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.

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.”

Visitation: 1

“—and the weirdest thing that happened, by which I mean not necessarily the funniest but certainly the most surreal and I suppose if you think about it maybe even instructive, was something that happened just after the Khorsan Shit-Surge –”

“Khorsan Shit-Surge? You mean the bombing of the waste processing—”

“The Khorsan Shit-Surge is its proper name, proper meaning the name we, the perpetrators, gave it, of course. But as I was saying, what happened was that L. broke his penis. I see you sceptical faces but allow me to elaborate and make more plausible what I know sounds to be an implausibly farcical situation. What happened was that L. decided to celebrate the KSS by fucking some native guy, having grown rather overfamiliar with us, and so booked a hotel room with two single beds for the act. And it was by all accounts, by which I mean his account, going very well, since if I remember correctly this guy had unconscionable stamina. And so L. is fucking this darling cumlet (his words) up the arse, in the very throes of high passion, when he withdraws his penis to attempt a truly heroic thrust, to really skewer this fine fellow, and because they had taken the two single beds and joined them together by the primitive expedient of shoving them together and covering them with a blanket, (a room with a double bed had been considered and rejected by L. since Ditarod society is highly suspicious of homosexuals, feeling perhaps collectively threatened by their collective sexual vigour and exuberance, and one room with a double bed for two men crossed a certain threshold of apparent suspiciousness in L.’s generally highly accurate estimation) some combination of action and reaction occasioned by L.’s rearing, tensing of the fleshy and tendinous fasciculi of the lower back to arch the spine and bare the cock in prelude to the rigid muscular thrust that was to follow, and the backwards force exerted on one of beds and the complex trusswork of springs and struts maintaining the bed’s taut yet smooth and pliable surface, causes the beds to slip ever so slightly apart and one of them to fold inward in a subtle way, with the result that L.’s cock, previously so precisely honed in on the other guy’s anus, veers off course and ploughs with still-unchecked force into the otherwise pleasingly well-developed gluteus maximus of the other guy’s left butt-cheek. The guy yelps and gets a bruise that swells, passes through a phantasmagoric array of colours, and eventually dissolves, over the course of a week or so, but poor L. – and he has a penis which, I can assure you, when in the full fastness of complete tumescence is very rigid indeed – takes the full brunt of that vehement thrust on his penis, which has a much smaller cross-sectional area than his partner’s gluteus maximus, and so breaks. That is not the formal term, of course, there being no bone in the penis, (which after all needs to change size and posture quite often and so would not benefit, evolutionarily speaking, from the scaffolding of a rigid bone) but that is the term all the relevant people deployed, relevant of course referring to us eco-terrorists, for something in the penis had in fact broken, some sliver or vital spirit or anima had snapped, had been cleft in twain as I believe L. had said.

“L. proceeded with haste to the local hospital where an operation was performed of which he had little direct experience since he was anaesthetized, anaesthetic being necessary since no self-aware creature has developed the poise of constitution necessary to withstand one’s member being hemmed and hawed over by a group of strangers with whom one does not plan to have intercourse with in the short-to-middle term. The long and short of it was that while L.’s penis was sort of repaired the inconvenience which the penis-breaking occasioned had only begun. L. had to take a flight back to meet us but had been told by his doctors that every hour his penis had to be thoroughly iced in order to reduce (unwanted) swelling and to minimize post-operational discomfort. There is I think an interesting observation to be made here about the general state of medical technology on Ditarod, which is that even though in a high-functioning if deeply pathological capitalist society people should in general be willing to pay through the nose to demand the best possible services to repair damaged genitals, genitals being so important in general social joshing and occupying something of a totemic pride of place re conceptions of self-worth, dignity etc. as far as bodily appendages are concerned, genital repair services on Ditarod were so primitive that a waddling and tragically un-reinterpretable gait and timely icing were necessitated by even the most sophisticated operational procedures. But the main thing was that this particular icing requirement caused L. quite some embarrassment on the flight back to meet us, since every hour he had the raise his hand to catch the eye of the air stewardess and ask for ice – no, not ice in a drink, or even in a cup, just a bag of ice, please, and no, thanks for the concern, but he was most certainly not feverish at that moment – and while people stared (he got an aisle seat) he would put the ice on his trousers over where his penis approximately was and the ice would slowly melt leaving him with a form-hugging little bag of cold water and condensation would collect on it and soak his trousers so that he looked as if he was incontinent, rather than having merely a broken cock – and then an hour later, which was before the damp had left his trousers even in the very dry air of the cabin, he would have to very discreetly get the attention of the air stewardess again, and say, could I – until of course she was finishing his sentences while her look metamorphosed from one of bemusement to unbearable pity and compassion. The whole situation was so excruciating that that once or twice L. resorted to taking the ice with him into the toilet and dunking his penis into the bag, eventually stopping this experimental practice because it was a hassle plus he could not use the toilet if it was occupied or when there was turbulence and, if he thought about it, the implications of his proceeding to the toilet for long periods with a bag of ice were at least just as disturbing (if more puzzling) as him sitting there while a patch of velvety blue metastized across his groin, besides dunking his cock in ice cubes resulted in painfully uneven cooling, and if he waited and tolerated it until the ice had melted somewhat the pain went away but only because his penis was turning a deathly shade of maroon.

“But the worst thing, and this, if you know L. (which you do not, so make my word for it) really was the worst thing, was the fact that the doctors had told him that under no circumstances whatsoever was he to let himself get an erection. If L. had been in the company of a loving and supportive group of friends and colleagues I suppose they would have escorted him from one sexless public space to another, turning aside each erogenous object, fastidiously avoiding beautiful people and paring down their vocabulary to the most blandly functional, but instead L. was trapped for the next month with us, and we were all of us fascinated to see what a broken (or only recently un-broken) penis would look like if erect – like a punctured blimp attempting lift-off, Cortanse speculated, or two slugs very tightly entwined in a pink mating-dance – and we would burst into his room naked, all us beautiful men and women, a posse of irresistible eco-terrorists, and we would dance with our penises and breasts flopping around as if possessed while poor L. screamed and cowered in his bed and used his blanket (on which, in a show of unspeakable venality, we had inked all over with minute and cleverly tessellating penises) to cover his eyes in an attempt to ward off our limbic onslaught, until he nearly passed out from sobbing with self-control, from the sheer effort his will expended while swathed in a halo of venereal glory.”

“That all sounds very cruel.”

“Being a terrorist demands a certain steeliness, a viciousness of temperament.”

“still—”

“You could never be a terrorist, Garf, and I cannot expect you to understand. I am not angry. It was too much to expect.”

“Well, you can just – are you laughing, Sal?”

“I can tell you that L.’s torment did not end there. We sent him messages marked URGENT: RESP IMM containing only images of the most crushingly well-formed men. We scoured the pornographic stashes online (our AI, good old Semirhange, must have downloaded a fifth of the internet) for the most vivid and hallucinatory –”

“What happened in the end?”

“In the end?”

“You know, after.”

“In the end L. came back one day in a total paroxysm of joy because he had accidentally had an erection – one of our messages had triggered it, at last – and it had been fine. The thing had not erupted into a geyser of blood or deflated terribly like a balloon, no, it had just been fine. L. was so happy that he lay on the floor in the foetal position and sobbed like a child, a large and horny child, I grant, but with innocence nonetheless. We could all understand. It had not been a good time for him. When he tried to confront us we would run at him with high-quality glossy porno printouts and he had no choice but to weep and flee.”

“When he recovered I hope he beat the shit out of you.”

“Of course not.”

“What did he do.”

“He fucked us.”

“Oh.”

“We’re here,” Sal said, and stood up. He looked at Bizzo. “It’s fine, Bizzo. Let’s go.”

“Of course it’s fine,” Bizzo said. He blinked. “Why wouldn’t it be fine?”

“You get talkative when you’re nervous,” Sal said.

“What?”

“You’re excellent when you’re talkative,” Sal said. They got out of the train carriage. It was nearly empty. “I wouldn’t have expected it.”

The exit took them to the edge of a large field. The sign said: Malament; Wrecked Church & Old Park.

“It’s okay, Bizzo,” Garf said. “Seriously. It’s not like The Defence is going to eat you or anything.”

“It has —” Bizzo protested, but there was little energy in it to match his sincerity. He coughed and made a face.

Garf went down the steps. “Gorgeous day,” she said.

And indeed it was. All of Old Park lay tremulous and dazed in the sun. Birds lodged in trees panted, struck speechless by the heat, rare calls like faults in the air, shrink-wrapped eroticisms hurled and taken aloft…

Stizostedion was an overprotected world. The Kingdom made no pretence about its value, and things had been done to the place, things discussed in other quarters with fear and trembling, with fury and appreciation approaching extremes that might be termed aesthetic, with a film of despair, even, and envy… There were the great armouries on all the Gates that led to Stize. There were the onworld Gatekeepers; a ludicrous 228 of them, when Naze, the capital, had only 24. And then, and then…ah, there was QC with its Composite Dust, Drizzle to End All Days, two grams of which had been sufficient in wilder days to raze three cities on Moheger and transform the Union’s 5th Battle Group (Mixed) into a mere commixture of essential dusts then pressed into a boule of machine essence and expelled just before noon onto the plains of Saracen, an ingot of ambitions too tragic to even speak about…and yet on Stize CD was the very air itself, and the even the light that came through it was a membrane plucked clean by force, that carried the basic grace that came from having asked permission,  amniotic rigging strung through the air as mucosae sticky with predatory intent, ardour made manifest in a trillion trillion shudders and gasps, a twining together of motes, of unnumbered urges, aches, infatuations, eggings – into a coil of awareness bent upon itself, bent upon the entire world, a chrysalis that invited, a veil that was all voraciousness, oh come, oh come indeed all ye faithful…

But that was not enough. What if there was a rent somewhere? What then? What if the ravenous panoply fails? What then? And so one arrives at The Defence.

Beneath the Wrecked Church there was a single Hasp.

This Man Is A City

This man is a city. He carries a city with him; he is bowed under its huge weight. I can wander across – through – this city of flesh, if I want to, but I am unfamiliar with it. In this city he puts up signs. Signs for roads and other ends. They corral the arteries through which blood flows inert and unblinking. Cars in their haloes. At some point all the blood was emptied out and replaced with this. He could if he wanted to turn all the signs to red, make all the lights red, making the huge stammers of the vehicles clench to a halt. At night I insult him and the city comes alive. With a static hiss, a roar smeared across a million little radios, it comes awake. The corrugated eye levers open. I give him a wound and

the city gives me in return a vast pallor of skin curled up like a fist. In the city buildings come up; construction happens, intricately. Buildings come up, all wonders of sutured concrete. People go in and out of the buildings, which are all empty, and some of which are burnt. The buildings gleam. The buildings share the noon’s tyranny, standing there godding the sky. I try to go between them but they close down, they close in on me and the spaces quickly disappear. Junctions emerge, bud and stiffen like nerves. I turn and a full fathom of blocks comes up in the space of a breath. He is a constructor, and he works fast. I laugh and an asylum rises and snaps shut around me. This is a rude joke.

I move in him and highways fold back on themselves, bend and crack and join, building a cage for an iron queen miles and miles across. Apartments slip and slide down glaciers of tarmac. He is a palaeontologist, an industrialist with an immaculate sense of place. Gates are put up in the veins, bald bones with hinges. I move again, testing, offering condolences, but the red savannah of the liver is in my way, choked with life and fixed in a grin. The grin is made of paving, or something much like it. Doors and gates flap open and shut like teeth. Gates, so many gates. There are things outside the gates,

even. He knows the need for commerce. Risks have to be taken. All cities have defences. There is a luminary in him that is not the sun. The luminary indwells the city and the city indwells him and I can hold the outline of his heart for ransom, but not from here. Maybe

now, exactly now. Along the estuaries to the heart the cars stop. A voice volleys the blood, the ribs hinge open, his cells grow bald and gibbous. He doesn’t bother to wait. It was never really like him. A static thunder comes wedged against the sky, lengthwise. He might be awake now. This might be the way the city says this. After all cities do not usually speak. And they do not speak clearly.

Machine Anxiety

In Wilcox, that is the Wilcox of 2987, although the timebound nature of the subject of the following is surely subject to dispute, there was a tractor. It was green and had a yellow stripe running down the side of the cab; it was a fine tractor. It was big and semiarticulated and had a four-wheel drive and its wheels with their grooved tires were nearly twice the height of a man. It had a big nose that elegantly sloped like a dog’s snout tipped with sportish headlights flush with the surface and it gleamed unnecessarily and greenly in the light although it was well-used. Its model name was 3623TR. Its demeanour was friendly and its disposition unassuming. It had 400hp (300 for the PTO) and was powered (initially and possibly only ever) by an 11.2L RRO with variable and fixed geometry turbochargers and supercooled manifold systems, evidently a new industry standard, and had infinitely variable transmission. Its hydraulic capacity was 370L/min and its hitch-lift capacity was just under 11,500kg. The front axle had a high-capacity wet clutch splined to the transmission output shaft consisting of one large coned-disc spring, six separator plates, and six friction disks. The torque transfer was demonstrably excellent.

In the autumn the tractor began killing people, indeed, consuming them really was closer to the truth of it, so vital was the sequence of events, and carried out with such lithe atavism. The first ingested subject was found on the morning of the 23rd with his head popped like a grape under the front left tire and his body mushed into the soil. The manner of the death was obvious but the sequence of events that could have encouraged or compelled a grown and largely sensible adult to lie in the path of a tractor, and such a fine tractor at that, was never made out. Indeed the local police never figured out after two weeks of their tracers going around everywhere who had been driving the vehicle with the variable and fixed geometry turbos when Stu had been creamed. Nobody had the heart in them to blame the tractor, since the very sight of it filled one with virility and hope. And in any case the thing moved too slowly for it to surprise anyone. It bore its majesty with great weight. A 3623TR weighed nearly twenty tons. Stu’s fault.

The tractor was cleaned and placed in the garage. The owner considered selling it but there was no good reason to part with it and so it was not sold. It was inspected and it was dutifully noted that there was nothing amiss about it. The second person  was found pulped in the fields a week later and there was nothing new about it except that the tractor had apparently gone over her and then back again and so she was cut all the way through the middle. The owner insisted that he had locked the garage and that he had the key and was asked severe questions but no reason for his murdering his wife could be reasonably discerned since by all accounts their relationship had been uncommonly healthy and numerous individuals of good standing in the community testified to this effect. It was while the owner was in custody that the third thing happened, which was that the tractor which had been placed in a cordon evidently left its place in the field and rumbled several kilometres through the adjoining field, leaving muddy troughs in its wake, and rolled over a full family of four, which family was spread or smeared or ground over a patch of field about twenty metres by fifteen across. The cordon had not been broken and the tractor was a bit muddy. How it managed to run over an entire family was altogether beyond reckoning.

A serious manhunt began, the owner was released, and he stopped using the tractor after people stared at him when he tried to do so. Nonetheless everyone said it was a pity, truly a pity, that he had to stop using it, because of course it was an excellent vehicle and surely the objection to its open use was only a gesture of respect for the victims’ families (owner included.) Children sneaked into the garage to look at the tractor with the yellow wheel rims and the gorgeous rhinal slope and four-wheel drive. But the tractor’s violence did not stop with its permanent confinement in the garage, for in a month it appeared in an entirely  different town quite some distance away and again there was a squelching; a man who had decided to take a walk early in the morning. How it arrived there no-one knew as this time there were no tracks although the folding mechanism on the garage door did whine and wrench and give out when the owner, hearing of the news, staggered out to see if it was in fact true that the tractor he did not use had appeared nearly sixty kilometres away. There was no sign that the tractor had been occupied at the relevant time. The media called it a rampage.

No-one ever saw it happening. No-one saw the tractor move, even if the necessity and the traces of such movement were plain to see. No-one saw it escape the garage and no-one saw it come trundling after people. People became afraid. In the evenings people shut the doors and at night they looked across the fields and the roads to watch for a gleaming that came around like murder, luminous green and yellow executions. No-one thought that if it came there would be a sound to alert them: for surely the tractor came silent footloose through the halls of the night. The tractor’s prowling spread, its circle of territory grew. It fell through the attic of a nondescript white building on the outskirts of the city into the nursery on the first floor. It got people in fields. It got people on roads, proper roads and small dirt roads. It got a woman in her car who had come back from shopping tired and had fallen asleep at the wheel two metres from her front door. The body never got retrieved, properly speaking.

The police took the tractor away. They put it in a room with blastproof doors and they looked at it with cameras, or rather the cameras looked at the glowing semiarticulated thing with the impressive hitch-lift capacity and then people looked at the records afterwards. There were movement sensors and heat sensors and sensors that sensed radio waves and infrared and UV besides. The tractor did not move. The cameras said it did not move. The sensors sensed nothing. The tractor did what tractors, even good robust tractors, did when not being driven, which was sit virginally where it was.

The tractor’s range grew and the sporadic attacks became more frequent. It made excursions into the city. It appeared in a basement where there had been a party of some sort. Its appetite must have grown for even all over its soft nose there was human muck, and its back too, not just the sturdy 2057mm wheels with the mobile supercoefficient treads. The tractor had moved back and forth in the small space … sweat and loud music, fuel injections and machine purring. The pictures were vivid and beflecked.

One notable case involved the tractor crushing to death a well-to-do couple in a gorgeous flat in Hold Ave as they were in the act of copulation. The thing had evidently just dumped itself right on top of them because the weight had taken the couple still locked together right through the floor into the apartment below. The man and woman or the pieces of them rather had Vs from the treads embossed into them really deep and at points right through them. The man’s only slightly flaccid penis poked with minimalist intensity from the mess even though it was blue in death. People didn’t say it, of course, but you could imagine … the soft sounds or loud sounds, the traffic muted by the expensive windows, the sounds all here near and far away, clean fleshy sounds and bright sounds of pure locution, darkness and reflexive arcs, the bed interpreting all this as simple harmonic motion, and then a light bright as a god, two shining headlamps bearing down with metaphysical brilliance, the deep recursive roar of the 11.2L RRO, the oil and shift of the front axle coming down. But why wouldn’t people imagine? Could one not imagine being pinned under that great weight of love, all that blatant metal, unashamed of the need to maintain some distance between the signifier and the signified, that grinding and breaking under the weight, like the grind and break of orgasm… But such thoughts would only be entertained.

This was all impossible because the tractor was with the police. The media speculated: there were many tractors. And indeed there were. But the police took in the bloody hulks wherever they found them and said that all of them were the same tractor because the signs of wear and tear were same all the way down to the atom. They had pictures with three tractors lined up: the original, and another that was the same, and another that was the same (this was not yet cleaned and so there was a little blood on the hood.) The police hounded the tractors and put them all in the room. But then at some point  there was only one tractor on the room, and the cameras said only one had ever been there, while everyone involved clearly remembered taking the rest of the tractors in, and the people who had been killed remained dead, so something must have happened involving tractors, green and yellow tractors with spacious cabs and fine raised leather seats, and death.

A possible lead emerged when a man had both legs severed by the tractor but otherwise remained conscious throughout (it was assumed) the whole ordeal. He was a gibbering mess inside his head however and only insisted that he had seen a terrible light and a vast weight come over him, a firmament of sound entire, and when asked if a tractor had been involved said only it had been Maman.

Eventually a mob attacked the tractor where it was found even before the police were told. A fire was built around it but some immanence in the thing kept it lustrous in the flames even after thermite was poured on. The second mob took it to an industrial recycling facility where it was taken apart but no effect was discerned on the thing’s murderous forays. It appeared, mulched people, and was sated and still.

There was a cult of the tractor now; this was to be expected. It was a thoughtform, it was entangled, it was projection of postmodern anxieties, it was an emanation of nascent and antinomic industrial restlessness, it was a structuralist metaphor for the internal alienation of mechanistic capital; a poet wrote a thing about it in the paper, some morbid and observant individual demonstrated a statistical link between the tractor’s confinement and the range and wildness of its excursions, and Greengage Plc. fended off calls for recalls and stopped manufacturing 3623TRs.  They rapidly became, for a select few, treasured collectibles. They had stories to tell.