Visitation: 2

Beneath the Wrecked Church there was a single Hasp. Its name was not known. The consensus among those in the SM faculty was that it was not of the usual order of Hasps; no. It was a Category I, expressed in Form II. And it was the last line of defence, for nothing could stand against a naked Haccieter, against the final idea of a basic force. Why The Defence was where it was no one knew. The Wrecked Church was around 12,000 years old, and as far back as records went it had always contained the Hasp. In that ancient past some deal must have been struck, a trade of some still-incomprehensible value. What was in it? Friendship? That surely was a heresy. It was impossible to imagine.

In any case the Hasp could not be moved. Of course it had been tried. But it could not be done. It was fixed relative to the gravitational centre of Stize. There was also the problem that anything that came within a metre of it (99.2 cm, said the notices at the entrance) would disintegrate as a result of absurd tidal forces. Outside that radius, however, those gravitational forces simply disappeared. They did not tail off; they simply did not extend there.

They could see the Wrecked Church now, the shattered spire of six metal plates, most of the top half entirely gone except for where two of the triangular sheets stretched skyward, nearly touching before cleanly cut off as if by some unnoticed catastrophe, some antiseptic violence that had come tumbling from above. Copper green with intimations of wisdom, flying buttresses broken and left clawing at vaulted notes the hearing of which was like a musical gesture in the middle of its enactment, like a sign paid out in instalments, the long spinal nave of stone and its interdenominate vertebrae locked in place, the high holy orifices of the windows agape, unprepared after all this time—

“It looks pretty good for a ruin,” Garf said, sweating a bit now. “I know it’s a stupid thing to say but it doesn’t look very – ruinlike – doesn’t it?”

They stopped to look.

Bizzo leaned back and shaded his eyes. He said nothing.

“It’s a bit like that Cubist stuff. Not really Cubist, I mean, but like that – who was it – Worthow, I think.”

“Ah,” Sal said.

Garfield drew a hand across her forehead. “I wonder why I never noticed before.” She took two steps back and stretched out her hands in the direction of the structure, moved them mechanically up and down as if measuring something. “You really get a sense of its size, hm? Standing here. I suppose that’s it.”

“In Canon II there is a section on the influence of prehistoric art,” Sal said. Canon was the vast university library.“I think Worthow is mentioned. There’s a book called The Lineage of Art from Before Time. Brewer and Fentiman. It’s good.”

“It isn’t really a church, is it?” Bizzo said. He coughed. “All the later ones that were copies of these two, those were churches. But we’ve not got any idea what this was for.”

“No,” Sal said. “Although there are many theories.”

“Why isn’t there anyone around?” Garf said.

Sal went up to the door and pushed it open.

Above the long darkness of the nave light seeped from the clerestory, touching nothing. At the end a great flood from broken spire.

“I spoke to QC,” Sal said. He grinned.

Garf took in a deep breath of cold air. “And it didn’t let anyone in today.”

“It re-arranged things,” Sal said. “So there would be an empty window.”

Bizzo stood just inside the door, his hands in his pockets. “There’s something, you know, oppressive about this. This place.”

Outside was the human noise, the human suffering.

The very thought.

Garf opened her mouth to say something but Sal said, mildly, “No. No. I understand.”

They walked over in silence to the crossing. The North Transept was ruined and from where they were they could look out at the sun pluming outside, the trees, the rolling air. In the middle of the crossing  there was a shallow bowl worn out of the basalt floor and at its bottom there was, incongruously, a lift, a large steel box.It looked like it could take ten or so people at once.

They got in and the doors hissed shut and they immediately began to descend.

Down hypodermically through rock. This is the song of an unassailable people.

They did not stop for a while.

“What the fuck?” Bizzo said when the doors opened.

They were at the edge of a vast rectangular chamber tiled entirely with what looked like white ceramic. The scene was a study in perspective; the dark lines of rock which showed between the tiles ran from where they stood to the opposite wall nearly a kilometre away, across the floor, walls, ceiling.

The light came from everywhere and nowhere and was painful.

Near the far end of the chamber there was a black square, so dark it looked nearly unreal, like something projected into vision: a perfect cube ten metres in height. Around it the neat lines formed by the tiles appeared to bend, to warp and wrap in on themselves again and again.  A space around where light congregated endlessly, fawned without end.

“So that’s the casket,” Garf said. “Trippy.”

“Is that lensing?” Bizzo said.

“Yes,” Sal said.

“Hmm,” Garf said.

“This shouldn’t be that surprising. What do you know about The Defence?” Sal said.

“It’s Type I,” Bizzo said.

“If you go to the SM faculty page you can find a list of well-defined Hasps and their properties. One standard way of classifying Hasps involves a Reissner-Nordström transform. You express properties about the Hasp by treating its derived properties as if it was a charged spinning black hole. Once you figure out a Hasp’s effective implied charge you can give it a certain mass. It’s not an actual mass, but you can treat it for certain calculations as if it has one. Basically you can figure out what Hasp in Form III would look like. The Defence is in Form II. But its inferred Form III mass – and it’s probably the only Hasp whose Form III mass has been precisely calculated, for obvious reasons – is approximately 4 billion solar masses.”

“Urk,” Bizzo said.

“That’s a big number,” Garf said.

“If you rank the well-defined Hasps by mass it’s pretty high up.”

“That is frightening,” Bizzo said.

Sal said nothing. He looked at the dark cube and said nothing.

The stuttered world made fiduciary to this.

“Is that number a limit?” Garf said. “What does it actually tell us about what this can do?”

“It’s not a limit,” Sal said. “That’s not what a Hasp contains. It’s an expression of actual gravitational potential, not potential gravitational potential.”

“I don’t –” Garf began.

“Garf,” Sal said, voice clear, cordial, knowing, “Don’t worry about it.”

Bizzo was staring. “We can’t go near that,” Bizzo said. “If the gravity is strong enough to bend light like that there’s no way we can go near that.”

“If it was a gravitational field, we’d be dead by now.”

“Terrorist!” Garf said, but put no heart into it.

“What is it? It not a gravitational field why’s the light fucked up like that?”

“I can’t get QC,” Garf said. She turned to Sal. “I just tried to make a query and got nothing.”

“There’s also no Composite Dust in the air,” Sal said.

“What is it?” Bizzo said.

“It’s a field,” Sal said. “It’s complicated.” He grinned like he had made a joke. “It only affects massless particles – photons – the way gravity does.”

“Okay.”

“It’s safe,” Sal said. “Let’s go.”

Garf looked hesitant. “Is The Defence doing that?”

“Of course.”

“And what’s that?” Garf pointed to the long gash in the floor where the tiles had been crushed in an arcing path that ended with the casket.

“Continental drift. The casket moves a tiny bit each year as Wassea drifts underearth it. Let’s go.”

As they walked the lines around the casket slipped and dilated like liquid. They came to the door in the side of the casket.

“We’re standing right here but I can see you just fine,” Bizzo said.

“Yes,” Sal said.

“I shouldn’t be able to,” Bizzo said. “Not if this was bending the light.”

“It’s strange that the door’s just like that,” Garf said. “I’d expected something more impressive.”

“Security?” Sal said.

“Yeah.”

“It would make no sense trying to keep the Hasp in. And it can’t be damaged or moved, so there’s no sense keeping anything out.”

The door was visible only as a faint outline in the smooth black surface. A handle was set into it; Sal took it and pulled and the door hinged open smoothly.

Inside the light was dimmer.

It was on a small plinth and it was black.

“There’s a smell” Bizzo said. “It’s like the smell you get when you get into the car in the morning and the air-conditioners come on. But it’s sweeter than that.”

Garf went up to it. There was a circle inscribed into the floor: come no closer. She stopped a metre away.

How to stare this cruelty away?

A monument like the word if and just as improbable.

“It’s sort of muscly,” she said, “Very lean, like you can see through the skin to the muscle underneath. Is it crouching?”

“It’s like you took a military jet and made it into an animal,” Bizzo said. “You know what I mean?”

“It’s crouching,” Sal said. “It has its head between its knees. It’s digitigrade – you can see how the legs fold beneath it. It looks like it has an extra joint there. If it stood up in this form it’d be well over two metres tall.”

Anatomy. How to embroider a wound.

Teeth do not rot in the grave.

Garf shook her head. “It’s black.”

“Yes.”

“I can’t make out the – the contours of the limbs. Those are the arms wrapped around its – knees –  that is the neck, the neck, going down between them. It doesn’t look alive.”

“It’s not alive,” Sal said.

“Why would anyone want to come so close to something like this?” Bizzo said.

“If you look inside the circle,” Sal said, “You can see – although it’s hard to make out since the floor is so dark – you can see human remains.”

Garf brought one hand to her face, rubbing, checking.

“Those smudges?” Bizzo said.

“Yes,” Sal said.

“Oh,” Garf said.

“This is such a strange place,” Bizzo said.

“I can’t get a feel of it,” Garf said. “It’s not – you know – threatening, now that we’re here. But it doesn’t have a present the way a sculpture has presence. It’s a gap. Do you know what I mean? I’m not sure if I’m putting this across. I feel sad for it. I know this makes no fucking sense at all but it looks sort of sad. Not to move after all this time. It’s so fantastic it’s beyond fascination. I can’t even describe it properly. Seriously. If I go back out and someone asks me, ‘What was it like,’ I’m pretty sure I’ll say ‘I don’t know,’ and it’ll be really honest. And if they person says ‘What did it look like?’ I’ll say, ‘It was dark and crouching and made the light funny and smelt strange,’ and that sounds ridiculous.”

Garf looked at Sal. Sal looked at the Hasp and did not say anything for some time. Then he said, “Look at this. After all this time this is what we rely on.” His hands had been pressed together but he spread them apart now, raised them. “Look at this.”

A child before the blackness, hands raised, wrists loose, lost already in ritual.

“Uhm,” Bizzo said. There was a look on Sal’s face that he had no seen before, the look of something caged and now finding its larger intention, the latch in its trammel. It was not a rapturous look. It was slightly sorrowful.

“Rely on?” Garf said. “We’ve never used it in any way.”

Sal turned to Garf.  Then he turned to Bizzo.

“I wouldn’t know,” Bizzo said.

“This is the basic threat.” Sal pointed at the Hasp. “This is under everything. Isn’t it absurd? Isn’t it obscene? It is a threat so powerful it cannot be used. It is the basic violence under our structure. Do you know how other nations see us? To them we are already a Kingdom of totems. Providence picked bare. They don’t even contemplate conflict with us. And then they see this, our Defence. And what do you think they think? And we use that. I use that. Its hint is in everything I do: you cannot overcome us. Even if I did not want to I would be forced to.” He stopped and looked thoughtful and nodded, or maybe that movement was only imagined. “Look at this thing. I am the same as it. Don’t you think?”

Bizzo and Garf stood and looked at him and did not say anything. There was a light in his eyes and a deadly calm.

“Don’t you think?” Sal said. He held out his wrists. He smiled and there was nothing in it that was not genuine and warm. “Come on. Do not believe that I am something else. Under my skin there is a violence. There is a violence. Don’t look at me that way, Garf. It’s the most basic eloquence and it’s all here, all inside me. Hm?”

A wild and profligate gesture.

Him receding now, just like this, taken by therapeutic quantities of darkness.

“That’s not – a problem,” Bizzo offered. “It’s not easy, being the Leviathan, but it’s not a bad thing, I guess.”

Sal looked up and titled his head and looked at them out of the corners of his eyes, as if puzzled, thinking. “Oh, Bizzo, I’m not complaining.” It was a terrifying look, alien, suddenly, maybe cold, haughty. “But this encroaches on me,” he said. “Come now. You must know this. This is easy to see.”

Garf said, “But the Defence has never done anything. It’s not doing anything now.”

“Garf,” Sal said, “I am not an alternative. Do you understand? What’s – I don’t know, choose what you want – what’s truth to violence? What’s violence to greater violence? What’s me to a God?”

“You are saying you can’t control this,” Bizzo said. Sal looked at him blankly.

“It’s The Defence, Sal,” Garf said. “It’s not doing anything bad. It’s just a defence.”

“Do you think that this must be a defence? Do you really think that?”

Bizzo said, “What else could it be?”

“Suicide.”

“Suicide.”

“Yes.”

“Something to kill everyone?”

“Well, think about it. This whole world is already impossible to attack. There are too many forces conspiring against it. QC. Gates. Gatekeepers. Compydust. College AIs, if necessary. Armouries. But if we were all to die it would be through this.”

Garf said, “So this is about controlling it.”

“I’m not complaining about anything,” Sal said, “I’m just saying this is the way things are. I’m pretty okay with it.”

“I’m pretty sure you could stop that from happening” Bizzo said. “I’m sure there are ways to do it.”

“Why would I prevent it?”

“What?”

“Why would it not be me making that order?”

“What is this about?” Garf said. She had her hands in her pockets, her body tight against itself.

In a different world trees stood shocked in the sun, canopies small spaces and worlds apart.

“Kasakadei has written little thing. A monograph. Have you heard about it?”

“The ethics majors in Hakon mentioned –” Bizzo said.

Evitable and Inevitable Duties of Non-Existence. It’s what you would expect from Kasakadei. A tight airless thing. The arguments in it are not new – they are clarifications of some very ancient claims. Dusted off, restated to avoid some obvious attacks.”

“What is this?” Garf said.

“If it is not a moral evil to fail to create a utility-positive life,” Sal said, “then it follows.”

“What follows?”

“That it might be good that we all die. Isn’t strange that such a small concession, something look inconsequential, almost, could lead to this? Small things have big consequences.”

“When you say we you mean, all, as in all of us?”

“You see now why a Hasp is useful for this purpose.”

“What is this argument? I don’t see how anything follows.”

“It’s about an asymmetry. We all agree that it is wrong to create a life if it would be one of suffering. To cause the existence of such a life would be a moral evil. We therefore have a duty not to create such a life. But it is not clear that we must think that the flipside is true – that we have a duty to create a happy life, given the chance. But if there is no positive duty to create a life where that life would be a happy one – if that is not a moral good, then we are left with a conclusion that the happiness that a non-existent life passes over is not a morally relevant loss, while the pain and suffering that is passed over is a morally relevant gain. Do you see? This asymmetry means that we have a duty to create not life at all. An inevitable duty of non-existence obtains. No matter how gloriously happy the life we create is, as long as that life contains some sort of suffering, no matter how slight, that pain could have been avoided by not creating that life in the first place. Yes, no happiness would have been experienced, but if you think that failing to bring a utility-positive life into existence is not a moral wrong, then all this follows. The Inevitable Duty of Non-Existence.”

Bizzo was quiet. Garf was thinking.

Horror could be thus held purely by its skin.

Garf said, “This is an argument about why it is wrong to cause life to come into existence. It does not say that once life is created we should end it.”

Sal laughed. “Yes! Yes. But one does rather imply the other. And if the killing is quick there is little harm done.”

Bizzo said, “You don’t believe any of this.” He ran his tongue over his front teeth like an animal. “You don’t believe any of this.”

“Bizzo, darling, why do you ask me? Think about it. Any answer I give to these sorts of questions will not be motivated by my desire to tell you the truth but by the necessities of my position.”

“We’re clearly not dead,” Bizzo said. “So you don’t believe that.”

“No,” Sal said. “There you go, I guess.” He laughed.

“Shall we head?” Garf said. “We’re having lunch at Porales.”

“No,” Sal said.

“Come on, let’s go,” Garf said. She started moving toward the doorway.

Sal looked at her. “No,” he said smoothly, without any gap between Garf’s exclamation and his denial.

Garf stood as if paralyzed.

“You should know about the other argument,” Sal said. “Don’t you think? Evitable duties of non-existence. You should find out.”

“Why are we discussing philosophy?” Garf said.

“We’re not discussing philosophy at all,” Sal said, sounding surprised. “We’re discussing why I should not be minded to kill everyone.”

“Okay,” Garf said. She grasped her face and ran her hand down it, pressing into her cheeks. “Must we do it here?”

“The arguments are made rather sharper here, aren’t they?”

“Go on, then. Explain.”

“It’s not complicated. It’s an old argument, an ancient argument, really, that Zapffe Ipcress articulated fully in Grief and Sublimation. It’s an argument for an evitable duty because this duty is sensitive to the value of existent life itself; it matters how that life is to be lived. The claim is that happiness is not real. That is to say, it does not exist independently. Suffering is what exists independently, as the groundnorm. There is nothing intrinsic about the satisfaction of fulfilling desire because desire multiplies – and desire is only a kind of pain evolution has forced us to clutch at, reflexively, a lie of value that we must hum to ourselves over and over again. Ipcress’ words. Do you know what Ipcress writes in the second annex to Four Meditations? I can recite it for you. It slips into the mind quite easily:

“‘Conscious life, although nothing on the scale of cosmic time, is laden with suffering. This suffering is directed towards no other end but its own perpetuation. This is to be expected. All suffering directed elsewhere, which is to say all honest suffering, has long since ended. It is lost to us. What exists is that suffering which, by making a terror of everything, threads the barren and yawning needle of mere survival. We feel, deeply but pointlessly, that life nonetheless has some meaning, or at least some pattern-of-value. We feel that because we hold in ourselves an argument that, even if unarticulated, is as powerful as it is false. What is this secret argument? (1) To say an interest is morally relevant is to say that it matters morally; (2) If it matters morally, it must matter to the entity whose interest it is; (3) For an entity’s interest to matter to it, there must be something that it is like – that it feels like – to be that entity; (4) That feeling-of-being this entity possesses must be indicative of the relation of its interest to its being; (5) The relevant part of this feeling-of-being is desire; and hence (6) Desire must, if not identify precisely, at least indicate those interests that are morally relevant, and thus stake out within each life a space for meaning to develop. At each stage this argument proposes an erasure of suffering and its replacement with meaning, or something like it. Call it truth. Call it light. Call it nobility. Call it honesty. Call it freedom. Call it dignity. But it never shows its true face. That true face is that it is correct in one place only, and it locates a truth. Life is morally relevant – that is to say, it matters, but only because it is an evil. It needs to end.’”

Bizzo coughed. Garf was staring at Sal.

“Well,” Garf said.

“Do you agree?” Sal asked.

Do I agree?

“No. No, I fucking love my life, Sal. I would never give it up.”

Sal laughed. He looked at Garf and then at Bizzo. He. shrugged apologetically. “I think people should know about that argument. It is eight centuries old. It shouldn’t have taken Kasakedei to resurrect it, to put it in so-called analytic terms. It is worth hearing.”

“Sometimes I am terrified of you,” Garf said. “I mean that. Sometimes I am.”

“Sorry,” Sal said. He turned his palms up and that hint of good-willed gangliness came back.

“You didn’t bring us here to do – that, did you?”

Sal made a face of pretend-woundedness. Then he laughed and shook his head. “No, no. I came because I thought it would be interesting to see The Defence.”

“You don’t believe in that argument.”

“What can I say?”

“No, you don’t.”

“Well, I don’t believe in it. Crane has some sharp things to say about it.” He looked at them, gauging if this was enough. “I told you it’s not useful, asking me these things. Let’s go.”

“Fuck me,” Garf said. “I am suddenly famished.”

Sal looked at The Defence. He spoke to it. “You’ll be here, won’t you?” Lightly again. “This luminous grave. It must be good. Oh well.” He turned to Bizzo and Garf. “Let’s go.”

Locomotive

A train thrashes through the city. The machinations of ancient switcheries have conspired against this, acres entire of antediluvian and twitching metal all coming together, all conjugated in mute resistance, but this is happening now. The train rams itself down 202 Clumbine/Dixen, past the gurgling throat of South St and its thyroidic emanations, flecked steel and flinty traffic, now Darwyn and 34th, girdles and snappish sphincters all around, moving as if by vulgar oath – insistent, justified, bristling.

It has a purpose, there will be no meandering about it, no foreplay. The people it carries are insects, glass insects. A great borborygmic cackle is its sign and herald. Is it not true, my friends, is it not true that a message is only as good as its deliverer? People in their homes look up at the sudden braid of white metal run like a bright worm through the brain. The train bursts into the Great Arcade, moving in its own exhalations of steam and silver, breaking the glass in the trellis, a barbarous thing through which there comes evening light congealed into pale sweet fluid, a substance for which no name has been given and which falls, even if bereft the necessary taxonomies, onto the ribs and rails as they buck and buckle, a signal that this is indeed the time for this sentinel, this Being with its scatological visitations, this arachnid in a halo of comminuted steel, to reel in by mechanical means old torsions and liabilities yet unresolved. It runs a shiny fuck off past its erstwhile companions lined in their stalls and it is out again, glowered canticle shearing air from other air, even now exultant, even now inexplicable – past Miserere, through the labyrinthine airs of Downing, all its grime now shed, transfiguring safety barriers, peeling paint off the zygotic tunnels, insects inside now stirring in horror and volubility, unaware or aware of how soon they are to be borne aloft on the high spirit airs of explosion. This is one kind of proselytisation made of chrome and thudding parts and murderousness, if only you would look at it—

The train crashes into the outer Wall. It is moving so fast that it buries over half of its shaft in fabulant concrete before its crumpled arse grinds to a shudder and a halt, and finally the fire comes and takes the high section of the wall falling all the way down below where it trundles and rolls gigantic through Parkway and Sennet and Colm St, down the hill of the District, flattening thousands with the weight of its benediction.

Games: 1

“I tell you it’s amazing.”

“It is amazing.”

“Surreal almost.”

“Very possibly.”

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

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

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

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

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

“It was humiliating.”

“It was humiliating.”

“Maybe we should all have expected it.”

“No, no –”

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

“Two months, though.”

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

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

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

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

Boa constrictor.”

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

“Thank you.”

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

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

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

“Maybe this is his kind of style.”

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

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

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

“Salix?”

“He was sort of dazed.”

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

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

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

“Annoyed? What about?”

“Never mind. Who knows?”

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

“You really think so.”

“I do really think so.”

“Well, maybe – ”

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

“It’s high drama.”

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

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

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

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

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

“The sheer number.”

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

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

“What?”

“I’ve been noticing things about him.”

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

Unprofessional? You talk like a capitalist.”

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That was his famous save.”

“That was the famous save.”

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

“You’re exaggerating.”

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

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

“It’s very deep but it’s also fun.”

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

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

“Vast, really.”

“Tremendous.”

“I don’t understand it.”

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

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

“In any case, he’s said no.”

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

“It’s big.”

“It’s fucking shitdrizzlingly colossal.”

“Maybe it’s too easy for him.”

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

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

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

“My point was.”

“We should get him to lose, then.”

“Mar?”

“I really like you.”

“Thank you.”

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

“I really appreciate this.”

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

“I don’t wank.”

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

“Hey. It was a joke.”

“It was a joke.”

“It was a joke.”

“A joke?”

“I wanted to see your reaction.”

“You’ve got my reaction.”

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

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

“More interesting for the audience too.”

“Mar.”

“Yes.”

“Stop being a turd.”

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

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

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

“You could talk to him directly.”

“Hm. Well. He’s a bit scary.”

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

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

“Yeah.”

“We’re making history.”

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

“You know what I mean.”

“Yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Hmm.”

“Do you know what I think?”

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

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

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

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

“Breakfast,” Garfield said.

“Naked.”

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

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

“Hey,” he said, into the air.

“Are you thinking?”

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

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

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

“Please,” she said.

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

“You sound like your age.”

“I’m hungry.”

“There’s something downstairs.”

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

“What?”

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

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

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

“As?”

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

“What’s the problem, then?”

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

“They’re enjoying it.”

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

“Do you find people very stupid?”

“No,” Salix said, slowly.

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

He grinned. “I find you pretty stupid.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Say that your grades are slipping.”

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

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

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

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

“I want a walk. I’ll come.”

“Have you seen the stuff we are doing?”

“You could show me.”

“You’ll be interested.”

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

“I’ll get the car.”

“Can we walk?”

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

“Sure, do that.”

“Where’d we get them?”

“Last war.”

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

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

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

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

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

“And what happens?” Salix said.

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

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

“They’re very happy,” Garf said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garf said, “Oh yes. Lots.”

“What were they listening to?”

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

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

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.”