encroaches on me,” he said. “Come now. You must know this. This is easy to see.”
Garf said, “But the Defence has never done anything. It’s not doing anything now.”
“Garf,” Sal said, “I am not an alternative. Do you understand? What’s – I don’t know, choose what you want – what’s truth to violence? What’s violence to greater violence? What’s me to a God?”
“You are saying you can’t control this,” Bizzo said. Sal looked at him blankly.
“It’s The Defence, Sal,” Garf said. “It’s not doing anything bad. It’s just a defence.”
“Do you think that this must be a defence? Do you really think that?”
Bizzo said, “What else could it be?”
“Something to kill everyone?”
“Well, think about it. This whole world is already impossible to attack. There are too many forces conspiring against it. QC. Gates. Gatekeepers. Compydust. College AIs, if necessary. Armouries. But if we were all to die it would be through this.”
Garf said, “So this is about controlling it.”
“I’m not complaining about anything,” Sal said, “I’m just saying this is the way things are. I’m pretty okay with it.”
“I’m pretty sure you could stop that from happening” Bizzo said. “I’m sure there are ways to do it.”
“Why would I prevent it?”
“Why would it not be me making that order?”
“What is this about?” Garf said. She had her hands in her pockets, her body tight against itself.
In a different world trees stood shocked in the sun, canopies small spaces and worlds apart.
“Kasakadei has written little thing. A monograph. Have you heard about it?”
“The ethics majors in Hakon mentioned –” Bizzo said.
“Evitable and Inevitable Duties of Non-Existence. It’s what you would expect from Kasakadei. A tight airless thing. The arguments in it are not new – they are clarifications of some very ancient claims. Dusted off, restated to avoid some obvious attacks.”
“What is this?” Garf said.
“If it is not a moral evil to fail to create a utility-positive life,” Sal said, “then it follows.”
“That it might be good that we all die. Isn’t strange that such a small concession, something look inconsequential, almost, could lead to this? Small things have big consequences.”
“When you say we you mean, all, as in all of us?”
“You see now why a Hasp is useful for this purpose.”
“What is this argument? I don’t see how anything follows.”
“It’s about an asymmetry. We all agree that it is wrong to create a life if it would be one of suffering. To cause the existence of such a life would be a moral evil. We therefore have a duty not to create such a life. But it is not clear that we must think that the flipside is true – that we have a duty to create a happy life, given the chance. But if there is no positive duty to create a life where that life would be a happy one – if that is not a moral good, then we are left with a conclusion that the happiness that a non-existent life passes over is not a morally relevant loss, while the pain and suffering that is passed over is a morally relevant gain. Do you see? This asymmetry means that we have a duty to create not life at all. An inevitable duty of non-existence obtains. No matter how gloriously happy the life we create is, as long as that life contains some sort of suffering, no matter how slight, that pain could have been avoided by not creating that life in the first place. Yes, no happiness would have been experienced, but if you think that failing to bring a utility-positive life into existence is not a moral wrong, then all this follows. The Inevitable Duty of Non-Existence.”
Bizzo was quiet. Garf was thinking.
Horror could be thus held purely by its skin.
Garf said, “This is an argument about why it is wrong to cause life to come into existence. It does not say that once life is created we should end it.”
Sal laughed. “Yes! Yes. But one does rather imply the other. And if the killing is quick there is little harm done.”
Bizzo said, “You don’t believe any of this.” He ran his tongue over his front teeth like an animal. “You don’t believe any of this.”
“Bizzo, darling, why do you ask me? Think about it. Any answer I give to these sorts of questions will not be motivated by my desire to tell you the truth but by the necessities of my position.”
“We’re clearly not dead,” Bizzo said. “So you don’t believe that.”
“No,” Sal said. “There you go, I guess.” He laughed.
“Shall we head?” Garf said. “We’re having lunch at Porales.”
“No,” Sal said.
“Come on, let’s go,” Garf said. She started moving toward the doorway.
Sal looked at her. “No,” he said smoothly, without any gap between Garf’s exclamation and his denial.
Garf stood as if paralyzed.
“You should know about the other argument,” Sal said. “Don’t you think? Evitable duties of non-existence. You should find out.”
“Why are we discussing philosophy?” Garf said.
“We’re not discussing philosophy at all,” Sal said, sounding surprised. “We’re discussing why I should not be minded to kill everyone.”
“Okay,” Garf said. She grasped her face and ran her hand down it, pressing into her cheeks. “Must we do it here?”
“The arguments are made rather sharper here, aren’t they?”
“Go on, then. Explain.”
“It’s not complicated. It’s an old argument, an ancient argument, really, that Zapffe Ipcress articulated fully in Grief and Sublimation. It’s an argument for an evitable duty because this duty is sensitive to the value of existent life itself; it matters how that life is to be lived. The claim is that happiness is not real. That is to say, it does not exist independently. Suffering is what exists independently, as the groundnorm. There is nothing intrinsic about the satisfaction of fulfilling desire because desire multiplies – and desire is only a kind of pain evolution has forced us to clutch at, reflexively, a lie of value that we must hum to ourselves over and over again. Ipcress’ words. Do you know what Ipcress writes in the second annex to Four Meditations? I can recite it for you. It slips into the mind quite easily:
“‘Conscious life, although nothing on the scale of cosmic time, is laden with suffering. This suffering is directed towards no other end but its own perpetuation. This is to be expected. All suffering directed elsewhere, which is to say all honest suffering, has long since ended. It is lost to us. What exists is that suffering which, by making a terror of everything, threads the barren and yawning needle of mere survival. We feel, deeply but pointlessly, that life nonetheless has some meaning, or at least some pattern-of-value. We feel that because we hold in ourselves an argument that, even if unarticulated, is as powerful as it is false. What is this secret argument? (1) To say an interest is morally relevant is to say that it matters morally; (2) If it matters morally, it must matter to the entity whose interest it is; (3) For an entity’s interest to matter to it, there must be something that it is like – that it feels like – to be that entity; (4) That feeling-of-being this entity possesses must be indicative of the relation of its interest to its being; (5) The relevant part of this feeling-of-being is desire; and hence (6) Desire must, if not identify precisely, at least indicate those interests that are morally relevant, and thus stake out within each life a space for meaning to develop. At each stage this argument proposes an erasure of suffering and its replacement with meaning, or something like it. Call it truth. Call it light. Call it nobility. Call it honesty. Call it freedom. Call it dignity. But it never shows its true face. That true face is that it is correct in one place only, and it locates a truth. Life is morally relevant – that is to say, it matters, but only because it is an evil. It needs to end.’”
Bizzo coughed. Garf was staring at Sal.
“Well,” Garf said.
“Do you agree?” Sal asked.
“Do I agree?”
“No. No, I fucking love my life, Sal. I would never give it up.”
Sal laughed. He looked at Garf and then at Bizzo. He. shrugged apologetically. “I think people should know about that argument. It is eight centuries old. It shouldn’t have taken Kasakedei to resurrect it, to put it in so-called analytic terms. It is worth hearing.”
“Sometimes I am terrified of you,” Garf said. “I mean that. Sometimes I am.”
“Sorry,” Sal said. He turned his palms up and that hint of good-willed gangliness came back.
“You didn’t bring us here to do – that, did you?”
Sal made a face of pretend-woundedness. Then he laughed and shook his head. “No, no. I came because I thought it would be interesting to see The Defence.”
“You don’t believe in that argument.”
“What can I say?”
“No, you don’t.”
“Well, I don’t believe in it. Crane has some sharp things to say about it.” He looked at them, gauging if this was enough. “I told you it’s not useful, asking me these things. Let’s go.”
“Fuck me,” Garf said. “I am suddenly famished.”
Sal looked at The Defence. He spoke to it. “You’ll be here, won’t you?” Lightly again. “This luminous grave. It must be good. Oh well.” He turned to Bizzo and Garf. “Let’s go.”