- Don’t talk.
- Don’t explain things.
- Don’t show things, either.
- Vehicles are people.
- People can die, even the most important ones.
- Violence is an emotion.
- Violence is beautiful.
- Movement is beautiful.
- Move in one direction, unless you are moving in another.
- To make the same landscape new again go very high or very low.
- The colour red.
- If a character is missing an arm, give (her) two to replace it.
- Heighten reality, but in the other direction.
- A world can be terrifying and make you want to live in it.
- Don’t let them touch each other.
- Can the Bible help but be everywhere?
- Home is a fire.
- Fire is a sermon.
- The audience does not need to be privileged with information characters do not possess.
Even now the house remains unchanged.
That is to say essentially the same even though of course there are small details one might talk about.
But outside –
Outside it appears that the rules do not apply.
Or perhaps once they applied everywhere but today they are confined here, to this place, to this house, with the fire.
Assuming that there were any rules in the first place, anything to constrain the house.
Perhaps it makes more sense to speak of tendencies rather than rules.
In any case he is downstairs now, and the fire is warm.
The house shakes softly.
Somehow he has never realised that even the house could shake.
For a long time he has not come here.
That might be mostly because there has simply been no need.
It is standing before the door.
It is entirely awake.
“Well, here we are,” he says.
“Yes,” it says.
“It you think about it this was always bound to happen,” he says.
“No,” it says, immediately.
“Well, here we are nonetheless,” he says.
It paces and goes round in one tight circle. It goes up to the window once, its old habit, and then it comes back.
It turns to the door and goes up to it and comes back and then does it again.
“Here we are,” he says, to himself.
“I can help you,” it says.
“You have given me so much,” he says.
“Yes,” it says, “but no matter.”
He goes to the window, the low window, the one that looks outward at all the water.
Suddenly he feels lonely.
No, that was not correct. He is anticipating it, not feeling it now.
Although it might as well be the same.
All these things are always very hard to disentangle.
Come to think of it, it has never been clear what exactly why this window was built right here.
An error, perhaps.
The point is that one can imagine this window being better placed elsewhere.
In any case he looks out of it now.
The thing about the ocean is that its size can only really be appreciated like this, in the flesh.
The water moves.
The water becomes big and comes without stopping.
This is the kind of sea which stops all ships from coming.
In fact the water is so big that it goes over the house and comes right over a long ridge of mountains.
Over the mountains there a place where there might be many homes, clustered together, on top of each other, lights intimated by each other, coming all together in this way, even though he has not thought there could ever be others here.
The water washes it all away.
It hugs the buildings with its bulk and dowses them over.
It pushes all the air aside. It is all very huge and very grey.
All this happens very slowly.
He is terrified. He is so scared he can hardly breathe.
“Can it come in another way?” he says.
“Yes,” it says.
It looks at him and then all the water is in the house.
It is simply there, without any fuss, and all of it at once, too.
“Oh,” he says, marvelling now at how small it seems. “Oh,” he says, again, realising.
It looks at him.
Light is coming from the windows, although it is pale as milk.
“I know you,” he says. “I saw you once, near the place where Erth was living. You had a name, didn’t you? You had a name. Went.”
“Went,” it says, “yes, Went.”
It comes to him and its forelimbs go on his shoulders.
There may be more limbs but the point is that it is on his shoulders and it is a great weight bearing him down.
It stares at him.
For a creature so often given to sleep it appears to be surprisingly alive.
Not alive. The word was awake, that was the word he was looking for.
“Thank you,” it says.
It is hard to hear.
This is mostly because of the fact that it speaks very softly.
Although it has always spoken rather softly, if one remembers correctly.
He recognises something strange about the way in which all of this is said, however.
That is, the creature appears utterly heartbroken.
It is very close to him. He can see all the way inside its mouth.
It has always taken care, he realises, not to draw attention to its mouth.
“I’ve done something wrong, haven’t I?” he says.
“Yes,” it says. “Thank you.”
“I can help you,” it says.
The weight is unbearable.
It lets go of him for looks at him for a moment and moves to the door again.
He goes to the window and looks out.
His hand goes on the sill.
He pulls the window open.
He struggles for a moment with the rusted bolt but then the window is open.
Water comes in and goes on the floor. He closes his eyes.
He just stands there getting wet.
It is a strange thing, that the water at this time feels so warm.
It does not come over to the window, which is to say that it remains by the door.
This behaviour is uncharacteristic.
Although he cannot precisely remember what it has done before the impression is still given that this is not characteristic.
“You should come and see,” he says.
“I know,” it says.
Why had he ever tried to hide his purpose? It strikes him that sometimes he is very naive.
“I’ll be going” he says. “I’ll be going now, probably.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” it says.
He comes to the door.
“You like it more inside,” he says.
He has no particular reason to believe this but it is true enough.
“I can come with you,” it says.
He reaches out with his hand which drips with rain from the window which is still open and he pulls the door open.
It moves aside to let the door open fully, of course.
Its feet, which it uses sometimes, make noises against the floor.
He remembers how the floor shone when he first let it into the house.
He stands in the doorway looking out.
“I think perhaps you should stay here,” he says.
“It is only a house,” it says.
That is impossible to deny.
But there is much to be said in favour of a house.
“I can make it go,” it says.
He seems to understand that well enough.
“How?” he says.
That was not at all what he was trying to say.
“It’s more than just that,” he says. “It’s not just the one thing.”
The issue is that when he attempts to speak to it he ends up attempting to say things that cannot, properly speaking, be said.
“I can make it all go,” it says.
“All,” he says.
He considers this
It considers this, too.
It appears to be striving towards something.
“Since that appears to be the problem,” it says. “All –”
He stays there in the doorway for a long time, and it remains beside him, both of them becoming drenched.
He steps through the doorway and gasps at the water.
He takes several more steps. The ground is wet and the stones are slippery and they shine. But it is not impossible to walk. It is a challenge that is not wholly unwelcome.
“The rest of them?” he says. “What happens?”
It is standing in the doorway, or perhaps it is merely sitting, or perhaps it has moved away from the doorway. Most likely it is simply standing there.
“If it all goes,” it says, “the rest go too. I can do all of this.”
“Don’t,” he says, although he takes a shudder in the middle of the word, a thrill. “Just stay with the house.” He turns around and walks on, following the very edge, swaying despite his best efforts. The water is like a physical thing, there is so much of it. But its basic nature is harmless.
“I can destroy everything,” it says, pleading.
He is surprised, but only for a moment, that it would use that word, in that way, now. But then it seems entirely predictable, once he thinks about it.
“I can help you.”
But he does not look back. If he does he might just fall apart with gratitude and he is moving now, and he is outside the house.
“There might be nothing left,” it calls, from far way.
He goes on for some time.
Then he realises something. It is an awful thought, unthinkable, even. He runs back to the house. He slips once and goes in the wet soil but he gets up immediately. It is still there in the open doorway when he gets back.
“The last thing,” he says, panting. His clothes stick to his skin, which is warm.“You were not threatening me. Are you – ”
“No,” it says. “No, I would never – How could I? You know me.”
He leans against it and finally cries without a sound. “You understand why I am doing this,” he says eventually.
It is a small thing in the doorway. “No,” it says.
“Well – if –”
“What? Say it.”
“I am sorry too. Will there be someone after me?”
“I do not know.”
“There is no rule for determining it, then.”
“There are no rules for any of us.”
“But I am leaving now.”
“And there is nothing that you can do.”
“It makes no difference. “
He looks up. “Maybe there are some rules, then.”
“Maybe. Be careful of all the water.”
And he goes again. He does not come back.
But he did know now, know in fact, that grief could not be shared. Joy could be shared. You could give it out among many people. It could multiply. But grief singled people out. There were names in his memory of places where his friends had died but these names meant nothing to people. If he said there was this place, or, this was the place, it would be imagined by other people to be different from the way it really was. So he did not say anything. Consecration. He made other people powerless. He had not chosen to be this way but that was how things were now. People would look at him and know that there was nothing to be done, they could not help.
He went out into the corridor. It was empty. He did not close the door but stood there for some time with his hand on the doorknob. It gradually turned warm from the heat of his hand. He turned and went back in. The room hummed.
In CM he had always paid attention to the Casualty Reports when they came in. There were often long delays. But they always did come and he would look at the names of those who had died. People he knew or barely did. There was a column that indicated the exact time when someone was declared dead. That was important for him. He tried to think of what he had been doing at those times and he could never really remember. People found the blank spaces in his memory and went into those spaces to die. S—had died in a training accident when he left the safety off the amph-AR and two rounds had gone up through his chin and left socket into his brain. March 20, 1422 hrs. Ary thought about that. What had he been doing then? B—killed in a firefight on Anholt. That was how he thought about but it was wrong. B— had died 18 hours later in TRR. November 1 6003 hrs. But when B—was hit he imagined that she could see everything coming after. And yet he did not know what he had been doing then. How did they do this? He thought vaguely that he might have been pulling up a schedule for his platoon then but he did not know for sure. His mind was filled with anatomies of place and time, with duty and knowledge even, and yet the death of those he knew was set off against absolutely nothing. There was no context. As I walked out onto the parade ground my friend died, or, as John told me about the drop schedule my friend died, or, as I gave them the 72 and they cursed with joy and cheered and pissed in the wind my friend died. Nothing at all like that. It was strange how there was nothing to signal what was happening. Happening far away, yes, but things of such importance would leave some a mark, something faintly fired to land far away. Thump. But there was nothing there. Maybe it was not true that people found a way to be forgotten. Maybe it was simply that he was forgetting everything and it was going away because so much had happened. He thought about everyone else seeing the Reports. All of them spread out across so much space nonetheless feeling the same kind of disgrace. One transgression stoked by another, rolling on. Was he surprised? After all time moved on and they would lapse as people. It was to be expected.
The air was made for them. The stooping peregrines were the only things in the world that could take that great shining gap and chase it into life. They could lean against it and tilt it. The moment, a billion years of change, of evolution and movement, all pressed into this: from a numinous line above the horizon it rolls effortlessly, and simply stops. Silence. There is nothing more to it. There is no magic or story. It raises itself slightly and the wings fold over that brown back and it slips forward, casually, without any hint of control. The origami of itself. It drops – but that is a lie, it does not drop, you never see it drop, for its untrespassed arc becomes the reference, and the gorge becomes a delirious blur spun into incomprehension by the fall of this bird, there, twisting even in the very rush of it, its mind making crankings and adjustments that cannot be believed, more fundamental and violent than a track flung out in a cloud chamber, dropping to something that has been singled out in the blue air below and will never know what has hit it, will never see its death and the sharp glory of its going. In such a life, in such a life lived in this way there is no regression, there is no slouching to the mean. Would that we could move too in vessels that in their movement would remake the world to fit them, and tremble the world until it shimmered and exploded with ecstasy.
The glow had long gone down behind the serrated edge of the mountains. It was late.
The order had not come in yet. Earlier Ary had asked Major Kenner if he and John could take the patrol of the outer encamp.
(“Why?” Major Kenner said.
“Everyone’s tired,” Ary said. “We thought since we’ve got no orders yet that we could take things off C-2, sir.”
Major Kenner was one of those people who was always calm. He stopped writing and looked up at Ary.
“They got hit three days ago,” he had said. “Three deaths. They need something to do.”
From another person that might have been cruel. But Major Kenner was not like that. He leaned back in his chair and gave Ary a look that said, go on, say what you think.
Ary only said, “I understand, sir.”
“No,” Kenner had said. “You are right. I can’t unfuck this situation for C-2. Hope they get through this.”
“Have they been to Combat Stress?”
“Do you know what C-2 is like? They were teasing Danks all the way through because he’d not got his first kill. He was the loader, of course he hadn’t done it. They said he needed to do it so that they’d be a hundred percent. They will not go to Combat Stress. I can’t make them.” He stopped. “Well, I could. But it wouldn’t work if I made them do it. I need not to be the asshole here for a while.” Kenner grinned and looked tired. He did that. Ary was not used to it. He never did it if there was a Lance Corporal around but if he was with anyone from O2 onwards he sometimes came across like the rugged, fundamentally decent guy, the guy just a bit tired of it all, the guy that he must have been when he was a Corporal.
“No-one thinks you’re the asshole, sir.”
He shook his head. “Do Perries do platitudes now?”
Ary was about to say that he had meant it something but Kenner waved it away.
Kenner called Sergeant Friend and said, “Leave C-2 off it tonight.”
“Yes, sir.” Surprise.
“The Perries will be doing the patrol. Tell C-2 to rest for tomorrow.”
Kenner turned to Ary and said, “Thanks, I guess.” Not like an O5 at all.
“No problem, sir.”)
The night was still. Ary walked but was not thinking of anything in particular. In the distance the grinding gears of the terrainers and the Big Ts moving. It was strange how even in the most urgent of times everything seemed to move slowly. There was something good about the patrol. The stillness came from outside and went into him. Vague tonnage of exhaustion coming away, one small weight off his shoulders. There were not many times when he could feel this way.
He noticed the soldier because he was holding a cigarette and he could see the light a long way off. He was standing against the perimeter and smoking. After some time the guy put the cig out and then stood there, not moving, looking out. He held his rifle to his chest with one arm and did not move.
When Ary was close and coming around the corner he made a noise with his step so that the soldier would know.
The soldier turned and started violently. There was panic and sudden terror on his face. He jerked around and fumbled nearly unconsciously let the handguard tip from his right hand into the palm of his left and before he knew it the muzzle of his AR was pointed straight at Ary. Then he realised what he had done.
“Oh, shit. Shit. Fuck. Sir, I’m sorry sir, I didn’t mean to do that. I just—”
Ary saw the name stitched onto the sleeve of the soldier’s BCO: Hasse.
He did not recognise the name but he thought he recognised the face. Hasse was in C-2. He was a big guy but there was a tilt to his eyebrows that always made him look a little sad even when he was laughing. Ary had seen him with the others neatly painting letters onto one of the FOB terrainers: FUFB. Fuck you FOBbits. Someone might have called him Doleface.
Hasse backed away and slung his rifle. “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll go back now, I just needed to get out for a while, you know, for – for –” He stopped. “I’ll go back now, sir, if you let me.”
Ary did not say anything. He knew how Hasse felt, the shock of seeing something alien come out from the dark like that.
“Muzzle discipline,” he said. He nearly said Corporal but did not. “You’ve let it go to shit.”
There was a moment of hesitation where Hasse did not know if he was looking at an Officer (Spec) or just another human.
“Why are you here?” Ary said.
People did not know how to speak to Peregrines. You could see the way their eyes moved, looking for a mouth or the eyes in the mechanical head, shuttling, searching. Most people looked away after a while. They talked normally but they looked away. Hesse looked right at Ary. He hesitated and said, “I was looking for you, sir.” Then he leaned against the wall and slumped against, let himself be pulled down until he was sitting with his back against the perimeter, rifle between his knees. He put his forehead on the butt and let out a long shuddering breath.
“Things have gotten so fucking—” He put both hands out in front of him and clenched them hard. “I needed to get out, talk to someone outside, you know, not outside, but not part of the whole – this whole –”
“Have you been to Combat Stress?” Ary said. It felt stupid as it came out of his mouth and he knew how Hesse would read it; an inquisition, a command.
“I can’t,” Hesse said. “I don’t have a problem. It’s about Tom. The care packages came in earlier today, do you know? I stood in the line and got Tom’s because he was my best friend. I didn’t think he would wake up, I didn’t know, so I opened it.” He shook his head and held the AR very tightly. “Look at this,” he said, “Isn’t this pathetic? Me, here, bitching to a fucking Peregrine.” He hit himself on the side of his head, lightly, twice. “I’ll go back in. Sir. I’m sorry.”
“If you need to talk,” Ary said, “You should talk.” He did not know what else he could do.
Hesse was silent for some time. “I don’t know how you deal with it,” Hesse said. “How did you deal with it?”
“I didn’t,” Ary said. “It’s not something you deal with. That’s not what they usually say, I think. But that’s all I’ve got.”
“I got his care package and inside there was only a bar of soap. It was so fucking ridiculous. Why would Tom need a bar of soap? There’s so many other things you need out here. Photos, food from home. But all that Tom got was a bar of soap. Maybe his family was poor. I never asked and he never said. I don’t know, when I saw it I just broke inside and I stood there suddenly realising I wanted to collapse and cry but you can’t let them see you like that. So I didn’t do it, I smiled and made a joke. I said, well this is good isn’t it, because I don’t care what heroic shit he’s done, he’s a holy stinker, and I laughed. But then I had to go to the showers and cry like a baby for an hour.”
“When I started out,” Ary said, “I had a friend who was religious.”
Hesse stopped for a moment and then said, “What, like he prayed and all that shit?”
“What happened to him?”
“He was the first one to die on our first Drop.”
“Didn’t help him, did it?”
“I’m sure it did. But it can’t stop you dying.”
“That fucked you real bad, huh? Sir.”
“When they read his Personal Effects Statement it turned out he left me his personal music player. He’d got an electric one, one of the old ones, just because he would never Woodpecker stop him listening to whatever he wanted, he said. I couldn’t use the player at first. I would look at it and it would be too much. One time I tried it and it wrecked me. But it helped. The loss became real and became possible to actually take, to grasp. The track at the top of the frequently played list was something from the Trove. It’s hard to imagine but there it was. From what is now our enemy. Sheep May Safely Graze.”
“Have you heard what happened to Tom? Sir.”
“It’s strange for someone to keep calling me sir. I went straight to this from sergeant. I’ve never been called sir before. And I don’t talk to people in the company very much. It’s strange.”
Ary could see the way Hesse was holding the rifle, upright against the ground, both hands on the barrel. The barrel had been painted ochre but some of the paint had flaked off and the dark metal shone from beneath, small irregular patches. He felt a sudden surge of sympathy for Hesse, for the anguished thing seeing now the whole world that had been circling around finally closing in, bereavement shrunk to a brute knowable fact.
“What happened to Tom?”
“We were clearing a street in Otley, the usual thing. We were in the APV.”
Ary had seen it. The C-2 APV, like many others, had had a message written on the inside of the driver door. Those who survived mines in anti-ambush vehicles felt the need to do these sorts of things: This truck saved the life of my friends and I four of us on Apr 02 04 Kilnet at 1700.
“It was all normal and then it went off right underneath us, lifted the entire APV up. It wasn’t a small thing. It was an EFMP, it went right through the front and killed Rewes, straightaway, cut him nearly in half. The change in pressure or something left Zima and Watters unconscious, bleeding from the eyes, the ears. The rest of us got sprayed with molten metal. When Tom and I came out of the back it was a complete fucking mess. We had been completely cornered. We got told at first that one of the worst things you could get caught in was a firefight. We didn’t believe it at the time but it is true We ran to Sergeant Savidge but she had been hit under the arm and twice in the chest. It was fucked-up. The flak stopped the two to the chest but the one under the arm was bleeding like skippy.
Tom looked down the alley and saw everyone pinned and he took the Handle from Savidge and he did the suppressive fire, he organised it by himself, and then he said he wanted to run down the front of the alley and get Odell and Wyer. I told Tom, no, don’t do it, but he just said no. I think he heard me. When he disagreed he never had a fight out of it. He just did his own thing. He thought about what you said and if he didn’t agree he would do his own thing, you know? So I gave him cover and he ran down and got struck immediately in the knee, I saw it ricochet off the guard and his leg fold in a bit so that he nearly kneeled, and although that sort of shot hurts like hell, he went on and took Odell and Wyer by their vests and hauled them back. I think he was hit again, twice, I don’t remember where. But it was when he turned to go back even though I was fucking screaming at him from behind the APV that he got hit in the face. I was crouching there and then Tom’s blood was all over me and he spun a little bit and fell like he was already dead. He was just lying there in the middle of all the scattered bearings from the APV. I think I lost my mind a little, you know? I didn’t imagine this sort of thing. I lost my shit. I screamed and ran – this is what they told me – I ran out to him and got him to the 9-ton, I must have done it. The thing I remember is that the round that got him was not the ordinary thing. It splashed something over his flak and the ARA had melted. Do you know what I remember? It was strange because it’s a smell I know from home. I was pulling him back and I smelt the barbecue and it was him, Tom, Tom was burning in my hands as I dragged him. It was in my nose. Didn’t go away until long after.
“Look, man, I know there are no heroes in the military. It’s all a lie. I’m as fucking – I don’t know – as fucking cynical as anyone else, but Tom was that sort of thing, he was very close to the real thing. That one time he got shot in the neck in Lome-I. He came around to us with his hand on the side of his head like that, the sick bastard, blinking like he knew it was the end, trying not to scream or shout, he just said, hey, I’ve been hit, what does it look like. And it looked like there was just a fuckload of blood coming out of the side of his neck, and I seriously thought he was a dead man. And Tom just looked at me and said, you’d better be scared shitless because I’m going to steal all your pussy now.”
Hesse stopped and breathed. “I looked at him in TRR. He’s not got half his face. Can’t imagine all that pussy he’s going to get now, huh?” He tried to make his voice sound playful but there was much more in it, uncertainty and much more. “All those pity fucks.”
“You’ve been lucky,” Ary said. “To know Tom.”
Hesse tried and failed to avoid crying.
His shoulders moved a bit.
“I thought when I came in I’d just try to do the good thing, get a little respect, try to do the correct thing, but look at this. I think he was keeping me alive and now. I don’t know. Maybe I’m broken. Maybe I’m not. I’m okay with explosions, I don’t flinch or anything. I can get back in the APV. But I’m – I’m fucking diminished, you know what I mean. Suddenly it’s all gone from under me.”
Ary remembered the look of sudden terror on Hesse’s face when he had seen Ary appear, that reaction that without any words or thought had spoken: kill, kill, kill.
In the distance there was a loud blare from a terrainer backing up, probably involved in some delicate negotiation with the Big Ts. “Grief is the correct thing,” Ary said. “It’s not a problem. It’s the necessary thing. It says something. This is what it’s about, really. You know it and it is not a bad thing.”
“I feel,” Hesse said, almost drowsily. “I feel—”
“Yes,” Ary said. “Me too.”
Hesse got out another cigarette and tried to light it but could not and threw it away. “They came to me, just earlier today. They’re starting to work on Tom’s Full Citation for valour because they think he’s going to die. I knew what they wanted me to say so I said he was selfless, you know? I said he didn’t care at all about himself, he cared for my squad. That was what it took, to run out into the fire like that. He probably wasn’t even thinking about it. Selfless. It was easy to say because it was all true. And I got so fucking angry then. I felt like reaching out and hitting them. So much violence you might as well call it grief, call it trauma, CSR, call it what you want to. Because I thought, if only the fucker had been less selfless, if only he had been a bit more of a fucking coward and come back when I called. I wanted to tell them about how he was a great guy, like where the real value in him was, that it had nothing to do with the fact that he was a fucking idiot—” Hesse stopped to pull the sleeve of the BCO over his face. “—fucking idiot who ran out into, into fucking intense fire, nothing to do with all that shit, it was just that he knew but to make tired people happy, he made people feel like they could not die, he knew when not to talk and when to talk. But they don’t give a shit. I looked up what citations before I entered. I thought it was cool to get one of those. They were all the same: ‘complete disregard for personal safety’, ‘extraordinary calm and presence of mind under intense pressure’. How could Tom be that? Was he calm? Who the fuck knows? Was he disregarding his safety? We were his safety and he was mine. He’s not just like everyone else. Fuck, this is – this is – just –”
Ary did something he had seen someone in Combat Stress do once. “What’s your name, Corporal?” he said.
“James,” Hesse said.
“James,” Ary said. That was all he knew.
Three kinds of fire support: suppression; neutralisation; destruction. Discourage or maim or kill. And Ary knew that these were not just things to be done by one army to another but things that each army did to itself, to each single thing in it, when the promises of departure began to dim, and maybe even well before that, when all the lives crowded themselves out, all perfect and all past repair, and forgot about all the time that had to steal by before they could say it and not have as a lie: all is well. All is well.
“I can’t believe it,” Hesse said. “How did I not imagine it?” He took in a long breath and as he let it out he tried not to let it shudder. He stood up.
“James,” Ary said. “I don’t think anyone imagines it.”
“If there were proper war films people would never go. The honest film would not be a story. It would be someone smiling and coming towards the camera, laughing down a street, and then a round comes screaming and it all ends. Thirty seconds and that would be all. Or someone burning up ten thousand metres above the ground when the world below is still a turning marble. Or someone dragging themselves out of the hatch in a sub and then getting stuck and drowning in foam, in the surf. I watched all the movies, you know? Even the ones that were about the horrors of war. All lies. All lies. All of them were beautiful. They had images that stayed with you because they were so well put together. In this war nothing has been put together like that. Everything stays with you because you were there. That’s all there is to it. The only good thing about it is when you are about to fight and there is a thrill. It’s not joy, it’s a kind of yearning. You want to get the hundred percent. But you only get that if you want to kill and no film does that. It cannot make you want to kill. ”
Ary saw how Hesse’s hands were shaking.
“Do you get caffeine at the DFAC?” he said.
“Yes,” Hesse said. “They let me.”
“Don’t do it,” Ary said. “It does not help.”
“Go see Tom.”
“Ask the medics how he is. If you want to sit there for a while. I’ll tell them to let you.”
Hesse shook his head. He pulled at his hair, not violently but with force.
Ary waited for a while and then said, “You need to get some sleep, James.”
“Yeah.” Hesse sounded like he wanted to say something more but had stopped himself. “Do you know – do you know what I wanted out of this? I wanted people to respect me. When Tom was around I could really believe it. That’s what I wanted at first. People will always respect you. You can do these amazing things, you know? You’ve proved yourself. Me, myself, I’ve got nothing to prove. I mean – there is nothing I can prove. I hope people respect me because of what I’ve been through.”
Ary wanted to say that was not what it was about. But he did not say it. “I don’t deserve to be here,” he said. “Nobody deserves what they get whether or not it is good or bad. When I got into my first Carcass in the Peregrines I realised they were all broken too. It’s okay.”
Hesse was quiet for a while.
“What’s it like, out there? Sir.”
“Yeah, the Wanderers. Can you – are you allowed to say?”
Ary looked out. Now nothing was moving. Things had moved out of sight. “It’s lonely,” he said, “but in a good way. I have my partner.” He realised his mistake as soon as he’d said it.
But Hesse said, “That’s what I’d thought. Just imagine what it is like to be invincible, to be like that.”
Again Ary wanted to say, no, that was not it, but instead he looked at Hesse. There was nothing left in Hesse anymore, like he was empty, unspooled too fast, dissolved from the heat of friction.
“Let’s go in,” Ary said.
“I can’t even know your name,” Hesse said. He looked at Ary. He was young but his face was lined everywhere with anguish big enough to be invisible, all but invisible. “Thank you.”
“Let’s go in,” Ary said.
“Sergeant Friend will see us.”
“I was asking you about the patrol. Don’t worry about it.”
On the way in Ary realised that he did not know who Tom was, at all. He looked up the TRR (Critical) list. It took sometime time because only the surnames were listed alphabetically. But eventually he someone with the correct brief. Lance Corporal Thomas Eely was not expected to survive another 48 hours.
“Get some rest,” he told Hesse. The big shoulders were slumped but tight. A note forever wrapped inside its own bell. “There are things to be done tomorrow.”
He watched Hesse disappear inside and then went back out to the encamp, hoping that nothing had managed to come through while he had been with Hesse.
Now and here in this anonymous time a man walks along the street, going to the pharmacy, because there is a pain in his chest, he is coming up to it now just around the corner, wrapped so that his face is nearly invisible in the bitter cold, thick gloves on his hands, hunched, hunched because of his anonymous age, when something turns in his head, the knitting there goes taut or loose, and he topples, a small bundle going over in the street, making no sound or crying out only once, briefly, like he is sinking, and lies there not moving, and strangers startled like timid animals with soft faces come around and say hey, hey, are you okay, even though the man has no time to say what he has to say and loses consciousness before he makes the necessary gestures, and so the strangers call an ambulance which comes eventually like a power with its anonymous noise and anonymous intent, light and hustle a skein or a variation upon essential tragedy, and a card is found in the man’s pocket with a number on it and a woman is called, a message carrying nothing with which to grief it, but not after it is determined that the man is dead, dead and cooling when the woman comes running and takes hands of the body in her own and sits down there in the anonymous street and does not cry but makes a face of true and animate pain, as she takes the gloved hands of the body in her own naked ones where anonymous veins run grey and purple and pulse, and refuses to move, and says that she will wait, she will wait for their son to arrive, I will be fine, and so she sits there as hours pass and the strangers who see that her hands are read come up to her with nothing to say and give her a coat and gloves, anonymous articles to keep her warm, because she will take nothing from the body whose face no-one can see, and the strangers give her also sheets of cardboard to lay under her and separate her from the freezing concrete as she sits there looking out at the tides moving, the lights of streets and buildings and vehicles of a terrible and changed world, a blood of anonymous realisation blooming inside her, but her only with the skin of her pained face to brunt it, the people from the ambulance waiting in their bright colours that sing and sing, talking to each other in soft voices, shaking their heads, gone now to get some food in this harsh cold, gone after having no way to spend their compassion, and because it is now night strangers come and with blind anonymous kindnesses tell her to go home, go home or you will get sick, but she tells them that it is all right, her son is on the way, and curls her anonymous head about the anonymous body, and then after time and snow and a great stillness the son does come in a car and comes out running, himself a man with children young enough to be anonymous, objects of starry intent and no pause who will bound through halls of life, chapters entire, expanding without warrant, without second thought, will and leap and run and fall, will grow up barter their souls to take fixed places as the world flickers and shuttles, will do all this without knowing this man who tottered in the street on the way to the pharmacy where he was familiar with the pharmacist, whose dead hands were held for a long time after death came, became irreversible, and left, and the son now takes the woman who looks up at the man suddenly, she sees the man come down toward her against anonymous light, and takes him in her arms and starts to make a sound, a thing untenanted that goes out and up against the anonymous snow, a vital claim sent out from an anonymous mouth against an anonymous blackness, a thing that asks to be named.
Yesterday was pretty good. I finished compiling the migration/feeding report for Bathophores + sent off the first draft my my spec report to Stumpf so that she can tell me if I’ve got the more complicated bits correct. So today I rewarded myself and headed down to O.’s. There were Fallwhales out in the Berents today, columns of pleated grey and white standing vertically in the water. We’ve really got no idea why they do that. They keep doing that for hours at a time, though it must be pretty exhausting, especially in something as unruly as the Berents. I listened to Trove on the way there. It’s now the big thing back on Stize and I might just about see why, actually. It’s not bad: Dance 7 from Suite 5 in G. Lots of stuff from Trove is named like that: the academics gave each piece a catalogue name and rather than come with something a bit more evocative everyone has just sort of borrowed these for common use. It’s strange how ruthlessly everyone just goes along with it. Why G? Such an arbitrary thing, really. I don’t even know what it means. O. and I talked about random stuff. He asked me what I was planning to do for the Excursion. I said I was mostly planning to tag Dromeodids and he looked worried.
“You know I can’t let Helper do all this stuff on its own,” I said. Helper’s a programmed ex-GHKd. It’s made to notice certain things and not to notice others. I can’t use its results on their own unless I’m around to ensure it’s doing things correctly – or fanatically micromanage its routines, but I’m not going to do. “Plus I’m pretty sure I’ll be safe.”
“Safe,” he said, looking up and scratching his chin. “Yes.”
I had missed lunch because I arrived late. But I ate anyway because I was getting hungry. I read one of his books.
“Do you think Helper should get a degree?” he said. Skeffie had done something in microconducting chemistry, I think.
“I’ve asked QC. There was no time before we left.”
But O. didn’t look too happy. I think he was thinking about what that implied. I would be going back.
“You’ll be safe,” he said.
I laughed. “Yes,” I said. “I’m the one with the Hunter-Killer.”
He didn’t say anything and so I said, “Look, I’ll draw stuff if I have the time. You can keep all of it. Tell stories to the kids.”
He put on some music. Blue Heron Amphetamine, pretty old stuff. “You know what? They’re not too interested in all this. They don’t mind but they’re not really into it. Can you imagine?” He sounded exasperated. But he was happy and I could see that.
“Look at you,” I said. “Complaining about being allowed to have kids.”
“It’s not something you can predict,” he said.
“No,” I said. “Although how would I know?”
“What a strange place,” he said, at last.
“Hm. What is this about?”
“This place,” he said. “Tokata. It’s cool, obviously, but it’s strange.”
“I like it,” I said. “Desolate, but that’s the way it was always going to be, really.”
“No, I don’t mean that,” he said. He got a notice and looked it up and came back. “Heller,” he said. “Have you been reading the updates from the rest?”
“You know how I am about those.”
“Lots of problems. Basically nothing is fitting together properly. Maybe we’ve just sequenced things wrongly in one or two places. It’s probably something basic and embarrassing like that.”
“I’m not too concerned,” I said. “Teething problems.” I wasn’t in the mood, really, to talk about the technical details. I could imagine how hard K. was pushing the evol/bio people. I’m working more or less on the fringes, in a mostly data-gathering role, so I’m spared. “I mean, to be honest, at this point I’m mostly thinking about the Excursion. I’m quite excited.”
“I like going out,” he said, “But not for weeks at a time. I went out a couple of days ago, on the coast. Looked at some caves. But I can’t imagine staying out for so long.”
“Migration scientist,” I said, “We come in mostly one flavour.”
We watched most of a movie. He talked about his kids.
Then he said, “There was this strange thing.” The thing was the way he said it. He didn’t say it like it was a problem he was working on, or something to be solved. I was full and feeling lazy and anyway he has this devastating sofa. But I listened.
“Hm?” I said.
“You know this morning there was this huge sound. Did you hear it?”
“No,” I said. “What was it like?”
He looked out and did a very O. thing. He put his hands out and said, “It was very loud. A sort of flat sound that went on and on. Really –” he curled his fingers “—shattering.”
Of course I could recognise this. Well. I could imagine it, at least. “Huh.” I said. “Huh.”
“Like a signal. If you heard it you would know, it sounded familiar. Sort of explosive –”
“Foghorn,” I said.
“Ahh. Yes. Yes, maybe that was it,” he said.
This was all extremely dangerous, of course. I saw it outside, from the window, at that moment.
It was huger than I imagined. Was it resting on the sand, on the Wash? I’m not sure. The window was placed such that I was not looking down towards the sea. What I saw was just the long sloping line of the deck, floating there. That old metal, that follower. Taking up all that space.
“Where did it come from?” I said.
He went out to show me. He pointed straight out over the water, at the ship. “There,” he said, “Somewhere over there.”
On the way back something else again. The Volkie was coming up to the bridge when I felt the weight of that benevolence and I stopped it and got out. Over the bridge, large as a mountain, the old thing like a spider, two legs straddling the bridge, the others disappearing far off, the body kilometres up in the sky. I got out and I said it. I said Maman.
I had to crane my neck painfully to look at where its body should be, that face on the bottom with all its unblinking eyes. But it’s lost in cloud, as happens sometimes. “Is something happening?” I said. “I’m fine here.” Sudden mad rush of – power, I think, that thrill coming over me. Something moved it me and it had everything to do with death. The massive legs moved and it started walking out to sea, very slowly, footfalls like tremors, steps so big it should topple, it should topple off the edge of the world in all its greyness. But delicately and hugely it moved, perfectly, taking in its own dominion.
What it told me. What indeed.
In any case I’ve just come back and I’ve sent off a message to the good peeps at Anh:
I’ve been thinking it over and I think I’m going to try to build an ultralight. It will be efficient than my Volkie’s module for Excursions – basic AG will do – and if Helper comes along safety should not be an issue. Basic camos should satisfy PMI. Wondering if you could send over some materials for the Turer when I get back. Might finish things in time to use it on my second Excursion.
Understand if not possible, but hoping things work out on your side. Regos OK, I hope? Tell me what you think.
I think it’s a pretty good idea. It also means I get a chance to do some recreational flying, if the conditions are right. I’m pretty sure I can learn fast. It’d be pretty lame having to get Helper to tow me up every time.
 Principle of Minimum Interference. Don’t want to scare the wildlife away.
I think it’s a pretty good idea. It also means I get a chance to do some recreational flying, if the conditions are right. I’m pretty sure I can learn fast. It’d be pretty lame having to get Helper to tow me up every time.
I’m going to aim for a boat next. I’ll see how far I can push things. No harm done, in any case.
 Migration science is pretty long-term thing: you need to wait for several full migration cycles to complete before you can firm up anything. Which means I get to do a lot of spec papers. I suggested that it would be good to see if thermorhodopsin/JPCRs + tk-cryptochromes in aviformes generate fast triplet reactions that are responsible for magnetoreception. Th-rhod I suggested because I think for Chondrodatus spp. temperature does affect migration. Chemical compasses are well-understood, but nonetheless this is quite interesting, I think. Stumpy is stationed at the point on Tokata that’s just about antipodal from where I am, but she’s also a migration scientist and did some work on entanglement when she was in Inkper, so she can check to make sure my speculations are at least mathematically plausible. If it works the spec paper will be sent off to Anh. and they’ll start putting together the Emlens + capturing stuff. Assuming they actually do give a shit, which I hope they do. Obviously at this stage most of the science on Tokata is focused on the very basic things. (Look, ma, no ATP! + evol. taxonomy, where the lack of Hoxes in tk-chordates is super weird + some cool standout things like the influence of bichirality on the evolution of symbiotic partnerships + digestive tracts.)
 They look like reptiles. The insides are completely different, though + they are all warm-blooded.
 Program Designate Bias. There is a lot written about this but that’s the basic idea.
 Principle of Minimum Interference. Don’t want to scare the wildlife away.
There are two sounds that are hard to differentiate but can be differentiated. The first comes from the generators, X supposes, those big things chumping away, and the second comes from wherever. Turbines? Who knows, who knows. Big complicated things with small complicated noises. X realises that the reason why the sounds are hard to separate is due not only to the fact that they are both so soft, but also because one pulses in groups of three and the other in groups of two, so that a odd polyrhythm arises. Odd because actually the pulse does not follow a strict 2:3 ratio but something more like maybe 10:14 or 8:11, so that the two sounds gently phase in and out of sync every minute or so. X leans back in the seat and pays attention. She wipes her face using the scented Spangles and attempts a nap. The seat is like everything else exquisite. There is so much space here, space everywhere, and glossiness. She tries to stop paying attention to the sounds and finds that she cannot. The sounds drone on agnostic to her suffering. They together take the form of a non-rhotic insult gangling on just beneath notice and therefore screamingly within it. To try to not listen X instead focuses on conversation. Not, to be clear, conversation that she is about to initiate or engage in but just conversation generally as a social phenomenon. This kind of observation is in fact quite difficult to pull off in the desired fashion, because of course the problem is that if she becomes absorbed in the conversation, that is to say in its meaning, then she becomes a partaker of it, a vivid but unmoving player, and sleep becomes impossible. The trick is to be aware of the sound first and foremost, that babble for which there is no real name, and to hold the meaning at a distance, it being of course impossible to ignore wholesale. Two rows behind X in row F, probably, someone is saying that he cannot believe that the two people sitting beside him are not together, together here being used to denote presumably not the physical proximity of said couple (this X simply assumes) but some kind of relationship that has progressed beyond fucking to deep mutual understanding + appreciation and that tyrannical soul-entwining lethargy from which tragedy and myth is spun. It was very nice of you, A (the non-believing one) says, and B says, no, I’m happy to help, a hint of annoyance maybe there, maybe just the faintest hints of that, or maybe bemusement. A: and you too, that was very kind; C: no problem at all. Are you two together, goes A. That’s so very quaint. Oh no, C says, we just both happened to be there. But you’re both so nice, A says, and B+C both murmur what sound like impressively sincere notes of self-deprecation, both of them possibly looking at each other now, X imagines, a infinitesimal flash of shared understanding: what is this person about, you know what I mean? Are you sure you are not together, says A, insistent, using a tone that possesses no irony or teasing in it, only a kind of charmed wondrousness that must be unimaginably practiced. X senses something that is perhaps a kind of prank. B goes, well, maybe eventually, you never know, and laughs, and C laughs too. They both laugh and they both look straight ahead with the same expression on their faces. X does not see this but her idle brain nonetheless spits out the image with infallible clarity and truth. Both so nice, A goes, and C goes, you know it’s not always similarity that brings people together, not necessarily. A: it helps a lot, you know. B: yes, it does. But you know there are so many things. A: you are not making fun of me are you. X’s whole being goes taut at this, at this momentous turn, this flipping of the table, for actually A manages to strike a dangerously plaintive note there, so that B+C do not respond for a moment, as they are not sure if the tone indicates that (1) A believes that B+C do not generally take A seriously because they believe A is rather intrusive or because they believe (2) A is a bit odd, whicho oddness lies somewhere around the not-so-endearing end of the relevant spectrum, or (3) that A believes that B+C are trying to imply (with flabbergasting coyness) via denial that they are in fact in some sort of relationship. (Aside: who, X asks herself, even thinks in those terms these long golden liberated days?) B+C both start speaking at the same time but C (who seems to be the one with the faster reflexes overall) stops immediately and B is left carrying the fire, and says, no, no, it’s just the way things work, you know, it’s never as simple just – what you say it is, although of course we’d all like for it to be that way, and is fortunate enough to attain a rare note of equal parts lightheartedness and minimalist profundity that seems like the sort of thing generally that might sate A and his dangerous goodwill, although what occurs now is that A actually leans back (X imagines) and says, yes, you do have a point there. X has one really big problem with flights, and it is not about sound. It is about distance, space, parameterization, etc. Which is this: X knows that the plane she is on moves at approx. 3200 km/h. This means approx. 0.9 km/s. But when she looks out she realises that the plane cannot possibly be moving that fast. She places a finger on the pane and counts some arbitrary number of seconds and notes the tiny expanse of cloud that has disappeared under the suddenly gigantic pink of the finger. Surely, she tells herself, that wisp of cloud was not – what? 4 km? That would be absurd. In fact X is wildly disoriented when she sees clouds that look really close to the plane, that look as if they are right under it, drift by lazily, because the implication is that these clouds that are so fanatically detailed must be some huge distance away, posturing fatly through all that air. X supposes that the answer lies in the self-similarity of fractal structures at different scales, which maybe explains why this particular visual effect applies to those long wispy + bouncily flocculent clouds called Extremely High Cirriform + Something Else respectively. The large stormy ones look exactly as near or far as they are, dark and threatening and not at all coy. On this particular flight X has not looked out of the window to wonder at this visual paradox not because she does not enjoy this (in fact the slightly unsettling effect is something she generally appreciates) but because (1) she does not have the window seat (she had not asked Intemper, which knew about her preference of course but gave priority to those who asked) and (2) there is this guy sitting beside the window closest to her and he keeps leaning over to look out. Said Guy is fascinating. He has short taffy hair whose colour varies drastically with the light (watch for it as the plane banks!) between bright blonde/brown and is wearing a hopelessly purple T-shirt that is just slightly too small, not grippingly tight per se, just enough to grip the biceps although he is not what one call muscular just skinny but well-built or something, with the words MONGLOID PORN INFERNO boldly printed on in black sans serif. Grey eyes or green eyes or blue eyes or whatever, it all depends on the angle and the timbre of the light anyway. He chuckles. This is important because X, while familiar with the idea, has rarely if ever seen anyone who actually chuckles. It is an action far easier to imagine than observe but SG has apparently developed the capacity and intellectual fearlessness to actually do it. He looks out of the window, smiles infectiously, shakes his head, and chuckles, not in a self-satisfied manner but in the manner of someone who knows a very good joke and is running it over and over again and still finding it funny and finding the fact that he finds it funny itself funny – and so on, piling up onwards to infinity. SG shows his teeth when he chuckles and his incisors are normally shaped but unusually prominent, perhaps because of the way he opens his mouth. His eyes appear heterotropic. It is the right one that appears to be lazy, although only very slightly so if at all. To be honest X only notices it because she tells herself that there is something abnormal about someone in his mid-30s to look somehow so childishly naïve, although naïve is the wrong word isn’t it, maybe playful is really the word even though even that seems rather simplistic, maybe more enthusiastic, or easily amused. Definitely not naïve in any case, more like a person who sees lots of funny stuff that no-one else notices and totally good-naturedly does not talk about it for fear of seeming cynical. SG notices X watching and X asks, what are you looking at, partly because she wants to know what X is looking at and partly because it is one of those glances that sort of makes eye contact and if the other person looks away without you saying anything the situation becomes awkward in a fashion that gathers static all through the day, so one really might as well say something and make it look as if one was attempting in the first place to get the other person’s attention. So X asks, what are you looking at, and SG says earnestly, well, I don’t know, don’t you think flights are boring? The plane shudders a little, a metal myoclonus, and X says, battered veteran that she is, yeah, totally, no matter how good they get somehow I just can’t enjoy any of the usual things if I’m on a plane. I try watching movies and you know what? it just ruins them for me, even if I do immersion or whatever. SG: you like movies in general? X: yeah, pretty fond. A: cool, you’ll like this, and smiles, not infectious come to think of it, more like positively bubonic. X shuffles across and leans over SG and looks out into an expanse of disappointingly fluffy whiteness. I can’t see anything she says, and X immediately says, well the thing is that the Wrecked Church is down there, just over there. It’s– and X says, rolling her eyes, yes, I know what it is, but how do you know it’s there? Well I can just feel it, you know, SG goes, and adds immediately after, I’m sorry, which utterance would have been embarrassed if not for the strange undissembled cheerfulness of it. X decides to play the game, knowing of course that SG just asked QC or whoever and says, that’s not that interesting is it. I mean I can’t even see it from up here. SG nods and says, well not so interesting by itself — he messes with his hair here – but the thing is that I’m going to put this snouty thing right into it and see what happens and that will be fun, you know, because of The Defence. X: you mean the plane? SG: yeah, I mean this plane. X laughs and says, you know, you really need to get yourself a better imagination. SG looks thoughtful for a while or maybe a little worried in a smiling sort of way ans says and says at last, well – nods subtly to himself, confirming something – truthfully I have a bigger problem. X waits for him to continue but he looks out of the window, undecided, and she says, what? SG: oh, I don’t want to talk about it. But X presses. SG: it’s a bit weird. X: what? SG: I don’t know if it’s really the kind of thing – well, it’s about, you know, fucking. X is surprised, but also happy, in a strange way, she is back to these well-worn eccentricities. Ah, but we all have our problems with fucking, no? SG: it’s not really in the same order, really – X: what, what, say it! SG: oh well – X: do you like need some right now? Because there were like five of them going at it back there, so really – SG: well the main thing is that when I fuck people, and I really like fucking actually, although that’s normal, who does not like fucking, but my problem, main problem I guess is that when I fuck people, specifically people, I get really carried away and kill them. Not actually that I want to kill them, not at all, or that I have some fetish or something, but that I just get carried away, as in physically. I go on top of them and then I get excited and pull whoever to pieces, you know, they just come apart like that. X (after pondering this appropriately): are you an artist or something? That sounds very artistic. SG: maybe, maybe, but it sounds more like a social dysfunction than a conscious artistic endeavour really doesn’t it? And then he turns to look out of the window. Oh well. I can’t help me. And now it’s time to test The Defence. X: why do something like that, now something does indeed seem to be wrong, because this joke does not hold together too well, and anyone with functioning social antennae would have ended it by now, and The Defence is not too often the subject of jokes. Well because I thought it would be totally cool. You’ll always need to talk to old friends, you know, find a way to see them, say hi. Plus the explosion will be epic! There is a loud crack as the armrest cracks under SG’s grip. He shrugs guiltily and shakes his head says, shit, look, I’ve gotten all excited talking about this. X now knows that something is distinctly wrong, and besides those armrests are very stout, and manages to say, what? And SG says: I’m sorry, sorry. But if I got all the people out it would be fake, and fake—you know, it’s not bad, but I really need people here for these purposes. X is a little angry now, maybe scared, and says, the plane is tethered. And SG points, reasonably, that if you overcome (1) the fields, (2) the tethers, and/or (3) the thing the plane is tethered to then the fact that the plane is tethered does not make that much of a difference does it? X says, there is also the Gatekeeper, although she of course does not believe for a second that SG is in fact capable of doing what he says. SG looks pained for a moment, like genuinely sincerely regretful, and despite herself X feels a pang of absurd sympathy. Well, SG says, recently they changed the Gatekeeper, you know. This one was extremely good. What a fucking monster it was. The pity of it was that if it had been weaker or just a bit less I suppose stubborn I would not have need to kill it but as things stood I had to kill it, which really was a mythic waste. At this point the sheer honesty and genuineness SG is displaying is inspiring in X a wave of disembodied horror, and she stares at him and says, you can’t kill a Gatekeeper. You bloody liar. Her hope is that he will grin and laugh and say, I really got you there didn’t I. But he says, well, and pauses, and then X and the rest of the passengers are falling towards the ceiling of the plane with vulgar force, there is a loud metallic shriek, a coarse rising wheeeeeewheeeeeuuu with umlauts everywhere, a sudden emergency alarm goes off spastically, and generally things are a total mess though SG remains in his seat and stares wistfully out of the window. It is unclear if the plane has actually flipped over or if something more surreal is taking place, and then things reverse – and people fall back into/on/over their seats/other people/serving trays/cups of FruitFresh/Zappa. X collapses helplessly into SG’s lap with hair in her mouth and scrambles off saying, oh my god you, you, you, what did you do? and tries to call QC as no doubt everyone else on the plane is doing and gets graceless blankness sounding in her ears. Sorry, SG says yet again. But yeah this is the sort of thing I do. Or can do. Otherwise flights would be so boring, and fuck that, you know what I mean? I hope you don’t think I’m being self-centered or anything. And to put things in context, please just let me say this, actually this isn’t that much worse than the thing with the train, so if you care about that sort of thing – not necessarily that awful, if you put things in perspective. SG says this with utter sincerity, he is pleading for X to put herself in his place, from whence he seems to think that everything will be made clear. X knows what SG is referring to now, possibly she even has an idea of what SG actually is, and stands up in the aisle and shouts, oh shit, kill this guy, he’s doing it, kill him kill him kill him. The other passengers, rattled no doubt by their inability to get QC + the weirdness of the whole unceremonious flipping-over thing + that piercing whine, nonetheless only stare blankly at her, and X can see A actually beginning to shake his condescending shitty head, what a total wanker that guy is, she thinks like a stab of clarity through the panic. I swear he did it, she says, lamely even to her own ears. SG stands up, having to dip his head a little because he’s not in the aisle, and helpfully offers, hi everyone. She’s actually correct, you know. There are murmurs of what’s this guy saying? So SG says, well if you look out of your windows, folks on the left here, I’ll make the second generator come off about now. People look out and indeed the thing twists itself off and plummets. Then the general screaming starts, and someone actually leaps right at SG, and he says, oh please no violence, and steps aside and as the person stumbles past SG grabs his arm and takes it off. There is a gunshot, two gunshots, and SG grins brilliantly and says, now who did that, and chuckles with joy at the game. You did that didn’t you. He goes over to a shaking guy and tells him, stand up, come on, stand up now, coaxingly, like he has a lot of good experience with small children doing bad things or something. The man stands up and SG says, do you have your cell on you? Man passes SG his phone and SG says, selfie! He holds the phone out with his right arm and his left goes around the shoulders of the other the sobbing shaking guy, clutching him tight, and he presses his face against the man’s and says, smile! The man actually tries to smile thorough his terror and snot and all of a sudden X recognises C. SG pulls a silly cross-eyed look and there is a dainty bing as the shot is taken and then SG clutches the other guy suddenly very hard indeed and there is a neat crunch and he sort of dissolves into a generic red mess from the torso up. Something weird: the big impossible splat in the air itself seems to move outward slowly, gooishly, although everything else is in normal time, that is to say, total chaos. X is screaming, or maybe not, it’s all quite vague. But SG turns around and says to X, yeah, I’m totally sorry about this, looking sad. The high metallic whine stops and the plane pitches downward sharply. Here we go, SG says. X stupidly says, the generators are still running, even though that fact does not to her mind pose a conceptual problem of any sort, and in any case there must be more urgent things to be said at this point. SG apologetically replies, yeah, the ones left, but they’re not so relevant. X: so we’re all gonna die; SG: well I’ll be okay.
What sustained him. To speak even of such things. Coming out of the trench, covered in dust, on E–, the look of sudden familiarity. Light coming over the broken place. Wind coming like a prophet through the grass, like a prophet bringing rain. How many unaccountable accidents of history to make just this, here. What sustained him. It was a love that he knew like the memory of holiness, that made one hold the hands of the other even when only one of them would ever know or remember. Overwhelming. How to make yourself invulnerable then ultimately vulnerable to another. Water moving one way or another, not speaking of the places from which it was borrowed or will return. A circle of warmth on the bleating plain. One pool. On A–, the inescapable mountains rising. Staggering how beautiful. Against the complete blackness something rising like a perfect white cut-out, a live space without feature. So many things standing against the word, so many things designed against it. Under language and out of grasp. Basic needs. Nothing for which any apology can be made. Overwhelming.
The Dry Land
The Dry Land is a Full Experience Heightened Reality Indefinite Utility-Positive Game, classed as a Massively Multiplayer Shareworld Direct Substitution Role-Playing Game in the Dark Fantasy genre. It is one of the 5 open-world games currently hosted on Bombe. It is generally accepted that Bombe created the game, although it has been suggested that Emprinten and Nocrus played a part in its development, given the complexity of The Dry Land’s world. More radical suggestions that Way-on-Hill or Messier advised in its development are now nearly universally rejected.
The Dry Land was released on December 11 2966 worldwide on Stizostedion and was released on Naze on July 34 2970. It is accessible via a TSD blacktile-64 nullport, freely provided by Quistclose and Petromyzon, with two upgrades available from the Bombe/Nocrus platform. No official world additions have ever been released, though users (mostly Inhabiters, but also some itinerant Players) have noted that some aspects of the gameworld appear to have been modified since The Dry Land was first released.
The Dry Land takes place in an alternate universe based closely on the Kingdom, centered on Stizostedion; many colleges are replicated in The Dry Land. As is typical of Bombe’s games, the backstory and mythology of the The Dry Land is extremely difficult to piece together, although it is generally accepted that a Decontextual Happening features heavily in the relatively recent past of The Dry Land. The physical laws of The Dry Land generally follow the Canon Set, although there are certain marked divergences which have not been properly catalogued. The most well-understood divergence is the The Dry Land’s setting in a Weakless universe. Ingame observations from the EMpScI observatory on Naze confirm that the universe of The Dry Land is also relatively young, being about 6 billion years old. Many other divergences have been observed, although these are poorly understood. For example, users have reported that in certain situations angular momentum appears to operate according to a left-hand rule, which would imply a fundamental asymmetry in Neurath’s laws. Bombe has refused to comment on the game’s G-set. Certain commentators have also classed The Dry Land’s (apparent) portrayal of naked Haccieters as a modification of the Canon Set.
The Dry Land does not contain, as the Kingdom does, Allocative AIs, and the allocation of resources operates on basic anarchic-capitalist principles. Users are thus given an unusual degree of freedom in the game .The Dry Land has been of considerable interest to academics as a model for both capitalist markets and for the spread of diseases in primitive societies [see: FEHR modelling].
There is no mission-set specified for users in The Dry Land: they are free to act, subject only to ingame physics and the actions of other users. Consistent with other games Bombe has created, users cannot extend the gameworld.
The release of The Dry Land was met with both critical acclaim and, over time, increasing controversy. Game reviewers praised the extreme difficulty of the game, in particular its unforgiving attitude towards pain, and noted that despite having no mission-sets, “…The Dry Land feels entirely if menacingly purposeful. Staying alive is no easy task. But it is impossible to enter The Dry Land and want to only survive. The thrill comes from the need, invariably and keenly felt, to explore – and that is where the vastest and strangest encounters lie. It’s ur-surreal, and, as my partner pointed out, ur-real. ” A particularly glowing review in the New Journal for Massive Games noted that “while The Dry Land makes you suffer, and there were moments where the sheer what-the-fuckery of it made me regret ever having entered, it brings you into contact with beings so awe-inspiring and so strange that when the payoffs arrive you genuinely feel like you are taking part in the making of a myth. The number of impossible missions you can construct for yourself in The Dry Land is quite remarkable. I joined the Assault on Messier on my second day in. I could not help it. It’s is hard to imagine a spontaneous coordination of frankly sick aggression developing in any other gameworld. For six hours I watched people pour atomic fire onto the Lock until, of course, the thing-that-is-not-a-Hasp came out and killed us all…”
In what proved to be a prophetic review, IGV wrote in its one-month report that “… it is hard to believe this game is utility-positive. The play is deep, the atmosphere unrelentingly dark, the mythopoeia haunting, and the moments of rest utterly sublime. But the rest? Who knows. Who knows indeed. There is a lot of suffering to go through. There is a lot of it and this game might not turn out to be utility-positive but here’s the kicker: now that I’ve stopped, I keep thinking about it. And I can’t remind myself of anything but the fact that I want to enter The Dry Land, again and again. Bombe has another disturbing masterpiece. But whisper that fact.”
The Dry Land proved to be the most controversial Bombe release. It was noted from the moment Inhabitation was allowed that a surprisingly large number of individuals requested this option, despite the harsh nature of The Dry Land. The vast majority were denied by Quistclose, which expressed alarm at the number of Inhabitation requests. It was also noted by Quistclose that even Players who had spent a short amount of time in The Dry Land suffered from Expanded Personality Syndrome, although it took no rectificatory action, continuing in its longstanding policy of not interfering in FEHR games. Quistclose has also noted marked suicidal tendencies in Players who are barred from entering The Dry Land, although these are considered easily treatable and at best a trivial harm.
The Dry Land also contains a high number of Experience Gutters, most of which pertain to situations where a user is dying or in pain. Users at first complained about the fact that when wounded they did not have the ability to log out, but rapidly developed aversion tactics or purchased ingame painkilling equipment. Most experienced users of The Dry Land aggressively defend this aspect of the game, pointing out that much of the attraction of playing in The Dry Land comes from being forced to avoid Experience Gutters.
The Dry Land is also controversial for its depiction of Haccieters, which many users have criticised as unnecessary, confusing, and “even by TDR standards, needlessly horrific”, as well as its modification of important sites on Stizostedion and Naze. The latter has occasionally led to frustrating gameplay – Messier, for instance, is completely inaccessible, and users who attempt to enter are immediately killed. Since the complete death of 7 Inhabiters (and many more Players) in the ill-fated Operation Doppler [see: Operation Doppler], few players now attempt to enter Messier. Similarly, any user entering the Blueshore area on Naze is confronted by (apparently) the Lama Sabachthani and immediately killed. Nonetheless, not all modifications are extreme (e.g., the Ambassador), and some areas, most notably the Memorial for the Nameless Dead, have been left substantially unchanged.
The Dry Land also broke the longstanding tradition that Descendants and the two unclassified were not portrayed directly in art. A general feature of The Dry Land is the corruption of AIs. College AIs, for example, are rarely benevolent. However, the extension of this theme to ingame Descendants was viewed by some commentators as “crossing the line that separates punishing from hair-tearingly unfair.”
The most controversial feature of The Dry Land is its MDEs. While mass death is not unheard of in other FEHR games, it is exceptionally rare, and is either non-guttered or relatively quick and painless. A minor MDE occurred in the very first week of The Dry Land’s release, during the First Siege of Messier. However, there were no permanent deaths, and the deaths that did occur were relatively painless.
November 3rd 2971 – the “Temper-Being IMDE”: “… watching us fizz.”
On November 3rd 2971, the first controversial MDE occurred when the Temper-Being ventured beyond its usual territory and burnt to death 700,000 users of whom 114 were Inhabiters, all of whom were – unusually –deemed unretrievable. This MDE combined had several strange features, each of which would have been shocking to users on its own. Firstly, the entire sequence was guttered, and users had the experience being burnt to death. Secondly, unlike all previous MDEs, this MDE was completely unpredictable and apparently not linked to user action. Thirdly, this MDE was non-discriminatory: hunkers (users who had invested huge quantities of money into protective equipment) were killed just as easily as fleeters (completely unprotected users). The Temper-Being was the tongue-in-cheek name given to the ingame guard of the Wrecked and Full Churches. Until 2971 both Churches were inaccessible to users as the guard would stop all attempts to enter, prompting joking speculation that Bombe had not completed the Churches (they were being “Tempered”). Since logspeak for “temper” often used the flame symbol, the guard was called the “Temper-Being” due to its similarity to an open flame when viewed from a distance. The actions of the Temper-Being are not currently well-understood: Players gave fragmentary and “extravagant” accounts of what happened. Jonze’s description of the first MDE is now famous: “What happened is that Bombe made a monster. Then it sent the monster after us and the monster put Big Bangs inside each of us and watched us fizz.” The event of November 3rd 2971was classed as an Inordinate MDE or IMDE, although they are usually referred to as “burnings”, in reference to the Temper-Being event.
The causes of the 1st IMDE are not well-understood; Bombe has, as always, remained completely silent on the issue. The Temper-Being has never again appeared after the November 3rd event, and both Churches are now open. The Full Church is unaltered, but The Defence is missing from the Wrecked Church [see: The Wrecked Church (representations)]. It has been suggested that the 1st IMDE was a result of an attempt to model Alle, the second Haccieter although this suggestion has not been widely accepted. In the aftermath of the IMDE, intense scepticism of the utility-positivity of The Dry Land forced Quistclose to divulge for the first time its EUF (estimated utility function) for the game [see: The 2972 Bombe Revelation], which itself led to a sudden explosion of activity in the study of Deep Law [see: the Bezoar Mechanism or: the Double-Counting Dispute]. Close scrutiny of the EUF has led to a tentative consensus that Quistclose’s assessment of The Dry Land as utility-positive is correct, although challenges to this consensus are frequent.
April 24th 2979 – the “Dusty IMDE”
The 2nd IMDE occurred on April 24th 2979, when many users had come to believe that the 1st IMDE was a freak one-off experiment that Bombe was unlikely to repeat. User numbers, after dipping after the first IMDE, had more than recovered by this time; indeed, participation rates had nearly doubled.
 P. Ampiere and D. Green, “Bombe Does Not Lie, But…”, Northern Link Herald, January 20 2983.
 J. Fuern, “Imagining The Dry Land: A New Way In”, Journal of Alternate History 2993, vol.2, p.404.
 T. Hasegawa, H. Lemmerl, J. Tulkser, R. Dove, “The G-Set of The Dry Land”, World Studies 2969 vol.1 p.78.
 F. Katye, “Problematic Observations”, General Exploration in Hypothetical Models, Issue 82
 D. Bromley, “Review: The Dry Land”, New Gaming, Issue 347, p.3
 Anon., “Something Altogether Different”, New Journal for Massive Games, Issue 99
 “One Month In: The Dry Land”, IGV 4288, p.25
 Log: D/D/TDR/InHb/2230
 The Dry Land Forum, threat: “Guttering and Glory”
 F. Kinn and R. Cope, “Gameworld Leakage: An Overview,” World Studies 2893 vol.3, p.11
 T. Andrew, “The Idea of Reward,” Play, Issue 230, p.4
 H. Hiber, “Memory Modification by Bombe”, Journal for Massive Games, Issue 141, p.30
 “Unstoppable” Inquirer, published November 5 2971
 A thorough discussion of the significance of this can be found in: R. Setzer, “The Defence”, Emblematicisms and Action 2972, vol.4, p. 183.
 See e.g.: P. Somas and R. Setzer, “Fear and Trembling in The Dry Land”, Player Investigations 2973 vol.1, p. 78, D. Hefstomerk, “How To Burn”, New Journal for Massive Games, Issue 150, pp. 2-8, and D. Tridimas, “Eyewitness Accounts of the 1st IMDE: A Systematic Review”, Journal for Massive Games, Issue 259, pp. 65-123.
 See among many others D. Seller, H. Turner and V. Kramnik (eds), “Explaining The Dry Land,” Full Patent and Fence of Inkper College, 2999, S. Drake, “Modelling the Temper-Being,” Investigations Into Rules 2977, vol. 5, p.1, V. Kramnik, “A Response to Somas: Removing H2”, The Standard Model 2973 vol.3, p. 44, E. Fry, “Records of Peculiar Electromagnetic Interactions in The Dry Land”, General Empirical Studies of Basic Forces 2984, vol.1, p.4
See among many others F. Helfgott, “The Dry Land is Not Utility-Positive”, Welfare and Social Design 2974, vol.2, p.34, G. E. Itirades, “Double-Counting Yet Again,” Journal of Economic Studies 2975, vol.3, p.1, A. Lomer, “Unbalanced Weighting in The Dry Land’s Utility Counting Functions: Implications for Intermediate EUF Derivatives”, Making Utility Work Issue 21839, p.64, A. Pinker, C. Radosch, and P. Urdos (eds) “The Measure of The Dry Land”, Full Patent and Fence of the Faculty for Welfare Studies, 2984.