Carrier

It is at the window, looking out. The window is open.

There is the question of its forelimbs, which are on the sill.

It puts its head out.

Water lashes its face.

He comes beside it and looks. “There is ship out there. Isn’t that a ship?” he says.

There is something with lights moving among the waves. It looks like an old one.

It does not reply. Then it says, “There is nothing wrong about that.”

It cranes its head out, all the way.

It likes the air outside, or so it seems.

In any case it does not talk about it.

“I have not seen a ship come this way,” he says. “I hope it makes it to shore.”

It is in fact true that the light is dim. This is the time of the evening when it goes fast.

“Is that in fact a ship?” it asks.

Water is running down its body into the house.

He says, “Look. All this water. Let’s close the window.”

It waits a moment and pulls itself in.

For a moment it is huge, but then it is small, and all of it inside the house.

It shakes itself although it is entirely dry.

It is dark.

Not outside, that is, at least not yet, but the other one speaking. It is entirely black.

That had escaped his notice.

Well, that would be inaccurate. It has never been entirely black before.

In fact it was something else.

He closes the window, and looks out. The ship is barely visible.

A dipping light out there. A little warmth.

“It is a ship, I think,” he says, and turns to go back to his room.

“No,” it says, “Not a ship.” It is still looking out through the glass like it is not there.

He goes back to the window.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Isn’t it a ship?”

It contemplates this.

How does one know if it is contemplating?

It is strange not to have an immediate answer.

In any case it thinks or perhaps it watches and then it says, “No, not a ship. The idea of one.  That is the idea of a ship, the things that make a ship a ship. An old friend.”

Water lashes its face.

But then again it is all dry inside.

He is very tired, impossibly so. He cannot bring to go into his room now. He sits in the chair and leans back and does not say anything.

Perhaps he should sleep here, head back, with his eyes closed.

“Should you go out to meet it?” he says.

“Always with these questions,” it says, “I don’t know. It’s been so long.”

There is also the issue of the rain but it does not mention the rain.

“Should I go out?” it says.

That might be a question, even.

He hasn’t taken his shoes off. That’s how tired he is.

“It’s not for me to say,” he says.

“I will take you outside. We will go together,” it says. “We have not gone out together.”

That is a bold claim. But it might be correct.

“It’s rough outside,” he says.

“Don’t worry,” it says.

And it picks him up and stands and puts him on its shoulders.

He is very small and very light.

It holds his legs.

It does this with hands, of course.

The door opens, perhaps because it opens it, and they are out in the wildness and the water.

He feels very safe.

Water lashes his face.

“This is something,” he says. “It’s really something.”

“Yes,” it says, holding him tight, bearing him, “Isn’t it really?”

And The Days Are Not Long Enough: 4

Part 3

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

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

It comes in slowly into the light.

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

The sound goes away.

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

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

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

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

He stands in the doorway and looks at it.

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

Maybe there never was any rain outside.

That is a possibility.

“How long will you be here?” he says.

“Don’t worry,” it says.

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

It will make it difficult to go outside.

“I’ll watch,” it says, finally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you smoke?” Hath said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ary shrugged again, but he was smiling.

“You’re lucky I was there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go,” Ary said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” Ary said, looking away.

“Why would he care?” Gryzhas said.

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

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

“Tell him what you think.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I knew all of that,” Ary said.

“Where are your parents?” Gryzhas said.

Ary was silent.

“Gryz,” Hath said.

“Wait,” Gryzhas said.

“Not here,” Ary said.

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

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

“Really? How? Where?”

“Gryz,” Hath said.

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

“I think you are lying,” Gryzhas said.

“No,” Ary said.

“Gryz,” Hath said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hath said, “Gryz, get out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He’s not that bad,” Hath said.

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

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

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

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

“I really need that drink.”

“He’s still outside.”

“Let’s all go down.”

They did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And The Days Are Not Long Enough: 3

Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was warm and metallic.

“Ary,” the man said.

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

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

“Yes,” Ary replied.

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

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

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

“Okay. Thanks.” Ary went back.

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

Ary stood there. “Oh,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks.”

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

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

“You’re undocced, yes?”

Something clenched in Ary and was held there.

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

“Are you okay with undoccs?”

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

“I’m getting my Interface – ”

“I know, I know. I mean why join CM.”

“I thought it would be good to leave.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” Ary said.

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

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

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

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

“No,” Hatherance said.

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

“It kind of stays inside the university.”

“It’s still good.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Should I say no?” Ary asked.

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

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

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

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

“Is someone going with you?”

“It’s just me.”

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

“Go back to the tent.”

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

“I think you’re mad.”

“Okay.”

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

“It’s here, at 4.15”

“If you’re doing it I’ll be here.”

“What?”

“What’s your name?”

“Ary.”

“Is that it?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

“Please follow me,” the doctor said.

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

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

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

Ary stood up. “Yes,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Should I say yes?”

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

Ary leaned back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll just hold on.”

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

“What happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

“No, no,” Ary said.

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

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

“It hurts,” Ary said.

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

Ary did so.

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

“Wow,” he said.

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

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

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

“I see it,” Ary said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outside people moved past, doing their daily things.

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

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

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

“You should not go in,” she said.

“I know,” he said.

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

Part 4

Carcharodon

“You come in with this idea that you alone are inviolate. All of us are thinking it. We have to be or we would be living in permanent horror. Don’t look at me that way. It’s true. Is your head replete with the idea of sacrifice? No. There is nothing in the head. There is no passion or fear or even malice.  And after a while so many die that you don’t really feel it anymore. It’s the same as if they got transferred out or they took leave. I noticed it first with Sovas – I think it was Sovas – and Akari. I thought to myself, oh, that’s sad, they weren’t that bad, but that was it and you know what? That was all there could be.

It takes something to really make you feel it all over again. The thing that came for me – that was it. I don’t mean to say it terrified me. It was bigger than that. It was as if someone had taken an idea and given it flesh and teeth and it had run out of some  philosophical catalogue of essential objects. It was altogether whole and altogether perfect and there was nothing you could add to it. You know what I mean? It was undeniable.

The killing came from underneath. I think that was how it got the rest but I don’t know for sure.

And I swear as it came for me I knew it was not alive. It sounds mad but I knew it. It was the eyes. They were black and there was nothing else. I was like watching a big torpedo had come out of the silo and its nubby head had become teeth. The eyes were black like a rock and I knew it was not alive but the gaze was deep. Seriously, man, I tell you, I knew it was looking and me and looking right through me. And then right as it was coming for me the eyes disappeared, they rolled back and there was whiteness, all whiteness, and then even that was gone and there were two holes. It was like it was in a trance but it was violence, all of it.

There is one other thing I remember. This might not be helpful but I thought as the mouth opened that it was very pink and human. It was terrible and soft-looking, but there were those veins of teeth. The jaw was huge and flabby like a child’s. The skin was smooth like very fine sand. You can see along here where it took off my skin. I don’t know what I was thinking when I got out of the water. I had forgotten about where all the others were and I called my officer screaming like an idiot and you know what else happened.”

And The Days Are Not Full Enough: 2

Part 1

The corporal looked surprised.

“Hey,” he said, not unpleasantly. “Uhm.” Just above his breast pocket it read: A. R. Mance. Mance frowned. He looked as if he had something worn and practiced to say but was not sure if he should say it. What he said was:

“How old are you?”

And the boy said, “Fifteen.”

“No,” Mance said. “Too young. At least semimajor age.” He looked at the boy again. He said, “You’re tall for your age.”

“I’m sixteen,” the boy said.

“Okay. Give me your hand.” The boy stretched his arm out. Mance put a sticker on the back of his hand. “You can get it off after an hour. If it turns warm come back but otherwise that’s all there is to it. Now I need your name.” Mance passed a form over. “Write it down here, and then sign.”

“Sign?”

“Just write your name twice. Write it here, and then here.”

The boy looked uncertainly at the paper. It was a little slip. Mance felt sorry. A large number of undocumenteds had signed up at first for the partial amnesty but very few this young tried. “Do you have parents?”

The boy was silent.

“The best thing to do probably is just write down what they usually call you. It really does not matter. We’re not going to try to find your parents or anything like that.”

Mance thought that an undocumented child probably did not want to give anything away. Then he realised he was an idiot.

“Do you write? Can you read?”

The boy said, “It’s okay,” and wrote something down.

“Odd name,” Mance said. “Is that all there is?”

“Yeah.”

“Right. That’s all I’m supposed to do. Lieutenant Crane handles undocced applications if you’re below full majority age, so you should go over there now.” He pointed. “She’s probably in and she’ll probably be glad to have something to do.”

She was in, and she was glad to have something to do. She took a small bundle of papers out of the desk and adjusted them against the table. The cubicle was small; it could only hold two. The sound in the room was dry.

She said, “I’m going to ask you some things and you’re going to say yes or no. Some of these conditions you must agree to if you want to enlist; I’ll tell you which ones these are. Others you have a choice about but might affect pay. I’m authorised to advise you since you’re not yet full majority, which is why I look as if I’m stationed a bit below my rank. Just interrupt to ask. If you answer I will assume you have understood what I said. The full details are in here.” Crane waved the stack of paper. Then she looked at the boy and said, “What was it?”

“What? Oh. What made me enlist?”

“Yes.”

“It’s shit being undocced.”

“You know what the funny thing is? People say that, especially about the young ones, but no-one this young actually enlists. I’ve seen – what? – five, maybe, this month? What was it?”

“I thought it was the best thing to do.”

“They got your parents?” Crane said that very directly but she didn’t sound unkind about it.

And Crane was surprised when Ary said, “Yes. Well. No, they died.” And then he said immediately after, “I’m okay.”

Crane shook her head. “It’s a fucked-up world, kiddo. Anyway. Mandatory clause – do you know what mandatory means?”

“Yes.”

“Mandatory clause: Do you freely agree to join the Combined Military (CM) for a term of service not less than three years in length?”

“Yes.”

“Mandatory clause: Do you freely agree to carry out, to the best of your abilities and in good faith, all directives and commands issued by all superior officers, as specified the Codes and Protocols of Military Conduct?”

“Yes.”

“That’s it for the mandatory clauses. For all the technically mandatory clauses, at least. You get a pretty comfortable basic pay at this point. 4000 TUs monthly. All the percentages I will mention from now on are in reference to this amount. Do you understand?”

The pay was very good. Ary had always found it strange that the CM paid so much. But it took a lot too. And the CM had never conscripted people, so maybe it had to. “Yes.”

“Do you wish to waive a right to object to Class C missions? It gets you 20% more, which is quite a lot.”

“Class C –”

“Require or are very likely to involve the killing of self-aware AIs. If you object you exempt yourself.”

“Do I have a right to object anywhere else?”

“You have an overriding duty to report missions where you believe a commanding officer has ordered the deliberate targeting of civilians but that’s not a right to object. You’ve only got a right to object for Class C missions.”

“Should I?”

“Everyone waives it. It’s a big jump in pay and people don’t feel very much for the bastards. The Descendants, I mean.”

Ary paused. He looked as if he was about to say something, and then he stopped, and then he spoke. “What are the Descendants, really?”

“Small and stupidly lethal.”

“No, I mean –”

“Nobody knows.” Crane frowned. “I mean, really.”

“Okay. I’ll waive it.”

“Do you wish to waive your citizenship? Once you’ve got it, I mean. The little tab on your hand probably needs fifteen minutes to finish its job. Gets you 10% more.”

“What does this mean? Giving up citizenship.”

“It means that CM is not obliged to bring you back here once your term of service is up.”

This was difficult. Ary was not sure what he felt about Tyne. There were many things he was unsure about but this was a different kind of uncertainty. It wasn’t uncertainty that happened because he didn’t know things. That was true, but that was not important. The problem was that the more he thought about Tyne and what he had been through the more things became unparsable. It was not just that there were good things and bad things and that they were equal in number or intensity. It was that when he thought about what these things meant they unfolded, and unfolded again. It went all the way down. It was some time ago but he could remember that when he arrived back home he sometimes saw his mother, the person he called his mother and therefore was it, sitting at the table and she would be asleep in a chair and small bags of ice would lie melting on her arms as they were put on the table. There were patches of skin on the arms that were grey or blue and the ice helped to take away the pain. Its effectiveness was constant even though all the other stuff was not working as well anymore and soon would not work at all. Mother’s job, the day job, was difficult, and if she wanted to sleep the ice was sometimes important. She waited at the table for him to return and fell asleep among the bags of ice. You could tell how long she had been asleep by seeing how much of it had melted. The bags were small and clear, plain transparent plastic that bulged and sagged and was covered in condensation. If it was evening the light came in and the bags put folds of it all over the ceiling.

“What do you think?”

Crane noticed without really realising it that the boy had a habit of bringing his hands together when he was nervous. “It’s pretty shit being an undocced, you said.”

“Yes, but I’m not undocced anymore.”

“Legally.”

“I can pretend. People might not care. I don’t know.”

Crane looked at Ary. “You don’t talk like you’re sixteen.”

“Okay.”

“What?”

“Yes.”

“Okay meaning yes you’ll waive your citizenship?”

“Yes.”

“You haven’t asked about where you’ll end up.”

“It can’t be so bad, with my pay.”

“Okay.  There’s some things now that don’t affect pay but which you’ll need to make a decision about. Cohabitation: yes or no?”

“Cohabitation?”

“Fucking. In effect.”

“I don’t know.”

“Everyone says yes.”

“Is it important?”

“Eventually, yes. It’s a war, darling. Sometimes there’s not a whole lot to do. And if you say no people look at you oddly. You’re undocced, mind. I don’t think you want to stick out more than you have to. We’re the niceish people, which is why we’re here doing recruitment. Not everyone up there has much truck with trying hard to be a nonshitty human being.”

“Okay. Yes, then.”

“You can record a sexual inclination if you want to.”

“I don’t know.”

“Thought so. And you don’t want to close down options at this age, really. Next: body modifications. I wouldn’t say no. I’ve actually not met anyone who has said no.”

“What do they involve?”

“I can’t say exactly since they keep adding things to the basic suite. You’ll get a bunch of them – the new stuff, usually stuff in the blood – when you’re offworld. But everyone gets the Interface and Implant. It is considered fairly important for communication and learning. You couldn’t do anything without them, really. Maybe you could become an admin in piloting. A slow one. No promotions. You but if you say yes I’ll take you round to the back and it takes all of ten minutes to get put in and there aren’t any real medical risks. Takes about a month to get properly used to if you’ve not had an Interface before. And it hurts  — I mean the putting-in in a non-trivial way. But it will keep you alive.”

“Do you have one?”

“Yeah, of course. Hard to imagine not having one now. So: yes or no?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. This next thing is quite tricky so listen. The Interface is basically a little computer that you use for communicating with people or machines. Usually that is all it does. But it can also be programmed to cause you to lose consciousness for an indefinite period. It’s a small function that Hynder sold to CM several years back. That idea is that if you are in extreme pain, you might want an Interface that, once you reach a certain point, knocks you out automatically. They’ve got the equipment onship to get you back out of it. I know it is a bit hard right now to see why this is such a useful function but if you’ve seen an onworld op you will know why it’s helpful. People get really fucked up.”

Mostly people became very quiet when Crane said this, but Ary said, “I think I understand.”

“The problem is that if you let this happen to you – if you lose consciousness in the middle of an op – you will almost certainly die, and almost certainly within an hour or so. You can’t defend yourself, you can’t get yourself to safety. There is an automatic signal the Interface sends out to indicate where you are, but we can only get you once the op is over and if you’re still alive.”

Crane paused because Ary looked like he wanted to say something. She knew what people said now. They said, I do not want to enlist.

Ary said, “Why do people say no to this? They would be dead anyway if they were in such pain.”

Crane was surprised again. She thought about this. The answer to the question was so obvious it was hard to articulate. “There’s two – no, three things. The first is that they want to have a higher chance of surviving. It’s not a much higher chance but it is higher. It’s quite difficult when you are in full gear to lose consciousness even if you lose a lot of blood. You can run around without an arm for a couple of hours before you collapse. You can seal up a punctured lung. That sort of stuff. The little Hynder protocol cuts out all that. The second is that it scares them. It’s automatic. Maybe you’ll die anyway if you manage to get to safety but you’ll manage to get that far at least, you’ll actually know you will get an operation. It won’t just be sudden blackness out of nowhere.

The third thing is the calibration. The Hynder protocol is suicide. I mean that seriously. If you say yes to it you are saying: there comes a point where I would say, I wouldn’t mind dying now. So we need to know what that point is.”

Ary realised what she was saying. “What’s the test?”

“They put a small filament up your arm into your brain and they make you hurt until you say stop. Then the Interface remembers that and if you feel that again – technically, if you go a little above that point – you lose consciousness.”

Now the boy was quite for a while. Crane knew what she had to do, which was to say nothing. Eventually: “Why — okay. Why does the CM let people kill themselves? It looks like a waste.”

“Because the war is awful beyond belief and because it takes a special kind of monstrosity not to let people find ways to let themselves out of it.”

Crane felt that she should not have said that, or that she should not have said that that way. She didn’t know even now if she actually wanted any undoccs to join CM and, if she didn’t, whether it was because she felt for them or because she could not feel for the war anymore. But the strange boy was thinking. He had a sort of wounded look to him when he was thinking. “Can I say yes without having the calibration?”

“Everyone asks this. No. It’s meaningless otherwise. We are asking you to tell us when you are happy to die. It’s not a numbers thing. You couldn’t possibly consent to having the Interface kill you unless you actually knew when the point came where you  would just want to fuck off into the great unknown. There’s no way you know it unless you actually go through it. And even if we developed some scale, a numbers thing, I suppose, it would be meaningless because it would be incommensurable – I mean the thing wouldn’t tell us a damn thing because point on this scale on it might make someone go: that’s it, no, more, press eject now no matter what and someone else might say: I can take this.”

“Did you get it?”

“Hynder? No. The idea that I would be made to sit and be forced to experience pain until the point where I would actually want to be dead horrified me.”

“How many others get it?”

“In Ebannen, where you get the most troop landings, nearly everyone has gotten it. When the troops got sent there the Hynder protocol had not been developed yet. But immediately after it got released, nearly everyone got it. It was very surprising then. Not so surprising now given what’s happening on Ebannen, or what we know is happening there. Most of the troops there had already seen combat when Hynder got released.”

“It must hurt a lot. Does it hurt a lot?”

“What – well, yes. It’s definitional. It goes to the point where you’d want to die. It’s a constant because that’s how it works. Everyone must go all the way to that point where, you know.” Crane looked at Ary with what might have been pity although it was hard to tell. “Look. There is no need to feel knotted up about this. You can just say no to Hynder. You don’t even have to answer now. Technically you have two days before you make a final decision on any of this. You could come back and say you don’t want to enlist.”

“If I say yes now when will the calibration be done?”

“The day after you get your Interface put in, which is tomorrow.”

“You said that –” And the boy stopped and looked down. He breathed. “Hynder works because the Interface remembers when it is during calibration that you say you want to lose consciousness. Can Hynder be used for other things?”

“Like what?”

“If you just wanted to die, and you weren’t feeling any pain. Could you just.”

Ary has had a dream. It is a stupid thing but it comes again and again. In the dream a person, maybe even a thing, some living thing, carries a light in a vast blackness.  It is carrying the light and walking in a straight line, just like this, sheltering it with a hand, maybe two hands or maybe not with hands at all, just like this, going from right to left, slowly, shuffling. Sometimes it stops to look at the light because it wavers and then it raises its head to look ahead at where it is going. Sometimes the thing stops moving altogether before it starts again. The small circle of light moves as the thing carrying the light moves. That is the problem. Anything outside the circle is invisible. There is no tracking. What moves outside that circle, if anything moves outside, it is unknown. There is no line.

“No.” Crane leaned back in her seat and looked at the ceiling and shook her head slowly. “Gosh, no.” She looked at Ary. “Hey. Are you okay?”

“I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Part 3

Approximate prayer

The long arc of a bird that flies over a field and does not see the fences beneath. In the far distance a barn, something made of brick, undulating in the heat. Messages in the thresh of air. Rusted machines standing constellated, abandoned, intimate. Gangly limbs and their doleful postures maintained even after all this time. Between here and there a path intervenes, less a road really than a desire line, unstaked. Look up and there the fume of summer coils around the fields, going on and on.  A small river, old trees at the edge leaning over. A birch kneels. Kingfishers like prayers unweaving water. Tight clots of life thrumming the fibres of the air, startling even now into the stippled divinity of the branches. Days end on end moving and quiet and livid though surcharged with sweetness.

                    (Heaven & Earth—)

Warm bodies like planets rolling in the deep. Heavy with an age like water, generous with the blood they carry. The vastness of that breath, going out like a white hand before the sky, emerging with a concussion of noisy and resurrected air. The shining declension and the katabatic voice. The black ribbed body lifted and plunging like a hieroglyph. A clock of blood. An eye, a scotopic bead invisible in the monument of the head. The balaenic jaw fit to house a mountain. Something that is its own estuary. A pale continent of fin cutting the hem of a wave and raised and if in greeting and then withdrawn. An ordnance of spray immediately caught and carried away by the wind. All enkindled and fathomed in water.

                    (Heaven & Earth—)

It brought the man’s face close to its own, and embraced the body, pulling it close to him, feeling it break and crumble against its flesh.

                    (Heaven & Earth are full of your glory. Forgive us our trespasses etc.)

Two Interrogations [sic]

No.1

Q:

A: I’m really not sure what you are asking and so I’ll start rambling until I hit something. Is that okay. Okay. I’m supposing you know the details of the I suppose you could call it attack.

Q:

A: Look, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just –

Q:

A: Well it was hard to tell because it was so early in the morning. It wasn’t bright. All the stuff looked kinda bluish, I’m sure you know that, right? When it’s dim and you only see the taillights.  And – I had been sleeping. [] had been driving for most of the night. And then we saw the truck lying in its side, and the thing was actually dragging someone out, like right through the windshield, it was pretty fucked up. There was a bloody mess all right. Maybe there was actually someone else –

Q:

A: Yeah, I thought I saw someone else, maybe two or three bodies on the road. I was. No. I think I was. It was pretty dim remember so I think I got out and that was when the thing went from being over there to suddenly being right here, beside me. I think I had been yelling, I don’t know, maybe yelling for help or yelling at the thing, or whatever. I don’t remember but it attacked me and I just ran, man, I just ran. You see how it mangled my leg –

Q:

A: I shouted for []. I don’t remember his reaction like immediately. As in not when [] saw the whole scene. I think some people had gathered. No. No, no, that was later. I’m not sure, [] must have been in the car the whole time. But I shouted for him and he came out. I was on the ground, I think by this time it must have taken off my fingers. I mean it must have been toying with me or something. After what it did to – I mean, it was a truck and everything, it got through the blastproofs. [] came out of the car and it was strange because I was sure I was dead. Like. I’m sure that at that moment I was thinking or at least a part of me was thinking I seriously can’t believe it because I am actually dying here. Accidents don’t just happen in the Kingdom, you know? And really accidents on Hakon of all places, I was sure P. would have sounded a warning at least. Where was I? Uhm. Yes. So [] came out of the car. Do you know, I was totally terrified at that moment but I might remember [] smiling or something like that. He had that kind of look where his mouth was smiling but his eyebrows were scrunched up like he was worried or amused or. Like he was going inside, oh dear me oh my. I’m exaggerating but. I mean maybe I can’t remember, or maybe my brain is all fucked up right now but I get that impression. He came over and he wasn’t shouting or anything even though I was screaming. I don’t know how, I mean look at my throat. And the thing was even though I obviously didn’t like register this at the time was that [] came over and pulled the thing off me. By which I mean, he just did it, took it by the back and just yanked it off and then the thing turned to him and he raised his arm to block, you know, the natural instinctive thing to do, and then there was this cute moment where [] laughed like he was thinking what the fuck am I doing this thing can’t even scratch me. At that moment I didn’t see anything weird, I was screaming kill it kill it kill it. Of course people had come by now, imagine them looking at me, I was murdertastically bloodied, screaming like, like just some insane idiot. I didn’t even stop when it became clear what [] was doing to the thing. I mean I wasn’t thinking at all but it was getting torn apart. I mean clubbed to death with its own – limb, something. Just. Utterly annihilated. Can I say something that probably sounds fucked-up and weird? Okay. Well remembering now I really feel pity for the thing, really. It was making these really begging sort of noises and was trying to get away but [] was just dismantling it limb by limb. I mean the violence was totally personal. Okay don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I wasn’t happy at the moment or that it was like they knew each other or something but rather that the way the entire episode, you know, played out, it was strange and intimate and people were just staring and screaming. Okay no I have it. The thing is that [] really seemed to be enjoying the power. The whole situation was strange though. This living, defenceless – not defenceless, but you know what I mean –thing which had tried to gut me yes I know, but it was getting pulped and I was shouting kill it kill it even when I had lost like a good fifth of my blood, at least that is how much it eventually was I was told later. And then when it was dead? I don’t know, uhm, [] said something like, hey, thanks for asking for help. While I was lying there I thought he said something like I’m glad to help or something but when I was in hospital I remembered that he had said something different, and now I’m relatively certain he said thanks and then fairly certain after that he said for letting me help or for asking me to help. And then right after he said that the ambulance came. [] didn’t mention the whole thing that had just happened, he went back to his car, people were staring at him because he was covered with – unspeakable fluids. Sorry, sorry. I’m not laughing because it’s funny or anything. But now when I remember it, it was so absurd.

Q:

A: What’s going to — am I okay now? Is everything okay?

No.2

Q:

A: I was walking along the bridge. Evening on a weekend; not so many cars. I came to the middle and there was this person standing beside the big metal support. The sign was a weathered blue and had CRISIS COUNSELING in white on it. Underneath that was written THERE IS HOPE / MAKE THE CALL, and then, in smaller font, THE CONSEQUENCES OF / JUMPING FROM THIS / BRIDGE ARE FATAL / AND TRAGIC. Under the sign there was a yellow box with a phone in it. There was a man standing before the box and he had the phone pressed against the side of his head. He was hunched over the box with his shoulders closed and his other hand was gripping the top of the box really tight. He was really leaning into it and it was quite heartbreaking. He was wearing a hoodie and his forehead was pressed into the hand holding the box and the whole position of his body spoke to a kind of anonymity.

Can I make some comments about this? I will make some comments about this. Don’t you think the entire thing is absurd? For example: why THERE IS HOPE? Surely the person who goes to jump does not feel hope. Telling this person THERE IS HOPE is – well, it’s a lie, isn’t it? Okay, so maybe this person looks at the sign and thinks there is hope, but then that’s just circular, isn’t it? The sign hasn’t really pointed outside itself, or to the person, and made that person deduce something good. It has merely declared the existence of HOPE and if that mere declaration is enough then it must be fake. It’s authoritarian, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ve always thought a PLEASE somewhere would help, but then maybe that’s too pathetic or otherwise too reminiscent of the sorts of vicious vocab that the person will undoubtedly been subject to and that affects the whole fucked-up inside of the mind of the suicidally depressed in a manner to subtle for me to grasp. Maybe. Also: why THE CONSEQUENCES OF? You could easily phrase that away, give the sign a bit more, you know, I suppose profundity. But alright. Maybe the jumpers just need to see CONSEQUENCES. But are they that stupid? Or maybe there’s something too comic about a sign that goes DEATH IS FATAL / AND TRAGIC. Nonetheless CONSEQUENCES as a word just looks highly apathetic, almost. Threatening, as in: THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES. It just strikes me as a highly manipulative way to treat a person. Guilt-tripping people just before they die, that sort of thing. And needless to say there is no need to point out that jumping is FATAL because, presumably, that is the whole point. TRAGIC is also an odd thing to put on. My guess is that it is meant to remind the person trying to kill himself/herself that he/she has, I don’t know, a family, a child, a lover, friends etc. But from the little I know people who try to kill themselves often come from those sorts of backgrounds where this will make little difference to them because, say, the point is that they have been so strangled of functional human relations in life that a state of perfect neutrality might just actually genuinely be better than the sort of anguish they endure on a daily, second-to-second basis. I keep coming across an analogy which is that you are locked in a room where there is nothing but pain and you know, really know, you’d like to get out, but there is this key a couple of metres away from you and somehow the journey from here to there looks totally insane. The very thought locks you up. Now that I think about it though of course many people walk up there because it’s quote unquote a cry for help, or quote unquote a confrontation of the self, and I suppose for these people it works. Nonetheless. TRAGIC is so crude. The word’s already bound up in all kinds of aesthetic theorisations, the big dramatic sort, it seems a little distant, a little overused. I mean if you wanted people to think a certain way why not just ask them to, as in REMEMBER YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY? Maybe that’s not good, I guess, since some people will be up there because of FRIENDS AND FAMILY. Maybe the sign’s just a – well – sign, I suppose, of the usual compromise between the need to help on something that feels like an intimate, individual, level and the need to do this to a large number of very different individuals. Maybe I’m being picky.

So many other things, though. Why a phone? Anyone could just call, anytime they wanted. They could just go to Petr. Is there something about really old technology that is more, maybe affectionate, somehow? Bit more compatible with grief? Maybe. Or maybe most people leave having turned their implants off. Maybe it’s the visual confrontation – yellow box, blue sign, red support. No idea. How hypersensitive the brain becomes when you decide to kill yourself I don’t know.

Here’s another question: why do people choose to die this way? Dying this way is not actually calm or painless at all. 6 seconds of acceleration. When you hit the water you die of impact trauma, usually. You go from maybe 180, 200km/h to 0km/h in a second. You can tell who has died of trauma and who has died of drowning. The ones who drown get little bubbles, foam really, mucus, around the mouth and nose. But that only happens rarely. Typically the impact fractures the sternum and compresses the heart so violently it pulls away from the aorta. Inside the skin everything lacerated. But say you hit the water feet first – even then, vertebrae crushed, tibia broken everywhere, internal bleeding. If you live through that how do you swim? Do you know that the vast majority of people say their favourite colour is blue and that they find it calming? Maybe death by water is what they want and people are just ignorant about how you really die when you go off a bridge. Maybe that’s why the hotline sign is blue. Someone once shot herself on the way down. She was already dead when she hit: ergo, something about water, something about big empty air, the view. It turns out that if you look at the thousands of jumpers most of them jump from the centre of the bridge. You get a normal distribution and the peak is right at the middle support. Why? Maybe they want dying to be pretty, somehow. Symmetrical. Six seconds of falling and then water, you know, without being morbid I can say there is something about the image. I have a thought which I find quite compelling. If you want to kill yourself, and you start out walking along the bridge, you won’t jump immediately because you can’t really. You want a little more time, you want the walk. But once you reach the middle you realise that you are actually getting closer to the other side, to land that does not shake, and you can’t go on because going on would make you feel cowardly. It would defeat the point. Lots of people pick up the phone and are quiet. Then they say, “Hey, I’m gonna jump.” And then they do. My guess is that once you’ve said that to the people who are supposed to save you you’ve made a commitment. You can’t disappoint them.

Anyway, why aren’t there more signs near the middle of the bridge? If people are drawn there that seems the logical thing to do.

The point is there was this guy with his face hidden, and he was talking over the suicide hotline and asking the person there if he could help him call someone else. Maybe the hotline phone only went to one number. Would you really ask a person in that state to key in a long string of numbers? Anyway: I went over and picked the guy up and threw him over. He didn’t shout, I was pretty quick. Maybe he said, briefly, “Hey,” or something along those lines. He fell and became small and it was totally quiet. I think I put the phone back; that was it.

Q:

A: I am going now.

Q:

A: No, I don’t think you understand. I am going now. Sorry.