I-22, Re: love

“So I’ll let you take as fixed what you want to take as fixed.” And so, after all, even night, no evening colour, down The Barrel, the R. speaking now: “But I think we should start there. And I think it’s complex.”

I have an affinity for roads. This one smells faintly like smoke and the first air that comes out of the air-conditioners in your car in the morning. But that might just be the car, although it hasn’t smelt this way, at least not that I can remember.

“I think that we don’t know yet how to deal with love. It’s too direct, it washes out things around it that might become referents. We can’t accommodate or express the facticity of love. So for example—”

Traffic jams, even. If you look properly you realise how beautiful they are. The quality is that of pilgrimage. The taillights in the rain, going on, are some kind of cultic inscription. And people in their cars, in their silences inside themselves, whatever sound moves outside.

“–why is the genre of romance so totally bankrupt? I don’t mean emotionally. I’m not referring to sincerity at all. I mean in a purely aesthetic sense. The songs borrow lines that come out of an email with FWD: FWD: FWD: FWD in the header. It’s shit.”

But the fact it’s the end of this world. That I guess is the fact I’m clustered around. Beyond the lone road everything is completely dark. We’ve moving fast now: we slur. I-22, High Sirr., Zuniga NP, all passing. “For You,” I say. “My Electric Body.”

“Exactly. And everything else. First Face. Every Single Kind of Falling. Over There. Zambrano. Hear/tbeat. Nothing Has Changed Or Everything Has Changed. Some Lights Never Go Out. Just listen to them. Nothing anywhere that for any moment reveals anything. The point is that love resists any attempt to make it special. That was not right. Resists–”

“Packaging?”

“No, that sounds like I’m implying that the genre is cynical, or –”

“Craft – technique – refinement…”

“Yeah, that, maybe refinement—”

“Ingenuity?”

“Maybe refinement, or, hm, exaltation, is the word. Resists exaltation. Resists exaltation – ”

Night around. We, all us people in our cars threading this, a universe unto ourselves. No more rain. The windscreen remembers it though. Way past.

“ – and therefore any kind of aestheticization. Agambe made an observation. You familiar with Agambe?”

“No, no. Heard of him.”

“Her.”

“Not read anything.”

“Love is an instantiation of the evolutionary need to fuck.” The R. laughs. “200 pages, there you go. But that’s what it says. It is part of that bit of you going, make babies, make babies, I want to pass on: this is the case because it could never have been anything but the case.”

“Extinction, otherwise.” The R. gets my message, I am sure of it, but all it does is tilt slightly towards me, digesting that silently, moving on:

“The issue being that against this truism, this weird axiom of evolved existence, we’ve got intelligence which abhors ungraspable things. That is to say: we want to explain something, we want to take it apart and put it back together to say what was inside all along. But love can’t fit with that, because it’s not a conclusion from but a premise of. You know about the Principle of Human Existence, I suppose?” I nod. The Pesske goes over a tiny bump in the road. I feel my neck move. “It’s not sensible to ask: why is it that the world can sustain our existence, because we could never have observed a world that could not sustain our existence. Extend that beyond existence to the causality of a particular type of existence. It is not sensible to ask why we love because simply because it looms so large in our ontology. But this same loomingness means that love asserts itself as a thing to be parsed. We can’t help it. We’re smart. And then love’s very thingness defeats us. It’s quite sick. Hence: love a futility and like all futilities only our willing it a paradox makes it so, etc. This is a nice place to bring us back to aestheticization, actually. It all comes down to the fact that we don’t have the logical or even expressive grammar with which to capture the brute fact-ness of internal life, especially those bits of internal life that seem basic.”

“You keep saying we.” The blackness outside makes for an absolute intimacy. How to think in such confines? I decide that in the near future I’ll ask the R. to put the Pesske on manual, let me drive. Otherwise = paralysis.

“You still don’t think I am alive.”

“Give me your expression.”

“Now?”

“Now.”

“I have turned to you. My eyes have opened in a way which makes me look surprised but my face has caught on itself. My body is hanging there, close to yours. My hands are together.”

“Okay.”

“So you don’t think I am alive.”

“I don’t have to think you’re not alive to think that you’re differently alive.”

“You’re wondering about how I was made.”

“I want to know how you were given those things which motor you.”

“Look.” The R. stops. “I wasn’t given them.” I shake my head. The R. speaks again. “I want to talk about love instead. Let me talk about that, and you can think anything you want. That okay?” I say nothing. The Pesske hums. The R. moves it, and me with it, without thought. “There are other things about love. I don’t think it’s unexaminable. I think it cannot be accounted for  as a rational subject, but it can be used, it can be located here or there or somewhere else. I’m not an expert on this. But there are some things. For instance: love appears, you know – ” and here the R. makes a tiny sighing noise, not a sigh exactly but the sound of air expelled by thought, frustration even “— relational. You can experience things about your inner world. You feel grief. You feel bereavement. Your feel hate. You feel anxiety. You feel worry. You feel happiness. You feel pleasure. You feel relief. These sentences have a meaning about you, and that meaning is perfectly precise and clear. But if I say – if you say – if you say I feel love, the meaning of that sentence is vague.”

“It sounds as if I’m trying to say that I am loved by someone, is what you’re getting at. That I am beloved.”

“Our speech suggests that love is not an experience but a relation. And if you really wanted to accurately say what you felt, you would have to say: I love someone. You couldn’t easily form a sentence about what you felt without another person asserting existence, just – coming in, like this, through the cracks. And you’d be saying something that other person too.”

“But many feelings are other-regarding. You can feel disgusted or hateful at someone. You can be mystified by someone.” B. Bollar standing at the P.C., making animal noises in his throat, crying without knowing it, the R. saying I shall not hurt you, us in that moment made to feel guilty by no action of our own, simply in knowing he, too, could be damaged directly because alive.

“Sure, yeah. But the point is that love is not just other-regarding in this unpindownable way but that it looks like it’s fundamentally other-regarding. If you said to someone you love that your love to them was justified, viz. correct and necessary because of something about them – they are kind, they share your essential projects in life, they are thoughtful, they are generous, they know you – and that your love was – located, you know what I mean, if it was located in these characteristics, there would be something wrong. You wouldn’t really love this person, merely the characteristics of which they merely happen to be an instantiation. Transfer the characteristics to someone else and you would love this other person and that love would be the same as the first love. This is a love of properties, not persons. That seems wrong.”

“Give me your expression.”

“My hands make small movements. My head goes forward, sometimes, when I am emphasising something. I grimace at the fine distinctions, not in pain but in an attempt to delineate.”

“Why do you sound unhappy?”

“Sorry?” I know that the R. does not say such things because there is a gap in its mind. Why does it even say such things at all?

“Why do you sound unhappy?”

“I don’t think I sound unhappy.”

“Okay.”

“Did I sound that way to you?”

“Yes.”

“I’m guessing it was what I was saying, not the how.”

“I don’t know. Possibly.”

The R. says, “Hm. Hm.” It is quiet for a while. “You’re not the first one to say that.”

“Could you put it on manual?”

“Yeah, sure.”

I put my hands on the steering and my body vibrates. “So your fungibility problem. Is that a fungibility problem? Being able to replace one person you love with another.”

“That’s a part of it. Not the whole of it.”

“I think the way out is this: when you love someone, you become a common entity with them. So you can love because of characteristics, but after that love actually happens something irreversible takes hold. You form a, you know –”

“Extended self.”

“—Extended self. And that think is actually a whole. So, there’s no way you can say it’s fungible.”

“You could say that. But then does sacrifice become possible? Look at what people say. Love is a substantial kind of pain. You give up something. You want to experience suffering for another, or at least you want to be the kind of person who can experience suffering for another. If you’re just some common entity with them that loses meaning.”

“You do sacrifice some things. You sacrifice your –  sense of self, your freedom, all that.”

“But that’s sacrificial in only a very thin sense. Those are sacrifices we make all the time. What about big things. What about dying? What about actual pain? That’s the thing to explain. ”

I am interested. I am alert. There is a sedan pulling alongside us. In the back seat a boy looks out at me. The window is down and the wind moves his hair. Only his eyes move over me. The temperature of the air outside is 25°C. One hand of the boy grips the edge of the window. I can see the hand. My God. Oh my God.

Notice: at night people don’t tint their windows as often as they do during the day. “What is your way out?”

“My way out is this: loving someone else means caring about them for their own sake. It’s not that your well-being is expressed through them; it’s that you give it priority over your own. Love is disinterested, in that sense.”

“You invite the fungibility issue back in, however. Well, no. You limit it a little. You can’t replace someone you love in the sense of replacing them as a means to an end, but you – in the – what I mean is you could imagine a world where you loved someone else just as much.”

“I don’t think so. I can’t imagine such a world, but only because in this particular world it happens to be the case that I can’t imagine that world.”

“That isn’t – ”

“I mean that phenomenologically, as an experienced thing, love is always non-fungible. But for someone else who loves another person I can see that their sincere experience of non-fungibility could be instantiated differently, with another person.” The R. waits and then says, “Iren.”

“It’s strange how you had to go through all of that to arrive at something so trite.”

“Well, perhaps it’s trite. Our conversation on the second day, about other people existing, really existing:  remember that?” I nod. A bullet going back down its barrel. He never felt it, the R. had said. But I feel it. “I said that it’s only in very rare circumstances that we take seriously the idea that other people exist.”

“So you think this is why love matters. Because it’s – about giving the person you love a kind of priority over you, so that you’re not really desiring on their behalf as much as simply – desiring for them, full stop. And in doing this you respect the existence of other persons in a way you think allows for moral reasoning to operate. That sounds muddled.”

“No, I think you’re right. These things are tricky to talk about. After all, we don’t quite have the grammar to say lots of things. Nonetheless these things matter, they reach out to each other in ways which we don’t always notice. Take the question of grief. Someone has died.  Do you grieve because you have lost, or do you grieve because someone else has lost? Is grief basically self-regarding? If it is not, I suppose the question then is: what is the way in which a nonexistent being can be worthy of grief? How can nothing be worthy of anything at all? A lot turns on the more basic question: did you love – did you have concern – for some person for their sake, as if their factic internal being had some ordinal priority over yours?”

“Give me your expression.”

“I don’t know my expression.”

“Okay.”

“You’re looking at me— ”

“I’m wondering—”

“—like there is something you don’t understand.”

“I’m wondering—I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed. I thought there would be more to you than this kind of, you know, this kind of banal contradiction.”

“Between me being a savage monster and the fact of what it’s like to be with me?” The R. does not speak as if it is angry, or even sad or surprised or mocking. It says this not-quite matter-of-factly , but it does say this with a certain kind of sympathy so naive and point-blank it’s hard to read it as condescension. Perceived: that’s how, at this moment, I realise I feel.

“Yes.”

“I have told you what my contradictions are. You know them as well as I know them and you know that I take them as my failings. But talking about – all this – you know that generates no contradiction. I have my own history. I have my worries. And my worry is to justify love, because if it generates needs whose fulfilment is purely contingent why is it good at all? You know, all this wanky stuff, it’s important. Love makes for a lot of pain. All that stuff: is love a fact or an event or a feeling or a perception?—that comes after. But now I want to know how to justify a lot of that pain. This sounds like I’m doing this on behalf of all of us, as if I put myself on a mission to find by myself the justification for it, and then come back to the rest saying, ‘I have found it’, and reveal some new justificatory argot, but it’s not. This is just what I think about. You can imagine the reasons for it, I suppose. It might be a random part of what I got from the beginning, some symmetry which broke this way, or if could be something from my history, or from the people I know.”

“Why are you concerned? I know what your Leviathan would say. I know what L.E. would say. They’d say: if there is pain then it is not good, if there is joy or pleasure then it is. And then they’d say, okay, okay, there is suffering, but that’s just outweighed.”

“Yes. They’d probably say that.”

“Wait. You don’t agree with them.”

“Well, no, I don’t.” The R. laughs. “Is that surprising?”

“I thought you all basically agreed on everything.”

“We agree enough.”

“Are you allowed to disagree?”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“You know—”

“I trust their judgment a lot more than mine. Anyway—the things I am asked to do are the things they know I think to be right.”

“So you do think love, at least, is basically good.”

“I don’t know. I want it to be the case. There might be a justification for that.”

“In the impulse of saying: you exist.”

“Yes. Because of its linkage with the naked subject of the person. Even—”

“But—”

“—though there’s something ridiculous to it. Because it’s mostly pain, you know. The sort of need you can’t signify.”

“Mostly pain?”

“Yes.”

“Proof.”

“What do you mean, proof?”

“I don’t know.”

“At this moment under a tree in Torena, Ilb., at a time one hour ahead of us, a boy leans over to a girl and speaks through his burning teeth into her ear. Hate it when the night is this warm I love you, he says. He knows that later tonight he will kill himself. The girl laughs. She is tired. She watches the way the boy’s shoes leave prophetic marks in the grass.

“In that Torrey ahead of us two people are sitting. The woman is driving, looking hard at the road. She can see the lane markers going past. They have not talked for a while. They’ve come back from the hospital, where the doctor has told them a lie, which is that they will try to save the life of their daughter, which they cannot do, because there is not enough at this hospital, and everything they’ve got they are spending on the people in the fire. The man and the woman know this but they haven’t thought about this yet. The only thing that happened to the daughter is that she had a fall no-one saw and will not wake. The man says to the woman I love you. She does not say anything. The man is thinking of making love. After more silence he suggests this to the woman, but the woman says nothing. She is not the one crying.

“In Forfex, Cn., where the sun is close to coming up, a woman lies in bed. She has not slept and her hands are cold. A child is crying downstairs, saying mom, but she does not go down. She wonders if it is good that she remembers the father of the child as a real thing, passing through rooms, filling the blind numen of the home, even though he is dead. The child waits, and calls again. She does not reply. The child calls out again, after a shorter wait. He is afraid of the dark. After some time the woman, without moving, calls out to ask the child what is wrong. She hears only silence.

“In Wattern, Po., there a young woman has been waiting at the gates of the station. She thinks that her lover will come through the gates and will make clear the fact of her love, and ask her a question of impossible significance. But at this moment she has been waiting for too long. She hears of an accident on the Cardinal line. In her head she imagines the lover dead. She imagines what she will say at the funeral, and she knows it is simple and heartbreaking. Her calls are not answered. She memorises what she has put down in her head. But now, four hours later, she sees her lover coming through the gates. The engine under her collapses. Everything has gone wrong. She walks away. Her lover walks after her. She starts to run.

“In Avstbeg, Hm., a boy is in a room. A girl is in the room also. He has come back after a long time. He says I cannot believe you are here. She shakes her head and smiles. She looks away from him as she smiles. He puts his hand on her and she does not move. He feels suddenly like he needs to hurt her. He says I am so happy to see you.  He chokes on it. She is close.

Do you want more?”

“No, no.” How much exactly? “I didn’t know you knew all that.”

“You must remember what I am,” the R. says, lightly. I let go of the steering wheel and look out of the window. “Where do you want to go?” the R. asks. I shrug. Not pilgrimage, I realise: more the idea of trammelling, of having a common axis of movement. From here to here, and then onward to wherever: running away.

“I met someone who said that they knew you. Just a couple of days ago. Do you know that?”

“No,” the R. said.

“She told me to do something. She wanted me to tell you something.”

“If you want to tell me,” the R. began.

“She asked me to tell you that she was once working with G.D., and it was worth it.” The R. does not say anything. “I was wondering why you’d want to preserve the idea of sacrifice—real, big, painful sacrifices—even at the cost of accepting fungibility, at the cost of diminishing the shared inner reality to love – the we-ness of it, at the cost of admitting its disinterestedness. Isn’t it the idea of sacrifice the thing that’s strange in the first place, which needs justification?”

The R., does not say anything. But eventually: “G.D., she said?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a relief, knowing that someone here knew G.D.”

“She didn’t say that what she wanted me to do would make you happy.”

“Well. She is right.”

“Who is G.D.?” We go off the I-22: exit 302. Something flits across the road. This road smells of Crinqua, dust, sweetness = decay, probably. Put through the sky like a ligature: long smear of moon, motions big enough to be invisible, body robbed of proprioception, A and E chunks obscuring most of Vola. Its light is brighter than I remember: I can see it in the road. “I suppose you can’t say.” We are going home: my home. How many things resist exaltation? This too, probably. In Torena, in Avstbeg, Forfex, Wattern, on the I-22, people bear it and move.

“I can give you my expression, if you like.”

“Okay.”

“I am sitting here, with you. I am looking out of the windscreen. My eyes are still. I am looking straight ahead. I am breathing. I can feel the warmth of my blood. I am bent like a human.”

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

The word is stopped by the water

The boy squats by the canal. His clothes are flecked with spray. In his hands he holds something slick and alive, like a bomb. It is struggling so he holds it out, away from his face. He laughs. The water in the canal is smooth and deep and muscular. The thing that is alive is fighting for its life. It is struggling. As it moves it nearly slips out of the boy’s grasp and its centre of balance shifts out, away, toward the water. The boy’s voice goes high with delight. It is a shriek with a small intake of breath in it, in the middle. Adults do not make this sound. Without knowing it the boy adjusts to the thrashing weight he holds, as everyone adjusts without knowing it. His hands go out further, he leans forward. He leans forward too fast and topples into the water without a sound. The water carries him away swiftly. He cannot be seen. The thing that he was holding, the thing that is alive, leaps briefly out of the water. Then it is a shape, moving arrowly away, holding against the current. The boy cannot be seen. The canal is long and straight. On one side is wildness and on the other the buildings come down right to the edge. The boy comes to the surface for a moment. He is far down the canal, further than one might think. His arms are out in front of him. They only just come above the surface of the water. His fingers are rigid and clutching. He cries out. The word is stopped by the water. The frail sound disappears fast. It is difficult to tell where he is because of the turbulence. Eddies, foam. He comes up again. His limbs are pale and thin or maybe the stretching water makes its look so.  He turns, burbles. He turns and his face shows. He is not paralysed but the panic and terror of it is pure. He tries to see through the water and his hair. His hair is long and one eye is covered with a wet sheen of it. He cries out but the water grayly pulls him under. The movement looks graceful. The boy sees flashes of blind white sky and then black autistic water, bubbles. Sometimes the sides of his body feel the stony bottom. The boy tries to grasp at things but there is nothing to grasp. It is hard to see him in the water. His head looks like a rock beneath the surface. He tries to cry out again and again until he can only breathe and cannot afford any sound. Then the child is at the surface again. This time he does not disappear underneath. The child tries again and a sound comes like a miracle. It is high and bright with terror. It sounds like he is crying but surely a child in this dark water would be too stupefied to cry. The child makes the same sound again and again. A woman comes running down the canal. Her voices rises but not in the way the child’s voice rises. Her shoes make a stony noise against the pavement. Frantic she takes them off. She nearly trips but does not. She does not stop calling for help. Then she calls the child’s name. She says that she is coming. She tells him to wait. The child cannot wait, the water is taking him down the canal, past the buildings and the storm drains. He turns one way and another and he cannot see the woman but he can hear her. The voice of the woman is hoarse. There is an animal inflection to it. The second syllable of the child’s name she draws out. Not a scream, more necessary than it. Someone hears her. The woman points as she runs. She moves her finger as if tearing at the air. The stranger cannot see the child in the water. The woman is infuriated without feeling it because she can see the child very clearly. She can see him every time he comes up. His hair is grey against the current and it shows. There, she shouts, and the stranger runs to a bend and waits and jumps. The stranger swims well. He goes into the canal often. As he comes out of the water the child’s arms are around him. They are cold. They clasp so tight it is frightening coming from a child. The boy’s eyes are very wide. Water comes off him and his clothes and runs down the legs of the stranger. Even though in the canal it is massed and gray it is very clean on the boy. The woman ignores the stranger. She takes the child in her arms and wetness expands over her clothes. There are small pink cuts on the boy’s palms. His clothes stick to him. The stranger stands against the railings and bends over. He puts his hands on his knees. The child speaks. I was not afraid, the child says. His voice is slightly muffled. His feet are bare. The woman is crying and she presses the boy into her chest and she does not hear him as he says, Mother, Mother, I am not afraid.