Kind of getting away: 9

Out and alone in this.

Why do I bother to tell.

What indeed. What indeed and why.

Not preservation.

Inundation.

I am not contained. Do you see? On and on like a lamentation.

What do I want out of this? What can I expect of this, even now?

Love? What from?

Better loneliness.

Things are not yet full enough.

Things are going to change.

Kind of getting away: 3

I’ve not written about the arrival yet. That strikes me as rather strange. Now that I think about it I didn’t particularly enjoy the arrival, but I certainly do enjoy the memory of it. So I should probably write something about it.

We arrived on IMV Scafell. Scafell’s a really nice ship. It was kind to me. Mostly its kindnesses involved arranging things so that I didn’t have to be at the long planning meetings. It’s good knowing it’s never too far off now. It’s having a good time. It told me as much; coming to an unexplored place like this was something it had wanted to do for a long time.

We all spent a couple of weeks in orbit. It was an unbearable time, but in a good way. I could feel moments passing. It’s what anticipation is like – it’s like having, for the first time in your life, a new sense, or a new limb, one that only detects time. There were many things to do and this new sense ached at it, chafed. We got the immunisation treatment and all felt strangely exhausted after that. I talked to Henroe about it and she told me that the treatment basically put the immune system into a calibrated overdrive and then grafted a great whomping cocktail of Factors onto it so complex that it was likely that no-one onboard could fully understand how it worked. There is a sense in which this complexity represents the brute totality of what we are doing here. First we are up there and mystified by things of our own making, then we go down and are mystified by things which we have had no part in.

So we were all tired for four or five days, getting used to that. We looked at the pictures that the satellites sent back.  O. printed them out and lined the walls of his room with them. I went to his room and touched the pictures. They were, indeed, nothing more than that: pictures. Quite often I went to the viewing port and just stood there. Only rarely was I alone.

We also got our blood changed. It didn’t really feel like anything, since the atmosphere down here pretty similar to standard and the changes were minor. More to prevent oxygen toxicity than anything else[1].

Did I enjoy that particular period? I don’t know. The people who volunteered for this are not the most sociable bunch, naturally. Scafell had some beautiful public spaces but they were usually empty. I’m not complaining; I appreciated this very much. Even Scafell was a quiet ship. It generally spoke only when spoken to. I think it took a liking to me, but it is entirely possible that it was a good to everyone as it was to me. I didn’t ask about this, of course.

I came here to be alone, in a specific sense. It was that stuff with L. and the child[2] that settled it. Well, this is not totally honest, is it? I like coming out and sort of getting away from it all. But L. helped to make the decision clearer.

Eventually we had to come down, and we did. There was nothing dramatic but there was nothing to compare it to either. The air outside turned from black and blue and then we were there.

It’s called TKTA-11, but we call it Tokata.

We spent another three months at Base, now the Main Building, when we all touched down. It was a good time. The first four days in tents while the Main Building was erected. There was an unspoken communality to the whole thing. Us living together in little fabric spaces, caught up in the unexpected simplicity of what we were doing. I think people – we – were aware that very soon we would all have take our stations. It was like holding something small and thrumming alive in the hand, knowing it soon had to go. People were generous to each other, even more so than usual. Do you know what really captures this? Running out. Because something was going, was disappearing fast, and we could tell, but it was going in a direction at rights angles to everything else, going outwards, escaping and glad for it.

At night people would make trips to each other’s tents, tell big stupid stories about the things they planned to do. Laughed a lot. This was really strange. It’s obvious now. But we were all on a new world, staggering about, and it was inevitable.  We’re really not by design the most sociable bunch[3].

We had landed on a clean site. The landing had been near the base of a big low rocky hill and some of us went up it, a kilometre or so, in the long evenings. A bunch of us went on the second day, to watch Tokata’s sunset. Deep light, a whole morningtide of it, a flood without form or function except for wildness. Blueness that looked like it could never be covered or made to go away. Tokata has got 4 moons; only two were visible then. I am remembering all of this and so I might not have gotten all of this correct. But I’m trying to record my memories, not the real thing, so I can’t get worried about these small things.

We watched sakers[4] sky violently up into the air, a raft of dark points. Some of us started at the noise. All around we could sense peripheral life. Small things, the sorts that seem in perpetual retreat from the world, things with black odorous sounds. Coloured the common colours of the undergrowth in all possible worlds. From the height we were at we could see our tents quite clearly. Those that had put the allweathers on were dim zygotic bundles, but those who braved the cold nights and wore the allweathers instead had let the tents deform into lanternlike shapes, crumpled things standing against the evening. The evening gave the image vintage. The air here is slightly denser than standard. There is a mantling quality to it, a big arch that comes over your head, and it can take away your warmth fast. It is fat and tactile.

On the third day, I think, there was a massive storm[5] and people didn’t leave the tents. I was in my tent with Ogford & Co. and we thought we heard Mika’s tent get blown down. Turned out that it hadn’t but it had come pretty close. All around us for 6+ hours yellow fabric pulsing and flapping, struts bowing in & out terrifyingly. The rain made a very specific sound against the sides of the tent. It was a hard and flat sound, like branches snapping.

I remember that O. said something like, “I swear I’m going to get away from the equator. This is just not acceptable,” and I said, “As long as you still contribute to the power and the glory –” and we started laughing like complete idiots. That does not look so funny when I write it down like that. But it happened.

Scafell asked to help the next day. Come through the clouds and came up to the site and asked if Winnfield was around.

“I could help with the building,” it said. The Helpers were doing a good job. I think by that time we had one Turer going, and the south wing of the complex was already up.

“It’s all right,” W. said. “The main thing now is just raw material.” It was funny, seeing W. standing there while the vast shadow of Scafell sort of loomed over her.

“I could help get the metals from V4[6].”

“Are you cleared for superlifting?”

“Well – no. But it wouldn’t be too difficult. I’d quite like something to do.”

“BrightWhiteLine[7]?”

Scafell is really big and has some old-fashioned expressive mannerisms. It sort of waggled a bit from side to side[8], a small motion that was incongruously exaggerated by the fins. W. smiled. Scafell said, “Will it know? I mean, it will know, but will it really bother to ask? But in any case I’m pretty sure I could justify things[9].”

“If you say so. Thanks. As the helpers for the details of what we need.”

“Already did. I’ll get going.”

[1] Although we did get an infusion of Very Fast Clotting Factor (VFCF), which I am told can do some miraculous things. O. said that they don’t fool around with haemoglobin too much since – and I quote – “iron is very promiscuous”.

[2] This was w.r.t. the TOA we signed with the Union. Am I allowed to say this? Well. Not much can be done about it now, so it probably doesn’t matter. We’d gotten the 3rd House largely swung to our side. It had been a very difficult thing to do. Getting the Faroes bought over had been meant to settle it. It didn’t. The rest took lots of effort and gentle cajoling and calculation from Petr. It was very difficult. When the Outer Region Conference proposed a bill to extend a very minimal redistribution regins to Index Class II services it passed (furore in the U., lots of celebrating on Stize) in the 3rd. but then got stuck at 2nd. Things rarely got stuck at 2nd. It was unelected and the understanding was that generally it might comment but not interfere. But there were two representatives who were giant assholes about it. Petr. thought about it and decided that all things considered it was the slightly more junior of the two who was probably the gutsier. So we spoke to him personally. I say we, really it was L. and Petr. who made the decision. I think we might actually have sent the message via a Descendant. It must have been terrifying for him. We thought we’d scare the shit out of him – call him Giant Dickhead (GDH). But there was some hidden variable. This was a shock. There are no hidden variables with Petr.; it does not happen. But something was there, embedded just outside detection, because GDH said no. He said no. He understood what we were doing; he thought it was not democratic. Here was something we knew about him: he loved his family. Utterly devoted to his children (wife had died; unimportant), in particular his second daughter – 2 y.o. He didn’t use his children for political gain. Was of what Petr. called a rare type. He’d left office for 1 yr to get his first son through school. We put something in his second daughter that caused something like 55?56? very specific point mutations in approx. 90% of her cells. Effects were varied. Illustration: one of the mutations was at position 1824 of the LMNA gene; a CàT switch.  Gene encodes prelamin A, which becomes lamin A – stabilizes the nuclear wall. The CàT switch means that the mRNA transcript is usually short. Effect: abnormal protein folding. Effect: farnesyl group cannot be removed from prelamin A. Effect: protein is anchored to nuclear wall. Effect: abnormally shaped nucleus. Effect: cell division is fucked. Effect: aging at approx. 11X? the normal rate. Effect: death at approx. 13 standard years due to usually arthrosclerosis though many fucked-up ways of dying are very plausible. Union tech could detect the mutation; best treatment involved stopping bodily production of prelamin A altogether. But the other 50+ mutations produced shall we say extremely painful and unbelievably debilitating diseases some of which were designed with the sole object of making normal treatment paths impossible. So the 2nd daughter sort of drowned on her own blood + lost all her hair & gastrointestinal tract & lived off machines for 2 yrs before GDH realized what was going on. GDH must have considered going public but at some point recognized the obvious risks, so we got a message: okay, I’ll do it. So he pulled off a major policy turnaround and apologized to his electorate and said he would not run for office again, and pulled enough votes from various places to get the Bill passed in 2nd. He might have assumed that we’d help the daughter. We didn’t. She died. So the point was made. GDH did resign, and ended up running for office again; got reelected largely on the back of an apparent perception that he had drifted towards the center. We asked him after the first time, without ever mentioning his daughter, for a few more things. He never said no. He had other children.  Do I have thoughts about this? Well, yes. It was the best thing we could have done. There might be something more, though. Why did I just write all of that using “we”? That has to be understood in purely nominal terms. I’m trying to be outside all of this. I’m trying to look in. It’s not easy. The only way I have of knowing is to be there on the inside, but I’m trying, I really am.

[3] The Main Building was officially christened Anhedonia. What can I say?

[4] One of the few good names we came up with. The sound of the word matches them.

[5] What W. says is that Tokata’s air at the equatorial latitudes is oddly clean; no condensation nuclei. So there aren’t many storms, but when they do come they are huge and almost inevitably hurricane-force.

[6] So one of the things about Tokata is that there are some (sort-of) open bodies of water whose chemical composition differs substantially from the rest of the ocean because of very concentrated undersea volcanic activity (Gerring is so excited he looks sick most of the time). One of the big sides was called V4, and the exudate there was rich in REMs. I can’t actually remember this; I just looked it up on the records.

[7] W. always uses the full name. Everyone else says BWL.

[8] “Meh.”

[9] It’s to be expected, in a way, but I find how blasé non-descendant AIs are about their possible death a bit unsettling. As in – how do I say this – they don’t like dying since they get upset on behalf of all the people they know feel affection for them, but they just cannot understand the pure atavistic fear of not existing that infects (I think) most of us. It’s an entirely rational assessment of death. The metaphysical has been entirely crowded out. It is very strange.

Kind of getting away: 2

It’s November here. There’s no particular reason to call it November, but that’s what it’s called. I think it’s because of the trees here, always looking like it’s autumn. When we came we went with October straightaway, so now it’s November. It’s a good enough reason.

The sun has finally come out after about two days of cloud. At this moment right beside me there comes a surgical slit of light that illumes a soft fume of dust. I did not plan to do anything this morning so I went out and looked over the Wash. The idea grey is not at all simple and the Wash shows that. This morning it steamed like flat metal, like mercury. It really does go on and on. Not very far out there were two seahawks, nearly but not quite out of sight. I sat and watched them for some time. I watched them diving in the air. That’s not the right word, actually, diving. But that’s the problem. How do I convey this? This sense of movement. What I can say is that it gives me a sense in which this place, this entire place, is fundamentally unwreckable. It’s a strange, unjointed kind of movement. We’re just not used to thinking in three dimensions. We know of the three dimensions but we have never actually occupied them. That’s why it’s just not possible to look at that movement and understand it. The understanding comes a moment immediately after. But as I stood there looking at the seahawks actually move I didn’t understand it at all. Wings tremulously feeling out an element with whom the relationship does not quite rise to trust. A whiffle and then a dip, mirrored by the other. When one of them dipped it looked simply as if it was falling, until it uncurled itself suddenly in a sharp caustic spasm. The movement was erratic but urged towards some kind of obvious pattern. I did not know and do not know what bound the two seahawks together. Maybe they were a breeding pair or maybe they were simply hunting together. It was a celebration that held apart the air between them. This is how seahawks move. A whole forest of lines and chords taken in the air, a language that is completely spontaneous and therefore indecipherable.  I don’t think I’m really managing to get any of this across. But that’s natural, I suppose. It’s an alien thing, to see so much life contracted into points so small, folded this way, and wedged so furiously into the air.

Anyway, that’s the only really interesting thing I did today. I might take the Volkie to O.’s place to see how he’s getting on. W.r.t work – well, it’s not a huge amount I need to get done at this point, and Helper is often out.

Kind of getting away: 1

I came here to be alone, and now I am alone. I’ve done it, then. I guess I’ve done it.

My house is finished. It’s on top of a rocky outcrop, overlooking the ocean. The Berents is grey now. Helper is sleeping. The house is spacious. On the first floor there is the living room and dining room and on the second there are two bedrooms and the third is the attic. The Store is a little attachment out back with food and the allweathers and the car and all the other supplies. Helper wanted to make a little observatory, but I think that will come later.

In between my place and the water is the Wash. It’s a flat so big that it cedes from where I look right out to the horizon and into darkness. I went out there yesterday. I did not tell Helper. It’s meant to be dangerous, very dangerous, but there you go. I went out and it was mud and water everywhere. Very windy. The blue hour here is more a blue hour and a half. The mud came up to my ankles at first, and then nearly to my knees the further in I went. I think it must have been two kilometres before I turned back. I could see my house looking very small from that distance. I am fulfilled; I have done it; I am now fully cut off and twined in. The Wash is a place of deep sameness. Only the tides change it, a play without any syntax or drama, just two dimensions of very fine sand. Deep sameness.  It’s the sort of place where all changes you detect are canted by affection.

The house is good. The Perimeter is up. I wish I could do without it, but it’s part of the rules; protocol. I’ll have to stick to at least some of it. The window of my bedroom looks out to a peak. It’s very sharp and there’s snow down one half of it and some mornings the light catches it and bathes it in fire and that wakes me up. It’s not a bad way to be woken at all. This particular peak still does not have a name. But it won’t stay that way for long. I suppose, since I am the closest one to it, I should name it. But I’m not at all good with names.

Every day more names come in through the computer. So many names; piped in here, right to me, building up a taxonomy, putting down the quivering things. Sooner or later someone back in the Main Building will see that this part of the archipelago lacks names and will solve that problem. I will wake and find that the mountain has a name, this little outcrop too, and maybe even the Wash. That’s one thing I have named at least. I should log the name. It’s very easy to do, but I’m probably never going to get it done.

I’m here to be alone. Not completely alone, I suppose. That would be impossible. And I’m not sure that I would like it. The rest of us probably don’t mind being alone; it’s part of why we came, probably. But mainly the rest are here because this place is so absolutely new. They’re here to learn, for the big wet noisy concussion of knowledge. Look at how they jostle to get things named after them. They really do like naming things. There is no strategy to the names. They are static so they pile up. They accrete and for now measure out time. Fair enough. But the slate is so clean here that it’s bigger than the urge to arrange and when we arrived that was an unspoken arrangement and we all defaulted immediately to old names. Oaks, Elms, Fish, Birds, Snakes, etc. Now that I think of it, we haven’t used mammal names very much. Maybe something there traverses too close to us. We can’t have too many things made in our image. Or named in it, or put in a clade with it, so few junctions off the amniotes, a countable number of accidents of history, although I suppose it’s not quite the same thing.

All That Air Outside

There is a good wind going outside. Pale clouds lighter than the sky going very fast and low.

Waves come all the way, almost, and then move back.

As you would expect none of this can be heard as it is quiet inside.

Unless he tries very hard, of course. Then he can hear something although he cannot tell exactly what it is.

In all likelihood it is the wind, or maybe the sound of all that water.

They are the last ones left.

That is one way of looking at things, that much must be conceded.

Alternatively they were the first ones to leave.

The difference between the two appears to be entirely one of timing.

“To be honest,” it says, “it really might as well be the same. It all looks the same from here.”

He is not upset by that.

In fact he feels entirely new.

That is not the orthodox word but it appears appropriate, for reasons that are proving harder than usual to articulate.

In any case he is no longer tired.

A pity, therefore, about the house.

It is looking out of the window.

It does that so often that it might be called a habit, even.

“All that’s left,” he says.

That sounds sad, but he never intended for it to be. That was not put very well.

“I suppose we’ll be here,” he says. “If this is all that’s left. I wonder for how long.”

“How long,” it says, not turning from the window.

Yet again he is left to wonder if this is in fact a query of some sort.

He is thinking about time, of course, that is what he is referring to.

He is not certain that it will understand but he says it in any case.

“Time,” it says, and dwells on this.

Possibly it is thinking.

In fact it simply does not move or say anything and thus creates that impression.

“I suppose so,” it says. “What a word, though.”

It turns to him and gapes at him.

Its eyes close.

It comes across as a familiar gesture.

“In any case I’ll be here,” it says, closing the mouth, “So things can’t get that bad.”

“I wonder about the rest,” he says.

There is a fire in the house.

Thankfully it is contained in a particular place in such a way that it gives off only some light and a little heat.

A generous amount of heat, come to think of it.

If there is smoke, which there ought to be, then it goes somewhere else, goes out of the house into all that air outside.

It comes between him and the fire.

He can feel the heat all over his front, on his feet, on his knees, his thighs, his chest and abdomen, his neck, his face.

It isn’t so bad here, he thinks, looking at the fire, looking at it, what with the view and the rest of it.

“It is just us,” it says, from where it is between him and the fire.

It stretches in a manner that suggests that it is contented, or perhaps a little restless.

“I wonder about the rest,” he says, again.

“Do you want me to let them in?” it says.

“Could you?” he says.

“Yes,” it says.

“And you could keep them out, naturally.”

It appears to be asleep.

In fact it is very often asleep, is it not?

This occurs to him now.

Nonetheless it speaks.

“Well. Even I could not keep all of them out – forever, if you want to talk about the time.”

But then it is an open question if anyone will see them or want to come in.

“They might not see us,” it says.

It is true that the precise location of the house is obscure.

That is to say uncertain, even though not unfixed or imprecise.

“How will we see them,” he says, “if they come?”

“Look through the windows,” it says. “We don’t have to be down here. If you go up you can see quite far.”

There seems to be no reason to think that untrue.

There was that occasion where they saw that ship.

Although that might have happened down here.

In fact that might be happening only later.

They had both gone out, then.

He remembers that it had been raining.

And The Days Are Not Full Enough: 1

Nothing moved, even though this was not true. Something moved. In cities something always moved. You could look at a scene and even though its entire frame and posture was quiet something would be moving. The Rail, for instance. The small tight glow of a car on the Eastbound. Signs blinking. Windows. Small functions of light blunted by distance.

The boy looked at the city and waited for the sun to come up. This is what he was thinking; that something always moved. Sometimes when he looked at a scene that was perfectly still and saw something moving at last he found it strangely heartbreaking. It was like looking at a person sleeping; like looking at this person breathe. Modest and necessary actions.

War had not changed the city. There was, in some way, a tightening of things. Prices gestured in faintly dangerous directions, as they always did. Until the war came, actually came, to the city, it would not change. That was the thing about cities. They grew voraciously and then at some point having received some sign or signal they stopped and started falling apart. It was decay but it was gentle, untamed but idle, and reassuring. It gave resilience. So even though war had taken people and money the city did not notice.

People would come back from the war, alive and therefore unmourned, but people forgot to celebrate. But the boy thought that in any case there was no need to celebrate. Things were always moving, even moving on.

The Recruitment and Transfer tent was in the shadow of one of the larger buildings. In an hour or so it would open.  The boy had watched military take people for several weeks. They took people; yes. They told people the truth; they forced no-one; they followed procedure; they kept you informed; they accepted only the consenting; and they took people. The process was immaculate and venomous. It was hard to say what was wrong with it and in any case the boy thought, in a way that few people his age realised, that the military did something very good. Alchemising pain into something more soluble. Even if people died, which they did, there appeared something in that function that was not easy to dismiss.  The boy had watched people return from the war. Their faces were blank. They came to the offworld terminal and walked out of the tent with blank faces and put their bags down just outside the entrance. They talked to people. They bitched about the military, sometimes, and laughed. Some of it sounded very genuine. The voices were blank and relieved. Sometimes they did not talk to people and just sat and cried. Some of them held papers in their hands and looked at them for a long while. Some of them put their hands on the shoulders of other people. The hands were big or small or dark or pale and they clutched or were loose. The thing was that the military did not attempt to hide this. You signed up for the military while you watched people return. There was nothing to hide. It was a trick made unassailable by its honesty. Tell people about the duty and the glory of it; tell them about the death. And then say: but there is money, and this a death you are allowed breathe about. In an incalculable way it was, as they said, worth it. They never said what it was because there was no need or because any need had long since bled away.

The boy stood on the hill and watched the sun come up. A train rumbled in its slow inertial flight past the Old Interbank building. Metal shone. Even concrete has its inflections of loss and grief. The boy thought this, or came close to thinking this, in a way he might not have been aware of. He went down.

The inside of the tent smelled of paper. There was a lot of it around. The boy stared for a while; paper was very expensive. But information on paper could only be stolen if you took the paper. In the war that had turned out to be important.

How did you fight the Kingdom? They had their Descendants; they had their Leviathan. These things people knew about and spoke about. Then there were other things people knew about but did not really understand or did not want to understand and these things people rarely spoke about.

It was not now relevant. The soft bustle inside the tent moved around they boy. Dates were mentioned; someone asked for the PT Forms to be passed over please before lunch this time; a sentence that ended with “…total fucking dickhead, that’s why…” – and then laughter; more faintly: “Well I mean yes but you know…” There were no queues at this hour. Some people stared at the boy. They knew what he was here to do. Maybe they pitied him. The boy did not know what to feel about that. Maybe it was not so much that he did not know what to feel about it as much as the fact that he did not feel anything about it in the first place.

A sign said: UNDOCUMENTED ENLISTMENT. The corporal at the desk leaned over to look at the boy. He saw a slender wounded thing that was grey everywhere. Grey eyes, grey hair, hands that came together in nervousness.

Part 2