kind of getting away: 15

It’s getting colder now. Around me trees dying into new life. Snow has appeared over the last week. I come across footprints over and over again. There are strangely moving, an extension of the thing that made them, but left unsupported, defenceless. They broaden with time and thin out.

The past day I have done nothing but rest. The sun is not yet gone. But it is close. As far as I remember the sun has been invisible the last few days, its whole being smeared out into greyness, greyness and rain for me here infinities below. My route is greased by wind.  It is a strange feeling. The basic lockstep of even that great star somehow thinning out into a scrawl of light spread out over acres of time. I cannot remember right now exactly when the sun was not obscured by cloud or rain. I don’t even feel it getting that cold anymore.

I am sitting in the mouth of my tent. The wind’s blue hands stuttering welcome. In the dark near and far creatures stop and continue. Their notice of me ends here.

There are Brown Hearn flying over the ridge now. Fluting the air with the dim vapour of their flight, as if the air needed elaboration. They don’t have a colour in this light but that does not make them out of place. Winter is almost here. Everything bleeding promissory colour. Everything remade. I don’t know much about Hearn but now it seems enough now for me to just watch. I’m at Ridge H-64. This is a place made without thought for cartographers. The horizon is always stiff and wrinkled with rain. Here coordinates vanish. There is something shocking, therefore, about seeing something inhabit the sky like this, so violently. They don’t alter space but reveal it. There is no leftover flying. Nothing collects in their wake. I will go to sleep and one of them will glides a lateral fathom, tailless afterthought in blue air dreams, back to its home, having given no thought to its actions.

Yesterday was my rest day. I was thinking of the EWFT and so went to the Teal, the only big river I will be encountering on this excursion.  Went down through the trees and it was there. Shocking and disdainful breadth. I splashed around in the shallows for a while, watched the Broach move in the water. Three days ago the temperature abruptly rose; the small streams everywhere seemed suddenly unstopped and the Teal filled like a heart. In any case I went down into the water. The Broach stayed away but then they came near my feet, asking. Quick and like silt. I had to learn how to see the slim bodies, things wedged dimensionless against the water.  Arrows saying west of here, west of here. Weeds held in wet slit mouths. Far enough into the sea rivers lose their names.  The ocean waiting to sting its thirst alive and hence accept everything offered riverwise. I moved once and the Broach flashed away. Things pre-empting the concept of weather.

How do they resolve the water, the flash of teeth?

I put my head in the water; it was cold. The Broach disappeared again, pulled the wet sky around their bodies and were gone. But I imagined. The sound of the locked double heart furrowed through kilometres of water.

When I came out the water the thing that I think had been following me was on the bank, looming over me. It happened in the past; it happens now. Fear detonates inside me. It is looking straight at me. It seems massive, something not part of this space, like something sketched in. A spadelike head larger than my chest. On the four feet talons. Cuspid aviiform, recites my head in response to that implied violence, a chant like a ward. I call for Helper but in my head there is silence. The thing comes closer, a single movement without assertion or timidity. Eyes like a haze of Magellanic water. They are large and I see myself in them. I do not look scared. I seem to it to be a reimagining of its vision, a dream cycled over and over again through the same process, a lock gate stuck half open, a changed thing not aware of the changing. It knows my name and providence. Then it does something that I cannot imagine; it cocks its head and pushes its head forward slightly, as if the snout is tasting the air. I think how different I am, body an animal apart. Its body is black, nearly unreflective. I think how dark my body is this moment, how unlike other living things, how light only comes in through the sudden wound.

It opens a vast black canopy above itself and the air beats down on me. Behind me water fragments over stone. Then leaps and it is in the air. I am bewildered that something this large is capable of vertical takeoff, of rising against its own weight, until I tell myself this is not my world. I might never have loved violent under this sky and woken up crawled on by stars. Everything must be alien and beloved. I turn to look at that dark spot as its goes high, higher, enters a strange world of facticity.

That was all yesterday. Helper does not know. My tent shivers a little now, a small thoughtful movement. The sun manages to throw a last light on the mountain for the first time in a long time so that the glaciers burn. This world is strange once again. If I stood and told the day, open, meaning it, what would happen? Is there a use in coercing an answer from the long mute flats of existence, of this sure-footed being-here-ness? Well, no. Let days come. Open.

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.

Erth

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.

Kind of getting away: 13

Day two and I think of my close my life is – all the ways in which it could have been – can be – perfect.

Dusk comes and takes up the places between the trees. Mild and serum light settling down. The kind of light that brings colour to the sky but exhausts its purpose there and so can only turn everything else into silhouette. Really it is unspeakable. I imagine how my face looks now, a blue totem in a blue hour.

It is good to be out, here, in the tent. There is sincerity in the idea of shelter. Just shelter, not the idea of a home. Something far more basic, far more inherent, something far more in this sense like a silhouette. A space in which to put up a little light, to coax forth a little warmth and tender it for nothing. Feel its smallness. Shelter is the basic condition, I think. I mean, just – what does it say? It says: everything is out there, and I am in here, I am apart. Look at this tent, this little yellow thing. What is it really? What can it offer? So much a function of its shape and how it is seen rather than what it really is. Why should I have any affection for it at all?

But I am happy. I think of the evening. I think of the tent and the migration report I have to write. I think of the coming gestures of the night. I think of Helper’s patience.

That is important, actually. The thing is that when I am around other people I find that they have modes, vibrations, certain harmonics of being, certain methods of calling up from inside themselves some unfounded coherence.  So often with people you need modes. I remember friends who are always cynical, so afraid of the idea of sincerity because that would mean nailing themselves down and letting the light touch them and no fucking thanks. They drag me that way. We speak and our words are rushing sibilances, sly and shining extraterrestrial missiles that glance off everything but trade in nothing. Sometimes with a friend I am forced to be a conspirator standing against the world: look at all the idiots around us, look at their irreversible cobalt eyes, rancid lips glued shut with sperm. Sometimes I need to enter a tottering skit, a looping pathology of gastric funniness, ha-ha, ha-ha, parasite living off amphetamines that are not in me. This is why Helper is important. The good thing about Helper is that it does not need any acting. There is no panic like a glassy undertow. I don’t have a mode. I don’t need a mode and it’s just such a relief.

Just before I left I went out onto the Wash again. To prepare myself for this? Well, not really. I stood there in the mud and left myself be held by the thought that all the water has been here for millions of years. This vast flat expanse and its slow shallow pulse a pattern completely unrequired of time and completely ignorant of it. A grey heart gurgling from wimples of sand, going on just like that, without shame. All of this is all of a piece. But something had changed. Something was different this time. I held some mud in my hand and it was just mud. Could not be squeezed dry. Could not be made still. It dribbled all the way down my arm. The weather was very cold and the mud was cold too. This is the only way mud can be: on a plain, under a hanging sky, holding under it the curve of the world. Not offering it protection, not eating at it, not hiding it, just holding it, touching it at every point, without anything more.

I was standing there for I don’t know how long, trying to pinpoint it, when I heard Helper coming over. Helper makes no noise when it moves, but it’s figured out that it’s general social niceness to do something unintrusive to let a deaf little human know you’re coming. So there’s this soft whirring sound.

“I’ve got your Allweather,” it said, offering it.

“Thanks,” I said. It was very cold and I was shivering.

“We can go tomorrow if you’d rather that,” Helper said.

“No,” I said. “I’ll get one last shower and then we’ll go.”

“I’ll get your stuff.”

“Uh, don’t worry about it. It’s better if I pack anyway.”

I headed back to the house. I’d only gone about a kilometre out and so it didn’t take long. When I got there I looked back and Helper was still there on the Wash, one kind of grey set against another, looking out, or maybe looking at where I had stood, that small sandy dimple and the curls of mud the only blemish on that expanse.

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: 9

Out and alone in this.

Why do I bother to tell.

What indeed. What indeed and why.

Not preservation.

Inundation.

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: 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.

Kind of getting away: 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How far away are they?”

“About four ks from the house.”

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

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

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

“I don’t need it,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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