Meeting Leviathan

“So what exactly do I call you? Am I supposed to go, like, yo, Leviathan, or do I kneel and go O Leviathan, or do I just go hey dude or what?”

Late Heavy Bombardment was pretty crowded. Way-on-Hill did not have a surplus of good bars and LHB was much treasured among the studentry. The World Championship was going on, so people had slowly pooled over the course of the evening to watch. No-one was using an engine; those were for later.

Leviathan was not sitting with anyone. He was alone at his table. He looked up at the screen and frowned slightly. He was young, maybe around 16 or so, and kind of thin but in an athletic way. He was wearing jeans, sort-of-sneakers, a plain ochre T-shirt. Not one of those loose-collared things so common in the current heat. His hair was short, brownish, maybe messy, with a tuft over the forehead and at the nape of the neck. He was both very good-looking and very nondescript. He hooked one heel over the other foot and leaned back in his chair and put the knuckle of his thumb up to one eye, rubbing.

When he heard Garfield he turned around quickly. He moved with a gangly kerfufflement that appeared to broadcast what were more or less good intentions.

“Hey,” he said. “Uhm. My name’s actually Salix. I guess you’d call me that.” He extended his hand.

“Salix,” Garfield said. She extended her hand; he shook it. She dragged a chair over and dropped into it. “Salix. As in, line?”

“As in line.”

“Hmm.” She rocked the chair backwards. “You should get something to drink. Do you drink?”

Salix shrugged; Garfield left and came back with a small shot glass of what looked like water.

“What’s that?” he said, eyeing it warily.

“What I’m wondering,” Garfield said, “is where all the descendants are. Shouldn’t there be a ton of them just sort of hovering around?”

“I’m not really attackable here on Stize, I think.” Smiling slightly.

“Fair enough. That’s Sudden Acute Paralysis, by the way.”

Salix looked at the shot glass. “So what’s this about, really?”

“Bet.”

“What do you get?”

“I can’t really tell.” Garfield gestured at the glass. “They say it’s good if you want to think. After – you know – after the paralysis wears off, obviously.”

“Fair enough,” Salix said. He downed the clear fluid and winced. “You’re not going to get –aack – anything more than this, I’m afraid. Aack.” He shrugged.

Garfield looked disappointed. “Well. It’s still a bet won. Must say I was hoping for a little more, though.”

“Sorry,” Salix said. “None of this stuff works on me.”

“Is it a design thing?”

“It’s a design thing. Poison etc.”

“It’s not poison.”

“Well, it impairs judgment.”

Garfield looked at Salix, aghast. “This is a university,” she said.

He toyed with the shot glass. “If you were in my position –”

“Yes, yes,” Garfield said. “Some blood factor?”

“Something like that, yeah,” Salix said.

“Let me see,” Garfield said, and grabbed Salix’s right hand. It was a tight and wiry thing. She peered at the veins. “Looks like the usual colour, though. I got told it was sort of greyish.”

“It’s not the usual,” Salix said. “I’m red all the way through.”

“Ahh,” Garfield said. “And your token?”

“Token?”

“You know, the –”

“Oh, you mean this.” Salix spread out the index and middle fingers on his left hand, exposing the little web of skin in between.

“There you go,” Garfield said. “The mark of the beast.”

“It’s a semicolon,” Salix said.

“It does look like one, doesn’t it?”

“I’ve got a little semicolon printed on me.”

“Can I ask you a slightly macabre question?”

“Um, yeah. Sure.”

“So you have this blood factor and it’s not the usual protective suite.”

“Yes.”

“So say that we were not on Stize, say that there was no CompyDust around, say there were no descendants either –”

“Oh dear,” Salix said. “No, or maybe yes if you went to great lengths.”

“So what exactly would happen if I stabbed you? Or shot you? And say you didn’t expect any of this.”

“It would hurt. A lot. From a close enough distance at least. I’d be pissed,” Salix said. He stopped and thought. “Probably really pissed.”

“Not death.”

“It’s all probabilistic, but yeah.”

“That’s very cool.”

Salix raised his eyebrows. “I’m sort of valuable, you know.”

Garfield stared and started laughing. Then she said, “Do you know what’s so strange? There’s all these people going at you edgewise because they’re so scared and it turns out you’re just like this.”

“Like what?”

“Bizzo!” Garfield yelled. People turned to look. Ordinarily people might have shushed them (Game 5 had started as a Greenfield and descended rapidly into a subtle and murderous tactical slugfest; the analysis was not easy even with the mind-clearing aftereffects of Sudden Acute Paralysis) but at this particular point in time they chose not to.

Bizzo was a person. He came over, coughing, shoulders inbent as a hierophant’s, greenly painful hair without conceivable symmetry or function under a polypoid flat cap, eyes dead.

“Hello, Garfield,” he said. His voice was oddly mild. It was nasal and soft-vowelled and sounded like it came through an ancient radio. Rhotic Rs. He was missing several teeth. “I thought you’d be here.” Bizzo had odd breathy Ts and his Is were more like OIs.

“Garfield,” Salix said. “You didn’t tell me your name.”

“I must have,” Garfield said, “Didn’t I?”

“Never mind,” Salix said. “Hi, Bizzo.”

“Bizzo, meet Salix, Leviathan, soon of the House of Leaves, the Latter Circuit, etc. Salix, meet Bizzard, singer-songwriter, fluid dynamicist, environmental terrorist.”

“Ex-environmental terrorist,” Bizzo said. Salix and Garfield waited as a curiously regurgitative cough intervened. “Nice to meet you.”

“Are you unwell?” Salix said.

“No,” Garfield said.

“Yes,” Bizzo said, “But I like it this way.”

“He’s from Hakon,” Garfield said.

“What about Hakon?” Salix said.

“We talk strange,” Bizzo said.

“They’re positively freakish,” Garfield said, with enthusiasm.

Bizzo coughed in protest or just coughed. “QC let me have the drugs,” Bizzo said.

“Was this in return for the terrorism?” Salix said.

“He was very good at it,” Garfield said.

“Did you do ecoterrorism for your Justification, then?” Salix said.

Bizzo scratched idly behind one ear. “On Ditarod, after Habermas,” he said, wistfully. “Those were damn good times.”

“I considered going there,” Garfield said, “But eventually I settled for the Undercover Infrastructure programme on Domis. Nothing as vivacious as terrorism.” She looked sad.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Bizzo offered. “You did a deep insertion.”

“It’s not like anyone actually died, though,” Garfield said.

“It’s not that great.” Bizzo said.

“Still.”

“Question,” Bizzo coughed, looking at Salix.

“Hmm?”

“Well – hrrm –not really a question.”

“Yeah, sure, go ahead.”

“More like a directive, really.”

“Okay.”

“You know, it’s a bit weird, you being Leviathan – you know what I mean.”

“I don’t mind at all, really I don’t.”

“Well, you’d better solve Ditarod soon. That’s it. You really have to solve that place.”

“I will,” Salix said.

“He’s got strong feelings about this,” Garfield said.

“I can tell,” Salix said.

Bizzo coughed again. “Salix, you could kill half of the people on Ditarod and it wouldn’t make a difference. I tell you the place is a total horror for the people. They have jobs, it’s unimaginable. All the days, again and again, they can’t choose, they don’t even have any time. I was thinking about what it would be like. You just sit there and your life is parcelled out and monetized away and when you get home you are so tired nothing can be done about it anymore. And then you realise you need to get your own food, or whatever, you need to get out and do more things – and the thing is you’re doing all this just to stay alive. They tie themselves to some office, it’s a really tiny space, can barely move, can’t talk, all that just so that they can pay for having a house. You know? It goes on like this for years and years. They’re so fucked-up – so many of them are so fucked-up – they’re better off dead. They don’t know that, of course.”

“Rant,” Garfield nodded. “Truth.”

“Sorry about that,” Bizzo said. “I must have sounded really condescending.”

Salix shook his head. “You should get a seat,” he said. “You can’t stand all night.”

Bizzo delicately angled himself into a chair and leaned back, eyes filmed with exhaustion. “Aaah,” he said.

“All those recreational drugs,” Garfield said. “Mainly I disapprove of the green hair.”

“How long was he on Ditarod?”

“Two years or so.”

Salix sighed. “He’s right, he’s right, but there are other ways to go about it.”

“Ask her about K8,” Bizzo wheezed enigmatically. Now his voice was so soft it was hard to catch what he was saying.

“Does he know what’s going on?” Salix asked.

“He’s perfectly fine, this comes and goes.”

“So what about K8?”

“Oh, she’s talking about K8 again,” Bizzo murmured.

“He looks properly blissed out,” Salix said.

“It comes and goes,” Garfield said.

“So what about K8?”

“I went all the way up it, in a bike.”

“Just a bike?”

“A mechanical mountain bike. It was a very good one, though.”

“No oxygen.”

“Just standard-body. Lost most of the fingers on my left hand on the way down but it got replaced. It was really weird.”

Salix stared. “You went up Stize’s fourth-highest mountain in a bike.”

“There was a lot of hopping around involved. I carried it sometimes when it got really steep.”

“That is ridiculous.”

“It sort of makes up for my not being a terrorist. And the training was awful. ”

“Wow,” Salix said.

“You’re not going to ask me why I did it, I suppose.”

“It’s not that hard to understand.”

Garfield went quiet and looked thoughtful.

Salix waited.

“You know,” Garfield said, “I went up K8 alone.”

“Well – ”

“I told QC that I didn’t want any help.”

“Okay,” Salix said.

“Actually this reminds me of something I was hoping to ask you.”

“Go ahead,” Salix said.

“This was when I was nearly at the top. It was very cold, still a little dark. You would expect all of that. And then when the sun came up it was so bright it was difficult to see. But just beneath the summit there was a dead person. Not all of it, I didn’t see the whole body. But there is this small overhang on the East Face, and these two rocks come together like a V, and there was – is, probably – someone crouched there. Sheltering from the cold, obviously. One hand stretched all the way out. That’s the first thing I noticed, actually. There was a stiff hand all wrapped up in a heavy jacket, orange, the normal colour.”

“I see,” Salix said. Abruptly there was something about him that was very observant.

“I’ve always wondered about that,” Garfield said.

“QC.”

“Why did QC let the climber die?”

“Have you asked QC?”

Garfield stared at Salix as if he was some kind of strange object. “I want to know,” she said, “what you think.”

“Whoever it was probably asked to be left there.”

“Do you think someone would do that?”

“Yes.”

“Why would someone do that?”

Salix put his head on the table. It was a strangely childlike thing for him to do. “I really cannot say.”

“You don’t think QC let it happen just because it could.”

“Just because it could.”

Garfield did not know how she ought to elaborate. “Just because it could.”

“I don’t know. What does that mean?”

“Was QC responsible? Did it do it?”

“The climber asked QC to stay away. I think that’s what happened.”

“I suppose,” Garfield said.

A little time passed. Around them on other tables pieces clacked softly on the analysis boards.

Salix cocked his head. “What?” he said.

He could imagine it, a hand out there, bright in the ice and the air, nearly all the oxygen gone.

“Nothing,” Garfield said. “I’m going to get some Sudden Acute Paralysis. Do you want some more?”

“It doesn’t work on me,” Salix said.

“Could you turn it off?”

“As in, my blood?”

“No, obviously. Just the immunity.”

Salix spread his hands in a gesture meant apparently to convey some sense of futility. “Oh well,” he said.

And The Days Are Not Long Enough: 4

Part 3

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

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

It comes in slowly into the light.

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

The sound goes away.

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

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

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

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

He stands in the doorway and looks at it.

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

Maybe there never was any rain outside.

That is a possibility.

“How long will you be here?” he says.

“Don’t worry,” it says.

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

It will make it difficult to go outside.

“I’ll watch,” it says, finally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you smoke?” Hath said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ary shrugged again, but he was smiling.

“You’re lucky I was there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go,” Ary said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” Ary said, looking away.

“Why would he care?” Gryzhas said.

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

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

“Tell him what you think.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I knew all of that,” Ary said.

“Where are your parents?” Gryzhas said.

Ary was silent.

“Gryz,” Hath said.

“Wait,” Gryzhas said.

“Not here,” Ary said.

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

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

“Really? How? Where?”

“Gryz,” Hath said.

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

“I think you are lying,” Gryzhas said.

“No,” Ary said.

“Gryz,” Hath said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hath said, “Gryz, get out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s not that bad,” Hath said.

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

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

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

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

“I really need that drink.”

“He’s still outside.”

“Let’s all go down.”

They did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locomotive

A train thrashes through the city. The machinations of ancient switcheries have conspired against this, acres entire of antediluvian and twitching metal all coming together, all conjugated in mute resistance, but this is happening now. The train rams itself down 202 Clumbine/Dixen, past the gurgling throat of South St and its thyroidic emanations, flecked steel and flinty traffic, now Darwyn and 34th, girdles and snappish sphincters all around, moving as if by vulgar oath – insistent, justified, bristling.

It has a purpose, there will be no meandering about it, no foreplay. The people it carries are insects, glass insects. A great borborygmic cackle is its sign and herald. Is it not true, my friends, is it not true that a message is only as good as its deliverer? People in their homes look up at the sudden braid of white metal run like a bright worm through the brain. The train bursts into the Great Arcade, moving in its own exhalations of steam and silver, breaking the glass in the trellis, a barbarous thing through which there comes evening light congealed into pale sweet fluid, a substance for which no name has been given and which falls, even if bereft the necessary taxonomies, onto the ribs and rails as they buck and buckle, a signal that this is indeed the time for this sentinel, this Being with its scatological visitations, this arachnid in a halo of comminuted steel, to reel in by mechanical means old torsions and liabilities yet unresolved. It runs a shiny fuck off past its erstwhile companions lined in their stalls and it is out again, glowered canticle shearing air from other air, even now exultant, even now inexplicable – past Miserere, through the labyrinthine airs of Downing, all its grime now shed, transfiguring safety barriers, peeling paint off the zygotic tunnels, insects inside now stirring in horror and volubility, unaware or aware of how soon they are to be borne aloft on the high spirit airs of explosion. This is one kind of proselytisation made of chrome and thudding parts and murderousness, if only you would look at it—

The train crashes into the outer Wall. It is moving so fast that it buries over half of its shaft in fabulant concrete before its crumpled arse grinds to a shudder and a halt, and finally the fire comes and takes the high section of the wall falling all the way down below where it trundles and rolls gigantic through Parkway and Sennet and Colm St, down the hill of the District, flattening thousands with the weight of its benediction.

And The Days Are Not Long Enough: 3

Part 2

Ary took the bus from the CM tent to the medical centre. It wasn’t very far away. On the way there he looked at the big generators. They hummed distantly. They were huge; Ary had never looked at them properly before. They were big and grey and had angles everywhere.

They had given him a pass for the superbunk until he took the Big Red up, since he had no legal home. He had also gotten clothes wrapped in plastic. They had had a bit of trouble finding a set his size but they had dug up something eventually. It was all greenish military stuff but Ary had weighed the parcel in his hands and tried to feel the fabric through the plastic. He thought that those clothes would be warm. It was a large parcel and he couldn’t squeeze it under one arm so he held it with both hands instead.

At the centre there was a sign that said: IMPLANTS/INTERFACE – COMBINED MILITARY ONLY and Ary went where it pointed. The corridors where long and white. No-one looked at him this time, and he liked that. He had never been a place like this before. There was a desk outside the waiting room and there was a man at the desk with narrow eyes who said nothing and just looked as Ary when he walked up.

“I’m getting my Implant today,” Ary said. He stopped, uncertain. “Am I supposed to be here?” He did know know what to say in this kind of situation.

“If you are getting your implant today,” the man said. His voice was completely flat and he looked straight at Ary. Ary did not like the look.

“I was told I was getting it today. The – Lieutenant Crane –”

“Yes, yes. Touch this please.” The man pushed a flat black rectangle to Ary and looked back at his desk. “Go on,” he said, not looking up.

It was warm and metallic.

“Ary,” the man said.

It was a shock, to hear this name said by someone else, in that manner. “Yes?” Ary said, thinking something had gone wrong.

“Is that your name – is your name Ary?” the man said.

“Yes,” Ary replied.

“Take a seat. We’ll come and get you. Don’t be away for too long.”

Ary went over to the waiting room. He looked through the glass and saw that it was full. There was another waiting room just a bit further down the corridor and that one was nearly empty. He went back to the desk. The man there was talking to someone else from the centre; Ary stood and waited. The man frowned a lot and shook his head. He moved his hands as if he was dismissing something. When the friend left Ary walked back up and said, “Sorry. I was thinking, how long will this be?”

“I don’t know. You should get a seat.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Ary went back.

The man said, “It depends. It really depends on how the doctors are doing.”

Ary stood there. “Oh,” he said.

“Everyone’s a bit different, you know? Sometimes it takes very long and some people are out almost immediately.”

“Okay,” Ary said. He went to the second waiting room and sat down. He looked at the people walking past the waiting room. They all looked very busy. Sometimes a pair would come in coats, talking to each other. There was a heightened sense of attention that places like this generated.

There was nothing to tell Ary when he would be called.  He kept thinking that this particular person would come in and call his name, kept thinking that this particular person looked like the one who would do something like that, but this never happened . The place smelt very clean and there was a chemical lilt to the air.

There was a small table in the room with magazines on it.

The guy opposite Ary was asleep but the young woman beside him was not. She had a sharp look. She was one of these people that always looked alert in a tired sort of way. She had her hair back in a messy bun and she fiddled with it. She held a small cup with pills. She kept taking out her phone and looking at it. She would flip the phone around, flip it again, absentmindedly, light the screen, glance and it, and then look at something else. She tried to project a movie for a while for she didn’t really seem to be watching it because she looked right through it to the wall, or so it seemed to Ary. Eventually she turned the movie off and then looked through the glass at the people walking past. She didn’t look like a person who would want to join CM, Ary thought. Then he wondered why he had an idea of what the kind of person who would join CM in the first place would look like.

The young woman picked up a magazine and started reading it. She riffled through the pages one way, stopped, and went a couple of pages back. She leaned over the page like she was reading it but she stayed on the page for a very long time. Ary tried to see what she was reading. It was one of those sleek things that CM put out. He tried to notice the page she was stuck at. It was something about pilots. There was a column of small text about pay and big images of aircraft, spacecraft. Things that looked restless and deadly. The young woman stayed on that page for so long that Ary was convinced she was not reading anything.

Then she leaned back and closed her eyes and it seemed as if she was going to sleep. Then she said, “Why don’t you take another copy? There’s lots over there.” She gestured at the table without opening her eyes.

Ary didn’t know what to say. “Were you reading that?” he said. “The magazine.”

“No, I was looking at the pictures.” The young woman sighed. “Take it,” she said, pushing the magazine over and opening her eyes.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t stare at people that way in the future. If you want something just ask.” The young woman smiled. It was a strange smile on her; there was something aggressive to it.

Ary held the magazine in his hands but he did not turn it on. “Sorry,” he said.

“You’re undocced, yes?”

Something clenched in Ary and was held there.

“You should take off the sticker.” The young woman gestured at Ary’s hand. “I’m Hatherance but call me Hath. Take it off, go on. No point broadcasting it.”

“Are you okay with undoccs?”

“Hmm. I don’t have a problem with them. This wait is killing me.” Hatherance went out and came back with coffee and took the pills. “They could have at least put up some movies,” she said. “Why are you in this?”

“I’m getting my Interface – ”

“I know, I know. I mean why join CM.”

“I thought it would be good to leave.”

“Figures,” Hatherance said, even though she looked at Ary curiously. She looked at people sideways, like a bird.

Ary was so relieved that he surprised himself by saying, “Why are you joining?”

“Well,” Hatherance said, and pushed herself back into her seat like she was going to say something important. Then she shrugged. “It’s awful out there, you know.”

Ary did know if she was talking about the war or about the things that were happening to the people they were meant to protect. “Is that a reason?” he asked.

“Well if it helps the people on Ebannen, Essen – I know this sounds naïve, and it is a little I suppose – we probably should sign up. At least think about it. You know what I mean. You know what I mean?”

“Is that it?” Ary asked, testing how far he could go.

She leaned back and said, “No. That’s the bullshitty part. The main thing is that two years back my brother signed up. Didn’t go to university. He always wanted to go, always watched all the movies and stuff. I didn’t have a problem with him going – your life, your choice, all that. We had lunch at Cozo’s and he said stupid jokes and then he took the Big Red the next morning.”

“How is he?” Ary asked. “What is it like. Out there, I mean.”

“He didn’t write back much. He told me about basic training but then after than they took the Gate to Ebannen.”

“Oh,” Ary said.

“Yeah, so I haven’t heard back from him since. I thought I would be okay with it, and I sort of am, but it would be good to find out how he is. See him again. I keep thinking about lunch at Cozo’s. I think I got every single word from that time memorised. I think I’m going crazy or something. Do I sound crazy?”

Ary smiled, “No,” he said, “I know the feeling.” He put his hands on the edge of his seat and leaned forward and kicked his legs.

“Yeah, lots of undocced – you know, at the university there were a lot of people who were unhappy with the way undoccs were treated. There were rallies and stuff, invites to talks. I never really went but I ended up kind of absorbing all that, just by being there. Osmosis.”

“They didn’t get much done,” Ary said.

“No,” Hatherance said.

“But it’s nice knowing some people care.”

“It kind of stays inside the university.”

“It’s still good.”

“They got the amnesty, so they managed to get you here, at least.” Hatherance stopped and thought. “Although it’s good that you don’t look too happy about it.”

“I’m getting my calibration done tomorrow. For Hynder.”

Hatherance stared at Ary. She was looking for a word. “Idiot,” she breathed.

“Should I say no? I thought it made sense.  Just now I thought it made sense but I am – I am really unsure now.”

“I mean it’s no wonder you look like you’re about to cry all the time.”

“Should I say no?” Ary asked.

“I mean – well – why did you say yes?”

“Everyone on Ebannen got it, I was told.”

That made Hatherance think for a while. “You are very, very, brave,” she said, making it sound like a warning.

“I am very, very, scared — is more like it,” Ary said. The words came out just before he thought about stopping them.

“Is someone going with you?”

“It’s just me.”

“You know people are wrecked when they come out, you know. They can’t walk, can’t talk, it’s screwed up.”

Ary said, “You know, it’s funny that both of us don’t really want to join but we’re here.”

“No,” Hatherance said, “We both want to join. We just don’t have the proper reasons. But I want to talk about this Hynder thing you are doing. Are you going to do it?”

“I think so,” Ary said, “But I don’t know.” He adjusted the bundle of clothes on his lap.

“If you want to say no you should tell them tomorrow morning. Do you have a phone?”

“No.”

“Go back to the tent.”

“Okay. I might go back.” The plastic bundle made gentle crackling noises.

“I think you’re mad.”

“Okay.”

“When is your appointment tomorrow? For the calibration.”

“It’s here, at 4.15”

“If you’re doing it I’ll be here.”

“What?”

“What’s your name?”

“Ary.”

“Is that it?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll come by at 4. If you aren’t around I’ll assume you did the sane thing. Otherwise I’ll ensure you’re still alive after the procedure.”

“Thank you.” Ary was so grateful he felt it like a kind of pain. “Thank you very much.”

The door opened up and the doctor said, “Ms Soreha.”

“I’m here,” Hatherance said. “I’m coming.” She took her bag and got up.

“Please follow me,” the doctor said.

“See you, Ary,” Hatherance said. “Or hopefully not.”

After she left there was nothing to do so Ary looked through the magazines. He turned them over and over in his hands.

Then another doctor opened the door and said, “Ary.”

Ary stood up. “Yes,” he said.

Then someone else came to the door and said something to the doctor. She listened expressionlessly and nodded then the closed the door and left. She came back in right after that and passed him the cup with pills in it before she left again. She’d forgotten. “Take these.” Ary took them and sat down.  Now that Hatherance had left he felt unsure about everything. He looked at the pills. They were absurdly coloured, like baubles. He went out and found a dispenser and got some water took the pills. The water was very cold and it felt good. It had a clearing effect. Ary went back to the waiting room and looked at the huge luminous pictures in the magazines. There were soldiers sitting together and smiling in full gear even though their faces were covered with dust and grime. Some of them lay prone in grass, some of them stood weary but happy on sunlit outcrops. There were diagrams explaining weapons technology. There were pictures of orbital snipers silhouetted against the vast curve of some world smiling up at you from their cribs and looking extremely smart with their long rifles and pointscreens. There was a page or two about medics and what they did; Ary dwelled on that bit. And there was a thick section, with no pictures, about Peregrines, and long lists of what a Peregrine could do, and all the benefits they got.

The doctor came back. “Ary,” she said. “Thanks for waiting. Come with me.”

He followed her. She walked very fast and he hurried to keep up. They came to a small white room which was very clean and had a strange chair in it.

“Take a seat, Ary,” the doctor said. “It might be a bit too large for you but it should be alright.”

“Where do I put this?” Ary said, said, raising his parcel of clothes.

“I’ll take those.” The doctor put them in a cupboard.

Ary sat in the chair and the back went down until he was nearly lying down. There was a metal structure which held the back of his head. When he first touched the metal there was a sensation that for a moment Ary could not distinguish as hot or cold.

“I’m not going to do very much,” the doctor said. “But I want you to stay calm and if at any point you feel like you cannot breathe tell me and I’ll stop things. Are you comfortable?”

Ary nodded but the doctor didn’t see as she was looking at the screen.

“You’re getting Hynder calibrated tomorrow,” she said.

“I don’t know,” Ary said. “I said yes earlier.” He felt an intense urge to discuss this with someone. He felt without warning as if this was the last time he would be able to think about it and he desperately needed to know something but he didn’t know what it was he needed to know.

“Brave,” the doctor, said, looking properly at Ary.

“Should I say yes?”

“There are good reasons to say yes,” the doctor said. “But the trick is not to think too much about it. Lean back, please.”

Ary leaned back.

The doctor was back to the screen. “Now I’m just going to take a thin layer of skin off the back the back of your neck, around here. This shouldn’t hurt.”

Something pressed against the back of Ary’s neck and it felt wet. There was a sound like a gentle snap and that was it. Ary barely felt anything.

“There’s a bit of anaesthetic I’m going to put in. It will stop you feeling the insertion.”

“Does it stop all the pain?” Ary said.

“Just the insertion. There’s nothing to be done about the actual embedding, I’m afraid. Don’t think about it.”

Now a cold feeling. It was as if something was growing in Ary’s neck. It felt like it was enlarging, somehow, but that was it. It was strange but not painful.

The doctor turned back to Ary. “I’m going to do the insertion now, and the machine does the embedding automatically after. It will take a minute or two for the initial connections to grow in. It will be bad at first but it will be better very quickly. Do you want restraints? Usually it’s not necessary. You can just hold on to chair here. Grip tight, put your thumb on top like this.”

Ary did not know very much about how the Implant and Interface worked. There were millions of little needles that went up the brainstem, he knew. They put something in there that grew. That was it.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll just hold on.”

“If you start to feel like you cannot breathe tell me immediately. This is very safe but it’s happened before.”

“What happened?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m going to start insertion in 5 seconds.”

“Okay,” Ary said, feeling very stupid for still speaking.

There was a scraping sensation. Then it felt like something was pulling at the skin on the back of his neck. Ary thought he felt fluid going down the back of his neck but he did not say anything. Then there was another feeling, a pale transparent feeling. Then it bulbed up into his head and burst into something else entirely. It was incandescent. Ary felt air coming out of his lungs and he made an involuntary sound that he did not hear.

“You’re doing good,” he heard the doctor say. The sick thought arose in Ary that this was impossible.

He tried to breathe. He concentrated so hard on his breathing it was like fire. He really felt himself breathing, the air going into him and then coming out again. For a moment his vision went. It did not become blur or fade. It simply went and then it was back. The thing inside his head was pushing out, he could feel it pushing out. Tightness grew everywhere over his body. His hands reflexively left the handles and immediately grabbed them again.

“No, no,” Ary said.

It went on for some time. Then it went away.

“Very good,” the doctor said. “You handled it very well. Don’t move.”

“It hurts,” Ary said.

“Yes,” the doctor said. “But now it’s over and done with. I want you to close your eyes.”

Ary did so.

“Open your eyes,” the doctor said. She was holding a piece of paper with a long string of numbers and letters on it, right in front of Ary’s face. She waited several seconds and then said, “I want you to read this out.”

Ary did so. Immediately after he did so he felt something open up in his head. It felt as if something was echoing in his head. Something was different about what he was seeing.

“Ary. Do you see a little red square there, at the bottom right? Is it red?”

Ary did not understand. Then he saw something in his field of vision. It was just there. It was disembodied. He could not look directly at it but it was there.

“Yes.”

“That red square indicates that Hynder is not activated. After tomorrow that should be green. Say ‘Point Test Confirm Link 1’, please.”

Ary did so and something that felt like YES flashed across his vision.

“Wow,” he said.

“It does a lot more. You’ll learn offworld. I’m going through some basic things now to ensure it’s gone in correctly. It’s not hurting anymore, I assume?”

There was a dull ache but that was it. “No,” Ary said.

“Let’s move on. Say ‘Point Test Confirm Link 2.’  You should see the red outline of a rectangle, dead centre of wherever you look.”

“I see it,” Ary said.

“I know”, the doctor said. “Now want you to picture something simple. No colours, just a black or white shape.”

After the tests were over Ary went back out and asked the man at the counter where the showers were. When he got to the showers he spent several minutes spitting into the sink and shaking his head. He had been told that his sense of taste might change for a while but he was not used to it. He looked at himself in the mirror. He was never used to the way he looked. He always found himself looking far too observant. He did not like the way he looked at himself.

He felt very alone now. There was no-one else around.

He went into the shower. The water was warm. He cried listlessly in the water. At least he sniffled a little, without knowing why. He thought it was easier to cry this way, when he was in the water. When he heard someone else come into the showers he instinctively turned his own showerhead off and listened. He realised what he was doing and he stood there feeling stupid again. He didn’t know anything and yet here he was. He stood in the water for a long time.

When he realised blood was pouring from the back of his neck he put the towel around himself and ran in a blind panic up to the counter, where a doctor promptly appeared and told him as he dripped that this was normal, this sometimes happened, it was nothing to worry about.

Later that evening Ary went to his home. Not the superbunk; he would go there soon enough. He thought the door would not open but his key still worked. He stood in the doorway and kicked mud off his shoes before he went in.

It was empty. The living room, what had always been called the living room, was still and quiet. The evening light made it look  better than it actually was.

Ary boy stood there, lost. He had no idea why he was here. He did not know what he had to do. He went to the refrigerator and opened the freezer. He had been afraid that the power might have gone but it had not. He opened a cupboard and took out a glass from where it stood with two other glasses. He put some ice in the glass and brought it to the dining table. He put it there and he just watched it melt. The cubes cracked and then they slipped and collapsed into each other. A ring of condensation grew on the table. He sat in the chair and watched.

He went out of the house and came back a while later with a box. There were only two other rooms apart from the living room and kitchen and one of them was neater than the other. The boy went into the neat room and he started taking things and putting them into the box. He folded the clothes. The books he put at the very bottom. They were mother’s but he had read all of them. He was careful to stack them. There was a small container of medicines that he held for a while and then threw into the rubbish. While he was clearing up the things in the room he started crying again. He tried to feel angry at himself for this but it simply was not possible. Then he thought that since it was the last time he would indulge himself and not feel anything more after this.

He dragged the box out into the living room. He sat on the floor held it in his arms and he thought, this is what it’s all about, this is the reason we do this, any of it.

Outside people moved past, doing their daily things.

After a while Ary got up and got a drink from the tap, even though he had always been told that he was not supposed to. Then he left.

Hath came to the Medical Centre at 4, like she had said. She told the man at the counter that she was seeing Ary and he brought her to the waiting room. Hath was surprised at how many people were waiting there and for a moment she thought that Ary had not come after all. Then she saw him.

“If you did not come I was not going to go in,” he said.

“You should not go in,” she said.

“I know,” he said.

After a while the doctor came and called Ary to the room. Hath went with him and the doctor did not ask any questions. Ary thought as they walked into the room that both he and Hath shared something which was the common anticipation of pain and to Ary it seemed that that was world enough.

Part 4