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.”

The Game: 2

“I keep reading about this Dragon.”

“A dragon.”

“Yes, a dragon.”

“Okay.” Sal’s voice was flat but he sounded like he was trying not to reveal something, or maybe he was trying not to smile.

“Don’t look at me like that.”

“I’m not looking at you like – that.

“What’s this about?”

“You’ve been reading about my First League games, haven’t you?”

“I was going to do it sooner or later.”

“Why are you wondering about the Dragon?”

“Well, they keep calling that game against Auerbach a miracle, and it’s got all these names, you know.”

He was up in the chair against the window and his head was back against the glass and his eyes were closed. He always did that when she brought up the games. “They’re terrible names.”

The Taming of the Dragon. Don’t wince. You like it, don’t you.”

“The game’s not that great. No, really. It’s not that great.”

“So what is this Dragon?”

“It’s theory. It’s the name of the opening.”

“But why is it called that, the Dragon?”

“That game really gets too much attention.”

“I want to talk about the name. You were supposed to lose, you know, everything I read says that.”

“Well, no, what happened is that Auerbach prepared a new move against me and I blundered in response to it. It was a good novelty.”

“But you were supposed to lose after you played that awful move, weren’t you? Wasn’t everyone saying your position was a wreck, or something like that?”

“My position was horrific but sometimes bad positions are easier to play. Every move lost more or less immediately except for one. So I played that one.”

“You played that one saving move in the position for fifteen or so moves in a row.”

“It was not that hard.”

“The commentary says that positions like these are impossible for humans to play.”

“You can just ask me directly.” Sal was looking straight at her now. “You can just ask, you know.” It was not pity but it was something like it.

Garf was never sure what to do in situations like this. She shook her head and looked as if she was about to say something but did not say anything. She looked at the computer and started reading something. Then she said, “I just want to know how you do it. Fuck’s sake, that’s all. They all say humans don’t survive positions like that.”

“Well. No, you want to know if I’m a Carrier. You want to know if I’m the carrier for Erkenne.”

When he said the name she stiffened despite herself. It was such a rare thing to heard said. She thought Sal was angry but he was not. Instead he was daring her to say a certain something and she was sure that she would not say it. He looked at her with an open look, one that said – you can go on. “All I want to know is how you do it. That’s all.”

“Calculation. That’s all there is to it.”

“Was that all there was to that game against Auerbach?”

“You know how the reports exaggerate. There have been similar games played in the past.” Sal turned around and let his breath fog the glass. It was pretty warm so only a tiny frosting of white appeared.  “There’s nothing more to it. It’s not that special.”

“Why the Dragon, though? I don’t understand the name.”

“Back to that. Well. The reasons are all quite stupid.”

“I’d still like to know.”

“Well, for a start, it’s one of the sharpest known openings. Hyper-sharp.”

“That’s another thing I don’t understand. Sharp?”

“Hmm. Aggressive. Slightly more precise that that – it means that the positions are relatively tactical, you know, very knife-edgy. One slip and you are mated. Lots of sacrifices looming, big swooping moves – there are other openings related to the Dragon, did you know that? There’s an Accelerated Dragon and a Hyperaccelerated Dragon and the odd thing is you would think from the names that these are even sharper than the Dragon but they tend to lead to quiet positions. Long positional games with lots of moves implied and only a few played.”

“So that’s not the reason for the name, presumably, the aggression.”

“Well, not the whole reason.” Sal smiled suddenly like he had been trying hard not to smile but was not bothering anymore. It was strange how he went from being so perfectly still to something jaggedly childish. “I know why you’re looking at me that way. You’re intelligent so I know what you are thinking. It’s such a relief sometimes. Really it is.”

“Do you always do this?”

He laughed. “I don’t talk about it, so that’s good enough.”

“Go on.”

“You think I’m being very unstrategic. Very naive, playing the Dragon.”

“I don’t very much about the game, so it’d be silly for me to say it.”

“But you do think it.”

Careless, really, was the word I had in mind.”

“No, no, you’re correct. A novice like me –”

“Hah.”

“What was that about?”

“ ‘Novice like me.’ Really.”

“Really!”

“Hah.”

“I’m still new to this, you know.”

“You’re in the First League.”

“I don’t want to argue over this. Must we argue over this?”

“We were talking about why it’s a dumb move to play the Dragon.”

“Because a novice like me should not be playing sharp openings and walking right out of theory into sharp novelties. A beginner should play nice, tame, quiet stuff. Stay solid. Aim for a draw.”

“When you say it this way it sounds even stupider, what you did.”

“I wasn’t just wanting to win, you know. I wanted to play something fun.”

“And you nearly lost.”

“Nearly.”

“And the game wasn’t that great anyway, as you say.”

He stared in mock horror. “You – really – well – it was decent, at least. Haven’t you seen all the names it’s been given?”

“Why am I discussing your idiocy with you? I want you to tell me about the name.”

“So for a start, it’s a very sharp opening.”

Yes. We just –  

“And the pawn structure on the kingside looks a bit like that constellation – ”

“Ah, yes, I see. What a very odd coincidence.”

“And then there’s the DSB – ”

“Look, Sal –”

“Dark-squared bishop. DSB.”

“Ah, okay.”

“The DSB on g7 is really important to the black player because white often castles queenside – that means the king is on c1 or b1 – and the DSB in that little corner rakes down the board, this diagonal  from a1 to h8 that is the books call the line of fire, something along those lines. People talk about ‘that fire-breathing bishop’, you know. So I guess if you think hard you can sort of see the idea of a Dragon sitting there, breathing fire.”

“It’s all very melodramatic.  More broadly I can say that I have no idea what you were just talking about.”

“It is melodramatic, it really, is, but if you think about it it’s also quite appropriate coming from a group of people who sit in front of a board torturing themselves for hours. That bishop on g7 can give you an entire universe of pain. It’s a real monster.”

Games: 1

“I tell you it’s amazing.”

“It is amazing.”

“Surreal almost.”

“Very possibly.”

“If you think about it. If you step back and think about it it’s ridiculous.”

“I don’t even think you have to step back and think about it.”

“Did you notice how many people tuned in to watch?”

“My point exactly. Everyone could see that something ridiculous was happening.”

“The world no.2. One of the greatest. And yet.”

“It was humiliating.”

“It was humiliating.”

“Maybe we should all have expected it.”

“No, no –”

“You put Leviathan in the game, maybe you ought to expect this.”

“Two months, though.”

“It’s still pretty sick. I’m not denying the sickness of the entire enterprise. But maybe we should expect this of Leviathan. QC was being very coy about his expectations, you know? I asked it a couple of times and it went, oh, whatever happens happens…”

“It’s not even the win; really it’s the way he won it. He’s only known the rules for, what, two months?”

“It was – well, it was a model Makagonov.”

“It was the model. I mean that was disgusting. And so ambitious too. That is strange, isn’t it, that kind of ambitious play, that kind of opening? I mean he played for a full-court press. No gaps, no giveaways, no trading of strategic weaknesses, no risks. Just strangulation.”

Boa constrictor.”

“That was one of your brilliant moments, Lev, it really was.”

“Thank you.”

“They’re calling him that now, you know?”

“Of course. It’s such a good name. I came up with it.”

“Did you notice from the commentary box when h3, g4, appeared? People were shaking their heads, they were like, wow, he’s doing this.”

“Maybe this is his kind of style.”

“What? Sluggish brutality? No, no, I know what you mean.”

“The attack at the end. It came so slowly. So slowly. It was totally predictable and yet poor Hearst couldn’t do anything about it. Everything massing around the king. Boxed in and boxed in and then just swamped.”

“Did you notice when I talked to him afterwards?”

“Salix?”

“He was sort of dazed.”

“I don’t really think he was dazed, Mar.”

“I thought he was dazed. It was a long game.”

“I am leaning towards thinking he was annoyed, actually.”

“Annoyed? What about?”

“Never mind. Who knows?”

“Look. I understand he finds this all a bit exasperating. Believe me when I say I understand. I’ve been doing this gig long enough. But there is a price to pay, you see. He of all people should understand that. And I think he knows that we know that he should understand that, and I think he respects us for it.”

“You really think so.”

“I do really think so.”

“Well, maybe – ”

“Why are we talking about this? This is besides the point. What I really want talk about is the fact that we need to keep him playing. We’ve not had views like this before.”

“It’s high drama.”

“It’s such high drama. He still plays like an amateur, you can tell he plays like one, getting all these dodgy positions out of opening and defending and defending for five hours.”

“In the first league, when he walked right into all that preparation in the Dragon…”

“ ‘You don’t fuck around in the Dragon.’”

“ – and we thought, this is it, this will be a massacre, and then all these perfect Engine moves started coming out and then it was a draw.”

“The number of bad positions he’s saved.”

“The sheer number.”

“It must be calculation. Maybe he’s actually a tactical monster but doesn’t know it yet.”

“Did you notice something funny about the way he plays?”

“What?”

“I’ve been noticing things about him.”

“I tell you, this kind of fixation is very unprofessional.”

Unprofessional? You talk like a capitalist.”

“I tell you, I treat this like it is more than a hobby. It’s like I am getting paid for this, you know, getting wages and shit. I wake up and I do this. I have been doing this for a long time.”

“What I’ve noticed is that he never gets up.”

“What?”

“I was telling you I’ve been observing him. And he never gets up. Everyone else gets up. They make their move, they get up, walk around, they look at the other games. You remember when you used to play? There was just so much tension it was better to calculate while walking around. So everyone gets up, gets some coffee, stares at the screens. But he just sits there for six or seven hours.”

“The strange thing is that this should really make him boring to watch.”

“He looks like he’s in pain. Do you see that? He sits down and then he does not walk around. But he does this. Sort of buries his knuckles in his eyes and opens his mouth a little bit. It’s not like he’s thinking. It’s really like he’s gone beyond that. Maybe he’s trying to intuit something and he’s not getting it. He’s trying very very hard to do something and it’s not happening. It’s so strange, isn’t it? I mean this is the Leviathan, Mar, think about it, and he’s just letting us see him in pain for I do not know what reason. When he gets out of Stize he’s going to be doing all these really big things, you know, and he sort of needs to be infallible. But he does not look infallible when he’s sitting there being miserable.”

“But don’t you see? Don’t you see? That’s exactly it. It’s my experience that tells me that the pain and the pleasure of it are inseparable. That keeps the audiences coming, you know. It’s important that it is the Leviathan because now we see him without trappings. It’s like watching a monster struggle. You know when you first started following the First League? You would see this person who was legendary in the Second, a real class act, this person would  qualify and once this person came to the First this person got absolutely massacred. There is a certain obscenity to the entire process. It’s like watching some sleek predator come along and then get torn to pieces, absolutely destroyed, really, by a bigger sleeker predator, no fuss, just part of the job. Well we’ve got the biggest monster now, we’ve got the predator on the top of the pile and we’ve thrown it into a space where it has to struggle. It doesn’t know where or how to direct its powers. It’s beautiful.”

“Is he struggling, though? Since he started in the leagues he’s only lost two games, and he’s not lost one now for I think nearly twenty games. He’s been defending, yes, but he’s seriously good at it. Seb – Gelnik, I mean – said that all the people in the First agree that he’s the best defender onworld, you know.”

“But you see that he is in pain, don’t you?”

“There this thing he does, it’s also another one of the little quirks, where he stops looking at the board and then looks at the audience offstage, like he’s pleading with them for help or something. The first time I saw him do it he had this terrible position against Gelnik and he looked at the audience and I thought he looked so disappointed in himself. I thought he was going to shake his head and shrug at the audience and then resign. I really thought he was going to do that. You cannot think I am soft, Mar, because I am not and you know it, but I really felt sorry for him.”

“That was his famous save.”

“That was the famous save.”

“I think it’s simpler than that. I think he looks at them because he knows what’s going on. He feels it. I feel it too. It’s only a silly board game but he’s made it something greater for people. He’s made it something titanic. You know what I mean? He’s made the whole thing a giant theorem and he’s trying to prove it.”

“You’re exaggerating.”

“Meh. It’s one of my best qualities. But you know what I mean.”

“We’re well into subtletyland here, if I might borrow your term.”

“It’s very deep but it’s also fun.”

“It’s fun but, well, you know. Now we have to talk about the big problem.”

“Because, damn it, it is a big problem.

“Vast, really.”

“Tremendous.”

“I don’t understand it.”

“We were just talking about how he’s in pain. I think it’s quite understandable.”

“No, no, we were talking about pain in the context of its allure.”

“In any case, he’s said no.”

“I don’t understand. It’s the Candidates. If he wins he gets to challenge for the world title.”

“It’s big.”

“It’s fucking shitdrizzlingly colossal.”

“Maybe it’s too easy for him.”

“We were just talking about him being in pain – I mean, seriously Lev you say the stupidest shit sometimes.

“I mean yes, he is in pain, but he’s just stopped losing. He’s struggling but maybe he knows the outcome of that process by now. I mean he just crushed the world no.2 in their first game. He wears t-shirts to First League games.”

“Well, it’s a cyclical thing, you know, what the young ones wear.”

“My point was.”

“We should get him to lose, then.”

“Mar?”

“I really like you.”

“Thank you.”

“Professionally I like you. On other levels I like you deeply, thrustingly even. I do really like you.”

“I really appreciate this.”

“But sometimes you are a total and towering wanker.”

“I don’t wank.”

“He’s Leviathan. If you made him lose he’d frown and CompyDust would melt your face off.”

“Hey. It was a joke.”

“It was a joke.”

“It was a joke.”

“A joke?”

“I wanted to see your reaction.”

“You’ve got my reaction.”

“Why are we talking about this? We need to get him to say yes for the Candidates.”

“Because we thought that it would be more interesting for him if he lost.”

“More interesting for the audience too.”

“Mar.”

“Yes.”

“Stop being a turd.”

“I’m not being a turd. I am trying to make this fun for people.”

“Fun for you, you mean. You have all these conceptions.”

“You know this Garfield. She’s good friends with Leviathan. Talk to her about it.”

“You could talk to him directly.”

“Hm. Well. He’s a bit scary.”

“I’ll talk to Garfield. She won’t buy any of your bullshit, though.”

“There’s no bullshit. Just say the true thing, which is that everyone really wants him to play in the Candidates.”

“Yeah.”

“We’re making history.”

“We’re all making history all the time.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah.”

When Garf got up Salix was already in the shower. He came out naked and he went back onto the bed. He closed his eyes but did not sleep.

He got up and looked out of the window. He scrolled through some assignments. He went back to bed.

She sat up and looked at him. “You know Lev.”

He didn’t open his eyes. “Maybe,” he said. He meant yes if he said maybe that way.

“He says that you should play in the Candidates.”

“Hmm.”

“Do you know what I think?”

He turned around and looked at her. “Yes.”

“I think you shouldn’t give a shit what he says.”

She had fucked him but only once. He was asexual. She had not known that. Evolutionary dead end, ha-ha, he had said, sounding very unsorry about it. Two weeks after LHB she got him the stuff they used at the college Burning and then they had fucked. He said he enjoyed it. She was convinced he had. But they hadn’t fucked since. You should use that body for sex, she had said. It’s really a waste otherwise. He had said: I’m designed this way because this makes me more persuasive, you know. And it would be a good body anyway because I’m not designed to die. And then he laughed at something he found very funny.

Salix put his face into the pillow and exhaled forcefully. “People.”

“Breakfast,” Garfield said.

“Naked.”

She went and got something. When she came back Salix was no longer naked and he was again looking out of the window as he sat on the bed.

“Hey,” she said. She looked at him sitting over there. He moved his head like he was listening but that was it.

“Hey,” he said, into the air.

“Are you thinking?”

“No,” he said. And then he thought for a bit and said, “Yes.”

“Well, you should say no. You are too much about what other people think.”

“I don’t think so,” he said, and threw a pillow at her.

“Please,” she said.

“This is all crap, you know. I don’t want to play. I don’t want to play.”

“You sound like your age.”

“I’m hungry.”

“There’s something downstairs.”

While he was eating he abruptly said, “I know what it is, you know.”

“What?”

He put the fork down and went to the sink with the plate. “Audiences.” Salix had a voice he used, without knowing it, or maybe he was trying to look like he did not know it, when he was saying something serious. “The problem is the audiences.” He sat down again.

“Well,” Garf said, “The fuckers are mostly there to see you lose.”

Salix made a brief pained look. A not-wince. “Not the same.”

“As?”

“Enjoying something more because I might lose. I’ve not been doing that too often.”

“What’s the problem, then?”

“I don’t know. Well, no, I do know, but I’m not going to say it precisely. I look at them in the middle of a game and all their faces are just frozen in this strange hungry rictus. All the white faces in that light – the light makes them all stand out – and I don’t like it. It’s like if I walked over and slapped them they wouldn’t move. It’s just a mass of symbols down there. I don’t like it.”

“They’re enjoying it.”

“I tell myself, am I going to have to care about these people?”

“Do you find people very stupid?”

“No,” Salix said, slowly.

“Really.” Garf found Salix sometimes unreadable. “I always thought that you should.”

He grinned. “I find you pretty stupid.”

“Well,” Garf said, “You should tell Lev something if you are going to say no. It will be the official story.”

Salix yawned hugely. “They don’t need an official story.”

“Say that you detest these people, you detest the game, that it is altogether and without a shadow of a doubt so far beneath your station that you only play because you want to size up the shape and texture of people’s stupidity.”

Salix laughed. “I don’t mind people,” he said, “at all.”

“Say that Lev and Mar are total shitheads and they physically repulse you.”

“I could say that I love it too much, that’s it’s killing the rest my life, that the worst thing I could do to everyone is have me shoved down some solipsistic sinkhole built around a game wholes rules are arbitrary and whose entire central being is the idea of passive aggression. I’ll say that I know I have responsibilities and that I cannot betray these responsibilities even before these responsibilities have come to be. I’ll say that it pains me but that even now I understand the necessity of sacrifice, and I hope that what little I have left recorded will give some people somewhere some small happiness, some peephole that goes straight to my medulla. ”

“Say that your grades are slipping.”

Salix put his feet on the table and spread his hands. “They could check.”

“Say that you can’t stand the audience. Say that their breathing is hideous. Their eyes are hideous. You fucking detest their faces. Their pulpy ophidian faces. You hate the air in the playing hall. It’s too warm, it’s too cold, you have a neurosis they must build around you. You hate the sound the pieces make. You hate their gloss and their shine. You hate the way people move the pieces. You hate it when they remove the captured piece and put down the capturing piece in the same action and you hear that gross click. Say that it’s alienating and monstrous. Say that the players are arrogant and worse bathetic.  They have bad teeth. They twirl pieces beneath the table. When they leave the table they don’t pay attention to their swivelling chairs and the backs face you  and you are forced to sit there in the stink of their recently departed being looking at the back of a chair and you cannot calculate anymore. You will not grace their inattention, their slovenliness, their torpidity, with your effort.”

“Maybe I am bored by it. Maybe I feel I have exhausted the game. Maybe I am tired of closed pawn structures and the knights crawling to g3 in the Najdorf. Maybe I am tired at the stupid binary structure of it all and am frustrated at the perpetuation of a game that disencourages dialectic thought. Perhaps the real issue here is that the game is a shallowly disguised metaphor for sex and I am appalled at it because I can’t fuck. I have tried everything. I have spoken to Quistclose, I have spoken to Petromyzon, I have let little robots feel me in my soft places and nothing works, I am a great sucking antilibidinous vacuum and I am a constant that even a Haccieter cannot solve. The pieces are grotesque and tumorous. They are crenellated and thorny and bald. They take too much out of me. The entire performance requires of me faculties which I do not have.”

Boa constrictor. You know that is your name.” Garf looked at the clock. “I should head to the Centre.”

“I want a walk. I’ll come.”

“Have you seen the stuff we are doing?”

“You could show me.”

“You’ll be interested.”

Salix put his face in his hands and rubbed. “I should decide what to say to Lev.”

“I’ll get the car.”

“Can we walk?”

Garf made a face. “I can continue making stuff up all the way there.”

“Sure, do that.”

“Where’d we get them?”

“Last war.”

There were ten people in this room. There were many rooms but this was one room. The people in this room were very old. Their hands and faces were like maps. They leaned over their tables. They were allowed to drool. They had wires in their heads and wires in their ears. They looked at Garf and Salix when they came in and some of them smiled. “I tell yuh whot,” one of them was saying, “I tell yuh whot, I tell yoh whot.”

Garf looked at Salix looking at the people. “It’s these people,” she said.

Salix did not say anything. Then he said, “Audience.”

“It’s these people,” Garf said again. She didn’t hear.

The thing Salix was doing was finding an uncanny gap, and finding that it was moving.

“And what happens?” Salix said.

“I’ll play them something from the Trove. Watch.”

The people started moving. Their eyes bulged and their fingers warped. Their heads moved from side to side. Swung one way and then another way. Some of them eventually closed their eyes and moved their arms. They opened their mouths and made wavering noises. The one who kept speaking was silent.

“They’re very happy,” Garf said.

“I’m happy for them,” Salix said. “That they’re here.”

“Only works with stuff from the Trove. Not quite. But that’s basically it. We can’t really use any other music. That’s very interesting. Isn’t it interesting? We get a big load of stuff from a random metavirus we happen to meet in an obscure space, it does not tell us what the significance of this is or where it’s from, and it has this effect.”

“I’ve never listened anything from the Trove. Everyone listens to it now but somehow I never got around to it.”

“Look at these people. They’ve never heard this stuff and yet then can remember it. Doesn’t that say something interesting?”

“Maybe,” Salix said, and maybe he used his yes voice.

On the way out he said, “You’ve got stuff from the Trove, haven’t you?”

Garf said, “Oh yes. Lots.”

“What were they listening to?”

“It’ll pass it to your Buds. Wait. Can you hear it?”

“Yes,” Salix said, and then, later: “It’s very good.”

Something had come finally justified

“Salix sounded like he was afraid of you. I’m not sure. But I thought he was.”

Erth looked surprised. But she said: “Yes.”

“He did not seem like the kind of person who would be afraid of anything, really.”

“He comes across that way, yeah. Nowadays.”

“Why?”

“What with being –”

“Why is he afraid?”

Erth made a gesture as if she was brushing something away with the back of her hand. “Reasons. Well. Okay. The main thing I guess is that he thinks my ability lies in making people do things, but in a way they are not aware of, and he has no way of knowing if the things he does are because I am making him do them, or if anyone does things because he wants them to or because I’m making them do those things.”

“Oh.”

“It’s not a very bright idea. The stuff he does – you know the kind of stuff he does. You’re a sort of – direct casualty – so. If I was making him do stuff do you think he would have started the War?”

Ary laughed and felt strange. “ ‘Not a bright idea.’ ”

“He’s – clever. But he’s paranoid. They’ve always been, actually.”

“Salix says that all he is trying to do is make people happy.”

“He really believes that.” Erth did not say this approvingly or disapprovingly.

“You don’t agree with him.”

“You do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Hmm.” Erth turned up the heat and put a pan of water on the stove. “I just don’t think people are designed to be happy. It’s not a complicated thing.” A small blue flame. Zeidgrebe had to be a very old boat. Or maybe Erth was that sort of person. “Do you remember a time when you were happy? Actually happy.”

[During their second Break Ary and John went to Canis I. They hired a sturdy car with generous windows at the old port at Stettal and simply drove in a straight line across six states through the height of summer. Just a car trip. Once they were driving through something that must have been an orchard, although they were not sure what kind of tree it was. Thousands and thousands of rows of thousands and thousands each. Apples or some variant thereof, fruit that messily spangled the grass and smelled sweet with rot. Ary picked out one tree that he could see ten columns or so back standing there in the middle of a row. One in a billion. He thought that was what he was.

John was driving, and didn’t speak much, but he was in such a mood that once he laughed at something Ary had said. Ary couldn’t remember now but he knew that he had not said anything funny. He thought it was something about how they were doing to get the car back.  They both did not want to waste their allowance so at night they pulled over deep into the unkempt grass and slept on the seats and woke up smelling a like vinyl with one cheek pressed into crevassed maps and divaricate lines. Ary often woke at night but did not turn on the light because of the insects. They sinewed into being everywhere, quietly but persistently, and would not go after the 14-watter incandescent was turned off. When he did wake Ary looked at John, perfectly expressionless in sleep, no smile or frown or impression of a dream, and thought how he looked like something freshly born or elsewhere wanted.]

What he said now was, “Yes. CM didn’t leave us much to be happy for but we could be happy.”

“But were you happy then?”

“Then.”

“At the time you say you were happy – when you were living it, did you actually feel happy? If I had asked you then, would you have said, yes, I am happy?”

Ary thought. “No. No, I was – worried. I was thinking – it was hard not to think – that soon we would both be dead.”

“You see. That’s the thing. The truth is that almost all our happiness is remembered. It’s not in the moment. No-one is actually happy here, in this precise moment, in this stupid uncatchable now-ishness. Sometimes you feel it like it is in the moment, very rarely, but even then you are lying to yourself, because what you feel is the idea that this moment can abstract itself into some higher otherised realness and continue. It never does. You know the feeling right after those moments. I’m sure you know it. Like the days are coming out from under your feet. Sand pulling away with the tide from just under the balls of your feet. That kind of feeling.” Erth waved her arms awkwardly, imitating a person losing balance.

“That sounds incredibly cynical. That is incredibly – sad. I don’t know. Maybe just remembering is good enough. It’s not a lie.”

[Ary and John did nothing of interest on the trip. They moved though the uncontoured fields and lines of standing crop. No human demarcations apart from the line they moved along. A million years before or something like that glaciers had come and sheared the land flat. They found an abandoned building and without really agreeing to do so they stopped the car and went over to it. The roof had fallen in. Just as they had done in Tityra after the massacre they climbed to the top of the wall and watched the evening. They sat on the callused brick and put their feet out into an the abyss in which people had once breathed. Twenty-wheelers generated seismic ripples as they dopplered past and sent out washes of diesel air whose warmth survived all the way from the road and broke against the walls.

Sometimes in the afternoon huge storms gathered. They could get very bad. The ozone first, not quite electric and not quite metallic in the air, and milky wall clouds bulbing and turning. A swathe of leucistic grass on one side of the road, or just ahead, would suddenly bow and turn white and a second or so later the car would shudder and skid left or lean over crankily. They put on the attractors to get through the worst storms, although this drained their fuel fast. Afterwards the air for miles around would reek of geosmin.]

“Does it sound that way? I don’t think it sounds that way at all. I’m not trying to say it’s bad. I’m just saying, happiness is difficult. Sal’s whole – thing. Maybe we should look for something else. I’m not saying anything not experienced as happy is not good. Maybe many things are good, as in capital-G good.”

Erth took the pan off the heat and poured the water, into two cups. She opened a can and spooned something amber in. There was a faint hissing sound.

“It’s quite nasty the first  time, but all the boaties have it. Pretty good, actually, really keeps out the cold.”

It was nasty, and burned, but it had a good aftertaste.

[After one storm Ary and John stopped at a town for food. The person serving them took the CM credits and walked away from the table and then turned back and said, “You guys are fucking us all up, you know that?” He was the type of person who smiled when he was angry. This afternoon he was smiling a lot, and he kept his eyes on John and Ary as they ate.

When he came to take the plates he said, “I mean it. I hope you all die fast so that we lose this properly and you stop taking our money. We’re all dry here, all bone dry. You motherfucking bastards.” He laughed. Ary said thank you and stood up to go. The man actually put his hand on Ary’s shoulder and said, “Just give me a moment.” He turned around and shouted, “Got a couple of cammers here.” People looked up from their tables. Some looked emabarrassed on Ary’s behalf. Many did not. The waiter turned back to look at them and spoke, loudly, grinning now. “You want to blame someone, folks? Look here. Oh yes look at these quiet ones. I’m thinking when they are all dead—”

John broke his glass on the table and stood up fast. The first blow opened a red gorge through the centre of the waiter’s face from the bottom of the left cheek through the nose. The waiter went down immediately, less because of the force and more because of the shock. He tried to shout but managed a whistling burble that was only savagely comic. John stepped hard on his face twice, putting the weight of his body into it, and the waiter stopped moving. John bent over him and stuck the glass in his face again and again. Then he used the other end and started pounding, very precise and very brutal. Ary stood there and Inside his numb head he counted. At n.6 the nose went and around n.11 the face caved in crunchily. John ignored Ary’s shouting and the pulpy mess got all over his front and face. When the others came out of the kitchen screaming and tried to get him off John pulled out his Botze and shot one of them in the knee. And then he finally got off the waiter and stared at the other man writhing on the floor and shot him in the knee again. Ary got in front of him and faced the people and said something like I’m sorry, I’m sorry and left the signoff for all his remaining credits on the table.

John had shouted something as Ary took him out, something like, “Don’t we die well? Don’t we die well? I I I see.”

They got back in the car, John dripping with blood, and moments after Ary slammed the door shut John started making a high-pitched jerky sound that was like crying but turned to huge shuddering laughter. Ary looked at him with horror and then started laughing as well. He went on and on. He couldn’t stop. There were slivers of bone on him. He thought of Tityra and all the people dead there and he felt something had come finally justified, something all aligned together. It was a clean and good feeling. You nearly took the leg off, he said, wheezing.]

“It’s good,” Ary said. “Where do you get this?”

“There’s a small market near the station. It’s an hour’s drive.”

From the window Ary could see that it was getting dark outside, fast. “I’m not sure I agree with you. Still.”

“It’s always the same problem once Salix has talked to someone.”

“He’s very persuasive.”

“Of course he is persuasive. When he was on Stize. You should have seen.” Erth looked a bit sad. “University life. How are you feeling now?”

“Pretty warm, actually, I’m—”

“No, I mean—”

“Oh. Oh. John’s dead. All the people I got to sort of know, for a while. I’m not sure – I am not sure what I should say. What do you think I should say.”

“You know what I think? I think that a long time from now you will remember these days and you will think that you were happy.”

“If I. Why would you. No.” Ary waited for a while. “If I am happy now how will I know that this is not just you.”

“You could ask.”

Ary sat like a crippled thing. “And?”

“I’m not doing anything. Well I am doing something but only what everyone is doing all the time. I’m trying to make you feel a bit better.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“You see? It’s happening already.”