Last

Even now the house remains unchanged.

That is to say essentially the same even though of course there are small details one might talk about.

But outside –

Outside it appears that the rules do not apply.

Or perhaps once they applied everywhere but today they are confined here, to this place, to this house, with the fire.

Assuming that there were any rules in the first place, anything to constrain the house.

Perhaps it makes more sense to speak of tendencies rather than rules.

In any case he is downstairs now, and the fire is warm.

The house shakes softly.

Somehow he has never realised that even the house could shake.

For a long time he has not come here.

That might be mostly because there has simply been no need.

It is standing before the door.

It is entirely awake.

“Well, here we are,” he says.

“Yes,” it says.

“It you think about it this was always bound to happen,” he says.

“No,” it says, immediately.

“Well, here we are nonetheless,” he says.

It paces and goes round in one tight circle. It goes up to the window once, its old habit, and then it comes back.

It turns to the door and goes up to it and comes back and then does it again.

“Here we are,” he says, to himself.

“I can help you,” it says.

“You have given me so much,” he says.

“Yes,” it says, “but no matter.”

He goes to the window, the low window, the one that looks outward at all the water.

Suddenly he feels lonely.

No, that was not correct. He is anticipating it, not feeling it now.

Although it might as well be the same.

All these things are always very hard to disentangle.

Come to think of it, it has never been clear what exactly why this window was built right here.

An error, perhaps.

The point is that one can imagine this window being better placed elsewhere.

In any case he looks out of it now.

The thing about the ocean is that its size can only really be appreciated like this, in the flesh.

The water moves.

The water becomes big and comes without stopping.

This is the kind of sea which stops all ships from coming.

In fact the water is so big that it goes over the house and comes right over a long ridge of mountains.

Over the mountains there a place where there might be many homes, clustered together, on top of each other, lights intimated by each other, coming all together in this way, even though he has not thought there could ever be others here.

The water washes it all away.

It hugs the buildings with its bulk and dowses them over.

It pushes all the air aside. It is all very huge and very grey.

All this happens very slowly.

He is terrified. He is so scared he can hardly breathe.

“Can it come in another way?” he says.

“Yes,” it says.

It looks at him and then all the water is in the house.

It is simply there, without any fuss, and all of it at once, too.

“Oh,” he says, marvelling now at how small it seems. “Oh,” he says, again, realising.

It looks at him.

Light is coming from the windows, although it is pale as milk.

“I know you,” he says. “I saw you once, near the place where Erth was living. You had a name, didn’t you? You had a name. Went.”

“Went,” it says, “yes, Went.”

It comes to him and its forelimbs go on his shoulders.

There may be more limbs but the point is that it is on his shoulders and it is a great weight bearing him down.

It stares at him.

For a creature so often given to sleep it appears to be surprisingly alive.

Not alive. The word was awake, that was the word he was looking for.

“Thank you,” it says.

It is hard to hear.

This is mostly because of the fact that it speaks very softly.

Although it has always spoken rather softly, if one remembers correctly.

He recognises something strange about the way in which all of this is said, however.

That is, the creature appears utterly heartbroken.

It is very close to him. He can see all the way inside its mouth.

It has always taken care, he realises, not to draw attention to its mouth.

“I’ve done something wrong, haven’t I?” he says.

“Yes,” it says. “Thank you.”

He waits.

“I can help you,” it says.

The weight is unbearable.

It lets go of him for looks at him for a moment and moves to the door again.

He goes to the window and looks out.

His hand goes on the sill.

He pulls the window open.

He struggles for a moment with the rusted bolt but then the window is open.

Water comes in and goes on the floor. He closes his eyes.

He just stands there getting wet.

It is a strange thing, that the water at this time feels so warm.

It does not come over to the window, which is to say that it remains by the door.

This behaviour is uncharacteristic.

Although he cannot precisely remember what it has done before the impression is still given that this is not characteristic.

“You should come and see,” he says.

“I know,” it says.

Why had he ever tried to hide his purpose? It strikes him that sometimes he is very naive.

“I’ll be going” he says. “I’ll be going now, probably.”

“Do you want me to go with you?” it says.

He comes to the door.

“You like it more inside,” he says.

He has no particular reason to believe this but it is true enough.

“I can come with you,” it says.

He reaches out with his hand which drips with rain from the window which is still open and he pulls the door open.

It moves aside to let the door open fully, of course.

Its feet, which it uses sometimes, make noises against the floor.

He remembers how the floor shone when he first let it into the house.

He stands in the doorway looking out.

“I think perhaps you should stay here,” he says.

“It is only a house,” it says.

That is impossible to deny.

But there is much to be said in favour of a house.

“I can make it go,” it says.

He seems to understand that well enough.

“How?” he says.

That was not at all what he was trying to say.

“It’s more than just that,” he says. “It’s not just the one thing.”

The issue is that when he attempts to speak to it he ends up attempting to say things that cannot, properly speaking, be said.

“I can make it all go,” it says.

“All,” he says.

He considers this

It considers this, too.

It appears to be striving towards something.

“Since that appears to be the problem,” it says. “All –”

He stays there in the doorway for a long time, and it remains beside him, both of them becoming drenched.

He steps through the doorway and gasps at the water.

He takes several more steps. The ground is wet and the stones are slippery and they shine. But it is not impossible to walk. It is a challenge that is not wholly unwelcome.

“The rest of them?” he says. “What happens?”

It is standing in the doorway, or perhaps it is merely sitting, or perhaps it has moved away from the doorway. Most likely it is simply standing there.

“If it all goes,” it says, “the rest go too. I can do all of this.”

“Don’t,” he says, although he takes a shudder in the middle of the word, a thrill. “Just stay with the house.” He turns around and walks on, following the very edge, swaying despite his best efforts. The water is like a physical thing, there is so much of it. But its basic nature is harmless.

“I can destroy everything,” it says, pleading.

He is surprised, but only for a moment, that it would use that word, in that way, now. But then it seems entirely predictable, once he thinks about it.

“I can help you.”

But he does not look back. If he does he might just fall apart with gratitude and he is moving now, and he is outside the house.

“There might be nothing left,” it calls, from far way.

He goes on for some time.

Then he realises something. It is an awful thought, unthinkable, even. He runs back to the house. He slips once and goes in the wet soil but he gets up immediately. It is still there in the open doorway when he gets back.

“The last thing,” he says, panting. His clothes stick to his skin, which is warm.“You were not threatening me. Are you – ”

“No,” it says. “No, I would never – How could I? You know me.”

He leans against it and finally cries without a sound. “You understand why I am doing this,” he says eventually.

It is a small thing in the doorway. “No,” it says.

“Well – if –”

“What? Say it.”

“I am sorry too. Will there be someone after me?”

“I do not know.”

“There is no rule for determining it, then.”

“There are no rules for any of us.”

“But I am leaving now.”

“Yes.”

“And there is nothing that you can do.”

“It makes no difference. “

He looks up. “Maybe there are some rules, then.”

“Maybe. Be careful of all the water.”

And he goes again. He does not come back.

Kind of getting away: 13

Day two and I think of my close my life is – all the ways in which it could have been – can be – perfect.

Dusk comes and takes up the places between the trees. Mild and serum light settling down. The kind of light that brings colour to the sky but exhausts its purpose there and so can only turn everything else into silhouette. Really it is unspeakable. I imagine how my face looks now, a blue totem in a blue hour.

It is good to be out, here, in the tent. There is sincerity in the idea of shelter. Just shelter, not the idea of a home. Something far more basic, far more inherent, something far more in this sense like a silhouette. A space in which to put up a little light, to coax forth a little warmth and tender it for nothing. Feel its smallness. Shelter is the basic condition, I think. I mean, just – what does it say? It says: everything is out there, and I am in here, I am apart. Look at this tent, this little yellow thing. What is it really? What can it offer? So much a function of its shape and how it is seen rather than what it really is. Why should I have any affection for it at all?

But I am happy. I think of the evening. I think of the tent and the migration report I have to write. I think of the coming gestures of the night. I think of Helper’s patience.

That is important, actually. The thing is that when I am around other people I find that they have modes, vibrations, certain harmonics of being, certain methods of calling up from inside themselves some unfounded coherence.  So often with people you need modes. I remember friends who are always cynical, so afraid of the idea of sincerity because that would mean nailing themselves down and letting the light touch them and no fucking thanks. They drag me that way. We speak and our words are rushing sibilances, sly and shining extraterrestrial missiles that glance off everything but trade in nothing. Sometimes with a friend I am forced to be a conspirator standing against the world: look at all the idiots around us, look at their irreversible cobalt eyes, rancid lips glued shut with sperm. Sometimes I need to enter a tottering skit, a looping pathology of gastric funniness, ha-ha, ha-ha, parasite living off amphetamines that are not in me. This is why Helper is important. The good thing about Helper is that it does not need any acting. There is no panic like a glassy undertow. I don’t have a mode. I don’t need a mode and it’s just such a relief.

Just before I left I went out onto the Wash again. To prepare myself for this? Well, not really. I stood there in the mud and left myself be held by the thought that all the water has been here for millions of years. This vast flat expanse and its slow shallow pulse a pattern completely unrequired of time and completely ignorant of it. A grey heart gurgling from wimples of sand, going on just like that, without shame. All of this is all of a piece. But something had changed. Something was different this time. I held some mud in my hand and it was just mud. Could not be squeezed dry. Could not be made still. It dribbled all the way down my arm. The weather was very cold and the mud was cold too. This is the only way mud can be: on a plain, under a hanging sky, holding under it the curve of the world. Not offering it protection, not eating at it, not hiding it, just holding it, touching it at every point, without anything more.

I was standing there for I don’t know how long, trying to pinpoint it, when I heard Helper coming over. Helper makes no noise when it moves, but it’s figured out that it’s general social niceness to do something unintrusive to let a deaf little human know you’re coming. So there’s this soft whirring sound.

“I’ve got your Allweather,” it said, offering it.

“Thanks,” I said. It was very cold and I was shivering.

“We can go tomorrow if you’d rather that,” Helper said.

“No,” I said. “I’ll get one last shower and then we’ll go.”

“I’ll get your stuff.”

“Uh, don’t worry about it. It’s better if I pack anyway.”

I headed back to the house. I’d only gone about a kilometre out and so it didn’t take long. When I got there I looked back and Helper was still there on the Wash, one kind of grey set against another, looking out, or maybe looking at where I had stood, that small sandy dimple and the curls of mud the only blemish on that expanse.

Note Concerning a Wreck named T—, Published in Mariner Issue No.455, 2983rd year, aut: The Golden Whale

It was called Unsinkable. Not unsinkable, but capital-U Unsinkable, to indicate that this vessel did not merely possess this characteristic, but fully owned it, exercised dominion over it. As if the very nature of unsinkability was to be found embedded in its hull, inside the metal frame, the antithesis of the idea of weakness. Was not to be disentangled from it. Maybe this capital-U Unsinkability was nestled placentally among the ropes, or maybe was stashed, glowing secretly, in the cargo hold, or made its home in the forest of davits that lined pockets of the deck.

It was very beautiful. (The “is” does ask itself, but maybe later.) It was made during that time when people didn’t really think about beauty when building something, but thought more about things like, I suppose, weight, size, solidity, nobility, aristocracy – and so really it must have been beautiful. Unconsciously. It is very easy to see even now its big bronze nose opening the pages of the water. Lumbering along. Well, not lumbering, but with the feeling of lumbering. With weight and confidence.

At seven minutes past midnight on June 1246[1] the ship collided with an iceberg. A miscommunication meant that its position had been relayed wrongly, and by the time it was spotted and the 113-tonne rudder was turned to move the ship hard to port it was too late. The inertia of a 80,000-tonne ship travelling at over 40 knots is very substantial.

The iceberg collided glancingly with the bow, crumpling a W-shaped section of it about 20 metres across, and then dragged itself along the starboard hull. It was the damage caused by the latter that proved fatal. The hull was too thick to break, but buckled inwards at portions along a 400-foot span, pulling the rivets that held the plates together loose and allowing water to flood into seven of the forward compartments. The total area of the openings that were created was less than four square metres. Water came through this space at a rate of 10 long tonnes per second. There is a bitterness to the thought that if the T— had not attempted to avoid the iceberg, and have collided with it head-on, it would probably have survived – only two compartments would have been flooded otherwise, or at least this is as much as I am willing to guess right now. Just before the collision a radio cry went out, tangled in the ionosphere, but the nearest ship, the D—, was too far away to be of assistance.

At 1.12 a gangway door was opened in the port side of the ship to load passengers onto the lifeboats. Four minutes later a wall of water came through this opening, and to the horror of the engineers it was found that the massive door could not be closed; gravity and the increasing lean of the ship made it simply impossible. At this point Engine Rooms 1 and 2 were fully flooded, and water was coming through Engine Room 3 into the main gangway of the lower G deck, where nearly two thousand people were crammed. Most of them died.

One hour later the bow had filled with so much water that its weight lifted the stern clear of the sea, exposing the propellers, each 7 times the height of a man, and causing one of the funnels to crack. The stresses building up on the middle of the ship soon became catastrophic. At 2.35 the water in Engine Room 4 reached the main cable bundle that carried power to the rest of the ship. The housings had peeled off as the entire room had warped with the ship – one end of the room was a full two feet lower than the other. At 2.37 the lights on the T— that had filled its corridors and halls with brightness and made the sea shine flickered once, came back on, flickered again, and went out.

Then the T— cracked in half. The sound was so alien that very few of the passengers recognized it for what it was. It was a groan, a rattle, an agonised tearing noise that went on for over 20 seconds, not the explosion that many expected.  The T— broke in two at one of its weakest points in the structure, the area of the main engine room hatch. All the decks were ripped in two, but the double-bottomed hull held for a minute longer, so that as the bow descended it pulled the stern along, lifting it over 45° out of the water, until the two-inch plates holding the two halves of the ship together snapped and the bow rolled free into the freezing water.

The hydrodynamic leading edge of the bow meant that it descended smoothly at a steep angle and gained speed fast. The water flowing over it sheared the funnels away. As they detached the tangle of ropes they took with them scoured the decks clean. The wheelhouse crumbled away. After eight minutes of relentless descent in the dark the bow crashed into the seafloor at 42km/h, digging itself 20m into the mud. The impact bent the hull in two places and caused it to buckle downwards by about 16° under the forward well deck cranes and by about 7° under the forward expansion joint. The weakened decks at the rear, where the ship had broken apart, collapsed on top of each other. The forward hatch cover was also blown off and landed a couple of hundred feet in front of the bow due to the force of water being pushed out as the bow was crushed against the bottom. A slipstream formed behind the bow as it was falling, and when the bow hit the seafloor a 6000-tonne column of water crushed the bridge into an puzzlement of broken steel.   The vertical steel columns supporting the decks were bent into C-shapes, railings were blown outwards, and the roof of the crew quarters and main hall were pushed in.

On the surface the forward section of the stern, having fallen back into the water, was filling so fast that in 20 minutes it assumed a near-vertical position and was dragged beneath the surface. It lacked a streamlined leading edge, so its descent was traumatic. As it sank the rudder swung around to a 40° angle, so it tumbled and corkscrewed tightly as it fell, rotating slowly like a Dipterocarp seed or a helicopter blade. A large V-shaped forward section just aft of midships, the weakest portion of the ship due to the two large spaces it contained (the First Class Stair and fuel store), simply disintegrated into nothing, spitting its contents into the blackness. The engines tumbled out like hundred-tonne marbles.

Unlike the bow the stern had not fully filled with water, and so for five kilometres it made its tortured descent to an overwhelming symphony of sounds: compartments imploding, bulkheads rupturing, steel support warping, hull plates ripping out, the poop deck folding in on itself, spraying out debris over kilometres of ocean floor. Crackings and slow grinding peals echoed for hundreds of kilometres.

When the stern reached the seabed the decks pancaked so violently that today no single deck is more than a foot in height. The hull plates splayed out to either side of the shattered section. The center propeller is totally buried, while the force of the impact caused the two wing propellers and shafts to be bent upwards by an angle of about 20°. The naked eye finds it difficult to believe that this is the stern of a ship.

When T— sank she carried over 2000 to the bottom with her. Imagine what is was like to be them, sitting in this celebration of metal feeling to the grand shudderings, the soft buffetings that muffle the catastrophe outside, hearing the colossal wrenching and trembling sounding everywhere. I want to say that this is too terrible to imagine, but of course it is not. We are all drawn to this kind of grandeur. There is something hortatory about it.

It is all too easy to imagine.

For those of you who are kind enough to read my reports regularly (enjoying, I hope, my writing) and are aware of my hobby then this note comes as a small surprise to you, concerning as it does a great tragedy of no particular importance happening on an old and primitive world. I suppose I owe you, in some form or another, an explanation of my fascination with T—.  It reminds me of me: a great new vessel golden in brass and manganese and steel nosing its way into the night, a ship with too much love in its name, a symbol of a gilded age, weighed down, pushed forward by the pride of an entire people, faultless and nimble as it darted across a sea, ended by something as old and slow as ice. There are many things out here that are older than me, and slower, and I fear that one of these will nick me fatally, and bring me to my end.

[A brief biological survey of the site was undertaken. The results were extraordinary. For the new organism discovered I suggest the name Halomonas theophagia.]

[1] Local reference

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.