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RESTORATION

RESTORATION

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Published by Philip Matthews
A Midwife of the Self attempts again to bring a man to full realisation...
A Midwife of the Self attempts again to bring a man to full realisation...

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Published by: Philip Matthews on Feb 23, 2011
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Introduction to RESTORATION One of the problems with subjectivity in a novel is how it limits the author's voice. You are trapped in your character. This is not necessarily a bad thing nowadays. Over-educated authors – with the internet only a browser away – can easily overwhelm a narrative with an excess of character development and local colour. However, what if your character is weird and wonderful? How far can you go in being true to this weirdness? I suppose it depends on the character. In RESTORATION the heroine has little or no memory (due to spending too much time in reality). She is also obsessive and extremely determined (characteristics of artificials). She is also charged with the mission of saving mankind (against its better judgement). You cannot easily “live” with such a character; she is just too strange and – because of the lack of memory – too empty. Yet you are possessed by something – the atmosphere of the world she inhabits, the odd insight you get into her – which sustains you between writing sessions. I developed the habit of waking up at 5 AM each morning and spending two hours letting that day's work as it were grow in me. And yet what went down on the page was often a too
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simple, step-by-step narrative about a monomaniac woman and her derelict world, written in an semiliterate phonetic English. Sometimes I feared the onset of Alzheimer’s or the like and developed a second habit of carefully scrutinising that day's work as soon as possible, while the memory of what I intended to write was still with me. Yet I got to know her so well. I was never sadder finishing a novel. I miss her company. But she has gone back into the oblivion of reality again, where she has become someone else for the duration.

RESTORATION Summary It is about a thousand years into the future. The world is a dried out husk, most of the water having been exchanged for omnium from the Other World. The human race is dying out because most women can no longer bear children and the alternatives don't work. Artificials are self-obsessed and clones die of loneliness. The few natural offspring that there are – called natals – rule the world as a time-serving bureaucratic clique. The rest of the human race subsists on what is known as Machine Maintenance, a
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superlatively efficient welfare system that oversees life from incubation bottle to render plant. Into this hell on earth awakens the artificial woman who will be known to some as Sophie. She has just lost her fortune in the latest Bubble and so finds herself turfed out of reality into the tender metal care of the Machine. Her memory has been destroyed by her overlong sojourns in reality, and her only consolation perhaps are the strange dreams she has when she manages to sleep. Even so, she is filled with an overwhelming desire to journey across the desolated land towards the high towers on the northern horizon. She doesn't know why she wants to go there, but she goes in any case – if only because she cannot do otherwise. RESTORATION is about 100,000 words long.

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RESTORATION

PHILIP MATTHEWS

© Philip Matthews 2008

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Man begins to be afraid of the world which formerly he has thought to control. Men admired nobody but themselves, now they begin to be afraid of themselves. Pope Pius XII

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‘The death of Soloviev, my dear Feliks Feliksovich?’ Prince Feliks Feliksovich makes his alwayscharming little shrug, his small pink mouth puckering under the somewhat floppy moustache. He knows he is charming, that he charms, that the little circle about him now is charmed. ‘But it is such a wonderful story, dear Dmitri.’ Feliks Feliksovich throws a quick ironic glance across the carriage at the others seated facing them. Cued, Vladimir Mitrofanovich leans forward in earnest: ‘Oh by all means, Excellency, the tale is so diverting.’ So Dmitri Pavlovich relents with grace, a playful smile here too. In reflex, he puts the cigar in his mouth, but does not draw upon it, bobbing his head instead. The light glints on his bare scalp, where some talc has dislodged. The Grand Duke does not like his pate to shine: he believes it contrasts badly with his overly diffident eyes. ‘Besides,’ Feliks Feliksovich resumes, ‘it will give a context for our long journey. We will pass close to the spot where it all happened.’ ‘Ahh, well,’ Dmitri Pavlovich says expansively. He pauses to sniff at the tip of his cigar. Feliks
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Feliksovich reaches at once for the box of lucifers on the occasional table between them. He deftly extracts one – a long black stick tipped bright red – and strikes it against the sandpaper strip on the side of the box. It flares brightly, very brightly, with a puff of white smoke. Dmitri Pavlovich brings his cigar into contact with it and draws contentedly. Then he surveys the smoking tip, the red glow already fading. ‘You are so considerate, my dear Feliks Feliksovich. As ever.’ Dmitri Pavlovich smiles a doting smile, a slight rueful edge in his eyes though. ‘You quite disarm me, you know.’ He smiles what seems to be a smile of deprecation, but continues: ‘Now, Feliks Feliksovich, not the whole long story? ’ The smile firms, a sudden wariness glinting in his eye: ‘Please.’ Feliks Feliksovich throws up his left hand, though he is watching where he places the spent match – across the rim of the silver ashtray: ‘Oh, of course not, my dear Dmitri Pavlovich. We will select one episode, shall we?’ Feliks Feliksovich looks around the company: Dmitri Pavlovich just there to his left, seated on the other side of the table, Vladimir Mitrofanovich and their fourth companion, the sointeresting Sofya Vasilevna, both of whom are seated
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on either side of another small table on the far side of the carriage. He smiles his more open smile, the one for many people to see and to be pleased to see. ‘Who shall choose? Vladimir Mitrofanovich? You?’ Now he bows his head to the woman: ‘Perhaps our gracious guest should choose? Do you agree, Dmitri Pavlovich? Perhaps we should ask Sofya Vasilevna to select an episode for us. I would be only too happy to oblige her.’ The Grand Duke compresses his lips: ‘Ah, my dear Feliks Feliksovich, I doubt the lady knows anything of the tale. So how could she choose an episode for us?’ Feliks Feliksovich knows this, of course, but he looks expectantly at the woman opposite him, setting a cue here too. The Grand Duke, too, looks across at the woman, his gaze wavering slightly when it encounters the excessively strong expression on her face. Vladimir Mitrofanovich, too, looks towards her, a more tolerant, even permissive, expression on his face. Sofya Vasilevna seems unaware of the collective gaze of the men, of the pregnant silence. She is staring fixedly at some point across the
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carriage, just to one side of the Grand Duke. She does not blink for the duration of the men’s stare. A moment of loss. Then Vladimir Mitrofanovich leans across the table and touches the back of Sofya Vasilevna’s hand. She gives a sudden start; almost immediately it is converted into a turn of her head, a sharp enquiring stare. Vladimir Mitrofanovich of course is deeply affected by this. He knows immediately that he has done something unpardonable. Sofya Vasilevna is no mere wife, companion, adornment, but a woman of very real intellectual achievement – acknowledged so even by the Germans. Sofya Vasilevna at once smiles when she registers Vladimir Mitrofanovich’s upset. She says: ‘I was counting my reflections in the mirrors.’ The Grand Duke simply does not comprehend what Sofya Vasilevna has said. He is pleased that her expression has softened; he is pleased even more that she has an attractive face, though matured and realised to the extent he has only seen otherwise in accomplished generals. Given the circumstance, it would delight him to kiss her lips. The Prince? Well, Feliks Feliksovich is much more adroit in these matters. He doesn’t know what
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Sofya Vasilevna has said either, but he at least realises that what she said is irrelevant. That is, irrelevant to him, and therefore also to his companion, Dmitri Pavlovich. Vladimir Mitrofanovich is also a companion of sorts to the Prince and the Grand Duke, but as a relatively poor noble from one of Imperial Russia’s newer provinces there is an element of dependency that precludes easy intimacy with high born aristocrats, connected as they are by blood with the imperial dynasty. So, he places all his attention on Sofya Vasilevna, actually hearing her words and very quickly comprehending them. Mirrors. The carriage seems full of them: only now does Vladimir Mitrofanovich realise this. He has been seated at the little table, with Sofya Vasilevna across from him on his right, and with the Prince and the Grand Duke seated about another little table on the opposite side of the carriage, for some time now without ever noticing that a full length mirror fills the wall opposite, and that another full length mirror runs along behind him. At once Vladimir Mitrofanovich is blinded by the light of the row of lamps suspended from the ceiling above reflected repeatedly in the two mirrors.
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checks herself with a little cough. letting her gaze drift away from the men to return to her own reflection in the mirror opposite. ‘But of course you gentlemen will be aware of this. Sofya Vasilevna turns at Vladimir Mitrofanovich’s cry. even a completely unexpected terror.’ She pauses again. An atavistic terror – like a door suddenly opened to reveal something unexpected yet known intimately.He gasps: surprise. In fact. there is only one reflection of me. turning again to Vladimir Mitrofanovich: ‘Actually. then says. as it appears not to be now – would burn a hole through her dress at a point just above her knee. Vladimir Mitrofanovich. though of course we see only a few of them. She looks over at the Prince and the Grand Duke. She explains: ‘An amusement. really. She is touching the spot on the back of her left hand that he had touched. She smiles.’ 12 . sitting it would seem too close to the Grand Duke. Vladimir Mitrofanovich.’ Sofya Vasilevna pauses. so close that his cigar – if it were lit. There are an infinite number of reflections in a case like this.

He also knows that Sofya Vasilevna will exhaust her topic before she will take note of anything else – after all. but what preoccupies him at the moment is the problem of precedence that is arising here.Vladimir Mitrofanovich hears this. outranks him). Dmitri Pavlovich. Prince Feliks Feliksovich can make his own rules as the occasion requires. Sofya Vasilevna should not be explaining these thoughts to him. Really. though of only moderate fortune. but propriety demands that she should address her words to the senior ranks in the company. It might well be that he is the only person here – as a fellow university graduate – who might appreciate what she is saying. knowing that he has the unquestioned support of his friend. He knows that what Sofya Vasilevna is in the course of discussing is totally irrelevant. the daughter of an old Great Russian noble family. But it is a difficulty facing Vladimir Mitrofanovich only – understandable perhaps given the ambiguity of his own social position here (even Sofya Vasilevna. the question of which part of the story about the death of Soloviev 13 . It is an extremely awkward moment in what so far has been a smooth and urbane conversation. even comprehends the meaning of the words. For his part.

Prince Feliks Feliksovich?’ Her moue is of course a trifle exaggerated: Sofya Vasilevna has a mouth made for such a moue. my dear Sofya Vasilevna. It is 14 . Sofya Vasilevna is momentarily surprised by this attention. as people like to believe. The Grand Duke puffs on his cigar until there is a lot of smoke and all can hear the low crackle as tobacco leaf is consumed by fire. gentlemen’ – Sofya Vasilevna expands her address in accordance with the reaction of the men to her facial gesture – ‘your reflections are not repeated ad infinitum. So he says with his airiest voice: ‘And what. for one thing. Feliks Feliksovich expertly strikes up another lucifer. no. For her part. Even the Grand Duke realises that the stage – as it were – belongs to the very interesting Sofya Vasilevna. ‘Make of it. ‘Well. are we to make of that?’ The Grand Duke has discovered that his cigar has gone out again. His word of thanks is surprisingly muted. Not that she is not used to gaining the attention of men. only that the attention seems to her out of proportion to what she has said.should be recounted as a means to passing the time before dinner is probably an irrelevance for her.

perhaps suddenly bored in his feckless way. and that only once. he is the wit among them. you say. his lips pulsing around its stem as though trying to draw it in deeper still. after all. just as her students do when she lectures them. But he is eyeing the Prince and the Grand Duke nervously. Dmitri Pavlovich takes the cigar from his mouth and asks with perfect sincerity: ‘One reflection only. He takes a deep breath. has his cigar jammed deeply into his mouth.’ The men accept all this with a remarkable composure. The Grand Duke.the reflection that is reflected. Feliks Feliksovich seems adrift. But who will respond? It is obvious that Vladimir Mitrofanovich is bursting to make a statement. Then the second reflection is reflected to create the third reflection. Madame?’ Sofya Vasilevna grants him her sunny smile. as she would any responsive student. ‘One reflection 15 . for his part. trying to gauge which of them will reply first. And so on and so on. The Prince should be the likely candidate. However. trying to frame the profound observation he feels it necessary to make. It looks as though Vladimir Mitrofanovich might be able to make his observation.

Frau Professor’ – a dry irony in his voice at this point. for Feliks Feliksovich has become alert again: ‘And the light. yes?’ The address hurts. but it had been done with a French tone of the arcade. ‘The mirrors?’ He looks at the long mirror behind Sofya Vasilevna. bearish but endearing. Excellency. evidently very pleased with their little chat. must we not? To light our reflected space. they are intended to create a sense of space in our cramped quarters. where everything becomes 16 . How else are we to endure being cooped up here for another twelve hours? ’ In reflex. He nods slowly.’ Dmitri Pavlovich inhales deeply. It is the first time anyone in Russia has used that title. seeing himself looking at himself. There must be relevance now. Then she sees them reflected repeatedly in the mirror opposite. sees the row of lamps – five lamps – suspended along the centre of the ceiling. my dear Sofya Vasilevna. an intense clamour here she finds disturbing in a vague way. ‘No need for so many mirrors. to be interpreted as an indication that Sofya Vasilevna may be taking herself just that bit too seriously – ‘we must have brightness too. a large soft movement.only. ‘Ah. Sofya Vasilevna looks up.’ She looks around the compartment.

of course. Just like a father overseeing a spat among his children.’ Dmitri Pavlovich murmurs. She even nods – sagely – as she speaks: ‘Yes. Vladimir Mitrofanovich can no longer contain himself. already 17 .a joke. ‘Like the light of the Spirit shining in the Soul!’ Vladimir Mitrofanovich can not control the rising pitch of his voice.’ ‘Oh now. glancing first at Feliks Feliksovich then letting his gaze linger dotingly on Sofya Vasilevna. our Russian philosopher speaks at last. Though it is worth considering how the light intensifies in a space that does not actually exist. no less cutting for the lightness of touch. though not meant as ironical – German. He does want to impress Sofya Vasilevna and he also wants to defend her. the Academic formality. Feliks Feliksovich also catches Vladimir Mitrofanovich’s surprise: ‘Ah. He is stunned to hear himself breaking into an Old Believer rant.’ Irony here too. Her second response is – perhaps appropriately. bleeding on the Bokharian rug at their feet. Poor Vladimir Mitrofanovich cringes. Prince Feliks Feliksovich. Her initial response is a Russian one: heart ripped out. Yet there is also a testing mockery. where everything is taken seriously.

he has developed a deafness to it. raised eyebrows. contenting himself with uncovering the implied real meaning therein. It is. He turns eagerly towards Feliks Feliksovich while Dmitri Pavlovich says. Sofya Vasilevna. ‘And vain. the light. But the mockery! So rare an event that Vladimir Mitrofanovich is quite disarmed. too sincere to practice it himself.’ Waves his free hand expansively (his cold cigar is cradled comfortably in his lap): ‘People say it is because we can thus see ourselves and so become self-conscious.embarrassed by his outburst – saying the correct thing but in the wrong way. even to take the time to explain modern circumstances. Irony he is used to. still gazing in a fatherly way upon Sofya Vasilevna: ‘Of course. ‘No. eyes suddenly shrewd: obviously not often does he have a serious audience.’ Dmitri Pavlovich nods now. my dear Madame. it is the mirror that creates civilization. Almost as though Feliks Feliksovich is inviting him to – is it to heal him? Or perhaps explain something to him? As a philosopher – as a Russian philosopher. of course.’ Big smile.’ The Grand Duke 18 . as the good Feliks Feliksovich observed. that is – Vladimir Mitrofanovich is very willing to heal tortured souls.

but there is also the question of the truth here. spontaneous and honest: ‘I don’t know what you are talking about. Vladimir Mitrofanovich.nods towards the Prince. There is the matter of social precedence. The light increased in what you call the nonexistent reflected space in fact does shine forth in us. There you have the birth of human consciousness. each filled with that wonderfully reasonable virtue of those who know something that you do not know and are prepared to impart that knowledge to you. 19 . She frowns. Feliks Feliksovich is the first to respond to this. as our modest friend. as you have just seen. it is. She says. He is adept at thinking other people’s thought for them. ‘And.’ Sofya Vasilevna is very surprised by this little speech. dear Sofya Vasilevna. None of you. which will claim an absolute precedence.’ Three faces lean towards her. no one else is. has stated it. of course. as might be expected: ‘Be careful of what you say in the company of Dmitri Pavlovich. It is as though she has found herself in a mad house. I might stress.’ Sofya Vasilevna continues to frown. my dear.

then fingers that way. as no doubt it was designed to do. A humble little man dressed like a serf of the old days trots into the compartment. how the microscope can see only so near. Then Vladimir Mitrofanovich bobs his head up. The Grand Duke smiles. then closes it again. First Feliks Feliksovich opens his mouth. It is enough. yet they die. It is Sofya Vasilevna 20 . yet cannot utter the Spirit. There is a rustle of clothing: ‘You see how science points always towards the Spirit. The little man scurries away again. hand this way. This activity has broken the spell in the room. pert like a bird about to sing. He even puts his hand over his mouth. more than a little complacent by now.’ Vladimir Mitrofanovich cannot believe that he has just spoken. Feliks Feliksovich makes one of his little coughs. and settles down to delivering some more nuggets of acquired knowledge. Feliks Feliksovich indicates.The three men struggle between themselves for an instant or two. How the products of science cannot live. How the telescope can see only so far. then he subsides again. then raises his hand and clicks his fingers twice.

Only poor Vladimir Mitrofanovich is properly abashed. ‘Perhaps now we can ask Sofya Vasilevna to make her choice for us. deeply.’ 21 .’ So the servant serves each a brimming glass and each tips the glass back. The little man has returned bearing a tray. I believe. each thinking that only vodka can heal the Russian heart. for his part. He brushes the front of his jacket down.’ Feliks Feliksovich dismisses the servant with a flick of his hand. feeling like an utter fool. Each inhales deeply. on which a large bottle and four small glasses are arrayed in some order: bottle in the centre and glasses at cardinal points. ‘A glass of vodka will lighten our mood. It’s all done in a moment. ‘There are some zakouskis. Dmitri Pavlovich. ‘Fine.’ No one is hungry yet. her well-camouflaged bosom rising appreciably. fiddles with his cigar until Feliks Feliksovich does the necessary to reignite it.who breathes first.

The walls themselves are decorated with a scene depicting a pleasure garden lit at night. Sofya Vasilevna spots the other cabinet. pretty little boxes filled with sugar confections. throwing her glance to the left. It will contain drink bottles – wines and spirits – glasses. Dmitri Pavlovich fussing with his cigar. Pull aside the heavy velvet drape – green towards the brilliantly lit sitting compartment. Each man nods respectfully. A cabinet sits on the table.’ Sofya Vasilevna says. the one under the table. little meandering pathways leading to dark nooky spots among the trees. and a small table between them along the other. chocolates. gentlemen. ‘If you will excuse me.Sofya Vasilevna stands up. Two easy chairs. flush with the wall. paper lanterns in many colours. lit by one small lamp only. The three men immediately stand up too. This will contain those appliances that prevent accident from marring pleasure. brightly patterned cushions laid randomly over its surface. deep red towards this other compartment. upholstered in the French manner. There is a broad divan along one wall. 22 . which has dropped ash into his lap.

she will walk through the depression. Always she must compress her bosom: a man looks at a woman’s bosom and she is at once headless. more like a play of 23 . The vodka has deflated her. perfectly still. She imagines first a body suspended in empty space. There is no great pressure on her bladder. she thinks of Euler. Backwards and forward in the confined space. And as she walks she will think. The smaller body – call it the Moon – is now circling about the larger body – that can be called the Earth. What she watches is not a play of numbers. perfectly alone. the aridity of the men’s chatter touching the darkness in her. as she always does. She unbuttons the front of her dress to ease the pressure on her breasts.At the end of this compartment is the room that Sofya Vasilevna wants. She does this in an uncanny way. Not an encouraging thought just now. Sofya Vasilevna proceeds to calculate the motion of the smaller orbiting body around the larger body. the water closet. Now. she simply wants a break from the company. As always. She can picture the elements of Euler’s equations for this calculation in sequence and watch something like a magic light move across the symbols. Then she pictures a smaller body approach and go into an orbit about the original body.

Thus she pictures first: Then follows: And the last line: The spectral light moves along the lines and Sofya Vasilevna feels as though she is charged with knowledge.special forces. and for a time Sofya Vasilevna sees the whole panoply of the mathematical forces that describe the orbit. mathematical forces that formulate the actual movement of an actual moon around a larger planet. It is a unique vision – reserved only for those gifted as she 24 . much as a battery can be charged with electrical force. Now she can move towards the culmination of this particular meditation: she assents and at once she sees within herself the array of integrals: It is lit entire by that wonderful light.

Seeing them as God would see them. She is calm. There is also a bottle of Kölnwasser to be sampled. she explores the cabinet above the table for a suitable confection to sweeten her breath. lit dimly by a single lamp. like an animal coiled to spring. She sees before her the plain varnished wood that lines the water closet. Vladimir Mitrofanovich is certainly lost in a daydream.is – seeing the operation of the cosmic forces in their essence. Passing through the comfort chamber. Feliks Feliksovich looks up upon her entry. A very good toilet water. my dear Sofya Vasilevna – and I would not normally make such an observation – but is it not strange that such a significant event – such a grand occasion – should attract only five subscribers 25 . more like a potential. She breathes a long slow breath. then buttons up her dress. extremely rich and chewy. Sofya Vasilevna holds this vision for just so long. A curious calm: not quiet. There is French nougat. Sofya Vasilevna sprinkles it on her breasts. Calm again. ‘You know. then she opens her eyes. Dmitri Pavlovich might be dozing. to run.

you know. his nostrils flared – obviously the very suggestive scent of the Kölnwasser has reached him. It feels like someone had to respond to Feliks Feliksovich’s observation. Sofya Vasilevna is reseating herself at the little table opposite to Vladimir Mitrofanovich.in all of Moscow High?’ Feliks Feliksovich pauses to allow Sofya Vasilevna make a comment. He says. who is now in the process of returning to the land of the living. She fusses that little bit – chewing delicious nougat as mutely as she can – arranging the skirt of her dress around her knees as a distraction. should she wish to. It also feels that the Prince and the Grand Duke have had this conversation before. ‘And three hundred years since its last performance. eyes still closed. Vladimir Mitrofanovich is watching her avidly. She licks the remaining sugar off her lips.’ This is Dmitri Pavlovich. voice uncertain as he fights a shortness of breath: 26 . Sofya Vasilevna has finally finished chewing the nougat. as though she finds her lips dry. very conversational tone. It is obvious by now that Sofya Vasilevna does not wish to offer an opinion on the matter. staring at Sofya Vasilevna. doing this in an indirect way.

my good Vladimir Mitrofanovich. my friend. He sits more upright. sometimes I forget how beautiful you are.’ He must tear his eyes away from Sofya Vasilevna and look over at the Prince. sees the returned Sofya Vasilevna for the first time. but he pays no attention. as usual. ‘My dear Sofya Vasilevna. to protect Vladimir Mitrofanovich from further embarrassment. This has a worse effect on his breathing. I would not believe half of the gossip going around about it.’ Now Dmitri Pavlovich opens his eyes. His gaze is frank: he believes he cannot offend. The cigar looses ash into his lap. ‘You know how it is.’ 27 . so that he stutters: ‘Th-the prod-producers are s-said to…’ ‘Oh.‘They say. How utterly radiant you can be.’ Dmitri Pavlovich’s interruption is unpardonable – no doubt an irritation with Vladimir Mitrofanovich’s inexplicable hesitation (Dmitri Pavlovich’s eyes are still closed) – but his intention is well meant. that the staging of the opera is controversial. so many look for excuses. Feliks Feliksovich.

eyes fixed on her bosom though his head jerks up and down. The best thing to do is ignore it all. grating sound. It is a deliberate and slow movement. bright and smoky. Vladimir Mitrofanovich. I don’t know why we do not each retire to bed for the duration. Feliks Feliksovich reaches down for the box of matches. Vladimir Mitrofanovich looks down into his own lap.’ He smiles a 28 . my dear. Sofya Vasilevna is looking towards Feliks Feliksovich as towards a neutral point in the compartment: a way of avoiding the intense gazes of the other two men. the flare that follows is intense. ‘I agree one must have a trick to enable one to get through the longuers of these occasions. quite contented with himself. ‘I suspect some trick.’ There is silence.Vladimir Mitrofanovich nods fervently at this. Feliks Feliksovich is uncharacteristically forthright: ‘There’s always gossip about these events. The match strikes the sandpaper with a ragged. For my own part. eyes swivelling from side to side: caught out again. Dmitri Pavlovich turns on reflex to present his cigar for lighting.’ Dmitri Pavlovich is wreathed in fragrant cigar smoke.

he chortles – then his breath catches in the heavy phlegm lurking deep in his throat. Feliks Feliksovich grimaces quickly: the Grand Duke’s coughing fits can last quite a while. But the only good breath I know of must contain a good measure of cigar smoke. Perhaps a cleansing thought. ‘No doubt we’re all afraid of missing something. too. Feliks Feliksovich ?’ The Prince is used to these games. my dear. The Grand Duke coughs a loud hacking cough. inviting Sofya Vasilevna by this means to smile also. Eh. Grand Duke. shiny scalp echoing this brightly. Now Vladimir Mitrofanovich leans forward. Dmitri Pavlovich takes this is good part: ‘Indeed.’ He laughs – actually. head down almost to the level of the table – as though he strives to get below the new commotion: ‘You know the Doctor has attended the rehearsals? In San Francisco!’ 29 .’ She has spoken briskly: a liberty available to her among the hypocrisies of polite company. to join in the fun. He waggles his shoulders in good humoured conceit. she observes: ‘A few good breaths suffice.twinkling smile. For her part.

Grand Duke.’ Vladimir Mitrofanovich quails. Sofya Vasilevna comes to his defence even before she has considered the wisdom of her action: ‘Perhaps so. ‘The Doctor knows more about opera than any of us. He naturally dislikes being crossed. but he dislikes more being caught out. His eyes. What we question are his opinions. He blushes. Vladimir Mitrofanovich.’ Feliks Feliksovich is quick to switch his attention from the red-faced Grand Duke: ‘You know that the Doctor is a fervent gossip. Vladimir Mitrofanovich.‘Now now. but are we not competent to make our own judgements on his opinions?’ 30 . A most committed chatterbox. are steely. Feliks Feliksovich. just like that: turning his face away as though struck. though. Do you deny that?’ The Prince bristles. Dmitri Pavlovich gets his coughing under control with some effort. Surely you do not mean to pass on his tittle-tattle as fact?’ Vladimir Mitrofanovich sits upright in his chair. ‘No one doubts the Doctor’s knowledge. He is breathless.

for his part. Or it might be boredom at the prospect of listening to the Prince’s story. perhaps I should outline the story for Sofya Vasilevna. Though my father spent a number of years working hard to achieve his aim. As an aside. a nice balance of (matronly) rebuke and (maidenly) ingenuity. I may tell you that I had gone there with my father. choose which part of the tale should be recited here. that is. it all came to nothing. It works very well indeed. In Russia we refer to our possessions in the east as estates. but in 31 . throws his hands up and says airily – as though answering a question: ‘Well. Feliks Feliksovich. who had plans to introduce the cultivation of cotton on a large scale to the region. Dmitri Pavlovich goes back to coughing. Back then I was sojourning on my family’s estates on the shores of the Caspian Sea. these events occurred about ten years ago. It could be both.’ Everyone sighs audibly. Feliks Feliksovich makes his polite little cough: ‘Well now. Then she would be in a position to choose for us. rumbling barks like aftershocks.She has managed a more emollient tone than she expected. my friends. It might be the tedium of the long journey in such a confined space.

at least. some of which I am not at liberty to reveal to you here. bright eyes set off by his shiny pate. his head jerking forward as though the Grand Duke had struck him physically.’ ‘Oh now. And while these peoples are willing to pay the tribute we demand. be that as it may.’ The Grand Duke bobs his head in easy agreement: ‘That may be so. surely you can tell us something about Sarman? Let us have a glimpse. There were. of course. The Prince is startled. ‘Well. We had long planned to explore the wide territories of eastern Turkestan extending up to the Chinese border. as autumn approached. ‘It is not relevant.’ This is Dmitri Pavlovich. they have no intention of changing their very ancient way of life for us. I hurried to join them. my dear Feliks Feliksovich. it will do for the purpose of my tale – had gathered at an old monastery near Bokhara. I was informed that a group of my friends – let me call them friends. Then. but 32 . my dear Dmitri Pavlovich. smiling benignly at his friend.fact they are huge areas of tribal lands of which we are now the ruler. Surely you of all people must know that. Feliks Feliksovich. reasons for our wanting to do this. I spent most of the summer there.

I know he died in tragic circumstances. ‘But you also told me something else. You yourself told me once how you and you brother agreed that whichever of you died first would return and appear to the survivor. that is. hope to achieve salvation 33 .’ Again Feliks Feliksovich looks as though he has been struck hard.some knowledge of the background to your adventures in Asia will help fill out your tale. To prove survival of the soul after death. Dmitri Pavlovich reaches this time and places his hand on his shoulder. my dear Feliks Feliksovich. and no doubt fulfilling that pact was the last thing on your mind at the time. I tell you truthfully that it is the most profound thing that I have ever heard.’ He presses the Prince’s shoulder in consolation. it is common knowledge that you have been involved with the Theosophicals since your youth. ‘Yes. which I have thought about many times over the years.’ Dmitri Pavlovich now turns to Vladimir Mitrofanovich and Sofya Vasilevna – who have been sitting somewhat dumbfounded by the indiscretion of the Grand Duke – and continues: ‘Feliks Feliksovich here once told me that he did not believe anyone could become a Christian during one lifetime. After all.

‘No. ‘Whyever not. Sofya Vasilevna? Is it not a reasonable assumption to make?’ 34 .’ Sofya Vasilevna seems galvanised. She has leaned forward in her seat. It is easy to understand what drove him to search for ancient knowledge there. compressing his lips in an ambiguous reaction: was he angry with the Grand Duke now. or was he embarrassed by the intimacy of this revelation? Dmitri Pavlovich seems unconcerned. hoping to draw him away from his misery. Is that not so.’ Dmitri Pavlovich glances at the Prince. for instance. When Feliks Feliksovich remains silent – though his features do soften – he turns back to the other two: ‘It is for this reason that Feliks Feliksovich accepts the doctrine of reincarnation.and the right to eternal life. ‘So you see how my friend’s beliefs do affect the nature of his experiences in the east. my dear friend?’ Feliks Feliksovich must nod. head down but face upturned towards the Grand Duke. most definitely not!’ It is Feliks Feliksovich who is most surprised by her reaction. She looks very baleful.

Feliks Feliksovich. not to pine to return to wherever we came from. She glares at each of the men in turn. done for effect. Sofya Vasilevna knows she must not allow herself to give way to passion.’ 35 .Sofya Vasilevna sits back again in her chair.’ Vladimir Mitrofanovich badly wants to make peace with her: ‘But how can that be a spiritual activity. She takes a series of short quick breaths. She draws in a deep breath. Sofya Vasilevna. A searing pain runs up her right lung. ‘That is rank materialism. The pain becomes a dull ache in the lower part of her lung. Sofya Vasilevna? This world is only evil. It seems a theatrical gesture. She puts her hand to her temples. I know you are a scientist.’ It is now Vladimir Mitrofanovich’s turn to be shocked. ‘We are put on this earth in order to study and understand it. ‘You all misunderstand me!’ She coughs. but as a Russian woman are you not ashamed of yourself?’ Sofya Vasilevna jumps to her feet. ‘We are in this world in order to live in this world. Her eyes are dancing with excitement.

resting as ever on Sofya Vasilevna. His eyes twinkle amid the smoke. who seems to have gone back to dozing. then says: ‘But why study what God already knows. She swallows once.’ Vladimir Mitrofanovich is very surprised to hear this said. He finally takes the cigar out of his mouth and observes in his airiest manner: 36 . Feliks Feliksovich makes a hissing sound to draw their attention. The Grand Duke has relit his cigar himself and is puffing earnestly on it. There is nothing that is not spiritual in some way or other. She will become hoarse very quickly.’ Now there is the rasp of a match. Vladimir Mitrofanovich. my dear Professor?’ Sofya Vasilevna glances involuntarily at the Grand Duke. Vladimir Mitrofanovich is quick to fill the gap: ‘God has already revealed what we need to know in this life. then again.Sofya Vasilevna sits down. ‘Nothing is intrinsically evil. The sugar of the nougat she ate has burned her throat and windpipe. She is very reluctant to speak.

you know.’ 37 . Tell me. don’t you think? I mean. Dmitri Pavlovich chortles in accompaniment. thus betraying an irritability that he knows he must suppress. ‘Won’t that be wonderful? They say that everything will have to be spotlessly clean!’ Feliks Feliksovich’s laughter is very good indeed. very infectious. the soft flesh of his flanks visibly quaking under his tight jacket: ‘And a man especially employed to keep the shoes of the cast clean. if it were accepted as true. ‘But don’t you see.’ Vladimir Mitrofanovich shrugs his shoulders.‘Reincarnation would make history such a fascinating subject. were there steam engines in Eden? And what of the telegraph? And the new lighting?’ ‘They are using electric lighting in the production. that Sofya Vasilevna implies that God does not know everything?’ Dmitri Pavlovich waves his cigar at him: ‘Oh come now. my good Vladimir Mitrofanovich. Excellency.’ interjects Feliks Feliksovich in an agreeable conversational tone.

in fact. a forefinger scratching the flesh just under his ear: ‘Where was I now? Oh yes. ‘And let us keep the philosophy for the Academy.The ruse works. incipient loathing. Feliks Feliksovich says. Vladimir Mitrofanovich and Sofya Vasilevna seem suitably deflated. incipient awe on his honest face.’ 38 . Sofya Vasilevna is angry with herself for not phrasing her questions better. The Grand Duke booms out: ‘Please! Can you not have respect for Feliks Feliksovich? We have agreed to listen to his storytelling. therefore let us sit quietly. Sofya Vasilevna?’ This is Vladimir Mitrofanovich. ‘Do you know something that God does not know. an expression of fear.’ He smiles at Sofya Vasilevna. To the very edge of the Gobi Desert…’ Sofya Vasilevna can no longer contain herself: ‘But don’t you see? What will happen when man begins to learn those things that God does not know? Do you believe we could bear the burden of such knowledge?’ The last words are uttered as a croak. right up to the Chinese border. We travelled far into the east.

our journey to that region was very arduous. And believe me. ‘The Gobi Desert is the last wilderness in our modern world. The expression on Vladimir Mitrofanovich’s face is one of extreme anguish. Vladimir Mitrofanovich?’ Complete silence now. for otherwise we could not know.Silence. but speak she must: ‘And you call yourself a Christian. Sofya Vasilevna looks across at Feliks Feliksovich and nods curtly. He begins to weep. then resumes: ‘The Gobi Desert.’ Now Dmitri Pavlovich looks pained. then toil over several high mountain passes. Feliks Feliksovich gives his little cough. like a forbearing parent: ‘Vladimir Mitrofanovich! Please. Then Vladimir Mitrofanovich whispers for Sofya Vasilevna’s ears only: ‘God must be in all our knowledge. However. He does not understand. It was necessary to make our way up river courses through deep chasms.’ Silence again. Perhaps the last true wilderness on our world…’ Sofya Vasilevna’s throat is on fire and it hurts to speak. we arrived at a small town on the edge of the desert 39 . quietly. After a suitable interval.

Such secrets were considered sacred trusts. which the informants believed would lead to the destruction of whole families if they were broken. Bit by bit we received confirmation that some of these legends were in fact true. We were willing to reward useful information – money was no object here – but always we had to contend with the problem of these vows. as you can appreciate. For one thing. 40 . Now. complete with their temples and treasures. and required the making of solemn vows before they were passed on to the next generation. where they were handed down from father to son over many generations. We set out to win the confidence of the inhabitants of the town and its surrounding villages. these secrets had been entrusted to certain families alone. but whole civilizations dating from very ancient times were said to lie intact under the desert. Not only were cities and towns submerged in the sand. some circumspection was needed. So. ‘There are of course difficulties in these matters.towards the end of that year. our purpose in making this long trek was to discover if the tales we had heard concerning towns and villages – even great cities – buried beneath the sands of the Gobi were true.

He had some very curious theories about what we might find. however. but at the same time we were also daunted by the difficulties that faced us should we attempt to make even a preliminary investigation of the site. Professor S. It was mainly due to his enthusiasm that we decided to press ahead with our expedition to the northern part of the desert.‘In the end. He led us to believe that we were on the verge of discovering the very city where once dwelt those ancient Sages who first taught mankind the secret knowledge of God. we had among our little brotherhood the renowned archaeologist. 41 . we managed to devise a way of receiving useful directions to the location of a particularly important ancient city buried intact in the north-eastern sector of the desert. ‘Well. but we respected the man’s experience and deep knowledge of his subject and therefore accepted what he had to tell us. who was a specialist in the antiquities of Central Asia. This area was away off the known routes across the Gobi – which no doubt helped to explain why such a city had not previously been located. We were elated to have found what might well be the place we were actually looking for.

We sat in consultation for the best part of a week. but there were many practical problems to be overcome. discussing in detail what knowledge concerning our proposed route we could discover among the locals. We quickly saw that these broke down into three categories. namely the transport of such a large quantity of goods. not alone our sustenance. so that it would be necessary to arrange supplies for a period of several months. but also shelter. So we had to consider the best beast of burden for the task and also the matter of provisioning the animals.‘Our enthusiasm rose to a fever pitch and we determined that we would expend every last ounce of our strength and means to find this city. The first were those tasks that had to do with provisioning the expedition. That is all very well. There would be no hope of finding either food or water anywhere along our intended route. extra clothing. Then we drew up a list of tasks that faced us. Then there was the third category. which had to do with the problems we would faced in the course of our long journey through 42 . and the myriad tools and appliances we would need in order to constitute a proper scientific expedition. of course. The second category were those tasks that arose from consideration of the first problem.

some of the most inhospitable parts of the world. but others could well last for days. ‘Well now. The point here for us was that. From what we had been told by experienced caravansaries. Her eyes are very sombre. it was necessary to devise some mode of transport that would allow us to progress at a steady rate. We could easily die of exposure in the middle of nowhere. The main danger facing us here would be the sand storms that plague the region.’ Feliks Feliksovich shows a faint smile peeking out through the spare brush of his moustache. Therefore. my dear Sofya Vasilevna. if we remained at the mercy of this climate then we could not predict how long our journey would take. a fact that now perturbs Feliks Feliksovich. He seems reluctant to undertake the next step of their ritual. Vladimir 43 . as though this gesture will in some way ease the fire there. Most would blow themselves out in a matter of hours. what do you think?’ Sofya Vasilevna puts her right hand to her throat. these storms notwithstanding. we could expect violent storms to whip up quite suddenly at any time.

speaking perhaps to divert her while they waited for the refreshment: 44 . Dmitri Pavlovich pulls back his shoulders and stretches. you know. We should have taken a wider view of what this journey would entail. my dear?’ Sofya Vasilevna nods. He gets to his feet – grey ash cascading from his lap in a fine shower – and shouts: ‘Alyoshka!’ It seems as though the serf-clad servant materialises in the compartment before their very eyes.’ It is Dmitri Pavlovich who responds most strongly. adding at least two inches to his height. ‘Will water suffice. He says to Feliks Feliksovich. Vladimir Mitrofanovich remarks.Mitrofanovich leans forward as a way of attracting attention: ‘I think perhaps that Sofya Vasilevna has some difficulty speaking.’ Feliks Feliksovich looks glum. The servant is gone at once. even as he steps tentatively in the direction of Sofya Vasilevna: ‘The facilities are barely adequate. bending towards Sofya Vasilevna. He is nodding agreement with his friend.

I have given a lot of thought to this particular opera.’ Vladimir Mitrofanovich is suddenly extremely excited.’ Sofya Vasilevna looks at Vladimir Mitrofanovich as though he has just sprouted a second head. there is also the prospect of the arrival of the god…’ Whatever Vladimir Mitrofanovich might have added at this point is cut off abruptly when Dmitri Pavlovich greets the return of the servant with: ‘Where did you go for the water. can you tell us. I mean. ‘Oh yes. I assume here that you have arrived at some original interpretation. do you think is Arianna’s fear? I mean. Vladimir Mitrofanovich.‘I believe. but Feliks Feliksovich is nodding more energetically now. you know. a kind of abiding fear that everyone carries within. you scoundrel?’ The servant stammers something that nobody catches. You know. He places a tall wine carafe on the little table 45 . Feliks Feliksovich. And what. He says: ‘That is most interesting. Sofya Vasilevna. yes? But if you think about. that opera is about fear. you know. there is Arianna in tears after Teseo abandons her.

The Grand Duke is thrilled by his direct contact with Sofya Vasilevna. It is surprising that steam is not issuing from her nostrils. which no one – even Dmitri Pavlovich himself – listens to. as though this second batch of water has nowhere to go inside her. shaking himself awhile to loosen out his crumpled clothing. Now Feliks Feliksovich approaches the table. which silences Dmitri Pavlovich. beaming encouragement all the while. of course. as though there is some embarrassing relation between his own outpouring of words and Feliks Feliksovich’s of air. 46 . the Grand Duke is ready to refill it for her. The Prince burps loudly. for he starts eulogizing the virtue of pure water. its myriad benefits. She drinks the water slowly: it burns its way down. Dmitri Pavlovich is best placed to do the honours for Sofya Vasilevna.by Sofya Vasilevna’s elbow and then arranges four large glasses in a row in front of it. It is a vague rambling monologue. Feliks Feliksovich quaffs his share of the water – no better word for the dainty way he drains the glass in a succession of rapid sips. She is halfway through the second glass and Sofya Vasilevna is now beginning to feel bloated. is that he also ingests a fair amount of air. When she has drained the glass. The drawback. her ears.

why Arianna laments Teseo’s departure when the god is expected. Sofya Vasilevna. He then offers her his handkerchief – which he has been using to cover his mouth out of common politeness – saying as he does: ‘I myself have often wondered. in that case?’ Sofya Vasilevna is still concerned about the mass of water that fills her stomach: what is it going to do. He takes the partially emptied glass from Sofya Vasilevna and places it on the table. so neither Vladimir Mitrofanovich nor Dmitri Pavlovich needs to judge what has been done: is Vladimir Mitrofanovich naturally obsequious or is he giving the Grand Duke something other than talking to do? Feliks Feliksovich has expelled all the air from his stomach. Vladimir Mitrofanovich is not doing anything else. How would you feel. be absorbed into her body as into a spring soil? Or will it surge up again like a mineral springs geyser? However. so he answers. This is done in an automatic way. pertly enough: 47 .Vladimir Mitrofanovich fills a glass with water and offers it to the Grand Duke. my dear.

but does Arianna know of the impending visit? Surely she knows only of Teseo’s abandonment of her?’ Vladimir Mitrofanovich takes the fourth glass. thinking that perhaps something has upset Sofya Vasilevna. so he takes the half full glass that Sofya Vasilevna has left and drains it in one gulp. The Prince and the Grand Duke are inconveniently situated if Sofya Vasilevna should have reason to fly the room in haste. Sofya Vasilevna stands up. Excellency. Feliks Feliksovich watches this happening.‘Oh now. Sofya Vasilevna should speak rationally at this point – to explain her situation 48 . There are now three adults standing in a very limited space beside the little table. discovers that the carafe is empty. She presses the Prince’s handkerchief to her mouth. He steps forward. Dmitri Pavlovich reacts in alarm. thus further confining her in the corner. convinced that she is about to become a fountain. part a kind of livid curiosity – as though the poor nobleman is either very stupid or very bright – and part a revelation of a disagreeable malice – as though a bully lurked in the apparently debonair prince. awaiting only the temptation to display itself. an expression working across his face.

as though the mere enunciation of the name should make the person referred to appear in their midst. He has resisted the desire to lean over the still seated Vladimir Mitrofanovich and so by a reaction he steps away.– but she is convinced that if she opens her mouth then the worst will happen. rather loudly though obviously speaking directly to Dmitri Pavlovich: ‘Perhaps we should invite Grigory Efimovich to join us for the storytelling?’ The Grand Duke is very surprised at this suggestion. Feliks Feliksovich? You believe he would be interested in our little assembly here?’ 49 . no doubt also signalling his doubts about this notion: ‘Do you really think so. He temporises. Yet these movements do not exhaust whatever it is that moves in him (which he himself cannot identify). He too steps back now and turns to look towards the rightmost entrance to the compartment. the Grand Duke. raising a hand in an idle gesture and turning as though drawn by a magnetic force to his friend. It is the Prince who resolves this impasse. so he finds himself suddenly saying.

through the comfort chamber and into the water closet. Feliks Feliksovich has the very idea. Dmitri Pavlovich nods slowly: ‘There is that. His quick retort to the Prince has emboldened him. too. The water is subsiding in her stomach. gentlemen?’ Both the Grand Duke and the Prince look at him. as though some crisis has been surmounted. She stands up. He is unaware that he has been tracking Sofya Vasilevna’s movements and that the solution to their 50 . utters an apology for her sudden departure – which no one heeds. She sits down again and places the Prince’s handkerchief on the table at her elbow. He says: ‘And is there room.Sofya Vasilevna draws a deep breath.’ Most of the water Sofya Vasilevna has consumed has now found its natural reservoir in her body and has filled that receptacle. as though a weighty consideration has been aired. Meanwhile. the men being in conference – and hurries out through the leftmost entrance. a pointless exercise no doubt – nothing requires him to stand – but it is obvious that some energy drives him too. It is now Vladimir Mitrofanovich’s turn to stand up. How peaceful she suddenly feels. both serious. you know.

The little cabinet is out of line with the wall. and everyone else accommodated three in a row on the ottoman. There’s nothing in here that will bite you. though – so that he gives the impression of an ascetic monk about to enter a brothel. my dear Vladimir Mitrofanovich. air of reluctance still evident. Feliks Feliksovich already looks as though he has sat there for several hours. with the Grand Duke seated across from him. ‘Oh do come on through. Dmitri Pavlovich pushes through. so he straightens it up pretty exactly.’ He lifts the screening curtain and takes his place by the table. Vladimir Mitrofanovich peeks his head round the curtain first. For his part. ‘I think that would do very nicely. ‘We would have sufficient room next door. sniffing the air.’ 51 . my friends. He smiles broadly.problem has been suggested to him by those movements. and sits down across from his friend. yes?’ Feliks Feliksovich sees himself occupying the chair analogous to the one he has occupied here. He has a somewhat peaky face – good-looking when formal.

She is very surprised to see the men disposed about the room. but it certainly helps get Vladimir Mitrofanovich into the chamber. Now he stops to survey the couch and its gaudy cushions. ‘We thought we would anticipate the arrival of our special guest. its surface a bit shiny in places. ‘Ah. I assure you. and I think it best if we are all acquainted beforehand. my good Dmitri.’ He tilts his head in the Grand Duke’s direction. then says.The Grand Duke must give vent to his anxiety about what they are doing.’ This is Feliks Feliksovich. Feliks Feliksovich.’ Sweeps his arm out to indicate the dimly lit confined space about them. a mildly accusing pose on his face: ‘Nothing more than that. jumping to his feet and bowing in a brisk habituated way. my dear Sofya Vasilevna. Feliks Feliksovich places two fingers on his lips and says: ‘We will form a party for dinner.’ Dmitri Pavlovich hrumphs as he listens. We are concerned only…’ Sofya Vasilevna has entered the chamber from the water closet. ‘So 52 . head coming up as though broaching a surface of water: ‘It is not as though this is necessary.

It is chewy. Feliks Feliksovich turns to Dmitri Pavlovich for support. sticky. you see. continuing yet to Sofya Vasilevna: ‘Oh please do accommodate us. She makes a very full moue.’ It is evident to Sofya Vasilevna that she will be expected to share the couch with Vladimir Mitrofanovich and the special guest. 53 .we would be at our ease when he comes to join us. Then she opens the little cabinet and takes out the box of nougat.’ Perhaps Sofya Vasilevna should put her foot down. She smiles at Dmitri Pavlovich. Everyone will have nougat. dear lady. very satisfying. bringing her hands up to her mouth too. They are both perched uncomfortably. Vladimir Mitrofanovich is endeavouring not to touch its surface with his hands. while Feliks Feliksovich is having a covert tussle with an awkward cushion that is jutting into his back in a most provocative way. It should be apparent that our little hall of mirrors will not suit. but what she actually does is step around Feliks Feliksovich and slip into the chair he has just vacated. just across the table from her. Feliks Feliksovich is by now seated on the couch beside Vladimir Mitrofanovich.

a look of genuine relief on his face. Sofya Vasilevna. and that she is making no attempt to speak while she does so. The Grand Duke watches her for a moment. and bows again.It is Dmitri Pavlovich who resumes the proceedings. a special twinkle for the woman near him when opportune: ‘Perhaps now we can continue with this tale.’ The little servant in the serf costume sneaks around the curtain screen. The other tales are rather mundane. and not very scientific. oh Excellency.’ ‘In here. Feliks Feliksovich. like the cry of a child discovering itself lost: ‘Excellency.’ A voice cries out from the other compartment. much more at ease now. then suggests: ‘I would say that Sofya Vasilevna might be happier with the tale about the precautions taken against the storms. The Grand Duke is scathing: ‘Where else did you think we would be?’ The servant bows. Feliks Feliksovich? Would you care to choose a subject for us. don’t you think. 54 . and let our friend exercise his undoubted storytelling talent for us?’ It is evident that Sofya Vasilevna is chewing nougat. you numbskull.

as best I can remember. “Tell His Excellency to carry on with the festivities. Excellency.‘Well. bobbing his head up and down. Excellency. shouting: ‘At prayer. fist closed tightly. There is a low pinging sound. but part 55 . he did say that he would be along directly.’ Feliks Feliksovich sniggers.” That is what he said to me.’ Both the Grand Duke and the Prince are sharing the same smirk. ‘But. that no one except Sofya Vasilevna seems to notice. I will join him once I have completed my devotions. But His Holiness told me to tell you that he is at prayer. He said. deflecting his peevishness in that way. part the easy cynicism of those willing to be cynical in certain circumstances. The servant is still bowing. ha!’ Feliks Feliksovich thrusts his arm out in imitation of the Grand Duke. where is Grigory Efimovich? Did you convey my message to him?’ ‘Oh yes. his snigger becoming a disquieting titter. I went to him straight. Dmitri Pavlovich guffaws loudly and thrusts his right arm out to full stretch. Excellency.

that firm earth has become a mire. a feeling that a veritable torrent is ready to burst forth from her. of course. All the dark quality has gone and he looks his more usual jocular self. It evinces itself as a sharp pressure in her bladder. He is staring at Vladimir Mitrofanovich’s left hand raised towards him. This makes no sense.also the uneasy distaste of those who do not wish to experience revulsion of any kind. Feliks Feliksovich’s countenance has changed completely. Sofya Vasilevna experiences a sudden deep anxiety. left hand to the Prince by his side and right hand to the Grand Duke just across the chamber from him. as though Vladimir Mitrofanovich might pronounce a blessing to forestall worse behaviour. The latter is especially exercised by the negative elements – both the cheap cynicism and the more genuine aversion – but he waits until the servant has retreated to his quarters before raising his hands. He says. conversationally: 56 . It is a priestly gesture. a sense that the ground has shifted under her feet. she has just relieved herself. Both Sofya Vasilevna and Vladimir Mitrofanovich are disturbed by the sudden change of tone in the room.

Sofya Vasilevna discovers that there is another door opposite the one she has just come through. It is open. Teseo sits in the stern of the boat that takes him from the island and looks back at Arianna. The Doctor said it is drawn away from the island. Feliks Feliksovich is saying: ‘And he does not row the boat either. She jumps up and heads again for the water closet. too. weeping all the while. Teseo weeps.‘I do remember one thing our friend the Doctor said. apparently. And weeping profusely. A man stands in the doorway. ‘Well. At her back. beckoning her to 57 .’ In the water closet.’ Dmitri Pavlovich is taken aback: ‘Never. he told me that. isn’t that the strangest thing?’ Sofya Vasilevna cannot control the impulse in her bladder. What on earth would the good Monteverdi make of that?’ Vladimir Mitrofanovich drops his hands: ‘Yes.’ Dmitri Pavlovich shakes his head in wonder.’ He glances across at the Grand Duke – who still looks thunderous – then into Vladimir Mitrofanovich’s bland god-fearing face: ‘He remarked that Teseo weeps. Yes. as in a pot. It is as though the liquid there boils. you know. one she had not noticed before.

Do not be afraid. only space really for one armchair.follow. She does so without a second thought. This other chamber is dimly lit and very small. There will be a moment of blankness. The man indicates that she should sit. Sofya Vasilevna sits in the chair.’ Sofya Vasilevna has time only to think: Afraid of what? 58 . The man leans over and whispers: ‘Close your eyes.

It will take time. The salt burns. The first thing she does is check the figures. maybe a lot of time. That explains it.275 red. -3. The change rate is in orange. The new figures are in black: 15.47:15. The loss agents must be at work by now. She presses the surface on the inside of her wrist. They are in red. Tears for a loss. Two and half million. The chill is too much for now. It is everywhere.Oh the chill! It is like iron.17. Eyes flicker open on the darkness. She lifts her left arm towards her eyes so she can better see them. She presses her wrist again to return to the wealth clock. A moan. where the figures are displaying. 59 . implacable like iron. then fluid flows from a tube. The fluid is warm and sweet. It soothes. 2. right down into the deep.03.52 orange.568. at minus three point five.

’ The whirr is piercing for the first few seconds.She tries to sit up. The voice says: ‘You may sit up now. The voice says: ‘Subsistence for two hours.’ The problem as always is memory. ‘Where am I?’ ‘Europe East Sector. Then she begins to feel drowsy. She checks the figures: 2. warm and sweet. The last thing she thinks is: ‘Down ten already. Risk assessment two seconds off.498. -3. Billink Service fifty two 60 . Arriving Atlantic Rim Exchange Two at eighteen twenty five.’ She says: ‘I am hungry and thirsty. The fluid is thick.254 red.’ She asks. Do I need to know? Try it: ‘What happened?’ The new voice is more obviously machine: ‘Dextra Bubble exposure on the margin. then she gets used to the sound. Please wait.’ Blue light mode.’ She reaches for the umbilical and eases it into her mouth. A voice says: ‘Under acceleration.47 amber.

The socket in the neck is always the worst: heat from the over-stimulated nerve endings there. She asks: ‘Advice?’ ‘Better prognosticators.’ ‘Are they ever good enough?’ The machine remains silent. 61 . The sockets in her navel merely feel heavy. I dozed off.percent miscall affecting twenty two thousand six hundred and fourteen clients. The figure at her wrist is red. Market state: up six point five billion youdees. Three hedges invoked. She asks: ‘Insurance?’ ‘Underwriting plus point oh oh two.’ She thinks again: Ruined. Projected state: equilibrium at fifteen thousand in one hundred and twenty two days. Moving to sit up sets off a number of aches. three hundred and forty six thousand. New Bubble announced: the Whitring Bubble. Loss to date: ten million. Projection out by two point five seconds. Then she wonders if she has ever been ruined before.’ She thinks: Ruined. Still red.

Has she ever travelled like this before? She asks: ‘Whitring?’ ‘Premature selloffs.’ ‘And?’ ‘Projection is hard. no. neutral in every way. The spectrum broadens until there is a low yellow white light. Machine maintenance now. The atmosphere is very heavy and confined. no hedging: projection seventy five thousand at ninety five days. She is sitting up.Her throat will takes hours to moisten and the lymph will be mouldy until she can move about. maximum exposure at early blue incline.’ ‘In other words. facing each other.’ 62 . two more to her right.’ she demands. Re-entry impossible. But… ‘Why all the way to Atlantic Rim?’ The voice is the other one. the personalised one: ‘Deceleration begins in one minute. both vacant too. There is a vacant seat facing her. no insurance. ‘Light. Flat base. grey on grey.’ Definitely broke.’ ‘Best option. the result no doubt of the variety of dampers active. The cabin is small.

’ White light now. She must blink furiously till her eyes adjust. Subsistence. Has she ever lived like this before? She can’t remember. of course. the moment like a pivot. quite bright.’ She glances down at her wrist: 2. I’ll know from how I respond. A door set between the facing seats opens with a sigh of its seals as they part. then… The swaying of the coach awakens her this time. You will leave the tsug here.456.3 amber. A trolley-like machine eases into the 63 . There are external sounds. A sudden peacefulness. 3. She reminds herself that she is now broke. She knows when they stop.367 red. ‘Arrival in two minutes. The pressure will rise. but they are faint: a rattle of metal on metal. ‘Light.Her seat begins to recline. She knows the speed is right down. without knowing how she knows. She reminds herself that she will now begin to live off Machine Maintenance.

She can see no other passengers. They support her until she lowers herself onto the trolley couch. its true width hidden by the bulk of the coach she is leaving. both very powerful and too powerful at the same time. Not as much noise as the scale of activity might suggest. The machine reverses immediately. The beams of flat blue light from the ceiling illuminate the long black tsug that has brought her here. She will fall. The fact that it exceeds her in some final way fills her with a momentary dread.compartment. The building is huge. very long with a slight curve leftwards. except that two tentacle arms expand from the machine and steady her. The tsug with its string of windowless coaches both repels and impresses her. mostly impacts of heavily protected surfaces. then swings around and runs down a ramp. 64 . fitting the space available to it almost exactly. There are other machines at work on the tsug.’ Extreme dizziness when she stands. It says: ‘Please transfer to this conveyance. sturdy constructs that take custom-sized containers from other wagons up and down the platform on either side. It will bring you to the Reception.

She is now taken through a short corridor into a more humanly proportioned room. She braces herself. a pearly white with a hint of yellow. really. There are even some comfortable looking chairs over beside a long table and a number of images on the walls. It is not fear. The machine stops moving at once. and dislikes it intensely when they act without her permission. determined this time to stand without help from the machine. she simply does not like machines. The machine must open the canopy again. Transparent screens rise on either side of her from the trolley. the machine does not slow down here. The Machine must 65 . Its basic rule is that it must not harm or upset humans. grabbing the edges of both of them to try to pull them back. It explains: ‘We must go into the open in order to reach the Reception area.’ ‘No!’ She slams her hands against the curved surfaces of the now-closed canopy. She reacts without thinking. it continues towards what she knows is an airlock over on the far side of the room. The light is human too. However. no matter what the circumstances.

The machine has extended a tentacle for her to lean on. Not entirely pleasant.’ A drawer under her slides open.’ At once she feels herself in her body. as would 66 .’ She swings her legs over the side of the trolley and lays them flat on the ground. but it is not obliged to keep them alive against their wishes. ‘You should don this. She speaks to herself: ‘Return consciousness to the body. but she knows the strength is there. The vertigo eases rapidly. One breath.maintain humans. It is only when she tries to step away from the trolley – an instinct to cut away from it as soon as possible – that she experiences the true vertigo that afflicts her. Slight swaying.’ She concentrates less on the act of walking itself – the innate ability will soon assert itself – than on making the internal mental adjustments that are needed. Too long being how long she does not know. two breath. ‘Can I walk there?’ ‘You will need protective clothing. There is a zipup suit. She knows what it is at once: she has spent too long in reality. She pushes herself slowly upright. It says: ‘Walk around the machine.

so that she must return and sit on the edge of the trolley while she works her way into it.’ She pulls the cowl up.’ She really hates doing this. When she is finally able to walk unaided. in her hips especially. Stiffness in the joints. but the fabric tends to cling to her cool-damp skin. fighting a lurking claustrophobia that has other causes – like spending too long confined in darkened rooms. Again. but the machine says: ‘You should cover your head. The latter produces a feeling akin to a despair that flits in and out of her mood: as though she is trying desperately to control a profound disappointment. finds that a clear face mask swings from it. the machine reminds her of the need for clothing. ‘You should cover your face. and most of all the throbbing ache in her head that is the result of the initial attempts to absorb the stimuli pouring into her now from the outside world.be expected. the foul taste of the lymph waste and its attendant queasy lassitude. but there is now awareness of the various discomforts that assail her. The garment is not heavy. this is too much. 67 . She doesn’t like the cowl.

the tentacle super-steady even when she totters. as though she momentarily forgets how to do it. but she is mollified. one step. and already her skin is warming. not intrusive. More steps. The time between the closing of the inner door and the opening of the outer one is very short. and then a third. but the tentacle arm is at her elbow. A slight dicker then. well-lit. the interior spacious. There is no apparent change in air pressure. like an echo behind what she is doing just now. even a control board of sorts to the right. Now. The world outside seems to be on fire. She walks towards the airlock. and now it is like gliding. Has this ever happened before? It feels as though it has: the sensation of gliding – really of being in movement – is very strong as a memory. asking: ‘What is it?’ ‘The setting of the sun. even to herself.’ 68 . The airlock slides open at her approach. the low whirr of the trolley just behind to her left. In the centre – exactly – of the lock a slight but firm jiggle of the tentacle stops her. the amount of support provided calculated to a frighteningly exact degree. She won’t admit it. to walk.There is a breathing apparatus. two step. She hesitates.

that is. The bigness of the sky. She feels stronger then and hurries her pace. towards the low buildings. Then she can ask: ‘Which way?’ The trolley machine turns to the right.She steps through the door. a way of getting her breath back. It’s like an orientation for her. She looks a long time at this roadway: black matt surface. But there is a roadway – she is standing on it – running away on either side of her. Beyond them. And before her a ruined environment of rubble and patches of dirty slabbed paving reaching across an uneven land towards lines of low blocky buildings lit a glaring red by the sun. completely even. reaching up everywhere with no apparent geometry. completely level. And the land – the ground – stretching out to so many different horizons: low buildings over to her right. She is relieved. without the support of the machine’s tentacle. out into the open. At one point she discovers that she is walking freely. But the time comes when they move beyond the 69 . Hard to take in at once. then to her left towards a nibbled far horizon of scrub vegetation. a line of low hills is already being lost in the evening shadows. That way.

coruscating with a profound sort of animation. she asks herself: Have I ever seen this before? She does not know.’ She stares at the machine. She stops and stands in awe before it. and amid the wonder she is going to experience that realisation will trouble her. She knows the machine is absent.’ 70 . Yet there is no echo in her. whole. ‘Stupid machine. hitting the side rail of the machine with the heel of her hand as she passes. it dances for her. as though at once utterly masterful and utterly helpless. grainy orange tinges where stray cloud and other concentrations permit. Then: ‘The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. The sun. She asks: ‘Is this usual?’ Silence. The sun is still above the horizon. wavering through the layers of pale green sky. deep sulphurous red. so that she can now look to the west. Even before registering what she is seeing.shadow of the long tsug station. She can only resume walking towards the low buildings at the end of the roadway. no memory of previous events like this. The feeling of intense frustration and anger is not unfamiliar to her.

The magnitude or strength of Rayleigh Scattering varies by the reciprocal of the wavelength raised to the fourth power. rather than statistical variations in density of the Earth's atmosphere. oranges and peachy colours of sunrise and sunset arise from Mie Scattering. purples. which is the point at which darkness falls.After a very slight delay the machine follows her. soot. It should not be confused with dusk. violet and green. The colour of the sky described by Rayleigh Scattering applies to the hues of blue. not to the reds. oranges. peaches and purples of sunrise and sunset. Rayleigh Scattering is a scattering of shorter wavelength light – for example blue & violet – by air atoms and molecules. smoke and ash particles. saying in a loud enough voice for her to hear: ‘Sunset is the time at which the Sun disappears below the horizon in the west. are explained by the phenomena of both Rayleigh Scattering and Mie Scattering. Mie Scattering thus produces the colours of sunset and sunrise and is recognizable down-wind of and after 71 . The variations of the reds. low angle scattering of light off dust. some time after the beginning of twilight when the Sun itself sets ‘The colours of the sky throughout the day and at sunrise and sunset.

chemical fires and volcanic eruptions that inject large quantities of fine particulate matter into the atmosphere. on a west-facing coastline. During the day. The timing can also vary in local time. in the Northern 72 . In particular. ‘The timing of sunset varies with the time of year and the latitude of the location from which it is viewed. which serves to lift dust into the air. differences between sunrise and sunset may in some cases depend more on the geographical particulars of the location from which they are viewed. there tends to be more dust in the lower atmosphere at the end of the day than at the beginning. The atmosphere responds in a number of ways to exposure to the Sun during daylight hours. but some differences exist. ‘The sunset is often more brightly coloured than the sunrise. with the shades of red and orange being more vibrant. sunset occurs over water while sunrise occurs over land. Changes in timing of sunset are generally driven by the axial tilt of Earth and the planet’s movement around its orbit. For example. However. with the location’s precise longitude. the Sun heats the surface of the Earth. lowering the relative humidity and increasing wind speed and turbulence. For example.severe storms.

without any 73 . Further.Hemisphere. along with solar noon. The same phenomenon exists in the Southern Hemisphere except with the dates swapped. five of them that she can see. ‘As sunrise and sunset are calculated from the leading and trailing edges of the Sun. For one week or so surrounding the two solstices. ‘Due to Earth's axial tilt. the Sun is still seen after it is below the horizon. This effect is a daily illusion both morning and evening. because the light from the Sun is bent by the atmospheric refraction. and to the southwest from the autumn equinox to the spring equinox. This effect is plotted by an analemma.’ The buildings are squat cubes of some black material. this slightly increases the duration of “day” relative to “night”. the earliest sunset is not at the winter solstice but instead it occurs some days earlier. the direction of sunset is always to the northwest from the spring equinox to the autumn equinox. both sunrise and sunset get slightly later or earlier each day. Likewise. and not the centre. Even on the equator. but occurs some days later. the latest sunset is not at the summer solstice. sunrise and sunset shift several minutes back and forth through the year.

’ ‘Persons? What do you mean by person?’ ‘Persons are people who live in reality.’ ‘I mean. It sits behind the others. She points: ‘What are they?’ ‘Machine cannot see as humans do.’ 74 . very tall – structures directly behind her.apparent openings. how far off she cannot judge.’ ‘Cities?’ ‘Yes. numbers Three. One is taller than the rest. Where persons live. to run alongside these buildings. cities. ‘They are the Rim Spires. She stops and looks back to check for the machine now that it has fallen silent. towards an horizon but not on it. The roadway turns abruptly to the left. Four and Five.’ She does this. Please indicate a direction by touching the machine appropriately. They are off in the distance. you idiot. There are three tall – actually. what kind of buildings are they?’ ‘They are cities. hissing her breath impatiently.

one fork going left. back around towards the tsug station.’ ‘Which way then?’ ‘You will follow me. the roadway divides. the other one heading towards a tall 75 . Already there is a freshness. Night. and continues to push it until it is running along quickly enough for her. so she gives it a push. It increases its speed. the light flaring up into the sky. ‘Am I a person?’ ‘No. Why isn’t the sunset familiar? She turns back to the nearby buildings. the horrible morbid taste in her throat is receding.’ The trolley machine follows the roadway around to the left. She starts.’ ‘What am I?’ ‘Designation is unclear. She pushes it again. ‘Is this Reception?’ ‘No. The pace she has set is demanding.’ The sky is darkening now over to the right. Once beyond the buildings. I know something of this process. She finds it is moving too slowly.The sun is reflecting sharply from the cities. but it will clear her lymph quickly.

pitted and scraped over its entire surface. the couch superstructure swaying as it takes the turn at what must be excessive speed.metal gate to the right. doesn’t want to hear. debilitated surface. She follows. 76 . There is no sense of escape. ‘I will run on ahead.’ She takes a very deep breath. It feels really good to do that.’ She does. then swings around left. a release of pentup feeling. She can see that it is bouncing about. ‘Must observe safety limit for uncertain terrain. The gate opens at their approach. A very old. The road surface has changed. nonetheless.’ she says in good humour. The machine calls something but she doesn’t hear. ‘What is it?’ The machine stops. she does feel released from some constraint – but without being able to say what it is she is escaping. a sudden surge in her spirits as she passes through the gate. She lets out a cry. not intended for machines such as the trolley. The machine whizzes through. The machine reduces its speed abruptly. ‘Well. The machine is veering towards the gate. not at all smooth – in fact. A dull grey material.

the solid thump of her heart almost audible. observing the changes in her body. Its edges are marked by obviously artificial slopes that rise to low walls that run along either side. the easy access to strength – though she has no memory of running like this before. large blocks reaching the roadway itself here and there. a low fence of some black material. She has settled down to an easy loping run. panting in an urgent faintly excited way. The greatest pleasure she finds is in her limbs. Then she sees that the road ends abruptly just ahead. legs tingling.The roadway is much wider than the one within the station compound. elsewhere they have collapsed down onto the slopes. The walls themselves are badly damaged. There is too much heat in her lungs – an itch to cough that she instinctively resists – as air is forced into the lower reaches that have been all but inactive for a long time. a narrow opening in the centre. pumping her arms vigorously at her sides. The light is fading as the sun sets behind her. She stops at the fence. especially her legs. though: heat here too. Her throat is fine. but this too will pass with exercise. parts of them missing altogether in places. but even so the air 77 .

then begins: ‘The Western Littoral sub-brachial access line of the World Circuit serving the …’ A voice from somewhere beyond the fence speaks with a decisive edge: ‘Oh do shut up!’ The machine goes silent. She casually raises an arm to it. She is very tall. the machine is saying.is vivid for some reason – as though her eyes have some kind of penetrative power. don’t they?’ She sees now that a roadway runs on through the opening in the fence. This is for your own protection. and she realises that the trolley has bumped along in her wake calling this out for her sake. She asks: ‘What is this?’ The machine pauses for an instant. seeming to sag on its fat wheels.’ It repeats this. 78 . ‘Medical restrictions apply. ‘They rattle on. A woman stands in this roadway. Behind her. surface black and smooth just like the roadways within the tsug station. The machine falls silent at once.

don’t you?’ No protective clothing: she remembers that. She wears instead a single long garment in dark blue that reaches to the ground. Her face is long and very lean.’ She comes forward slowly. Her skin is dark. her eyes gleam in the sunlight. She turns to the machine: ‘She is not protected. ‘At least you know that. 79 .’ Stella has come out onto the old roadway. I don’t. peering at the woman against the light of the sun. That’s short for Estrellapollia. She hears a wheel whirring. She is very tall.She wears no protective clothing. and jealousy. ‘Who are you?’ ‘You can call me Stella. as though care is needed at this point.’ There is annoyance.’ Stella bends slightly. ‘Do you know who you are?’ ‘No. ‘She is not under care. as though expressing agitation. The machine rocks from side to side.

’ 80 .’ She plugs the lead into the socket in the back of her neck. ‘What?’ ‘Can’t you read?’ ‘No.’ The current passing from the machine goes through her entire body. Stella says. And don’t you forget it. machine?’ She utters the word machine with a malicious bite. ‘Isn’t that right.’ The screen juts up from the machine. machine. ‘Turn around. lettering brilliant in the growing gloom. murmuring: ‘This jack has seen some use.‘What it means is that I am a free human being. ‘You are category six.’ Stella has pulled out a drawer in the near end of the trolley: ‘That’s right. hasn’t it?’ To the machine she orders: ‘Screen.’ She is drawing out a lead. I’m going to hook you to the machine. You are a natal human. That way we can find out who you are. begins to relax. She stiffens. then remembers that she is not entering reality.’ She raps the side rail of the trolley with her knuckles. ‘Look at this.

‘Be quiet. -3. didn’t I?’ The air feels as though it is a kind of acid.21 amber. No designation. And you are broke. Stella lays her palm flat on her brow: ‘No.’ She smiles. That is to explain why you are here. You’ll get used to it in a moment. You have no name.’ She checks her wrist: 2. ‘Put it this way: most of your record seems to be hidden.569 red. ‘This is what real air is like.’ She takes a breath.’ ‘Yes.412. She coughs violently. isn’t it?’ 81 . This is for your own protection. don’t panic. ‘What else does the screen say?’ ‘You caught that? Well. it’s awkward to explain.‘Then I’ll read it for you.’ Stella is pulling at her face mask. And it’s a long time since you breathed real air.’ Stella says without turning her head. peeling it away from the cowl. The machine says: ‘Medical restrictions apply. Already she can feel her body beginning to react. I told you that already.’ Stella pulls the lead out and lets it reel back into the machine. ‘Do you? Good. I know that.

She ruffles through her stubby hair. real oxygen. but you should do it anyway.’ She is now drawing the cowl back. her whole face taking part. many creases around her eyes and mouth. It says you are a woman. ‘Let it grow.’ She gives one of her full smiles again. Clothes. and yet she is realising that she has never seen anyone actually smile before. of course. but try to wear something better than that’ – pointing to the zip-up she’s wearing – ‘it makes you look like a clone.’ Stella smiles again. like fire is circulating instead of blood. It is delightful to see. really a stammer. part the shock her whole being is undergoing. No one will care. Tied at her nape.Her body is about to burst open.’ 82 . one more thing before I go. do you hear me? It will make a statement. it hangs in a thick hank down to her waist. ‘See. ‘As I say. She says. ‘So.’ Stella turns in order to show her own hair. This doesn’t matter either. part an unusual movement in her: ‘You are lovely.

Sophie. It says: ‘We must wait for a replacement. You need a name. She doesn’t know why she feels this. It’s in some ancient language.’ The machine is still rocking on its wheels.’ She throws her weight against the end of the trolley nearest her. but she likes the feeling. But Sophie will do nicely anyway.’ She looks at the machine and suddenly feels an immense patience. This machine cannot move. then surges away from her. I suggest Sophie. The machine bounces once. She shouts back: ‘Wear red if you can.She reaches and touches her shoulder: ‘A name.’ ‘Are you still trying to free it?’ ‘Yes. ‘Why can’t you move?’ ‘Front right wheel is stuck in a rut or other obstruction. so that she can look around and actually begin to see. It’s as though something has stopped. Deep red. It’s the nearest I can think of to the name of the last person you were.’ Stella turns suddenly and walks away. Instructions are to continue to do so. 83 . Bye for now.

’ ‘Category six natals are fully adapted to their environment. That is advised for your welfare. but she catches the glint of rails. I’m still alive. That will do for now. The roadway is fenced. ‘Is this the trackway for the tsug?’ 84 . She is not puzzled. ‘No.’ ‘Very well. We should continue to Reception. ‘Stella seemed pretty healthy. The area below is largely in deep shadow now. Category three artificials may lack fundamental immunities. Do you wish to be tested?’ She stares at the machine. They are on a bridge.’ The air is still very – what word? – potent.’ ‘No. I won’t. You are not equipped for night vision.’ ‘Can we go on then?’ ‘First you should close the face mask.‘Are you free now?’ ‘Yes.’ The machine rolls out onto the smooth surface of the newer roadway. rather it is that she is only beginning to grasp at something like the range of what is becoming available to her. She can see over it.

‘How fast was that?’ ‘Not too fast. Only three thousand kilometres per hour in the tunnels. One moment silence and darkness.’ She continues to stare into the darkness below. Still no lights. though there is nothing at all to be seen now.’ The machine pauses. Correction: it will enter the Number Three Tunnel. The World Circuit enters the Tunnels further north of here. The Western Littoral throughway. It is slowing as it enters the curve that will take it into the Number Two Tunnel.’ ‘Like the one I was on?’ ‘No.‘Yes. If we wait for two minutes you will witness the passage of a tsug. Then it is gone. 85 . ‘No.’ ‘How fast can they go?’ ‘Four thousand kilometres per hour above ground. then a fierce rush of air and a tremendous booming sound.’ There is no warning of the approach of the tsug. but the residual sunlight glints on the leading edges of the coaches as they flash by below. This tsug is the daily from Kano and Toledo.

’ The machine jerks again. the machine gives one of its jerks and asks: ‘People are not happy here?’ She touches the nearest rail on the trolley.’ 86 . ‘Did the people want to go somewhere else?’ ‘Yes. The tsugs. they would get on another tsug there and go somewhere else again.’ The machine stops moving. She is uncomfortable with the encroaching night. She offers: ‘That’s because they were going somewhere else. that is. ‘Some would spend all their time here.’ The dusk is very deep. She thinks something is interfering with it.’ A low whirr of the wheels as the machine moves away.‘Humans once came in their hundreds to witness the passage of a tsug. She expands: ‘If they got on a tsug here and went somewhere else. They were happy. ‘People liked the tsugs. though she does move off the bridge with some reluctance. ‘People are not happy anywhere.’ She follows the machine.’ the machine tells her. She can barely see the machine out in front of her. As she catches up to it. They cheered as they passed.

’ ‘Are you unhappy?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘I’m afraid to ask. ‘Query. I don’t know what subsistence is.’ ‘Are you happy?’ ‘No.’ ‘I don’t know. voicing it like it was talking to itself – or to some other machine.’ the machine says.’ 87 .’ ‘Do you know what happiness is?’ ‘Not being unhappy.‘Data for consideration.’ The machine grinds on dirt and pebbles as it rotates on its wheels in order to face her: ‘Is wellbeing the equivalent of happiness?’ ‘No.’ ‘Is subsistence the predeterminant of happiness.’ ‘I don’t know because I don’t want to know.’ ‘How is that possible? You imply that humans must be in one or other of those states: happy or unhappy.

with her in tow.’ 88 . She assumes the machine is conferring with another machine.’ She is extremely surprised by her answer. ‘Happiness is not a real state. ‘There is an instruction to ask you the following question: If the machine cannot make humans happy through subsistence. She keeps close to the machine. assuming that it is following the smoothest path it can find. illuminating the ground all around her. then what can make the humans happy?’ She finds that she holds onto the trolley rail while she reflects on this question. then asks in order to ease a pressure growing in her: ‘Can we get in out of the dark?’ Immediately.’ The roadway is the ancient pitted surface again. ‘Is unhappiness a judgement also?’ ‘No. ‘I will travel as fast as it is permitted.Silence. trundling along a weaving path among the ruts and potholes. given the road surface. a light shines out from the trolley. Unhappiness is a real state. It is a judgement. She waits a little while. The machine is silent for a longish while. The machine gets under way again.

a capacity that seems part availability and part a simple openness. so the trolley can now move more quickly. She increases her pace until she is running alongside the trolley. The darkness presses in on her despite this. Artificial light. If she could see her way. She has continued to hold onto the trolley rail. It is not strength – as she understands it – it is more like a new motivation.’ The surface of the roadway has improved.’ ‘No. She says: ‘There are no lights anywhere?’ ‘There are the stars.This seems to exhaust the machine’s curiosity. There is no human light. A partial moon will rise later. She must run to keep up.’ ‘None is needed. The machine adjusts its light for her. watching the lit ground at her feet. perhaps she would simply run till 89 . For a moment she feels fatigue and is on the point of asking the machine to slow down.’ ‘But how do people find their way about at night?’ ‘People stay in actuality. It’s not clear to her why she does this. Then she flushes hot throughout her whole body and feels a fiery intensity in her limbs.

It is this way. pebbles. dust. There are so many twists and turns that she must take hold of the trolley rail again. then right. Or perhaps she just wants the company of the machine.’ She. Now it turns again to the right. turns left. The machine bounces a lot on its squat wheels. then left again. though she senses the presence of buildings in how the machine’s voices echoes here and there around them. sector two east. ‘Your assignment has been received. of course. It slows. serial four five eight dash bee seven. Atlantic Rim Community Phoenix. even fist-sized lumps. A lot of debris. ‘This is your domicile.’ 90 . Thank you for your cooperation. then turns right. ‘Wait.’ The machine goes forward with a start. then runs on. can see nothing. ‘This is Reception. a faceless cube that reflects little of the machine’s light. For the record. It stops and rotates its light until it rests on a low black structure.she dropped. Your assignment is being received. The surface has changed again.’ the machine announces. and after running for a little while turns left.

I am here. It switches the light off. It is by starlight that she can begin to see. The block building has disappeared into sudden darkness. She will cease to exist. She will throw herself down on the ground and shrink as small as she can. perhaps take one or two of the brightest down out of the sky for her personal comfort. She will scream in utter terror. wait. Then there is utter silence. The area inside is bathed in low blue light. its wheels skidding on the roadway. muffled by intervening buildings. She finds she can make out shapes in the dark.’ The scraping and scratching of the machine’s progress away from her fades very quickly. She says: ‘Open a door for me. She looks up. 91 . She will panic.The machine turns about abruptly. ‘Hey. She thinks: I can go inside now.’ A section of the wall in front of her slides back. She is convinced that if she wanted to. ‘How do I get in?’ The machine keeps moving away: ‘Instruct the domicile. she could touch the stars.’ she cries out.

Directly facing the entrance there is the sustenance hatch. ‘Inventory. ‘Welcome to your domicile.’ White light reveals a single empty chamber that is taking up most of the volume of the building. The question: How do I live? surfaces in her as a kind of stupid reflex. The controls are simple and clearly illustrated. They will activate at your approach. It will activate at your approach.’ She doesn’t know where the word comes from. the door shuts behind her. The facility is fully automated and self-maintaining.Once inside. Then it 92 . The inner chamber is also lit by low blue light. like a fire going out. She walks into the centre of the chamber. The controls are simple and clearly illustrated. Be happy here. Now a second door slides open before her.’ She is nonplussed. To the left of the entrance there is the hygiene stall. She can feel the air changing – and feel something inside her ease. Items such as clothing and custom requirements can be obtained at the Reception. but it has the desired effect. Leisure provisions are sited to the right of the entrance. It will open at your approach. ‘More light.

Fruit. feeling she must make a choice – now that the machine has taken the trouble to explain so much to her – but a deep fear of actually eating drives her away.’ She sees little images of differently coloured packs. Alcohol. 93 .’ She is momentarily timid. having no memory of being in this situation before. very careful in doing this. The voice – very personalised – says: ‘Choose from the menu. remembering suddenly the feeling of intense panic she had experienced a short time before outside in the dark: Walk in a circle around the chamber.’ The third image draws this description: ‘Comprehensive for recovery. Milk. So she instructs herself. She hovers a finger over one and the voice says: ‘Enhanced for activity.refines itself to the more pointed question: What do I do next? She doesn’t know what to do next. Appropriate liquid refreshment will accompany your choice.’ Testing another results in: ‘Consolidated for leisure. The first response is that a panel falls out from the wall immediately before her.

the nozzles directing the spray up and down her body and from side to side. favouring now the nape of her neck and shoulders. a hole in the floor in the far left corner and a set of nozzles suspended from the ceiling. She steps into the stall. The stream of water is gentle at first. She crouches over the hole and evacuates in a series of rhythmic muscular spasms.’ Now this is an instruction she obeys without thought. It is a compact chamber. she find the air sweetly scented. when hot water begins 94 . This lasts a short while. The voice says: ‘You should undress first. The machine asks: ‘Do you wish depilation?’ She is emphatic: ‘No! Never!’ The water becomes warmer and it foams on her skin. if only because she is disposed in any case to take the zip-up suit off. The first result of this ministration is that both her bladder and bowel move. The nozzles continues to spray her with tepid water. The temperature of the water varies. she turns away to the left. Once she straightens from her excretions. so that the next event is the opening of the hygiene stall. lit with a low blue light. The door closes behind her. She steps into the stall again. looking for controls.As it happens.

There is a whirring sound. She realises that she is smiling. A section of the floor draws back and a couch rises into the room. narrowing. The door of the stall slides open. Now she is drawn down the chamber towards the right. see the panel on the right side of the appliance. It shifts in a complex way as she stretches out on it. The voice says: ‘You can instruct the recliner to provide the 95 . Even her eyes are affected. She stands in the middle of the main room and thinks: That is called bathing. These controls are clearly illustrated and easy to use. and warm air blows onto her from all angles. The voice says: ‘The recliner is multifunctional. drying her very quickly. It signifies a buoyancy deep within her.’ She climbs onto the couch. For details of the leisure facilities. Then the water flow ceases abruptly. pulling at the flesh of her face. suddenly sensitive to the light.to douse her from head to foot in a circular motion down her body. Her mouth moves in a certain way. I am very pleased. See the details on the left side of the appliance.

Her last thought is: Have I ever slept before? 96 .’ She says: ‘Sleep. viewing.following attitudes: sitting. sleeping. The light in the chamber dims slowly until only a faint blue glow remains. resting.’ She doesn’t know quite what sleep is. but she knows that she desires it more than anything else at the moment. What seems like a cocoon of warm air comes to surround her.

There are fresh rush mats laid around the stoneflagged floor. Are the mats clean? The Abbess turns to the young novice at her side – so young that her menarche is only now pending. the inlay painted in deep blue. shifting her eyes so she can glance at the Abbess. knowing her mood is being addressed and caught between gratitude for the child’s consideration and anger at the novice’s impertinence. She continues. evidenced in the blotching of what had been her purely ivory skin – and asks. over by the river crossing. as I ordered?’ The novice bows out of habit before replying. Sister Angela herself bought them from the Bastarts. 97 . ‘Are those mats new. sensing the disquieting irritation that moves in the Abbess and wanting to offer consolation to the person she now regards as her actual mother: ‘They weave the finest mats in France.’ She bows again. though her eyes remain unwaveringly glued to the slitted vent in the wall: ‘Yes. Each flag has the emblem of the Cross and the Dove inscribed upon it.’ The Abbess glances in turn at the novice. Mother.

though of course this could never be admitted. But all she does is say further: ‘The rushes grip life strongly when growth is slow.‘Yes. of course – say to rest her fingers on her wrist.’ The novice suddenly warms to the familiarity of her subject. Mother.’ The Abbess is nodding. I know that. If the Abbess – renowned both for her virtue and wisdom – suffered a vice it was that of not repaying with an equal love the love she received in abundance from those she ruled. Such was the price 98 .’ ‘Please. Clothilde. She shivers at the prospect of encountering the warm flesh of the older woman. As a peasant girl. You see that in how the green remains in them. but it is a wet and cold spring. she had grown up immersed in the intricacies of the relationship between the Normandy weather and the processes of nature. yes. and are reluctant to surrender it when cut. Mother. She actually wants to touch the Abbess – totally forbidden. even to touch the palm of her hand to her arm. But they are so dark. She had intended quieting the talkative girl – even sending her away – but the enthusiasm of the child’s chatter was profoundly welcome.

‘You are a good girl. Your work is done here. She did not hide this failing from herself or from God: however. You will become a true Sister in Christ. ‘And the mirror. Mother. child? Has that been cleaned thoroughly?’ The novice straightens up. instantly proud of herself: ‘Oh yes.of authority. And wait. child. Very good.’ – she places a restraining hand on the child’s shoulder – ‘you should go to the dairy and tell Sister Veronica to give you a cup of fresh cow’s milk.’ The Abbess looks the novice in the eyes. You 99 . she sought to make amends for this failing by adding as best she could to the moral formation of those in her care. ‘Now go.’ The light that comes into the child’s eyes is such that the Abbess cannot resist touching the novice’s brow with the lightest caress of her fingertips. Clothilde. taking in again the uncertain texture of the child’s once lovely skin. which could only be fostered through denial. I did that myself.’ ‘Very good. And the child cannot restrain herself either: she reaches and briefly presses her own fingers against those of her Mother Superior.

children grow up. The Abbess has not a good reason for this requirement. Any attempt to control this power of life must also be unremitting. The smock she wears is really too small for her – the child is sprouting up. God bless you. possessing an inborn grace despite her lowly origins and rude upbringing. The mirror the Abbess cannot see: it is hidden to the right. the room is clean. The three fat candles in the holder over by the mirror give sufficient light. Is the room clean? Yes. Her obsession – which surely amounts to a madness – returns.’ She watches the girl run off back towards the convent proper. must also entail much suffering. The Abbess does finally shrug off the regret. Yet the child is for the moment still innocent of that life. Obedient. 100 . This is as it should be. She turns back to the slit in the wall. There is a stab of regret. A steely quality enters her now. pleasing. The Abbess shrugs at its unreality: the processes of life are unremitting.need the sustenance now that you are about to become a maiden. become beasts and suffer. only her obsession justifies it. her thin ankles evident – caught too tightly now at her bosom. They have done so before and will do so this time again.

then I will understand his answers. which. Do not ask God to save you from the consequences of your actions. that is). That is said. of course. Do you think God knows any better than you what has happened? He sees you act. Then I would be exposed in my madness: I do not know the answers to my questions until you have answered them correctly. beloved. Truth happens. but it is a delusion of words. I could only explain: read the signs. But I cannot tell you that I merely test you. don’t you see? You act. Again it is said. then cry to God when you suffer for it. There. This is not her madness: this is true. Examine the 101 . I ask questions to test you. it would not. my darling. It is so true that she would scream it out to everyone – if it would serve.She thinks: They ask if I can understand his answers (being a woman. I answer: If he understands my questions. he sees you suffer – then God suffers too. I say the world is made of actions: the world happens. Even you admit that your knowledge – your proud logic and reasoning – is just so much piffle that serves merely to pass the time. You believe the world is made of words.

do you hear. to make sure he has settled down.’ He gives the young man a parting clip across 102 . The Constable looks him over for a moment. The Constable is saying to the young man: ‘Mind you behave yourself here.consequences: let your actions speak to you. the brass medallion of office that hangs about his neck – points a finger at a precise spot in the centre of the room: ‘You wait there now. Do you understand me?’ The young man takes the position indicated. The outside door of the chamber beyond the wall – it is hidden over to the left – is opened. He won’t touch anything – she can see how he retracts his fingers when they are called greasy – but he will look around. then he points to the bucket over to the left. The rush of cool air strikes her heated eyes. Don’t touch anything with your greasy fingers. Use that if you’re taken short.’ The Constable – large and important in his black leather jerkin. Permit them to tell you the truth. his six foot staff. No fidgeting around. sonny. They will not put up with any of your nonsense. out of sight by the door: ‘And don’t make any mess now. This is the preserve of the holy nuns.

’ Finally. The draught of cold air dies away. I’ll hear it if you misbehave. Noted for his dancing. At the moment of crisis. only the curve of his cheek. the door to the outside world closed. his thin pushy nose.’ Then he is gone. Don’t forget. The nuns won’t harm you. Her eyes clear. Of course. She thinks: There are always the questions to ask. that is.the head that sends his heavy hair flying: ‘And you mind your manners in here. The Abbess cannot see his face clearly. the Constable lays his hand on the young man’s shoulder: ‘You’ll be alright now. my boy. Why were you born? Why do you have life? Always the same 103 . It’s just an interview. his piping. lifting them with a practiced movement over his ear and settling them in a sweep down to his shoulder. don’t worry. He is facing the mirror. The Abbess can see the youth more clearly: Jacques the shepherd. Remember your please and thank you. the hollow of the eye socket. his fondness for the company of women of all kinds. He has raised his right hand to lift the stray hanks of hair away from his face. and be sure you’ll catch it. guarding his uncle’s flocks on the common land.

Her last thought is fugitive. His hair hangs lank. Always the last thought: Do I do right? I believe so. I know his manhood surges like fire in him. God help me. But I know his eyes shine. unwashed. Each time they cry to God for the answer. but he is a human beast. What does he do? Answer that question now. his skin is a dirty brown. I know his soul is pure.questions to ask them. Look at him. 104 . Put a man in the room and he rises towards his own glory. How else should he be? A hypocrite? Pretending a modesty while that fire still burns in him? She knows it is time. He knows immediately what to do. Put a donkey in that room and it would piss on the floor in its anxiety. This youth preens himself before perhaps the first mirror he has ever seen. And the answers: Oh they cry to God. She thinks: Perhaps it is too much to ask. bare-footed. Is there not a glory is his self-delight? Is that an evil? He is a beast. He is garbed in rags. spoiled by all the woman who delight in his natural beauty. He is conceited. Pure? Yes. He is pure.

Previously. into the room. That done. ‘You will be whipped for your impertinence.’ The youth nods. The youth is staring at her. expecting the Constable to be waiting outside. the mirror immediately to her right. a frank curiosity on his face.’ It is like a shaft through the Abbess’s breast. He turns to leave the room. The secret door swings outwards. But authority must be maintained. agreeing with her. pressing until she hears the lock catch again. She springs the latch between the bricks. 105 . Mother. Always the pause before she enters. she uses the freed hand to push the door closed. ‘Why do you stare. the men had cringed – for one reason or another. She is taken aback by this. hidden by the open door until she is well advanced into the room. She glances at the youth – as always – then turns back to place the leather satchel on the little table in the corner between the door and the mirror. youth?’ ‘They say you were a great beauty. Then she steps forward. She is extremely angry at his impertinence.She bends to take up the leather satchel that leans against the wall at her feet. she is deeply moved by the obvious adoration in his face.

‘My intended.’ ‘Does no other maiden favour you?’ The youth lowers his head. I cannot do it today. but does not turn around.’ The smell of the sheep is strong on him. ‘There is a more important matter to be attended to here. His eyes are brown. very luminous. ‘That does not cancel the beauty.’ The youth stops. died last summer. almost feeling the warm wool against her skin.‘Wait. 106 . mother.’ The Abbess is at her coldest. youth. She thinks: I cannot do it. arms limp by his sides. Beatrice.’ ‘How did that happen?’ ‘She cut herself in the dairy. moved by sympathy: ‘I am an old woman now. She says.’ Now he does turn around to face her. a melting sadness in them. It comforts her. head bowed.’ The youth remains silent. ‘Are you not married?’ The youth shakes his head. She notices that his shoulders are unusually rounded for someone of his age. I am dedicated to Christ. ‘Well? Answer me. youth.

The youth says. She is surprised to see anger flash in his face. Beatrice lives in my heart. Mother. He says at her retreating form: ‘No.‘How can you hesitate. She steps back into the room. a red stripe across his cheek. ‘You love God.’ It is strange how suddenly her resolve returns. Mother. ‘Go back to your work. Mother. She thinks: I cannot do it to him. 107 . Marry and be content with what life brings you. ‘How dare you equate the two!’ She steps back again.’ She will not look at him again.’ The Abbess steps forward and slaps him across the face. She goes around the open door. I will withdraw. I will bide my time till I join her again. the sadness back in his eyes: ‘They say you loved too. Do not pine. pulls it and steps away as the door opens. She is now at the secret door. Let the youth go back to his flocks and to his sorrow.’ She finds the lever between the blocks. youth? How can you love someone you have not known?’ Now the youth does look up. youth. and another step back.

youth. Oh Jesus and Mary.’ She can see from how his mouth tightens that this is what he has been expecting.’ The Abbess reaches down and raises the skirt of her habit to expose the white arch of her thighs to him. He says in a moaning voice: ‘Jesus and Mary. He is as well endowed as reported.‘Remove your clothes. youth. youth. But the magnetic force is too great at one point. ‘You see how the beast loves. She walks slowly towards him. his hands hovers around his erecting penis. ‘Do what I tell you. The response is practically instantaneous. How much more does he know? she wonders. He finds that he cannot stop himself from drawing towards the Abbess. holding her habit well up above her waist. He is slim.’ Now the youth does cringe. a look of horror on his face. ‘You are a veritable Pan. muscles very little developed.’ His body is white where the clothing had covered it.’ He wants to pull back. his eyes fixed in a crazed way upon the dark bush in her groin. 108 .

Now the Abbess begins to pull back. body to body. shouting: 109 . He doesn’t even know what has happened when he feels the drain in that part of him. where the rush mats are. It is too much. There is a precise spot where she stops. she drops her habit and draws the sickle from the satchel. acting thus to draw the youth after her. The youth never sees the sickle. He sees only the Abbess step towards him and take the stem of his penis in her hand.’ She can feel the weight of his blood beginning to pull at the habit. as the warm blood cools against her skin. He knows only that the Abbess has drawn him in against her. The Abbess steps away from him. careful not to touch the sharpened blade. She repeats herself. This always causes her to shiver. and is gripping him tightly to her with her arms. She says in his ear. voice louder: ‘What do you see? What do you see?’ Now the youth is aware of what has happened to him. in front of the mirror. He sags in her arms. Tell me what you see. panting with the exertion: ‘Look in the mirror. Once she has drawn him to this spot. Look in the mirror.

’ The youth screams.‘What do you see in the mirror? Tell me what you see. 110 .

She checks the figures at her wrist: 2,252,482 red; -3.09 amber. The taste in her mouth is not pleasant, mainly stale though also a sourness too. She says: ‘Drink.’ ‘The sustenance hatch has been activated. Specify liquid required.’ The machine is extremely personalised, almost human, a woman who is calmly in charge. She looks about her. This is the domicile. That much she can remember. She sits up on the couch. ‘Have I slept?’ ‘Sleep period duration: ten hours fifteen minutes to nearest minute.’ So I have slept. I don’t remember anything. Should I? ‘Should I remember sleeping?’ ‘No. Consciousness is in abeyance during sleep period.’ I should stand. See if I can do that. She swings her feet out and down to the floor. She stands with no trouble. Good. I must have been active before I slept. She looks around, sees the lighted hatch. She says as she walks in that direction: ‘Water.’
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She sees the beaker drop from a recess, hears the tinkle of the water pouring into it. ‘Should I eat?’ ‘It is recommended.’ She takes the beaker and drinks. The water is refreshing, cool and sweet. ‘Recommend a meal.’ ‘Comprehensive. There is no record of you ever having eaten.’ ‘Comprehensive it is.’ She looks around the chamber. Four walls she can see in the dim blue light, the couch over there to her left, the hatch behind her. Should there be more? ‘Inventory.’ This is a word I know. ‘Welcome to your domicile. The facility is fully automated and self-maintaining. To the left of the entrance there is the hygiene stall. It will open at your approach. Directly facing the entrance there is the sustenance hatch. It will activate at your approach. The controls are simple and clearly illustrated. Leisure provisions are sited to the right of the entrance. They will activate at your approach. The controls are simple and clearly illustrated. Items such as clothing and custom requirements can be obtained at the Reception. Be happy here.’
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A soft chime sounds behind her. A tray sits in the hatch, bearing two bowls and another beaker. She takes it to the couch. The couch forms itself into a seat as she approaches, a small table rising on the left that she can swing over in front for the tray. Eating should have been a problem, but she finds she knows exactly what to do. She uses a spoon to consume the contents of the nearest bowl – a warm jelly-like concoction, sweet and light. She knows a fork is appropriate for eating the contents of the second bowl, a flaky, crunchy food, salt evident though sweetness as well. The liquid in the beaker she knows is milk, white and fatty, extremely satisfying. And digesting the food she has eaten causes no problem either. In fact she feels wonderfully well after the meal, her senses more alert, a kind of expectation rising in her limbs. She feels that she could do something, yet she feels also an indifference to this impulse. ‘There is an instruction to ask you the following question.’ The voice is harsh, metallic. ‘If acknowledging the state of happiness involves a judgement, does not the corollary follow, that acknowledging a state of unhappiness also involves a judgement?’
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She answers sharply, and with no hesitation: ‘No, of course not.’ Silence for a while. She allows the lassitude reclaim her, returning to the memory of the meal she has just eaten. ‘The machine does not understand. It is known that the machine is not privy to the human sensibilia and that the only knowledge it can have of human inner states is through imagery and linguistic tropes that are often untrustworthy.’ This voice is more measured, with a slight fuzziness that suggests it is being relayed over a great distance. ‘However, in matters of logical analysis, the machine will claim to be at least the equal of the human. Therefore, your reply to the previous question has been judged inadequate. Kindly reconsider the question and provide a more appropriate answer. The question was as follows: If acknowledging the state of happiness involves a judgement, does not the corollary follow, that acknowledging a state of unhappiness also involves a judgement?’ She answers immediately: ‘Happiness is a judgement made about a past state; unhappiness is a description of a present state.’
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The word unhappiness disturbs her. She swings her feet down to the floor and stands up. The impulse to move now is very strong. ‘The categorisation you use does not permit logical analysis. It is impossible to equate the term judgement with the term description.’ There is a pause, during which a faint hiss issues from the sound source. ‘An answer to the following question may be of use: Were you ever happy?’ The word rings like a bell in her head: happy happy happy… She walks away from the couch-chair, down the chamber. A hatch opens on her right. A door opens in front of her. When she walks through this door, it closes at once and water begins to stream down onto her. She stops and looks around her. The stall is white walled. There is a hole in a corner. She turns around and walks back into the main chamber. A door opens on her right and a chime sounds. Then the couch rises from the floor. She says: ‘When I think of happiness I see something that is not familiar. It changes as soon as I catch a glimpse of it. I don’t know what it changes into. There is like a shadow or a screen, and whatever it is hides behind it.’
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She turns at the couch and walks back down the chamber. A hatch opens on her right. A door opens before her. She turns and starts back up the chamber. A door opens on her right and a chime sounds. The couch rises from the floor. ‘There is a quality involved that I do not know. There are what seem to be colours, but they are not colours. There is an object that resembles a bare tree, but it is not a tree.’ She shivers. ‘Someone waits there. Someone waits there for me.’ She turns at the couch and walks back down the chamber. A hatch opens on her right. A door opens before her. She turns and starts back up the chamber. A door opens on her right and a chime sounds. She says, looking into the tiny room that is lit with a flat blue light: ‘I am a bird. I am a beautiful bird.’ Suddenly she glimpses part of the happiness: ‘I can fly.’ She enters the little cubicle. The humanised voice says: ‘You should don protective clothing.’ She says shortly: ‘Shut up.’ She walks to the facing door. It does not open. ‘Open’
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‘You should don protective clothing first. This is advised for your welfare.’ She shouts, very loudly: ‘OPEN!’ The door behind her she hears hiss shut. The door before her opens. The light is blinding. She knows that this is sunlight. The sun shines in the sky to her right. It seems to be trying to shine into her eyes. There are hills glimmering in the distance, bare round forms that seem parched. She breathes. She remembers: oxygen. It burns in her for a while then it is as though she has warmed up. With her skin it is different, however. It feels as though it is shrinking rapidly, coming to pull painfully at certain places: in her groin, at the tips of her breasts, all across her face. It is cold. It is morning. She knows these things and accepts that knowledge without comment. The sun will rise higher in the sky and the air will warm. It will become very warm. She is satisfied with this line of thought. She takes a step forward. A lancing pain shoots up her leg. She jumps back. The ground is littered with bits of stone, grit, even large rocks. She steps forward again, putting her foot down slowly. She feels the impress of
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the rubble on her heel, a jab of pain from a particularly sharp stone. Can she walk barefoot on this broken surface? She believes she has no choice: she’s not sure why this must be so. It takes time to walk even a dozen paces. She moves forward slowly, studying the ground before her for the least painful path. ‘There is the instruction to offer you assistance.’ A machine shaped like a chair has drawn up beside her. She says: ‘My feet.’ ‘The Reception will provide you with appropriate outdoor wear.’ She is strongly tempted to sit on the machine and let it take her to Reception. But she steps away from the machine. The machine trundles along at her side. ‘Your route will not take you to Reception.’ She feels a dart of anger. She looks around. There are a number of the black domicile blocks in the area. She recognises that she is on a roadway: there is a stepped arrangement on either side that defines the way. The domiciles line this roadway on either side, set a little in from the kerbing. She looks back the way she has come. More domiciles line the
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route on either side, dozens of the blocks extending away from her until they reach what seems to be other lines of the low buildings. A lot of domiciles. She can see more of them behind the nearby blocks, lines of them extending in many directions. A very large number of domiciles. She cannot identify her own domicile. They are all exactly the same. ‘Is it giving you trouble?’ The figure stands in the entrance of a domicile off to her left. She knows he is a man, even though he is utterly bald and is wearing a shapeless garment that covers his body down to his knees. She must look troubled, for he steps forward and raises his arm, shouting: ‘Fuck off, will you.’ The machine turns and heads back down the roadway. To her he says in a tone that suggests he knows her very well: ‘Hate the way they hang about. Like they expect something to go wrong. Must think we’re dummies.’ Now he notices she is barefooted. ‘Don’t you use footpads?’ ‘I don’t have any footwear. I’m trying to get to Reception to get something.’ ‘Oh, you won’t get to Reception this way. At least I don’t think so. Hold on.’
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He disappears into the domicile, then reappears with a pair of footpads. He tosses them over to her. ‘Your feet are all bloody. You better come in and clean up. They say you can get all sorts of infections from this dirt.’ The footpads have straps that affix them to her feet. They make a difference. She follows him into the domicile. He points to the hygiene stall: ‘You go in there now. It’ll fix you up.’ At the door to the stall, the voice tells her to undress. She pulls the footpads off. The soles of her feet are extremely tender. The hot water relieves her body. She realises that she is very cold. Then a small tray appears in the corner to the right. A violet coloured fluid swirls into it. Even before the machine tells her, she knows this is to treat her feet. A momentary sting, then she feels a deep refreshment. Back in the main chamber, the man says from the couch – where he reclines before a screen that occupies the whole of the end wall: ‘Not long here, are you?’ She places the footpads over by the exit door, then stands just to the right of the couch, but turned away from the brilliant animated screen. ‘No. I don’t think so.’
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‘Thought as much. You’ve still got your hair.’ He points at her head, then he presses his thumb into the centre of his hand. A second couch rises from the floor beside his. ‘Sit there if you like.’ She is unsure what to do. She is reluctant to sit facing the screen. ‘Can I take a drink?’ This is strictly a subterfuge. But it works. The man swings off the couch and goes to the sustenance hatch. ‘What do you want to drink?’ ‘Water will do.’ ‘Water,’ the man says to instruct the machine. A beaker drops down, the water trickles into it. Just like in her own domicile. She is surprised by this fact, though she knows very well that she should not be. The water is cool and sweet. ‘Where have you come from?’ ‘I don’t know.’ He makes an expression with his mouth, as though a tooth ached. ‘Yes. That’s how it is alright.’ He stares over her head in a totally blank way for while before continuing. ‘Me? Been here all my life, I think. At
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Like a scream. didn’t you?’ She nods. Can hear them sometimes at night. is there?’ Now he goes silent again. See the trains sometimes. the machine says.’ He leans towards her. Daresay there are plenty of places like that in the world. ‘Not much fun in that. ‘Never heard of that. There’s a place up north where the trains are really fast. ‘You don’t like the actuals.’ Now he looks at her: ‘Can you remember anywhere else?’ ‘Tsarist Russia.’ He makes that expression with his mouth again. ‘Actuals?’ 122 .’ she says.least. ‘You came on a train. You can’t really tell. Going everywhere. do you?’ She is caught out here. She knows that a train is a tsug. even though it means nothing to her. ‘Was it fast?’ ‘I think so. but this time he looks around the chamber. don’t remember anywhere else. His brow is very creased and he is frowning in such a way that a thick deep furrow forms right across his brow.

It is as though the screen is on by mistake.He stares at her.’ ‘There is a domicile assigned to me. Can’t remember what though. will you. ‘Screen.’ The end wall lights up again. He shouts down the chamber: ‘Kill the screen. The couch rises from the floor. She knows he thinks he is being very patient with the machine.’ This will be a subterfuge too. He throws himself on it and is at once reclined in a specific way. satisfied with her explanation.’ He nods. ‘They called them something else there. ‘Didn’t they have actuals where you came from? Aren’t they everywhere?’ ‘No. ‘You can stay here is you like. and that the machine is responsible for this mistake. He turns abruptly and goes back down the chamber.’ His voice has a strange whine. He points across towards the screen with his thumb. She thinks now that he may actually be expressing some kind of pain.’ He makes the pained expression again. A man dressed in bright red suiting is saying: 123 .

The look of relief is very evident. She waits. The man on the couch is saying in a voice of rising intensity.‘Mars Eight is signalling incipient for over three minutes. She goes into the airlock. fingers splayed.’ The relief is instantaneous.’ Nothing happens. then orders: ‘Open. The man on the couch relaxes. She goes back into the main chamber. He looks back at her and asks: 124 . ‘No no no NO!’ He has stretched an arm towards the screen.’ Another man is recoiling in fear. sir. The man who has been trying to prevent himself from screaming – he has a bright blue robe draped across his shoulders and an elaborate headgear – now cries out in an unintelligible language. Another man in red is shouting from over by a brightly lit control panel: ‘Zulu Three is coming in. the back of his hand pressed against his mouth in order to stifle the scream that is issuing. She goes down the chamber until the door opens to her left and the chime sounds.

‘You come by train?’ She nods. Walked into the station and got into a carriage. She was here a long while.’ His penis is engorging. ‘People do that. Tried to do it.’ She asks: ‘Are you natal?’ 125 . He raises his gown and says: ‘Look. He looks at her with an intense expression. Didn’t know where she was.’ He sits up on the couch and swings about to face her. She did it. Travel around on the trains.’ The expression of pain crosses his mouth again. Left then. ‘She came by train too. The volume of the voices on the screen has dimmed. ‘All the time like this when you are near. Saw her walking over by the bridge. Go to one place then go to another. his mouth pursing into an oval. ‘Do you know this?’He gazes at his penis as though it is separate from himself. Maybe a long time. The machine said it was already reserved.’ He makes a gesture with his two hands that she does not understand. Lost my nerve. ‘Maybe you should stay here. Then he pushes himself off the couch and approaches her. He is excited after the crisis.

One is saying: 126 .He looks closely at her. Make for happiness. now fully erect. Two tall men in green are facing a man in red. ‘Not possible.’ He pushes her back towards the nearest wall. This is good. Very good. ‘Oh no!’ He runs back to the couch and swings into position there. She looks towards the open door beside her. Do it all the time. startled.’ He opens his mouth in a rictus and shouts: ‘Jig-y-jig!’ He steps back and lets go of his gown. Maybe you stay now. He forces his leg between hers and drives them apart. his expression indicating that he expects her to celebrate the event with him. He looks her up and down. He enters her with no ceremony and pumps vigorously until he ejaculates.’ There is a cry from the screen. He is breathless when he speaks: ‘See. a hand going to his mouth. The door opens and the chime sounds. The volume rises sharply. He swings around. ‘I must go to Reception. ‘Man to woman is good.’ He wraps his left hand around the shaft of his penis.

we ought to withdraw and study the logs.’ – he calls out – ‘Veronica spec. replacing the now silent men in green.’ Even though the man is talking about a serious threat to the group.’ The man says. ‘See? Veronica had thirty six drives. The heat in the responder is reaching dangerous levels. As you well know. then he hurries out a nearby door. Marcham. The man in red makes a gesture with his right hand. The problem was not 127 . ‘We can only hope they find a way this time. Plan was flexibility and distributed load.’ The man called Chrimas raises his hand in order to calm the other. You must do it now. You know that? In 2347.‘The Ransome occluder has misfunctioned again. Your team must do something.’ He steps away from the other man and puts his arms behind his back. he speaks in a steady measured voice.’ Instantly a very detailed plan appears on the screen. Look. By Mars orbit ten of the drives had collapsed. The other man in green says: ‘You know they will rely on the African Parallel again? I tell you. ‘The Saturn Return was a disaster. ‘The logs have been studied more than once. Chrimas.

Look at this.’ She looks back at the door over to the left – the one leading to the outside – then she moves slowly in that direction. He must stand in order to see her. He shakes his head. Need the amended one.’ – he calls out again – ‘Veronica burst equation three. ‘Yes. His bald scalp gleams. It represents the fourth second mark of a standard manoeuvre Veronica would have made. his nose almost touching the shimmering screen. occupying almost the whole area of the screen.spotted until Louis Shensi created the bubble engine in 2578. The man jumps up and runs across to the screen.’ He calls out: ‘Equation three dot one. ‘Wrong set. The man kneels on the floor this time.’ He looks up. appears. Like adjusting vector.’ Now a very complex mathematical formula. easily as complex and long as the previous one. That is a fuel indicator. 128 . Here it is.’ Another equation appears on the screen. Look. He bends to examine a section of the equation down near the floor. ‘You sees this minus value. because the couch blocks his view of her over by the door. This is schema – oh – four seven seven six one.

’ She says. standing just outside the sensor range of the door: ‘I need to go to Reception. With thirty six engines.’ She asks: ‘Will you open these doors for me?’ ‘It cycled in roughly five point two three seconds at standard thrust.’ He thumps his chest with a fisted hand. that is all that was needed. Shensi’s great pupil. It opens and the chime sounds. That’s what took so long to work out what was happening. ‘It wasn’t until Basila Krutcheva.She is strapping the footpads to her feet. ‘Why didn’t they check the equation more carefully…’ She walks into sensor range of the door. Anyway. It cannot be retrieved. spent ten years analysing the problem that they realised that the fuel calculation within the equation was cyclic.’ He comes over to her. You must know why they failed.’ He spreads his arms earnestly. 129 . Most thrusts last only a second or two. which of course is then replaced. there is a twelve point six six percent fuel drain in the cycle. ‘You should understand this. I need clothing. Fuel is consumed. ‘Don’t you understand? There is no such thing as a negative fuel value.

’ He is pointing at her left wrist.148. ‘Are you like that? Can you live without reality?’ ‘I don’t remember reality.’ He steps back from her.’ It is a gown that reaches below her knees. They had to kill him. He points down to the screen – where the men in green are staring at the control board: ‘That’s why you don’t like actuals?’ She is evasive here: ‘I don’t understand this actual. like you.‘Wait. The gown fits quite well. -2. ‘She wore that. We’re all the same size.’ He presses what she sees is a thin ring about long finger of his right hand. ‘I am broke now. She draws it over her head. It will fit. The colour is dark red with dark green flashes down either side.666 red.’ ‘Is that what happened to you?’ She nods. A cabinet opens beside the sustenance hatch.96 amber.’ She is candid. ‘You have a wealth clock. Broke.’ 130 . She looks: 2. She feels sheltered. There is an obscure relief in being clothed. ‘A wealth man came here once. He goes over and comes back with a neat bundle.

accepting her explanation.He nods. Not only because the equation was wrong. hands out to touch her: ‘But it’s good here. Isn’t it good here?’ She evades his touch by appearing to bend to rub her ankle.’ ‘I have my own domicile.’ He steps forward. ‘I must go now.’ 131 . Really about twenty nine days. You know this. She takes a step back towards the airlock. ‘That’s when they discovered we could live in space for no more than thirty three days.’ He stares at her. He pauses. don’t you. licking his lips. raising his brows until a series of deep furrows form extending right up onto his scalp. Open the outer door for me. You know that?’ She shakes her head.’ She says yes even though she didn’t. It was a disaster. ‘You know that. so she reminds him: ‘I would like to leave now.’ He is genuinely surprised: ‘Why? You’ve got what you wanted. ‘Sure. yes?’ She nods. It takes about four days to finally die. ‘It’s not actually thirty three days.

Look. It’s good now that you’re here. It is intensely bright in the sunlight. finding that the footpads give her feet good support on the uneven surface of the roadway.’ He pulls up his gown. Every crystal in their bodies dissolved. His penis is engorging rapidly. She breathes deeply with tremendous relief even as she turns and runs out onto the roadway. Then with hardly a pause the door behind her opens. I’ll do it again and you’ll see. He is rubbing his hands together frantically. You cannot go now. ‘Don’t you want to know how they died?’ He is standing in the doorway. The inner door at his back closes. She breathes deeply. the look of pain right across his face now.‘No. Raw air rushes in. almost used now to 132 . The bright light creates deep shadows across his furrowed brow and into the hollows of his eyes. Back into a soup. That’s what leaving the Earth did to them. But he shouts after her: ‘We’re stuck here! Do you know that? For ever and ever!’ Now she runs.’ She walks off in a direction that seems to take her away from his voice as quickly as possible. ‘It’s like they melted.

but on this horizon this time she sees a group of very high towers. the day has grown warmer. so cannot therefore estimate their distance away. She has no way of comparing their height. and she finds that the material of the gown she’s wearing now has the ability to vent the increasing heat of her body. and no doubt in reaction she takes one of the turn-offs to the left. many more domiciles. They seem far off. She runs easily down this roadway. Like she is going somewhere on condition that she never comes back here. though perhaps they are not quite so far away. It becomes an irritant. so that now the sun is at her back. silver clad and bright in the sunlight. turn-offs left and right here too. every so often turn-offs left and right along which are rows of more domiciles. In fact. This roadway runs on ahead of her. They are something to run towards. Nonetheless. domiciles on either side. the burning sensation gives her intense pleasure. 133 .how the oxygen burns in her. As she expected. She is running towards the dry hills in the distance. It’s like something in her expanding. something that is at once a kind of anticipation and a kind of exhaustion. The sun on her right is low enough in the sky to flash on her eyes from time to time.

just run and run. The roadway was damaged before the domiciles were built. obviously the ruins of domiciles – of a different kind – that once lined it. The hole is littered pretty completely with degraded rubble. then there is only a flat rust-brown expanse of desiccated soil. reappearing again quite a way beyond that. The lines of black domiciles stop some distance away. 134 . quite far from the hole. Yet she can see low mounds of stone rubble on either side of the roadway reaching right up to the crater. In fact the land seems to fall away in the middle distance.she wants to run all the way to them. She could run forever. beginning a broad swing away to the right. There are the ruins of old domiciles up to a point. The edge of the roadway is a ragged tear. Beyond the hole the roadway continues. so she knows that the violence occurred a long time ago. There is no roadway that she can see leading that way. Just as she realises this – that she would run forever – the roadway comes to an abrupt end at a wide shallow hole. She looks towards the high buildings at the horizon. She looks about. so she knows that the hole was the result of an act of violence. the urge to get to them still strong.

She asks: ‘What’s happened?’ ‘This cadaver is to be processed. back among the domiciles again. until she comes to the first turn off. She must run. which is to her left.’ She knows the answer. She enters this roadway at full tilt. There is the body of a man laid out awkwardly along it. She settles down to the running. At once the unease in her recedes. something of the incipient panic driving her along now. yet a need to move rising like a panic in her. one arm dangling down one side. run anywhere. So she runs back the way she has come. She determines she will run to them.She is at a loss then. though the sun is once again in a position to cause her some nuisance. a leg hanging out on the other. This roadway is much like the one she has left – a bit narrower perhaps – and it seems to stretch before her into the middle distance. the urge to run stymied. lines of the domiciles on either side. The only break in this monotony is the outline of a group of taller buildings that form the horizon a little to the left of the roadway. A trolley machine appears from a side road ahead to the right. but she asks: ‘Is he dead?’ 135 .

Medication would be allocated accordingly. pointing down the roadway: ‘What are those buildings there?’ The machine says: ‘Machines have no sight in the human sense.’ She hits the machine in the appropriate place.’ Her reply is intended to be final. cold with static: ‘The metaphor of flying indicates a delusional state.‘That is correct. The machine says. The silence that follows is intense. and she reaches out instinctively and tries to push the leg up onto the couch. The limb is stiff and will not be moved.’ She is surprised to hear this. Treatment is indicated. She says. ‘No machine is competent in this area.’ The machine voice this time is more personalised: ‘Stress testing is permitted.’ ‘No. There is no sound anywhere in the world. Indicate the part of this casing closest to the subject of your enquiry.’ ‘You’re going there?’ 136 . ‘That is the Tertiary Reclamation Plant and subsidiary units. a different tone.’ The machine has stopped by her.

To persist in such a deluded belief can only lead to danger. though she is heading towards the reclamation plant. Delusions can be dangerous to human wellbeing. Yet she must run. There are no openings apparent in its blind surfaces. It is black clad and matt. ‘This is proposed for your welfare. a rounded inflection intended to give comfort. It is a deeply forbidding structure – more so given its function – yet she clings to it for relief from a greater unease. away from the machine and the dead body. She focuses on the tallest of the buildings. ‘It is quite evident that humans cannot fly. She does not want to continue towards the buildings. She thinks: what is wrong with flying? The unease moves in her.‘That is correct. She thinks again: what is wrong with flying? Now she trembles so much that she must stop running.’ ‘Oh don’t be so stupid!’ She shouts this very loudly. partly in shadow from her perspective.’ The personalised voice is speaking. then she resumes her running. She is momentarily undecided.’ It’s the initial voice again. What is wrong with flying? 137 .

She waits for it to catch up. The sun strikes her full in the eyes. It is not far off. The sky is a powdery blue. away from the sun. She looks back along the roadway for the trolley-machine. and to discover that she is very thirsty. She thinks: no context. 138 . The time taken allows her to regain her breath. It has its tentacle arms wrapped about the body to keep it in place. She thinks: I understand that. The sky is limitless. ‘Definition: knowledge is memory. degraded. sweet. The sky is featureless.It’s a kind of reaction: she looks up at the sky. she calls: ‘What do I know?’ The machine does not respond until it has stopped at her side. Then she thinks: like no memory. Then she remembers: happiness. When the machine finally comes within range. She pulls her head away to one side. Limitless. trundling along at what must be the top speed permitted to it on this kind of surface. Does that suffice?’ The body on the trolley smells: musty. Only now does the trembling subside. A cloudy fluid drips from the heel of the dangling leg.

’ The machine jigs in place. Then she discovers she is thirsty. it says: ‘Return to your domicile.She answers.’ The machine staggers forward again. Thank you for your cooperation. considering what way she might go. Then it stops again. All your needs will be attended to there. ‘I am thirsty. ‘A new domicile has been allocated. The machine is floundering as it negotiates the rubble on the roadway.’ ‘I don’t want to go back. The body slips.’ The machine starts into motion.’ She kicks the machine. fascinated by the smell: ‘Memories can be false. but the tentacles are quick to stop it. ‘I don’t know where it is. ‘Where? Where is it?’ 139 . Atlantic Rim community Phoenix. ‘A machine will take you back.’ The machine jigs again.’ The machine’s answer is pat. After a pause. sector one north. serial four five eight dash dee six.’ She is looking around again. For the record. delivered immediately: ‘Knowledge need not be true.

The controls are simple and clearly illustrated. It will open at your approach. It will activate at your approach. They will activate at your approach.’ She goes straight to the sustenance hatch. She asks for more water. Directly facing the entrance there is the sustenance hatch. It is very familiar. The controls are simple and clearly illustrated. ‘Water.’ The voice is highly personalised.’ She drains the beaker in one go. Leisure provisions are sited to the right of the entrance. To the left of the entrance there is the hygiene stall. ‘Welcome to your domicile. The door behind her closes and another opens in front of her. She enters the air lock. and drains that too.The machine has enough speed now to cope with the rubble. She shouts: ‘OPEN!’ A door opens in a domicile over to her left. 140 . The facility is fully automated and self-maintaining. Items such as clothing and custom requirements can be obtained at the Reception. ‘Light. It leaves two thin trails of eddying dust-cloud in its wake. Be happy here.

‘Do you want to eat? An enhanced meal is indicated. It is as though she could float. She lets the tray slide from her hands and falls back onto the couch. You have been very active since your last meal.’ She takes the tray over to the couch that rises from the floor at her approach. crisp at first then chewy. She is very hungry. resting. very refreshing. The couch says: ‘You can instruct the recliner to provide the following attitudes: sitting. 141 . The drink is aerated. Pleasure. viewing.’ ‘Do it. red-purple in colour. grateful for the food. The feeling afterwards is remarkable. She thinks: this is called pleasure. sleeping. The food is golden. She closes her eyes.’ She pushes herself backwards onto the couch. The action is familiar and reminds her of something.

He tries to tolerate the discomforts of the winters here. and when he sneezes his nose runs copiously for a long time afterwards.The highland winters make Publicus Aronicus very miserable. Publicus Aronicus hates draughts. because he must spend time in a pokey shed with a draughty door. Valerius Rufinus. There is also his own very pleasant temperament. It is much worse this year. but this year his patience is being tried to the limit. Even to think about the charms and attractions of doing nothing at all – despite the chill. They make him sneeze all the time. his capacity to dawdle and daydream for hours on end when let. He undertakes it as a favour to his master. who tapped 142 . Oh. Publicus Aronicus is not the kind of slave to hate many things. away from the noisome throng of the lower city. the noise. the whole botheration of his present situation – is enough to draw him away into that never-never land he believes he actually inhabits. The consideration and good humour of his master. but the pesky business of census-taking. He consoles himself – when he has the presence of mind – by contemplating those fortunate aspects of his life. His comfortable quarters in his master’s mansion up on the hill.

imagine. priests and purgators as well.’ (which is how Valerius Rufinus addresses his favourite slave) ‘so you must go and count bodies for a while I fear. So he goes as instructed. not a pokey little village. with his slates and chalk.’ Publicus Aronicus is only half awake to this – some pleasant flower garden for his reverie predominant in his mind – and of course he is perfectly agreeable to undertaking this task on behalf of his master and the Emperor. sheets of paper and his pens and inks. The shed requisitioned for the Imperial Service sits at an unfavourable corner of the town’s main square. It’s a town. canners and dossers. There is a badge for his shirt proclaiming him a Roman Imperial Censor. Baba. so think of all the company you will have! Tailors.him on the head a month ago and said. cobblers. Certainly it has been thoroughly cleaned out. spinners and weavers. a small army of the town’s seasonal workers – at present with nothing better to 143 . There will be street ladies and street boys to count. just where the northbound road lets in all the cold winter wind and rain. insignia enough to cow any subject of his Imperial Divinity. tanners and tossers. with his mockironic cheer: ‘Ah. Out in the countryside too.

to be provided in the comfort of the household’s kitchen. the bales of hay and mangers. Food. hammered together as a lean-to affair by a handy carpenter. This was all very amusing in late autumn. His midday repast: bread. when Publicus Aronicus first arrived here. the unanimous response in the town was: ‘Not me. Did Publicus Aronicus have time to stroll the countryside? Indeed he had. I’m not telling anyone my business. rough Samarian wine is brought to him by a nearby household. he was free to walk where he wished. And most all – arriving together with bedding and heavy winter clothing on a noisy cart drawn by two old oxen – is the Imperial Roman brazier. The weather was still very pleasant and with the harvest completed. What else? Oh yes. cheese and olives. complete with a week’s ration of charcoal bought locally. When the census was first proclaimed. There is his desk now. And I don’t care what kind of army they have. who have also contracted to supply him with a hot meal each evening. and his little three legged stool.’ 144 .do – corralled for the occasion. pitchforks and scrapers pushed back into a far corner.

Publicus Aronicus feels free to wander off as the mood takes him. still the heady scent in the warm dry air. inks stirred. So. his sheets of paper stacked flat under a cover of stiff leather. But best of all are the olive trees. Then another day in the lemon groves. indeed. his mind a froth of whimsy. ready for anything. They even bring him water during the heat of the afternoon! Valerius Rufinus comes for his end-of-week inspection and Publicus Aronicus learns that the problem is province wide: no one will register for the census. already drifting away into daydream. The next few days he spent sitting on his stool out in the sunshine. in the second week of his job as censustaker. An hour one day along a hill side among the vines.So Publicus Aronicus spends his first day sitting quietly in his stable-office. Some children came to sport with him. eyes closed. and Publicus Aronicus very purely transported to another realm. late ripening grapes to be sampled. but he is such a nice harmless soul that they actually made friends with him. nibs sharpened. Since childhood he has had the conviction that each olive is a little world unto itself. Very pleasant. He has never eaten an olive without 145 . Publicus Aronicus deliberately leaves these to the end.

the farmers in his fields. Publicus Aronicus has them go about their business with good cheer. both domestic and wild. Then there will be animals. He consumes olive in the way that a god might consume the Earth. the children at their lessons. there is no darkness. trees and flowering bushes. latterly. there is no end. Then there must also be people. The olive world has its animals. domestic and wild. Here is the soft exterior and within the hard core. the artisan in his workshop. He contemplates the olive world. There must be rivers and streams. with its rocky core and earthen sheath. head full of an airy nonsense. cheerful and of good will only. He finds some fruit still on a tree. Sometimes he would sit contemplating an olive on his dinner plate until his mother or. But on the olive world all the people are sunny and smiling. Just like the earth. the mother in the home. The sun shines all the time on the olive world: there is no night. human-like people. 146 . He takes one and sits among the roots. Publicus Aronicus saunters in a complete dream.paying attention to this fact. his master would chide him for lingering over his meal. so he creates rivers and streams. Among the olive trees. He imagines the world of this olive. He creates plants for its surface.

from village to village. Only that morning apparently a rumour sprang up somewhere in the province. The rumour disclosed the following fact: that land and property. the land about him already deserted. Thinking of his evening meal.And so on until the cool evening wind – touched for the first time with a winter chill – wafts through the orchard. A greater surprise to realise that they are all pressing forward towards his little office away on the north side of the square. What has happened? Soon to relate. are now scowling darkly and shaking their fists. Men who might have nodded to him in a lane. a rumour that spread like lightning from town to town. all such valuables would be offered free to those willing 147 . Publicus Aronicus is reluctant to awaken again to the real world. who accepted his presence on their land. the censustaker: a great threatening growl rises from the crowd. Then they see him. He discovers it is late afternoon. flocks and orchards not registered during the census would be regarded by the Roman authorities as being without owners. he hurries away down towards the town. Imagine his surprise on turning into the town’s square to find it crowded with the local men. Therefore.

to register for them. wants a drink. Queue? These men had never queued in their lives. The rumour disclosed that already an army of godless Syrians was on its way south to take possession of their homeland. but one marked by a line that the dark clad men are either leaving or rejoining (with many petty disputes about place in the line). wants to check on an old ewe. Not an easy task to achieve. First there was the introduction of some order to the mob in the square. ‘We will be left to die in the Western Desert. wants to know his wife. Actually – given the general panic because of an irrational conviction that the census would be ending in a day or two – the month’s work would probably be done in a week. there is a queue. So. And there is not a man who on rejoining – regardless of how long or short his absence was – who does not complain loudly about the slowness of the queue. ourselves and all our kin. 148 .’ What all this means then to Publicus Aronicus – and the other census-takers in the province – is that a month’s work would have to be done in two weeks. Wait? Wait in line? Put one of these man in line and immediately he wants to piss.

pen ready. inside the census-taker’s office. That makes eight burly. asking each man for the following information: (1) his name and the names of his father. Why? This is not rumour. mother. So we have Publicus Aronicus at his desk. (3) his age and occupation. head permanently down. all staring daggers at poor Publicus Aronicus’s back. The village is ruled by a headman. frantic man. The headman of each community will act as guarantor for the accuracy of that community’s registration. his wife's father's name. this is fact. The pages are already ruled with columns for these categories.Now. (5) his wife's name and age. (6) his sons’ names and ages. and grandfather. (4) any identifying characteristic. All Publicus Aronicus has to do is 149 . (2) his original village. He will be held liable for any errors in the villagers’ declarations. (7) the names of other relatives living with him (8) his assets. The headman has four brothers and three sons. They stand around in the background in the office.

dulled to a weary stupidity by the repetition of the same names and the same localities. each family’s fear of exposure grows to such an extent that it becomes evident that collusion is more important than getting one over on a neighbour. Asking to have them spelled out creates further obvious difficulties and embarrassments. are unfamiliar to Publicus Aronicus. exactly what use is being made of a hut in a back lane. Poor Publicus Aronicus has writer’s cramp long before that. Publicus Aronicus witnesses the whole village – wives and offspring appearing as if out of nowhere to intervene – taking sides in disputes about the precise value of a stony patch on the side of a hill. A week. As 150 . Helping with the spellings is the easy part.ask the questions in a civil tone and write out the answers in his legible script. There are some difficulties. and while curiosity is avid at first. then. Many of the names. and rendered insensible by all the intense prickly reactions of naturally suspicious men being asked questions that not even God should ask. sorting out the matters of property and its value is something else. Generations of secrets are laid bare. of persons and places. The headman and his kin get involved in all this. the extent of grazing rights.

They too have their cloaks. realising that the door will remain open so long as there is a queue of registrants.Publicus Aronicus comes to understand it. They have their felt cloaks and their anxiety to keep them warm. comes lashing down from the north. Even the headman and his kin are managing fairly well. The wind gets colder that week. So many people crowding about. It’s fine for the farmers and artisans. expressed succinctly by one agitated farmer: ‘How much does Caesar want from us?’ There is another aspect to this matter of perhaps greater importance to Publicus Aronicus. but they also have the added advantage of adjacency to the state-supplied charcoal brazier. that the shed door stands wide open all day long. The struggle over the brazier is intense and continuous. and a mouthful or two of the local red wine from time to time. Publicus Aronicus positions the brazier within an arm’s reach of his desk. from the cold cold mountains. about which they congregate. lights the fire and adds the charcoal. First thing in the morning. yet never remarked upon by anyone. so much toing and froing. Publicus Aronicus tries to be firm in this case. The 151 . the community has to decide if everyone will tell the truth or if they will all lie.

He returns to find that the brazier has been shifted away from his desk and that the headman and his kin have formed a tight circle around it. Cold cold cold. Each man will stand over him. watching carefully what he writes though none can read. Then the headman and his kin arrive. the door is open wide. They position themselves around the brazier. setting it a little closer to his desk than hitherto. so the early morning chill is taken off the shed. they too trying to read what they cannot read. An unhappy situation. permanently running nose. Then the registration starts. A small gap is allowed so that Publicus Aronicus can still receive his share of the warmth. And on it goes all day. Chapped fingers. feet of ice. The headman and his kin will crowd forward. then cold. cloaks open and hands held appreciatively towards to the radiant heat. cold air sweep in and the shed becomes chilled.door to the outside is yet closed. So Publicus Aronicus bustles in among them and retrieves the brazier. It gets worse. Comes a moment when Publicus Aronicus must excuse himself and go outside to relieve himself behind the shed. hectoring the unfortunate farmer or artisan about the accuracy of 152 . breathing their stale breath mingled with the fumes of their sour wine.

He keeps his head down. It’s like his core has turned to stone. except of course for 153 . The shed door is tightly closed all day. he warms up alright. Publicus Aronicus struggling to find his habitual ease under layers of army blankets. one day in the week in which no one does anything at all: in which in fact they are forbidden to do anything at all. some bread and cheese. the brazier stacked high with charcoal. so it everyone else. Yes. gets through the long line of men as quickly as he can. What to do? Not much. over his tired hands.his disclosures. well. olives he eats without contemplation. fitful sleep for a time. And comes the day of rest – a curious custom of the natives of the province. And all the time the cold air blows in upon poor Publicus Aronicus. into his compressed face. then awake to the silence of the night. If Publicus Aronicus is annoyed and frustrated by the circumstances. like his soul has petrified. So a restless night. making do for that day with what was brought to him for lunch. blowing onto his legs. even sweats under all the blankets. but deep inside he remains chilled. It is so bad that Publicus Aronicus cannot bring himself to leave the warmth of the shed for his dinner. keeps the brazier as near to him as he can.

Intense activity gets the brazier lit and properly stoked pretty quickly. A dog is barking at the far end of the town. dozing in a stupor. ink newly stirred. He must have sat quietly for half the morning. nibs sharpened. but no one thought or memory comes forward as a suitable candidate. It is a night for dwelling on thoughts. shivering somewhere within 154 . The truth is that Publicus Aronicus does not want to contemplate his past in the quiet of the night. his inner chill as though greeting it’s companion winter chill with chattering teeth. Publicus Aronicus forces himself out of his bed and dresses feverishly in the cold air. then – how quiet the morning is. In any case.the endlessly buffeting wind outside. a man is shouting hoarsely. Publicus Aronicus is at his desk. no doubt. the morning comes soon enough. his last few sheets of paper already ruled. A lot of haste. a fog of overlaid memories. He can hear the bells of the goats out in the lane as they are herded in for milking. Publicus Aronicus is not interested in night-thoughts of any kind: he wants only his daydreams in the sun. His mind is a whirl of thoughts. perhaps ruminations on past actions. he wants only the oblivion of sleep and to awake on the morrow refreshed.

and line themselves abreast in front of the desk. Then three men sidle into the shed. the brothers as obdurate as only free men can be. Publicus Aronicus? He fills out 155 . speaking at such a pitch that Publicus Aronicus simply cannot understand what he is saying. The three men hang their heads. It is also clear that the headman is unwilling to vouch for their holdings. only to be shown some filthy bivvies and a knife or two? The arguing is intense. Publicus Aronicus has only time for one question – asked of the leftmost man. He shouts at the trio. one by one in close order. who herd half-wild goats “back of the mountain”. the headman as cross as only a man with a hapless responsibility can be. It turns out that they are brothers. that is. each with a sheepish expression even Publicus Aronicus knows is false. in the semi-arid wastes that extend westwards towards the river. as the oldest of the trio – when the headman comes rushing in. Rumoured to be immensely rich and living in tented luxury at a secret oasis in the desert. How could counter claims be validated? Who would be willing to trek through the desert for weeks perhaps. they claim to own nothing at all.though the brazier radiates with a cheering hum and crackle. not land nor animals.

and olives. furious for the while and then passing on. but distracted for now from his own misery nonetheless.the meagre details and sits on patiently awaiting his next client. Publicus Aronicus still chilly but usefully distracted. the plain bread of the moral. The clamour of the morning was just like the finale of a comedy. and just as he gets to the point of clarifying for himself just what the moral of his time spent as 156 . to be heard with some relief receding into the distance. what with cold feet and clammy thighs. Time then for lunch. their mocking laughter sounding out across the narrow wadi that separates the town from the desert. Publicus Aronicus is actually thinking along these lines. Right across the square the arguing – now reduced to tit-for-tat spite. Well. Publicus Aronicus is not content. with some of the townsfolk adding their say in passing – and really only ends when the brother leave the town altogether. but he now has the feeling that most of his trials are over. even a little animated by the morning’s adventure. deafened by the shouting. as it were. this brawl is like a winter storm. the point made perhaps trite but the rattling good fun butters. Cheese and bread.

at least. the door opens and a little old man looks in. Once all these particulars have been recording. A bit of a hut in the lower part of the town. the big badge pinned to his shirt. the old man 157 . Filling out his modest registration takes no time. and of course it also warms him to the old man. a thin stick in his right hand that he uses to tap the ground before him. as though he is blind. the first person in the town to do so. The man comes forward. the old lad’s answers prompt and clear. No wife. with his pens and ruled paper. the old man offers his hand in salutation. and Publicus Aronicus appears satisfied with his work. He is extremely timid – just as withdrawn old people tend to be – and extremely respectful of Publicus Aronicus the censustaker. his frail features fearful. At the door. Publicus Aronicus of course is nicely flattered by this courtesy. Publicus Aronicus finds it difficult to take this little man seriously.census-taker in this little town is. and a patch of land rented for rearing the kids. If he had the capacity he would be facetious. Publicus Aronicus of course is extremely moved by this gesture and eagerly takes the old man’s hand. a yard and a pen for his milk goat. where there can be a problem with flies in the warm seasons. no kin.

Now the weather is more threatening. Publicus Aronicus now realises that the old man’s hand was very soft. though he knows very well he shouldn’t. the door closed very carefully behind him. Then the old man is gone.looks back at Publicus Aronicus and smiles. It is a soft smile. What if there is a storm on the way back to the city? What if the paper gets wet and all the ink runs? 158 . that is. It’s not often that he is made privy to a secret. This thought invigorates Publicus Aronicus. for instance the stack of paper sheets that contains the fruit of his census-taking. Now he definitely feels that his work here is done. The blank sheets had been carried from the city wrapped simply in a length of new sacking. There is. He considers the problem presented here. man or woman. the nails clean and neatly trimmed. all the neatly ruled columns filled as appropriate with his neat handwriting. it would have been called cute. Publicus Aronicus smiles. sufficient protection against the lenient conditions of late autumn. sly. Not the hand of an aged goat-herder. He realises that he must make preparations for moving out. If it had been smiled by a younger person.

The young woman does not quail as this show of authority. scribe. looking her directly in the eye. ‘You should not come in here. ‘You cannot register for a household. But then it is not usual for Publicus Aronicus to bear such responsibility as he is now bearing. except that the small bundle she holds close to her breast can only be an infant in swaddling. He literally runs across the shed to her. The young woman could easily be mistaken for a girl. A very young woman steps in from the square. The door opens a little. hands behind his back.’ Publicus Aronicus means to sound very strict.It is not normal for Publicus Aronicus to fret in this way.’ Now the young woman shifts the burden in her arms very slightly. You know that very well. She is self-possessed in a way that 159 . his face scrunched in concentration. ‘I am here to register.’ Publicus Aronicus steps even closer. Publicus Aronicus flies immediately into an uncharacteristic flutter. The young woman’s skin is very clear – much as his own had once been. He is pacing up and down the stable as he worries about the danger to the paper.

is at once unassertive and yet quite determined. her rather handsome lips parting to form the mildest sneer. pulled forward on her forehead. He doesn’t know why he does this. My instructions are to receive all my information from the head of the household. though he is perfectly aware of doing it. ‘Why doesn’t your husband come and register himself?’ He is surprised to see the faintest smile appear on her mouth.’ It is Publicus Aronicus who now quavers. It is a sneer – somehow shocking as far as Publicus Aronicus is concerned in one so young and in such a vulnerable condition – but 160 . something like respect. ‘It’s not clear to me that you can do that. Her blue robe is wrapped tightly about her.’ The young woman takes a deep breath. He can see no reason why a wife could not perform the registration. but more a matter of him finding some relief in her presence. ‘I will register for my husband. no doubt as protection against the cold wind outside. Publicus Aronicus bows slightly. Respect? Yes. the information would be – should be – the same.

Her young face with its sweet flesh and clear green eyes is set like an ancient pillar pitted by storms. It is as though some memory is etched there.’ She now smiles that wry smile again.it is tempered in a few seconds by a more wry expression. as though the young woman has cause to check herself.’ Her face. disturbs him. for the young woman recollects herself with a shiver and says: ‘Discreet. while simultaneously he is seeing through the woman’s play of expressions to the nature of the problem. ‘I don’t understand. ‘My husband is very shy. though this time there is some warmth in it. 161 . Publicus Aronicus is aghast and it must show. Publicus Aronicus nods to acknowledge that he understands her this time. when she raises her head to him again. She utters a word that Publicus Aronicus does not understand.’ This disclosure is so unexpected – though he cannot see why it should be so – that all Publicus Aronicus can do it echo her lamely: ‘Shy?’ Now it is the young woman’s turn to bow her head.

The young woman nods in response.Publicus Aronicus nods again. so that the plank of wood and the accoutrements of his public office now lie between them. ‘What I propose is this. then decides not to. an inkwell or two. Publicus Aronicus is acutely sensitive to this gesture. but even as she makes this admission a new smile plays across her lips. he finds that she has drawn close to the other side of the desk. he has no inkling of its meaning. and in this nod seeks to tell her what it is he understands. Publicus Aronicus coughs a little official cough. its significance. therefore he will not sit either. He thinks to sit. Publicus Aronicus nods again and at the same times withdraws himself from her presence. That you will give me the facts that pertain to you and your circumstances. Once he is stationed behind his desk and has arranged a pen or two. What do you say to that?’ 162 . and understands that while he might know the nature of the problem besetting the couple. Then perhaps your husband will come and give me the rest. She cannot sit. a sheet of paper or two. It would be unpardonable to sit in the company of this young woman. He goes behind his desk.

He coughs his little public official cough again. ‘And what is the wife’s father’s name?’ There is silence. so no question of spelling arises.The young woman raises her brows in an airy expression. Publicus Aronicus looks up to find that the woman has drawn apart the swaddling about her infant’s face and is now gazing down at it with rapt. The age given would seem to be true.’ Only now does Publicus Aronicus begin writing. The name is a common one. glowing eyes. then nods ostentatiously: ‘What is the name of the householder’s wife?’ ‘It is Maryam. the kind of gesture a juvenile might make. He runs his eye across the list of questions he must ask. not knowing how closely people can observe and what experience and knowledge they might draw upon when doing so. ‘That would be a start.’ ‘And how old is she?’ ‘She is fifteen years and five months of age. wouldn’t it?’ Publicus Aronicus now positions a new ruled sheet and takes up a pen. 163 .

there is the danger that the householder could be dispossessed of everything he owns. He shivers mightily and at once all his chills and complaints seem to melt away. the ardour – that passes along to Publicus Aronicus. Publicus Aronicus is enchanted. He checks the titles of the next column on the sheet before him.’ Publicus Aronicus keeps his eyes down on the sheet of paper. as though all his daydreams are gathered here in this gaze. ‘The householder’s wife’s father’s name is Joachim.‘Excuse me. not 164 . Otherwise. which – luckily – is not uncommon in the province. feeling that he is falling away down into eyes that now are toned like verdigris. as though not wishing to disturb the census-taker. There is a quality in her gaze – the glow. Not shame.’ The young woman looks up at him. ‘I must ask you now about the householder’s offspring. He gazes back at her in wonder. He is blushing.’ The young woman speaks in a gentle tone. little mother. Publicus Aronicus writes down the name. Breaking his gaze with the young woman has brought Publicus Aronicus to some extent back to his everyday senses. but we must go through these questions.

yes. but a sudden jealousy that he does not understand immediately. 165 . She is drawing the edge of the swaddling back across her infant’s face. It is not lust that moves him. I am aware of that.embarrassment. perhaps for the remainder of his life. He cannot help but admire her wonderful skin all over again.’ Publicus Aronicus becomes at once very agitated. I must write down here the names of his sons and their ages. She speaks as she does so: ‘The householder is without issue.’ He is not sure how he should continue. ‘Yes. is he not?’ The young woman looks right into Publicus Aronicus’s eyes. ‘But I assume that the householder is taking responsibility for his wife’s child. so he rattles among his pens for a moment. His voice quivers when he elaborates for her benefit: ‘You see.’ Publicus Aronicus steals a quick glance at the young woman. but a kind of possessiveness: he resents that this cowardly man – no doubt skulking in the inn down the square at the moment – should have the company of this woman and her child as a matter of course. making a show of choosing a replacement pen. little mother.

will never see any of these people – with their half-mad anxieties and insecurities – again. the one holding the ancient memory that seems to turn her to stone. By nightfall he will be back in the city. scribe. please?’ 166 . otherwise he must assume that the maid is deranged.‘My son is not the householder’s son. He knows that this is his last day here. This has to be the best explanation. He says without looking at the young woman: ‘What is the name of your child. Then he thinks that this designation might be a rather coy custom of the people here. He will never see this place again. He sees the words appear in one of the empty columns on the sheet of paper: Mater Dei.’ Publicus Aronicus is faintly startled. in his cosy quarters in the mansion of his master. My son is the Son of God. ‘I am the Mother of God. Publicus Aronicus looks around the shed.’ She smiles that pained smile of hers. perhaps intended to account for the accidents of rape or incest. He knows his response should be stronger than this.

scribe. nervous is case the woman suddenly goes insane in front of him. Publicus Aronicus is embarrassed now. Zeus covered Leda in the form of a swan. as he should do for a very young child.’ Publicus Aronicus writes infant as the householder’s son’s age.’ Publicus Aronicus senses that humouring her has a calming effect. He will bring peace to this world.‘My son’s name is Joshua.’ 167 . ‘And how old is he. ‘Like an eagle. scribe. though they will kill him for that. do you mean?’ The young woman is startled. ‘No. not like an eagle.’ The young woman is staring at him with her level green eyes.’ Publicus Aronicus writes Joshua – another common-enough name in the locality – down as the name of the householder’s son. then. He smiles uncertainly. ‘God came to me in the form of a bird. please?’ ‘He was born this morning. so he continues: ‘Like a swan.

the endlessly randy cocks doing their spins before indifferent hens. A pure white dove. he will have to register in person. ‘God takes the form of a dove. ‘For the rest. back into the drear cold day outside. ‘The breast of God is very soft and comforting. scribe.’ The young woman makes what appears to be a moue. as much to say that she can take or leave it too. She turns about and gets herself and her new infant son out of the shed.’ Publicus Aronicus sees the dirty little pigeons that invest every town square in the Empire. 168 . ‘Well.’ he says with excessive formality. feeling somewhat offended that some kind of pleasure seems to have been involved. her expression dippy.It is as though the young woman does not hear him. It makes him huffy. they are the only questions you can answer on behalf of your husband. He can only gape: ‘A dove?’ The young woman swoons a little.’ Publicus Aronicus stares again.

clutching at its edge as though to feel his way there. His teeth want to chatter but he won’t let them. arms hanging by his sides. His hand is on the catch at once. you idiot!’ He runs over. will you. 169 . extremely cold air whistling around him into the stable. He jumps to his feet and runs up close to the brazier. so that it slams against the jam and bounces back. The door opens again and a tall thin man stands in the entrance. giving it a good swing. fist clenched. like satisfaction and cheer. Publicus Aronicus stamps his foot. the catch unable to engage under such force. At this point the man does move himself.Publicus Aronicus feels all cold again. a path that leads to something like happiness. a dull thud on the packed earth: ‘Shut that door. He thinks: there are times when you see a little path open up somewhere to one side. instead – more than a little deflated – he finds his way to his side of the desk. Publicus Aronicus is now very sad. doubly irritated because the man is so slow in responding. Publicus Aronicus had been about to shout again. He has actually to shut the door himself. the door closed firmly and locked in one smooth sweep.

Then he lets his eyes run across the sheet on the desk. a jealousy more intense now that he has met her husband. He is still young. He sees in this black despond an acknowledgement that something that he didn’t know he wanted is now no longer possible. acidly: ‘Are you. but he bristles at once. He lays his finger on the entry on the sheet and asks. He says: ‘I am Joseph.The young man takes up station on the other side. I have come to register. with a thick dark beard that grows up his face almost into his eyes. He hides his agitation by rooting overlong among his pens. for the purpose of this registration. the husband of Maryam. lingering on the entries he had made at the behest of the young woman. the father of your wife’s child?’ 170 . no more than in his early twenties.’ Publicus Aronicus ought now – as a public official – get on with his business. There is a dangerous instability in the feeling. tall and thin. He cannot help but surrender to it. The feeling is more like despair than anything Publicus Aronicus has experienced within himself before. a temptation to abandonment.

The wonder is that it has not happened before now. ‘I am his legal guardian. And of course Publicus Aronicus has long had his answer ready. 171 .The transformation in the young man is almost instantaneous: ‘Do you think I will disclose my private affairs to some Roman’s aging bumboy?’ Publicus Aronicus finds that he has long expected someone in this town to pass such a remark as this. though it is hard to discern much through his thick beard: ‘I don’t have to. otherwise he remains God’s own.’ Publicus Aronicus falters. merely a reminder of the real state of affairs: ‘Answer my question. Jew.’ ‘Mmm?’ This is all Publicus Aronicus can manage. ‘You believe your wife’s story?’ The young man smiles. the reality of power the ultimate reality. not as directly insulting.’ And of course the young man pulls in his horns immediately. when there might have been as much provocation.

’ The young man’s moment of candour passes and his brown eyes grow fierce again. ‘You have other questions?’ ‘But that doesn’t explain anything. The height of the young man.‘We were betrothed. so he 172 .’ Publicus Aronicus expostulates here. So. The few questions the census-taker had were answered curtly. Instead he uses the restrictions of his official position against him: ‘Do you have any more questions to ask me. the large bushy beard. perhaps revealing the degree to which he has become involved in what might become a dangerous situation. a carpenter and already a master with his own workshop and domicile in a village somewhere to the northeast of the town. But the young man seems not to notice the census-taker’s heat. Publicus Aronicus learns he is dealing with an upright artisan. that was the end of that. of a long line of upright artisans. the righteousness of his position as spouse of the young women were already tilting the scales in his favour. or do you not?’ And Publicus Aronicus is browbeaten here. now that he has managed to put Publicus Aronicus on the defensive is enough to give him the moral advantage. Publicus Aronicus has never heard of the place.

173 . There is an emptiness where there should be nothing at all. nothing where something should be. Yes. though Publicus Aronicus has never managed to discover what it is he lacks. It has no name. but even stranger is the fact that – as Publicus Aronicus firmly believes – it is not an experience unique to himself. or the fact of being susceptible. This fact surprises Publicus Aronicus. and Publicus Aronicus is most certainly not going to put himself under obligation to the young man. It is an extremely disquieting sensation. But who is there to ask? The town’s mayor would have no interest in this outsider. or the fact of being born. until he realises that he is dealing with a memory. Very strange. There is only a gap. not an event. he has considered the strangeness of having knowledge of something he can have no knowledge of. a service performed for his master. Yet he feels as though something has been taken from him. Not a happy end to his period of duty as official Roman census-taker.is aware that he might well have spelled it wrongly. And the memory? Publicus Aronicus knows the memory. no more. indeed. It might be the fact of slavery.

eyes down. Publicus Aronicus has always attended their meals strictly as a paying guest. partly out of intense hatred of him as a stooge of Rome. His conduct was respected. He would sit on their cushions and eat whatever was put in front of him. outside of the basic demands of hospitality. Besides. The household which supplies this meal will be aware of this fact too. some momentary consolation in his sadness – and decides it is time to eat his evening meal. just the minimum of salutations and blessings. it got him out of the shed for an hour or two each day and allowed him to bask in the comfortable warmth of the large kitchen. It was not a meal Publicus Aronicus looked forward to – for obvious reasons – but he had to eat. his last meal in this town. and he could never discover if the sometimes revolting flavours and odours were the result of the actual condition of the food they cooked or of their attempts to disguise that condition. He never knew if they served him the leavings of the swill they fed their animals or if they felt obliged to rise to what they thought were his standards. The food was doubly strange to him: foreign and peasant. That much of this 174 . partly out of intense fear of the man and his office.Anyway. Publicus Aronicus vents a big sigh.

as Publicus Aronicus has learned. massive 175 . today – the last day – and Publicus Aronicus wraps up in the dark blue Legionnaire cloak provided him for outdoor use.warmth was provided by the animals tethered in a corner opposite the hearth disgusted him at first. takes a last deep breath of the warm air of the stable and gets himself out into the cold winter evening. No one is sure why it was planted there: it provides little shelter in the summer and does nothing to abate the stream of cold air in the winter. Actually. hundreds of years old. the square is not entirely deserted. but he soon came to terms with it. a mean blustery wind whipping in from the mountains to the north. This is something they can afford to do: the animals can still find grazing in the orchards on the last of the windfall. everyone tucked up at home. It is as cold as he feared it would be. The square is completely deserted. The dominant feature of the square is the huge old sycamore that grows up on its northern edge. how the inhabitants of the province cope with the beginnings of winter. After all. So. it was a universal custom and made perfectly good sense. so it will be a week or two yet before the annual ritual of preparing the winter feed begins. It is. But it is growing where it is growing.

Publicus Aronicus 176 . perhaps accept a morsel or two. Almost every house in the town will have its complement of sheltered and no doubt contented folk this miserable evening. a long idle evening ahead.with the wide. This strikes Publicus Aronicus as an unbelievable scene. at least something from some other mother for the infant. Yet no one has thought to invite this little family in for even a time to warm themselves. The carpenter and his wife are sheltering in the lee of the tree. the bustle of food preparation. the husband stood upright and unbending as the wind whips about his mantle. Well. Publicus Aronicus can suddenly see this so clearly: how the accidents of birth determine the lives of this people and how a destiny can grow out of the accumulation of such accidents. furious in their own interests and scathing at the expense of others. falling even as Publicus Aronicus glances over like crumpled sheets of paper onto the chilled unwelcome earth. the child completely hidden in the fold of her mantle. Now it is rapidly shedding its leaves. jammed together by blood and splintered by ancient enmities. they are a funny people. his wife seated in a crouch at its foot. a hubbub of talk and laughter. open spreading crown of its species.

But Publicus Aronicus hardly notices this: he is looking avidly at the woman crouched on the ground. and himself do not add up to the whole they had previously appeared to do. then he thinks what an excellent insight this is. the town and its inhabitants. Yes. Publicus 177 . ‘You should have consideration for the child. calling as he approaches: ‘Don’t you have somewhere to go?’ He knows he has spoken loudly in a semiofficial tone. When he speaks again. her eyes do flash in the thin brittle light. the little group before him. within a hair’s breadth of sounding like the condescending Roman he appears to be. He turns about – braving the mean wind – and goes across to the young family. Accident.thinks this. at least. hoping she will favour him one more time with those startling eyes of hers. it is to fill up what appears to him as a vacancy in the world: as though the winter’s evening.’ Now the young woman does look up. and yes. keeping his face turned towards the pale bark of the tree’s trunk. The husband does not even look at him.

’ He turns and points with his arm exposed. Publicus Aronicus should now switch his attention to the husband. addressing her so that she will continue to look at him: ‘There is room for you all. When the woman turns her head to look up towards her husband. He speaks on. perhaps to get his personal assent. He speaks this time without thought: ‘You should come and shelter in the stable. Should this be done? Publicus Aronicus has already decided that it can be done. so full of an immediately intelligible love for her. Publicus Aronicus can only see its forehead. There is water and I will get you some food. He sees that it is feeding at the breast. But he does not do this. You can shelter there until you are ready to return to your home. finding a vent for his feelings in this way.’ The young woman nods abruptly and glances up at her husband. There is warmth and straw for rest. her mantle shifts sufficiently for Publicus Aronicus to be given a glimpse of the child. the thin line of an eyebrow. perhaps just to reassure everyone. 178 .Aronicus goes weak at the knees. the glint of one eye in its shadowed socket. its little head bobbing back and forward as it sucks strongly on the nipple.

That eye is observing Publicus Aronicus. ‘Yes, we are willing to accept your offer, scribe.’ This is the husband speaking, his voice thin in the cold air, a parched unhappy sound. Publicus Aronicus must now look away from the infant, must tear his eyes away from that eye. He says, aware even as he speaks that a glow is suffusing his body, perhaps lighting up his face with joy: ‘Yes, that is good. If you will come with me, I will show you.’ The husband is still erect and stiff, the nose protruding from his beard blue and shining wet, his eyes watered. He looks so miserable; so listless and miserable. When the young woman makes her first attempt to get to her feet, Publicus Aronicus must watch helplessly as her legs give way and she plumps down on the cold earth again, arms tightening her embrace of the child in alarm. But then a shaft of anger shoots through him, so that he barks at the husband: ‘Perhaps you should help your wife.’ The young man starts and looks down. The young woman is trying to brace an arm against the tree trunk, while clutching the infant with her other arm. It is all Publicus Aronicus can do not to bend
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down and take the child from her arms, to hold it to his own breast while she gets to her feet. But he can only say: ‘Perhaps if you held the child while she gets to her feet?’ The young man stares at Publicus Aronicus, a strange look crossing his face, in part fear, in part also something like a profound reluctance, as though he knew he did not possess the moral strength to do such a thing. Publicus Aronicus is so struck by this understanding of the young man’s sense of unworthiness that he at once asks himself why he thinks that he – a Roman slave – should be any more worthy to hold the child. And yet he knows that he is worthy. He bends to the young woman and open his arms (indifferent to the wave of cold air that rushes in under his cloak). ‘I will hold the child for you, if you wish.’ And the young woman does surrender her embrace of the child to Publicus Aronicus. He folds it into his arms with the most tender care he can manage – though he has never before held a child of any age in his arms – and shelters it under his great felt cloak, holding it in against the warmth of his breast.
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The young woman is so cold and stiff that she must use the tree trunk as support in order to get to her feet. Publicus Aronicus knows he is blessed. Where the shoulder and arm of the infant contact his flesh – that place exactly above his heart – a glow has begun to radiate into him. Publicus Aronicus knows that glow will never cool, that it will never leave him. Then the young woman is on her feet, a little shaky still but she is sturdy, settling the dark blue mantle about her shoulders again, until she is ready to retrieve her child. Publicus Aronicus surrenders the infant willingly, bringing him forth into the cold air with infinite gentleness and allowing the young woman – the Mother of God, as Publicus Aronicus thinks at that moment – to lift the little bundle up into her own arms and fold him away under her mantle. Then she looks directly into Publicus Aronicus’s eyes and smiles a wan but grateful smile for him. That is as it should be as far as Publicus Aronicus is concerned. A proper gratitude with proper warmth. It allows him to glow all over. Publicus Aronicus smiles, a full warm smile that would appear strange to anyone who knew him. He says in the thrall of the benevolent warmth:
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‘He is beautiful, little mother.’ Only the eyes of the young woman respond; only her eyes can respond, given the situation. But it is enough for Publicus Aronicus, more than enough. The husband sniffs. He has the edge of his mantle pressed against his nose, to absorb the dribble there. Publicus Aronicus says loudly, meaning it to be a punctuation mark: ‘Right. Let us go then.’ Of course Publicus Aronicus wants to take the young woman by the elbow – to guide her, to support her, to touch her – but of course he does no such thing. He walks just forward of her, adapting himself to her shorter pace, the husband coming up in the rear, for all the world like a family goat – that would follow those that feed it anywhere. And the shed is warm. In fact, after the utter misery of out-of-doors, the shed is very warm indeed. Publicus Aronicus is happy to open the door to the little family, usher them in and move them away from the chilling air about the door to the back of the stable. Here it is extremely snug, all the straw, hay and wood having long ago absorbed their quota of warmth from the charcoal brazier.
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Publicus Aronicus fusses. He delights in his fussing. He drags forward a low manger, heaps it with warm straw, bedding it down nicely. Then more straw he strews on the beaten earth all about, to help keep the young man and woman warm too. Then he gets the skin of water that hangs beside his desk, which he hangs from a convenient dowel within their reach. Then he gets his little three-legged stool and sets it close by the manger. What more can he do? The single candle on his desk he augments with another candle from his little store tucked away under the desk. Two candles certainly increase the illumination towards the back of the shed, but there is yet a feeling of grey gloom there, despite the warmth. So he breaks out the remaining stock of candles, thick quality candles from Rome itself. So, now there are eight candles clustered on the desk, flickering and wavering in each other’s heat, and the shed is as though lit for a banquet, as though for a public reception. Publicus Aronicus is satisfied. He turns in the middle of the shed and extends his hands to the family, as much as to say, What to you think of that? And what indeed? The young couple seemed stunned, as well they might be, transported just like that from the desolation of the vacant square – with
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only a balding old tree for company – to the snug comfort of a large shed, which they have all to themselves. They are stunned, numb and drowsy with the warmth. They are hungry too, it must not be forgotten, a dull and implacable pit in their entrails, a deadly coldness to rival what the winter’s evening had to offer them. So Publicus Aronicus rubs his hands with deep satisfaction for having the courage of his conviction, so happy to have the means at his disposal – rightly or wrongly as may yet be decided – to do what he feels should be done. For once, he has not had to turn to his master for such help, to beg a favour for a goodness no doubt, but still a favour that must be pleaded for. Publicus Aronicus can now go to his dinner with a light heart. And he does cross the square with a lightened tread, unconscious of the cold mean wind that helps him on his way, the warmth radiating from his heart more than the equal of this raw process of nature. And it is as though some news of his kind act has gone before him. He steps across the threshold to the host’s kitchen and it is clear that the whole family – gaffers and gammers, mothers and fathers, sons, daughters, cousins, second cousins, poor relations, right down to the smallest toddler crouched in the
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straw over by the animals – has heard something of his decency. Their eyes light up at his entrance, lips part in happy smiles – gleaming teeth brilliant in the dimming afternoon light – and they all stand up out of respect for him. Publicus Aronicus thinks this is incredible, meaning: how could they know? But of course he responds faithfully to this cheer, the gladness in his heart multiplied over and over as waves of bliss pass through him. He raises his hands to calm the rising enthusiasm, saying sometimes in Aramaic and sometimes in Latin: ‘It is good cheer, my friends. It is good cheer.’ The hubbub quietens soon enough, the household settling back into the good cheer that Publicus Aronicus has proposed. Then the patriarch stands up again. A short stocky man, fierce and persistent but with a keen understanding of the value of tolerance, he open his arms, palms upwards, towards Publicus Aronicus and proclaims: ‘We see, Roman slave, that you have fulfilled your duties here with thoroughness and integrity. We wish you to know that you have earned our gratitude.’ Publicus Aronicus is astonished by this compliment. It is not what he had expected. He
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answers, trying hard to match the householder’s formality: ‘But, my friends, when I can only respond to the dictates of the heart that is filled with universal love…’ Publicus Aronicus realises that the family doesn’t know what he is talking about, faces closing down rapidly to their more normal stolidity. He shakes his head. The patriarch is quick to interject: ‘We are only honest Jews, Roman official, who pay our dues and make sacrifice as prescribed up in the Temple.’ Publicus Aronicus can only nod now, and nod again. He finds his place in the circle and sets down into the deep cushions. Perhaps he should be embarrassed – at least that – but Publicus Aronicus cannot connect what has happened to how he is feeling. He is convinced that he cannot be wrong. I am joyous forever, he tells himself with a flat conviction. So the food comes round as usual. A large bowl of sheep’s milk is circulated for each to quaff from as a kind of appetiser. Then there are the delicacies; this evening Publicus Aronicus is given both eyes of the slaughtered kid, no doubt in praise of his vigilance.
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After that the main course of boiled lentils with barley as an accompaniment to the roast meat. Various sweetmeats – mostly candied fruit – then to end the meal. It certainly is a grand meal by the standards of the clan, and it is eaten with much merriment, the children becoming especially boisterous as the rough local wine circulates, all of them wanting in turn to sit up in his lap, there to kick their heels and scream with pleasure. The adults are very diverted – as might be expected – but the women draw a line when the middle daughter, who is about to become fertile, attempts to drop her virginal bottom onto Publicus Aronicus’s thin thighs. Yet, the good cheer is maintained almost to the last. There is the usual fuddle when Publicus Aronicus clambers up from the cushions, he bowing left and right to everyone in acknowledgement, the matrons scrambling up and heading with alacrity around to clear a way for him, the men as usual slow to rise, preferring to doze the evening away where they lay. Getting towards the door, Publicus Aronicus can at last broach the matter of buying some food for a journey. Of course there is no question of the good census-taker paying for the snack he will need for his
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journey back to the city. But when it turns out that he wants a full loaf of bread and a full cheese, well, compensation might be in order then, especially as the good census-taker is offering to pay. Publicus Aronicus takes out the few copper coins he has reserved for local purchases and the women bring the bread and cheese, the latter a lump of hard goat’s cheese the size of two fists. Haggling takes less time than expected – mainly due to Publicus Aronicus’s lack of experience – so that the womenfolk get a very good price for their wares. Actually, there is a general feeling afterwards that the census-taker has been taken advantage of. The matrons, of course, see nothing wrong with that, but faced with an outcry from all of the children they relent and add a skin of wine as a gift to Publicus Aronicus. There. Out into the cold evening at last, light ebbing rapidly, the wind cutting mercilessly now that the sun’s influence has been eclipsed. Publicus Aronicus crouches over the provisions he embraces close to his breast and pushes his way back up the square to the stable. The door is ajar. Publicus Aronicus tuts at this carelessness and waste. Inside, the first thing to be noticed is the strong animal odour. Publicus Aronicus has never experienced this
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before – he cannot identify what he is smelling – but the strangeness fills him with a tremendous terror. He knows he is not afraid of the odour itself; rather it is that the odour has the effect of opening something like a gate within him, and it is what lies beyond this gate that unnerves him. He cannot describe what he fears here: it is like a path going down a hill; it is like a small dark room with no door; it is like having no limbs yet being able to move. A small man – no taller than himself – is approaching Publicus Aronicus, hands outstretched in greeting. He is not old but his face is wizened by exposure to sun and dry winds. He wears only animal pelts as clothing. He cries out into Publicus Aronicus’s face: ‘And the angel said, brother, all praise to God in the Highest and on Earth peace to all those of good will.’ He lays his hands on Publicus Aronicus’s shoulders and draws him into a hearty embrace. Sheepskins, Publicus Aronicus realises. He is smelling sheep. Nothing to be afraid of. The relief is ridiculously great, so much so that Publicus Aronicus actually cheers in concert with the shepherd who embraces him and with – as he now sees – the other
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The young man is bemused. the child hidden in the folds of her mantle. The young man says: ‘My wife is strong.’ The husband looks at Publicus Aronicus with surprise – that he could command such words – and 190 . Publicus Aronicus goes directly across to the young man – Joseph – and presents him with the provisions. We are an enduring people. scribe.shepherds gathered round the young woman and her child.’ Publicus Aronicus could cry with love and pity to see her little head bowed as it is. Right now you are being careless. His heart is pierced all over again.’ He glances at the young woman crouched on the beaten earth at their feet. ‘Your wife is in need of sustenance. young man. Remember that she gave birth only this morning and has been exposed to the cold all day. weariness inscribed in every line of her huddled form. still doped by the warmth.’ The anger rises sharply: ‘You confuse endurance and sufferance. as though he has not had a heavy meal in cheering company. Publicus Aronicus says: ‘These will sustain you on your journey home.

both for myself and for my son. scribe. for your consideration. the bread and wine. But she releases her right arm from her mantle and stretches it down towards the ground at a shallow angle.’ The young woman looks up.then at last unbends sufficiently to accept the cheese. forefinger pointing. It is all he can do not to touch her. kind man. Her face is stony.’ Publicus Aronicus is transfixed. The sight of this pierces the heart of Publicus Aronicus. to console her. compared with what I wish I could do for you and your son.’ It seems for a moment that the young man will not be able to bring himself to do this. then in this too he relents: ‘I thank you. There are dark smudges of exhaustion under her eyes. he would never have been able to carry it off. little mother. Then the infant frees its right arm from its swaddling and stretches it 191 .’ And a voice from below adds: ‘And I thank you too. He had not thought to expect this – the young woman’s spoken gratitude – for if he had. ‘Now you will thank me. He bends towards her: ‘It is nothing.

The infant smiles an open gummy smile. What then? Publicus Aronicus smiles a happy smile. He turns away.down exactly parallel to the arm of his mother. He smiles to see his Baba. Valerius Rufinus now enters the stable. but then Publicus Aronicus is not fully conscious of what he has just said. Can he? Of course not – he cannot accept the sheep odour. a huge man resplendent in inlaid armour. What can he do now? Oh.’ Neither mother or child appear to hear him. The door of the shed is being pushed open with some force. 192 . looking frail in contrast to his escort. A tall cavalry officer steps in. He says: ‘Thank you. a bear skin draped across his shoulders. its magnetic eyes boring up into the eyes of Publicus Aronicus. the bear’s head fitting neatly over his own immense head. he can fall on his knees like the shepherds and cry out Alleluias. meaning he cannot go down that darkening path. his little forefinger pointing towards the dry pebbly earth. extending his hands in an intimate greeting. and bows deeply to the mother and infant.

Publicus Aronicus looks back at the mother and child. asking himself: ‘Who am I?’ 193 .

They cannot see. 1. I’m broke. a stricter tone – impersonal is the word she finds for it – says: 194 . -2.46 amber. the ceiling an unmarked expanse of this blue. Milk.’ She sees little images of differently coloured packs. flattening out under her even as she surfaces from sleep. It’s like a new thought while she knows that it is not. Then she thinks: The machines have no eyes.’ Now the other voice. She hovers a finger over one and the voice says: ‘Enhanced for activity. Appropriate liquid refreshment will accompany your choice. The light in the room is blue.She feels the couch as though uncoiling from her.’ The third image draws this description: ‘Comprehensive for recovery. Fruit. ‘A need for sustenance is indicated.047. Please go to the sustenance hatch immediately. The hatch has opened.’ She thinks: blue light is restful. She rolls on to her back.’ Testing another results in: ‘Consolidated for leisure. The other machine voice says: ‘Choose from the menu. Alcohol.925 red.

and she finds she can anticipate many of the actions of the cleaning process. You should ensure that you and your partner. Something soft and warm is inserted into her vagina.’ She sees the door at the end of the chamber open. the voice advises her to undress first. but the voice says to ease her: ‘You have engaged in sexual congress which has resulted in severe abrasions to the vaginal passage. take care to arrange that you are sufficiently lubricious before engaging in sexual congress in the future. Nothing happens. wanting to move away. She feels the instrument moving inside her and then feels the relief that follows in its train. She starts.‘You should choose the comprehensive meal. The warm spray is very welcome. You have slept for a very long time and your body is depleted. really a low ache that extends right up into her body. or partners. 195 . Perhaps you should be cleansed. She turns and bends willingly when she is instructed to do so.’ She is only now aware of the pain.’ She presses for the comprehensive meal. When she gets there. The friendly machine says: ‘Your meal is being prepared.

The liquid in the beaker she knows is milk. the fabric soft and springy to the touch. Then the faraway voice speaks to her. a flaky. She uses a spoon to consume the contents of the nearest bowl – a warm jelly-like concoction. very satisfying. There will be no adverse effect. crunchy food. She takes it to the couch. white and fatty. the crackle and hiss familiar enough to prompt her awake. a small table rising on the left – that she can swing over in front for the tray. A tray sits in the hatch.Afterwards. A low chime sounds behind her. Repletion induces a lethargy that lasts quite a while. she finds her gown folded neatly on a shelf beside the door. she drifting in a dreamless stupor. bearing two bowls and a beaker. sweet and light. salt evident though sweetness as well. Hesitant at first. The couch forms itself into a seat as she approaches. Then she uses fork to eating the contents of the second bowl. It is a simple matter of a tasteless and odourless addition to your sustenance. ‘The recommendation that you accept treatment for your delusion still obtains. she finds pretty quickly that she knows exactly what to do. You will…’ 196 . She knows it has been cleaned.

The faraway voice says as she re-enters the main chamber: ‘Machine can only repeat the recommendation when the opportunity arises. But machine also has responsibility for the well-being of every human being on the planet. It is programmed to attend to all the needs of human beings…’ She screams as loudly as she can: ‘AAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHH HHHHHHHHHHHHHH!’ She runs to the exit door. regardless of his or hers condition at the time. She must return to the domicile for the shoes. must be accepted by machine. She shouts: ‘NO!’ But the voice continues: ‘Machine is bound by the principle that the human beings have an absolute right to selfdetermination. the anger like an enormous thrill coursing through her. She looks at the wealth clock in her wrist. darts into the airlock shouting ‘Open! Open! Open!’ and runs out into the open air. The decisions of every human being. There is no…’ She is back outside again. The grit on the roadway is cutting into her feet. a kind of reflex movement: 197 .She jumps up from the couch.

995. I’m broke. stumbling at times until she gets used to the unevenness of the littered surface. away from the sun. shining. extending from horizon to horizon. directly at her.83 amber. to walk that way on the road. I am here because I am broke. The sun is very insistent. -2. She must turn away from it: she is unnerved by the sense that the brightness of the sunlight seems to draw attention to what appears to be a shadow within herself. The sky is huge. shining implacably into her face. So she turns away to the left. Domiciles – exactly like the one she has just left – line either side of the roadway in both directions. mottled a dirty purple colour. A line of taller 198 . except for her own breathing. It is perfectly quiet. she tells herself. The roadway runs to a horizon some distance away. but otherwise the tan of parched land. still laboured after all her exertion. What to do? It is a question she answers by stepping out into the middle of the roadway. The sun is over to one side.387 red. then begins to run down what seems – judging from how the lines of domiciles dip and then vanish – a very shallow incline. There is a line of low hills on the horizon. it seems.

It is so quiet. It is only a frame of some dull metal on fat soft wheels. She finds that she is very aware of this quietness. the tallest no more than a block of matt black. She gets to the state where she begins to anticipate any breaking of the silence. like a chunk of darkness in the bright day. but it is not a good thing to do. It is something to aim at. As it happens. but by an approaching trolley. but it serves only to heighten the utter stillness of the world about her. though she cannot name it nor remember its origin. and the more successful she is in avoiding noise. The machine judders to a halt in front of her. her tension switching just like that to a sudden dread. She sets off along the roadway. 199 . She stops. She cannot avoid this concentration on the silence. the quiet is broken not by her carelessness.buildings jut above the horizon a little to the left of the roadway. going so far as to avoid breaking it as she works her way among the debris. There is of course the odd scrape and scratch of the coarse litter. It is a real fear. the more tense she becomes about what by now seems to her to be the danger of making a sound. which she hears bouncing its clumsy way towards her along the roadway.

She reaches the local horizon and finds that the roadway does enter a shallow decline. but it fills her with an unreasonable fear. She rams her hands flat against her ears and begins to run. She thinks this word and immediately knows what it signifies here: dryness. It is saying something about recommendation when she 200 . aridity. Desiccation. The machine has drawn up close behind her. Then the panic grips her. heading down towards what is a landscape of utter ruination. she simply screams out loud so she cannot hear what it has to say. lying unprotected under the sun for a long time. And so this landscape: dry. and a black control box at the end nearest to her. she can hear the familiar pitch of the machine’s voice behind her. a crumbling away of something once active and meaningful. She runs. though she is careful to resist her curiosity about what it is saying. dusty. Though her hands are pressed tightly to her head. She is running away from the sun towards the tall buildings. When the machine utters a word. just runs away.a flat sheet of a blue fabric stretched between parallel rails. Even she understands that the uneven texture of the land is caused by the huge piles of rubble that stretch away towards the low hills.

Then another voice speaks. She is grimly gratified by this. She kicks the machine as best as she can with the heel of her shoe.turns and pushes it as hard as she can. It sits quietly for a while. The machine activity hereabouts is related solely to the maintenance of this line. ‘Not that. then she realises that she is feeling this stupefaction. She is very angry. dummy. It rocks violently and the voice falters in a jumble of static. gleaming here and there in the sunlight. She asks: ‘What is this?’ ‘That is the Tertiary Reclamation Plant and subsidiary units.’ For a moment she feels extremely stupid. The area is now the site of the Western Littoral sub-brachial access line of the World Circuit. helped by the fact that her second blow has damped the result of her earlier shove.’ 201 . It was afterwards abandoned completely as being of no economic or strategic importance.’ The machine has finally stopped swaying. The ruins beyond it. a fully mechanical archival tone: ‘The city of Dublin West was flashed in 2456 and resulted in the instant annihilation of about two and a half million people.

Chief Superintendent at Benares. and then continues: ‘He argued that the paranoia was real. the arc originating in that instance in the Sun. born 2378. A flash was a weapon.She knows what the machine has said. When I Awaken. She says: 202 . Source. first published in Canton in 2436. She wonders at this. suicide. the far away voice. frizzled as always with static: ‘Harold Scuper. She says: ‘Scuper wrote that mankind has always misunderstood paranoia. She knows that it was an experiment – demonstration – that had catastrophic consequences. died 2403. though strictly it should mean little or nothing to her. She knows it was used once to destroy a moon orbiting Saturn. she asks: ‘Do you understand this?’ The machine speaks then. pages 23 and 32. The answer is no. in this case the arc of some arcane force between the Moon and the Earth.’ When the machine continues not to speak. The force of the arc increases rapidly with distance. satisfied that the point has finally been made.’ She nods.’ The machine remains silent.

She is very pleased by this. The silence hangs in the air behind her like a dark shadow. She is listening hard to this noise. the blue sky seeming large in that direction as the land falls away. away from the machine and away from the sun. who has a sense of irony totally foreign to her. feet skittering on the debris. She can hear the crunchy skitter of the trolley as it keeps pace with her. waiting for something. still pleased with herself. Waiting of course for the machine to speak. She hears the trolley machine start up behind her and begin to follow. but another being. even 203 . its progress noisier as its wheels grind down bits of old mortar and send the odd stone pinging away from under their treads. So she stumps along for a good while. It is as though not her who walks just now. This is how it feels to her. towards the Reclamation plant. the roadway beginning a long curve leftwards. I do. She walks in a long stumping stride. as a kind of silly defiance.‘Well. She is at the stage of wanting the machine to speak. keeping pace.’ She turns and walks away. She is convinced it will speak again. It becomes what seems a test of nerve. But the machine is silent.

’ ‘What task?’ ‘The task of watching over you. Then she panics again. She is pent up with anticipation. There is a further thought here. to meet someone. She stops walking.though she does not want to hear what it might have to say. Such a good answer. such a revealing answer. She runs forward. There is someone who will understand what she has to say. She is overwhelmed by this knowledge. a coy thought filled with such implication.’ ‘Are you spying on me?’ 204 . And if she speaks? She will not know what she is saying. The machine will not know what she is saying. ‘Why do you follow me?’ ‘I am assigned that task. She turns and waits for the machine to catch her up. stumbles on a larger than usual lump of masonry. I will speak. stops running. Yet she has the resources within herself to ask this question: Why do I so want the machine to speak? Answer? Otherwise. For an instant she understands that she is going somewhere.

speaking the far-off crackling voice: ‘Kishoti argued specifically against Scuper that the aetiology of paranoia indicates that it 205 . eyes still swivelled over to the left.’ She becomes aware of a low sustained scrabbling noise. The bloody butt of his gonads protrudes from his mouth. coming in a long file over the horizon back up the roadway. some machines swinging to the right while others swing left. A squat individual. his face betrays only a mild curiosity.‘I am to offer assistance should you request it. A line of machines is approaching them. The machine says. The only unusual feature is a deep depression in the side of his face. where they lie now congealed in a cake of blood and yellow fluid. The first machine to come by bears the especially gruesome remains of a man who was so brutally castrated that the gouges have allowed much of the intestines to slide out between his thighs. On the next trolley in line a body lies out in apparent peaceful repose. The line is not straight. large square hands clenched by his side. the machines must individually navigate their way through the litter. Each bears a cadaver. So the machines approach as if in a dance. and a trickle of dried blood extending down from his left eye.

is a condition of mind. many with obvious signs of severe injury.’ Bodies are passing in review. The corpse of a naked woman lies face down on a trolley. The Grieving Mind. only the faeces and blood dried to her inner thighs giving any indication of the cause of her death. She says: ‘That one is still alive. Honshu. but the persecution as an objective reality cannot itself be termed paranoiac. not of an objective reality. Persecution can induce paranoia.’ 206 . The far-off voice says after a while: ‘You must agree that this is a reasonable argument. He becomes very agitated.’ On one trolley. 2438. the eyes of the body stretched out there suddenly open and begin to swing wildly from side to side.’ The trolley machine answers: ‘This human is beyond recovery. but is obviously unable to move. Source. He sees her standing there in the middle of the roadway as he is driven past.’ She screams: ‘HE IS STILL ALIVE!’ The trolley machine answers: ‘The demise of this one will be painless.

The trolley at her side says: ‘The recommendation already made must…’ She screams and runs away. She runs up off the roadway and in between the nearest two domiciles. In some places she must in fact detour around piles of broken masonry and degraded metal struts. She thinks as she runs – though numb in another part of herself through rage and fear: This surface is not so old. The land is tilting away here too. in shadow. testing her footing with great care. but it is growing fainter with each step she takes. First she steps from one jagged lump of concrete to another uneven lump. She is cautious negotiating this. The area here is darker. Then there is a line of low obstruction before her. Then it is back to the 207 . Now there is a more solid structure under foot. Then it is out into the sunlight again as she gets beyond the domiciles. Also. the amount of rubble under her feet is increasing again. but that doesn’t extend far. She knows instinctively that she cannot risk damaging herself here. She can hear the squawk of a metallic voice. which extends away on either side. a little more steeply it seems. but the ground under her running feet has less litter.

She thinks: this is called control. But she can concentrate. finding that part of her gathers itself. She nods to herself: control is good. so that she is in danger of tipping forward if she misses her footing. completely dried out. After all. It doesn’t actually mean very much to her. as it were. The ground is even. Also. Then it is out into an open area that stretches before her to a ridge some distance away.uncertain jumbled piles of mortar. In fact it gives her pleasure to do so. She thinks the word sterility. The soil itself is grey. conscious now that she is going somewhere with a task in hand. She thinks this is a surprisingly sophisticated thought to have about the world. the rubble much lighter – mostly small pebbles and grit that may well have been blown here over a long period of time. she can have 208 . into a kind of useful coherence as she pays attention to the challenge that faces her. and thinks then of something like an act of contraction. a useless quality to it that affects her. she is running freely. as though everything has been subject to an inner force of recoil. Traversing this is made more difficult by the fact that the land is beginning to decline more sharply.

She stops running. The dead terrain extends to the left and to the right of her. she can see the tops of the nearest domiciles. grouped together. The Rim Spires. But as she rises higher and higher. she realises that she is terrified. Remembering. the familiar panic rising in her.fantasies about flying. The high spires shimmer on the far horizon. very remote as she sees them now. This time she feels she is shooting straight up into the big blue sky. She looks around. The panic both glues her to the ground and induces an urgent need for violent movement. smaller and smaller. Yes. She sees that so 209 . She can see then that it rises again in the distance: what seems like more of the dusty friable surface she stands on here. Behind her. She must run – but where to run to? She looks around again. which is about being utterly free – like having the measure of the universe. Three of them. suddenly frightened. she also becomes smaller and smaller. And as she does she finds she is thinking about flying again. In front of her the land falls away out of sight. up the slope. She remembers she is frightened. Those words come just like that.

stuck to the ground. She shivers hot and cold. So she stands there. she thinks. she becoming two things where only one could exist. The universe. tired of being both the universe and herself. her legs especially.clearly. so frightened that she cries freely. goose pimples and flushes flowing in sequence up and down her thighs. 210 . Then she sees the truth: She is becoming the universe. she doesn’t know. a dangerous split in her understanding. The universe could be there: she could be the universe sitting in the centre of her own palm. She looks into the palm of her left hand. She falls to her knees. bawling like a child. And then there would be nothing. She quietens. There is something wrong with this idea. getting smaller yet moving up away from the earth at a tremendous speed. yet becoming a speck shooting away from where she stands. Then a mighty dart of something like a genuine destructive fear floods her as she thinks that she might somehow lose the universe. How long she kneels there crying her eyes out. But the time comes when she grows tired of the fear.

She bends and retrieves it. She puts the little universe into the bottom of the deep pocket in the front of the gown she wears. That is where the red light is coming from. The sun is low in the sky over to the left. dark 211 . after all. It is a little craft. The universe will be safe there.A stone is pressing into her right knee. She needs to search the big empty sky for some time – the buzzing growing louder all the while – before she locates the source. Then she will not be able to see. The sun is setting. swallowing the mucus. How well she feels now: clarified. The world is bathed in red light. She knows now what to do. There will be no light. painfully pressing. It will become dark when the sun goes behind the planet. She looks around her. She hears a buzzing sound somewhere above her. She finds she understands all this. She lays the little piece of old mortar in the palm of her left hand. She clears her nose with a deep long snuffle. for the first time in a while able to look at the world without experiencing acute terror. She is so happy. She hasn’t lost the universe. The blood is very bright on one rough edge.

The machine sends her this information. The word is in her head: run. Yet within this shock she is also thinking. This realisation shocks her. She knows there is a connection. so it must know at all times where she is. from the roadways and the domiciles. Away from the machine world. her feet dancing among the stones and litter. so she can move swiftly. but it does shock her. Why it should shock her is not clear. It is downhill. She runs away.734 red. where? The word now is: away. a kind of leaping run. shadow that is deepening all the time as the sun sinks lower in the sky. She thinks: The machine must not be allowed to learn that I have taken possession of the universe. -2. She glances at her wrist.with shadow in the weakening sunlight.92 amber. arms out in balance. descending as it does so. she thinking: Where. But she can do 212 . This machine can find her. She looks around. the familiar panic mounting. the surface reasonably clear. and it is approaching her. 992. The problem is that the slope is in shadow. Machines can fly.

finding that her eyes grow sensitive to the dusky light. yet the buzzing grows louder all the time at her back. The incline is levelling off anyway.it. She turns abruptly and runs into the shadow. Never would she run so fast if danger did not threaten. She wants to stop running and look around. She runs and leaps as fast as she can. She veers off to the left in a burst of desperation. A touch of the panic returns. It helps. so precipitous and dangerous. She knows this is because she is being forced beyond herself in a way. She senses the wall before she 213 . just screams. then veers back right again just as impulsively. but her legs keep moving. She screams out loud. arms held high now in balance. Never a downhill flight like this. hands forward in protection. highlighted edges revealing the presence of masonry. She cannot run in the dark. There is a kind of exhilaration in this running. The darkness before her is deep now. as though satisfying an urgent need in an indirect way. the presence of shapes registering in her almost as palpably as physical sensation. There is a large black shadow to her left. The panic springs in her again. almost black towards the bottom of the slope. what she feels to be a narrow platform cut into the slope.

finding as though by attraction the deeper shadow that indicates an opening in the wall. her arms jarred with the kind of implacable violence that makes her whimper. Should she move further? The dark intimidates her: simply. she cannot see. Then she notices that her wrist is dark. She discovers just in time that the entrance-way in partially collapsed and so can duck her head in time as she slips through. the silence becomes terrific. her eyes continue their search. Now it is black dark. She will wait. Then the word: wait. In the black dark. It is a shock nonetheless. Even so. the odour part the acid tang of mortar. She wants light. and part another sweet-sour smell that is completely unfamiliar to her. No transmission. The air is cool. then a dart of the panic when she realises that she is free of the machine. the silence becomes a presence that at once stimulates her and yet allows 214 . A shot of release. The surface under her feet is firm and clear.actually collides with it. The slight sound she makes when a shoe drags on a pebble indicates a confined space. that is. She wants to move. so she can brace herself for the shock. She sits down on the cool earth. the palms of both hands striking the coarse surface brutally hard.

the loss of a comforting limit in another. There is relief in this. a light with an unknown source shining out into a void. And yet she is delighted to be hearing it: she has never heard the like before. She hears the sound again. But she is not. relief in one way. closer this time: a scrabbling sound. Like something dragging in an imprecise way. She knows what is withdrawing itself from her: it is the world. Then there is a sound. Perhaps she should be frightened of its strangeness. as though the origin of the action she hears in process is hidden. perhaps entering panic again. She finds she is holding her breath. She thinks this thought about the sound that she is hearing. she 215 . The sound stuns her: it is extraordinarily poignant.something familiar to her to abandon her. It is like the sound of a failure that lasts perhaps an eternity. What kind of sound is it? Not machine sound – not fixed. and that it is heading towards an uncertain destination. and at once she sees as though a light shines in a darkness. Suddenly. like a long endured burden at last removed. like sharp-tipped objects being drawn over a very hard surface.

beings that are totally alien to humans. She realises she has been listening to a living being. It is moving away with an obvious urgency. with other destinies. The scrabbling sound intensifies immediately. more like a contamination than a fit condition. She bangs her forehead getting out into the open. She feels as though suspended by this idea. runs one way with outstretched arms until she hits against a wall. then another way. She cannot cope with the idea of a living creature. It would mean that being alive is a truly frightening thing. She is shuddering mightily.connects the sound with the sweet-sour odour she had detected when she first entered this place. She jumps up in panic. She screams hoarsely. It means that life is a very strange thing if it can be shared with other beings. but the idea of non-human life repels her. thinking over and over that the thing she had heard was alive. She lets it run through her mind for a while: projecting life as she understands it into other beings. 216 . doing this until she finds the entrance. utterly unknowable to her. She knows that she – and the other humans – are alive in the same way.

this too intact in part. she realises. she sees the outline of a structure. can possess life-ness. And away in front of her along the platform there is another structure. Above that. but she is surprised to see also that the land about here is etched in detail by a milky light. and discovers that her eyes are tightly closed. The sky is dark now. black. then she sees that it is speckled with spots of 217 . She draws a very deep breath. demolished in part. is so strong that she can find no place for any other consideration. She opens her eyes. speckled with nodes of shadow of various sizes. She sees this immediately. is false. There is no such a thing as non-human life. The narrow platform on which she is standing is a sheet of glowing white light. there is the sky. The slope she has descended is also lit. The conviction that only humans can be alive. Behind her. but collapsed at the farther end. so that nothing is left behind. like how you feel when you exhale a breath. The sky is dark. that they have been closed like this ever since she heard the sound in that dark place.The fear begins to ease. squared off like a domicile. the shadowy rubble here larger and serving to break up the expanse of reflected light. The fear.

Then she looks around again. the starry light an unexpected comfort. So she puts the stars into the universe.pulsating light. 218 . The stars! She is startled. There are no stars there. both relieved and happy. taking care that all the stars in the vault of heaven are included. Night is good. No. too – then the familiar buzz-buzz can be heard. The universe must be true. She sighs. it will all come to nothing. She lays it in her left palm and studies it closely. Stars. only the earth and all that it might contain. drawing closer all the while. Otherwise. Silence. She very carefully replaces the piece of mortar in the pocket of the gown. thinking with a rising anxiety: Are the stars in the universe? She gropes with feverish fingers in the pocket of the gown until she finds the little chip of mortar. a feeling of some justifiable satisfaction suffusing her. she knows that everything is in the universe – it could not be otherwise – but it is important that she includes all the details of this fact. Oh. She remembers now that the stars come out at night and that they can provide a low illumination of the night world.

frantic to prevent herself going head over heels. She sets off along the platform towards the other structure. She remembers the scrabbling sound. -2. the flying machine as though right behind her. she has not gone far when she finds that ground suddenly dip into a hollow. The machine speaks with an amplified voice. She is loping down the slope as fast as she can. coldly mechanical in the dark: ‘The recommendation that has…’ 219 . Sure enough. indicating some potentially serious obstructions ahead. For an instant she is tempted to just stop and let the machine talk to her. She shivers with revulsion. But hide she must. She stumbles badly here. her mind quickly coming to concentrate on where she is placing her feet among all the obstacles. Then she thinks that maybe there will be those sounds there as well. but already she sees that ominous shadows crisscross the slope.She glances at her wrist: 986. -3. The buzzing is loud now.604 red. She glances at her wrist: 982.98 amber. The first impulse is to run back to where she had hidden previously.09 amber.674 red. Run! She sets off down the slope.

She finds herself on some kind of embankment. She jumps high. She must run now faster than she has before. hitting the ground heavily. arms wind-milling to maintain a precarious balance. 220 . but that is impossible. but she manages to keep her balance and resume running. She cannot avoid the hole. then scrambles across some shadowy ground. The impulse is to fight to stop the forward momentum. Her legs are really going too fast now. right over the shadowy area. She screams with fright. but she doesn’t: the situation is too serious. then her left shoe catches on the edge of a rock and she tips over. up a shallow slope. feet so sensitive to every variation in level. deep shadow just in front below her.She jumps forward. legs up. She knows she is in danger. She hits the ground with both feet at once. Her left arm comes down against the broken surface of a lump of masonry. then a ragged shadow just ahead indicates some kind of deep gash in the soil. but a clear surface beyond. can only run right up to its edge and jump. then scrapes along the grit as she staggers forward. She might scream now with some justice. This time she is not so lucky. The ground is clear at first.

-3. She checks her wrist: 981. A moment of weirdness for her: head and shoulders above the pool of shadow. favouring her right leg. tense of course and ready to leap. Even so. Just as well – there is one of those traversing shadows ahead now.34 amber. The pit of shadow is too wide to jump. hop. She manages to stumble along like this until she gets her speed under control.864 red. deep shadow with unknown depths. then a steep slope up to another bank. she slows her pace and studies the whole structure before her. It’s like she is split in two: the senses that provide her with most of her knowledge of 221 . using the other leg merely as a counter-balance. The area is clear. so the area along the base of the bank – in deep shadow – will be reasonable clear of obstruction. no random rocks. She estimates an earthen bank of some kind. so she will have to work her way across it. her legs racing forward with a reckless drive out of sight. There is a tremor radiating up from her left foot that threatens to paralyse the whole leg.She runs. anything at all if she hits against anything. She runs on into the shadow area. Not a lot of broken masonry. So she stumps forward.

her feet scrabbling in a kind of bluff. landing with a nimbleness surprising in the circumstances. There is a blankness at her wrist. Machine cannot see. then walks out into the middle of the clear area. She is exultant. The machine is flying back and forth in a tight pattern. Not much shadow here but she feels sheltered. She scrambles up. Now she comes up against the bank. She steps back slowly until she is up against this side of the bank. She can hear the flying machine buzzing back and forth above the bank. hands grasping at indentations in the rough surface. It’s a 222 . She quickly checks her wrist. searching for the signal.what she is actually doing utterly divorced from the instruments of action she is using. FLY LIKE A BIRD!’ She doesn’t know what she is saying – though she feels really happy for being able to shout it – but the flying machine lets out what seems to be a mechanical squawk and begins to flying in a tight circle a way over to her left. She shouts: ‘RUN LIKE THE WIND. sees it blank. She steps out into the starlight. But she gets to the top – and jumps down beyond almost without pause. looks up.

but an uncomfortable scream of turbulent air in its wake. wider than the ones she has walked above among the domiciles. The surface was once extremely smooth but now there are many little cracks running off in every direction. going up and down and around as she does. She doesn’t understand what she discovers. that the traffic on this roadway travelled that way.roadway. Red lines run across the roadway. bright red with yellow flashes on either side. It’s the sound she imagines that broadens 223 . towards the side of the world where the sun sets. articulated in four sections – so a very long train – its wheels recessed while it rides the highway’s magnetic field at high speed. Only a hum from the huge machine as it passes. She traces them with her feet. Does a roadway have a memory? She imagines a large vehicle. She finds marks in different colours. There are marks in black. while knowing they convey information in some way: E37W 200 She also knows that the marks were to be read from her right towards her left. while bright green lines run along what must have been the traffic lines.

There is the roadway she has just crossed. She breathes deeply. The world about her is quiet. She knows she can conceive of the whole world of that epoch – say about six hundred years ago – the frantic 224 . coming from the her left and heading into the city that once stood over on the right. All this traffic. She walks and yet she feels that she really doesn’t move at all.her awareness of the road system as a whole: the noise is appalling. that she is a bubble blown about on stray winds. The flying machine has gone. It’s like she is without limbs. the ceaseless uproar of the churning air. She stands on the bank and looks about. an incessant screaming that peaks frequently with every passing vehicle. There is another roadway – exactly like the one behind her – and it runs past below her. she assumes. She knows she has spent much of her life utterly alone in reality. the traffic. She breaks the reverie abruptly. then thousands of humans passing – and absolutely nothing is happening. She walks across the roadway and climbs the bank on that side. Being alone is such a strange sensation for her. the vehicles with their drivers and passengers – hundreds. yet the sensation now is different. running right to left behind her.

and know with complete conviction that nothing was happening then on that scale either. She walks along the bank for a while. ambitions. a child that had been born and was then in the process of growing. It twitches in its sleep and immediately the human race falls into war or famine. confusion and destruction across the planet. A trolley machine sits in the middle of the roadway below. has the colour of her own thinking: A child was sleeping. the ground at her feet swept clean at this exposed level. reactions of billions of humans. She screams. Such a powerful being. hello there. the complex manifolds of the intentions. 225 . Not one child – very many children – but as though one child growing. a child slept. and asks: What was happening then? The answer surprises her. Somewhere.’ One day the child will awaken. though it rises from within herself. She can see it clearly outlined in the starlight. runs down the bank and collides as forcefully as she can with it. ‘Why.activity. She shivers.

She goes around to what she judges to be the front of the machine. It 226 . The question now is: run or not. one fat wheel spinning with a faint squeak.’ It pauses. It is hatred. ‘It will only take a short while. She kicks it again. Yet she doesn’t hate this machine itself.’ She checks her wrist: nothing. marked by a low wall. but only a series of clicks are issuing from it. hide or not? The machine is trying to say something. Out of range. as though she has managed to cause it some real damage after all. metallic with a thin vibration. She walks away in the direction of the far side of the roadway. She kicks it heartily. She asks: ‘Where is machine?’ ‘Machine is not here. she thinks this: The machine indicates a failure.She has the satisfaction of seeing it topple over on its side.’ This is the machine voice again. As she walks. more human. then speaks in another voice. ‘Shut up!’ The kick seems to have corrected the fault in the machine: ‘You must wait until Elex gets here. a deep and abiding hatred.

She hits the ground painfully. She wants to rest. though she already knows that this is not true. The drop down on the other side is considerable. She steps up onto the wall. Perhaps. an unpleasant taste in her mouth: she is very hungry. she could lie here for a long while. mostly on the small side. She doesn’t want to move at all. both of her feet tingling so much with the shock that she staggers and falls over.satisfies her to think this. something fundamental about how everything is disposed. She jumps anyway. except that she finds that the cold is penetrating her body fairly quickly. She knows there is a principle here. She is thinking: there cannot be failure if you do not know what you are doing. It’s the type of conflict that can irritate her. and thirsty – it hurts even to open her mouth now. It’s like finding your way in the dark. but the chill is working remorselessly into her body. part shock still. Ah. There is a hollow in her midriff. but 227 . The surface she’s lying on now is curious: a very level expanse of smooth stones of varying sizes. It is not a question of failure. part exhaustion. The stones are very peaceful. Her legs are shaking. There is little shadow because the wall drops sheer to the new level.

Now the scream flattens to a guttural roar as it comes closer and another high-pitched sound takes it place. she knows what they would say – except she has not the words. giving way here a welcome relief. Then there is a loud slap – so intense that she feels its impact on her body. Actually. a kind of abandonment in this decision. She wonders what they would say. The night world is completely unperturbed while it sounds as if a cataclysm is occurring. a piercing scraping sound. She feels also that they might well talk to her in turn. 228 . She feels she could talk to them. At first a low scream.she will rest anyway. then a low rumble. The stars remain utterly unmoved. So she lies back and looks straight up at the dark sky above. Of course she is wild eyed with terror. Finding something? Now there is a noise out there in the night world. The stars are many and they glitter in the very clear dark sky. It would be about finding something. but she can see nothing. The big rumble is now lost in the harsh roar as the piercing scream reached a crescendo. The scream grows louder and the rumble seems to spread out until it fills the sky with its trouble. flat on the ground unable to move.

the exhaustion worse than she knows. She notices only his long hair before her legs give way. ‘There you have the World Circuit Number Two Train. it hits the tunnel at precisely three seven four one clicks. Too slow and – well – time would be awasting. How well it can estimate the speed. In the old days. a series of thumps in the earth instead. She scrambles to her feet and turns to face the wretched machine. The scream helps to galvanise her. they went in at fifteen hundred. legs giving way.’ She is already rigid with fear and a growing amazement – how could such a commotion leave the world unscathed? The voice is coming from behind her.’ She screams. ‘The machine is wonderful. 229 . You know. The roar is as though being sucked away. It will surface beyond the shield in about two hours’ time.The scream is abruptly cut off. It is a blind reaction to the presence of a machine. A very tall man stands a few paces away. on time as always. It’s a genuine swoon. There is no machine. That’s fast by any reckoning. Too fast and the pressure would destroy the train. each lower in tone. no more.

She knows this. increasing the nausea. She thinks: The child stands with open hands. The man catches her. Let’s get Freddie straightened up. the bone of his forearm pressing into the soft flesh above her waist. his feet uncertain on the shifting pebbles. ‘Hang on now. only a continuation into the swoon.incipient nausea. no doubt. 230 . then finds that she is clinging to him in such a way as to relieve the pressure on her kidneys. He is lifting her up.’ He doesn’t move easily with her weight.’ He hoists her up until she is lodged in the crook of his arms against his chest. Instead. On the go all day. The first response is the intense fear she associates with going into reality. free from the ground. Then his other arm is behind her knees. But there is not the oblivion and the reawakening. No re-awakening. her gorge pushing up so that she tastes bile. His body is also warm through the thin garment he wears. he looks down close into her face and says: ‘You’re knackered. the sense of floating away. that profound terror at the fact of surrendering all control of self. She’s at a loss at first.

It pumps his blood throughout his body. She wraps her free arm around his neck and pulls her body even closer to his. and wraps his arms low around her body. He can cope with her frantic movements. She hates the separation – the chill reentering her at once – but he scrambles up the wall in a jiffy and has taken her back into his arms before she can decide what to do in reaction. complex rhythms. She whimpers and presses her face into the soft flesh of his neck.At the sheer wall he hoists her up and lays her out on the top. but he says anyway: ‘You really gave Freddie a going-over. His releases his arm from under her thighs. He staggers with the force of the arousal. 231 . sinks to his knees.’ She can hear his heart beat. He is not so big – though tall – that she cannot wrap her two arms about his torso. In fact. Where her breasts press against him seems to pulse. He has finally acknowledged what is happening. so that her body swings down against his. She extricates her other arm and pushes it between his arm and his body. the renewed contact of their bodies fills her with an intense pleasure. strong. giving way to her weight as though this allows an even closer merger between the two.

He is holding her very tightly against him. They both know what to do then. and he compensates with a counter-fall in the opposite direction. clutching him tightly. a curious jumpiness in his body. eyes closed. It fails. The issue is decided when she finally loses her balance against him. She falls sideway. He falls backwards. then the other.She falls with him and crumples as her feet hit the ground. and she grows frantic again because she can no longer rub herself against him. her pelvis jerking back and forth with a life of its own. The heat from it – even through both their garments intervene – stuns her and sends her into a paroxysm as she rubs herself against it. lays her opens hands flat on his 232 . Then she sits down on his penis. she with her mouth open against his neck again. as he struggles to straighten his legs. painful pressure building behind his knees. first one way. sinking against him until she finds she is astraddle his erect penis. as though not knowing what to do next. He pulls his gown up and she pulls her gown up. her tired legs no longer able to support the vigorous motion against his penis. and she falls over on top of him. indifferent to the pain this is creating in her throat. They roll on the ground. They both moan now.

part passion. so that the tremendous pulsations that pass through him work back into him. 233 . pushing roughly with her arms while sitting down repeatedly on his penis. a feeling as of strangulation in his throat. He grasps her waist with his large hands and strains to lift her up. It causes her to cry out. Something in her is as though opened. pressing her expanded vagina down as hard as she can around his penis. but she will not relent. They cause him to gasp and finally to cough. Her weight on him constrains his movements. She sees the man of stone. It works – just in time. and presses down on him until the pain begins inside her. This pain is acute. She wants desperately to start something. They scream in unison. He grows desperate as he nears his climax and begins to push her back from him. though she has no idea what. The pain is what she wants. She fights this. But his strength is greater. part severe pain. for his ejaculation is very forceful in its initial thrusts.chest. Gesture. It works for her. the man of what she is told is gesture. perhaps even a dangerous pressure inside her.

Her thirst is intense. he shouts: ‘Report. She finds she is thinking about gesture. the gritty surface cutting into her skin.’ A faint crackle of static in reply and he shouts. gagging a little on the dull ache in the middle of her. his breath whistling with the effort.He says after a moment while he regains his breath: ‘Freddie. her throat on fire. 234 . rolling her off him meanwhile: ‘Report. letting her head hang down to get some relief from the various discomforts. shouting again: ‘What did you do to it?’ She is sitting up now. the sense that all activity can be reduced to the status of a single gesture – like an attempt to attract attention. he gets his shoulder under it and uses his weight to right it. When he has the machine raised sufficiently far. Fighting to get his breath. Report!’ He hobbles over to the overturned trolley. He grasps the lower side of the trolley and heaves mightily. Freddie!’ Another rattle of static. He turns and shouts at her: ‘What did you do? Did you kick it?’ She has managed to get around on to her hands and knees. Freddie.

‘Go to the home.Thus the man of stone. The machine starts again and this time it trundles forward. completely exhausted. an habitual anxiety surfacing: ‘Is it the capacitors again?’ He turns to her again. one part of which is flashing red. The man bends and extricates a long sliver of metal from the housing above the wheel. a rattling noise near one of its wheels. Freddie. She is consumed by this knowledge. for the moment completely 235 . deep shadows around his eyes in the weak light.’ He lays a comforting hand on the machine. his hand hovering close to the side-rail of the machine. his face appears very reposed.’ The machine starts and then stalls. shaken after the sudden passion. but still thinking about the gesture: how it has been fixed from the beginning. frozen in a single unique pose. He shouts: ‘The tools are at the home. She is still on her hands and knees. Though he is obviously agitated. The machine has extended its screen and is showing the man a simple diagram. He shouts. We will have to go there. He lays it out on the couch of the machine. The man follows closely behind.

up and down. The machine comes trundling over and he lays her out on the couch.’ She opens her mouth and croaks something. He feels her shiver. jumping up and dropping down over and over. ducking her head immediately afterwards as she tries to cope with the pain in her throat. She can recognise that if the gesture has been frozen from the very start. almost invisible already in the gloom: ‘Aren’t you coming?’ She makes no response. up and down until… She looks up. He shouts at her.oblivious to her physical condition. then life and death cannot mean very much. He touches her forehead – because she seems not to be aware of him – and elaborates: ‘We’re going to the home. She tries to 236 . the milky light falling only on the tip of his nose and the swell of his lips. He calls the machine back and then takes her up in his arms again. He walks back to where she is crouched and repeats: ‘Aren’t you coming?’ Life and death are like jumping up and then dropping down. her skin cold where it touches his. His face is completely shadowed by his hanging hair. There is food and water and you can rest there.

He says to reassure her: ‘I will carry you to the home. trying to scream. She strikes the surface of the couch repeatedly with her fists and heels. This is not enough for her. She thinks of this something. He takes her up into his arms again. Sophie. but he presses her down. a bulb developing at its tip. She is thinking: something happens during all the jumping up and down of life and death. She is screaming but no sound can come from her throat. holding her firmly in against his chest until she quietens. The machine extends its tentacle arms and coils them around her body to keep it from rolling off the couch.resist. the panic in full possession of her. the bulb expanding so that long wide strips flow out to radiate in a circle. She panics. pulling angrily at the smooth metal casing of the arms. The trolley’s motion under her weight is not smooth. Rest now. then she sees this: A rod extending up.’ 237 . The machine stops moving and releases the tentacles. hands on her limbs in succession until she quietens. though.

’ She is looking at the rod with the splayed strips. He begins walking. He says breathlessly: ‘I am Panelexorigo. nestling in to him in silence.’ The growing heat of his body as he runs begins to affect her. but you can call me Elex. We’ve been expecting you for some time now. glistening metal. Stella – that’s Estrellapollia – told me. She presses her face into the soft flesh above his armpit. I know what it is. So she turns in his arms and 238 . her big eyes wide open on nothing at all. She met you from the train. We do not transgress its Charter. ‘But we wonder at the opposition of the machine. But – as before – she cannot easily reach. trying vainly at the same time to wrap her free arm around his neck. It is like a sinking down this time – most likely a sign of growing familiarity – as though some warm thing in her breast lets itself down deeper into her body. though it wasn’t clear how you would make the crossing. Strictly. It seems to be made of a shining. hurrying with long steps. until he achieves an earnest lope. She rocks about in his arms. My sister.She is thinking: I know what that is. You may wonder how I know your name. if you remember. what we are doing should not concern it.

his knees just buckling under him. ‘Gone on to the home. going in under his hair.’ She is coughing now. We…’ He falls to the ground.’ He calls for the machine but there is no answer. she scrabbling under his gown for his sex. He says: ‘We should continue to the home now. both unconcerned by the heavy fall. while he threshes about already in a paroxysm. We found that the machine has no understanding of what is involved. his 239 . Afterwards he continues: ‘You know as well as I do that this is a matter for the humans alone.’ he says absently. She moans loudly and struggling mightily to swing her whole body around so that it is pressed against his. He gets to his feet and stand there for a while. The passion is as great as before. swaying. a painful wracking cough that sets her whole body into a shudder. She can do little more than lift herself off the ground with her elbows. He is saying: ‘This has been attempted so many times before.now reaches her hand up behind his head. The contact of her breasts with his chest is again too much. as you know. It is intense and as vigorous as exhaustion will allow.

so that her breast repeatedly flattens against his hand. she can tune to him even though he is not in the universe. with long rapid strides. though. she is in the process of tuning to him again. Then he takes her up into his arms again. He walks this time. The question arises when let: Is he in the universe? The answer she knows is no. that raises a number of disturbing issues. overwhelming pain and discomfort. except this time she cannot 240 . In fact. Does it matter? She has fallen into a swoon again: exhaustion.hands to his head. The arousal is as intense and as sudden as previously. he is not in the universe. Her body is rocking slightly in his arms as he marches along. nor is the question of how she already knows this – that he is not in the universe – when she has not had time to consider it. Yet she is aware that a question is looming for her. That is not the problem. the problem is this: how can she tune – that is the word she has for the action – to him if he is not in the universe? It is a remarkable complex problem. No. perhaps a deeper separation induced by the arousals. holding her in such a way that she lies out against his forearms. First. significant in a way she does not understand.

She can see that a ghost part of her acts. Now we are only fifty million in 241 . Like a straining forward without end. She wants to act – she needs to act to relieve the pressure building in her – but she cannot move. Yes. He says. Have you heard them say that? When nothing no longer seems possible. what when we are all finally gone. And then they say. legs enfolding. being in a faint.physically react. She thinks: what is absent? So long absent. first in her chest around the excited breast. there cannot be an ending. We tell them that though there can be failure. It is a very strange state. her vulva opening like a hungry mouth. all at one time. Once there were more than ten billion humans in existence at one time. she catches that: hunger. achievement long deferred. That is not possible. arms reaching out. ever. spreading like a fire from there out into her limbs. they say we hope in vain. expectation long dulled. Yet the arousal works in her. If we tell them. I mean. When the last man and the last woman has died? They point to the records. That was long ago. then lower down in her body. breathless because of the exertion: ‘Why is there no stopping? That is what they ask us. But we say it is not a hope.

numbers, and most of them are clones. They project that in one hundred years’ time there will be no more clones – they will have died out – and only five million humans, all of them artificials. Then human destiny will be at an end.’ She is crying, though there are no tears, no sobbing. Absence is like something not coming when expected, when promised. Does she believe this? Of course not. She knows the truth. She knows the truth: expectation hides nothing. She knows she should not be crying. She knows she should not be desiring. He says: ‘We’ll be there soon, and then I can take good care of you.’ He tilts his forearms up, so that her body rolls back towards him. He presses her to his chest. Her eyes are vacant, as ever, staring out at nothing at all. She looks dead, but he can feel her pulse against one of his arms. She is thinking the truth: Desire puts the past in place of the future, of what is coming. She thinks the word memory and for the merest instant glimpses another truth that truly frightens her.
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He says: ‘I know there is a greater truth that is kept hidden from us. Stella believes she knows what it is, but I am not so sure. Will anything become of us – the human race, I mean? What do we do now? We ruled this world once, as you know.’ She is resting now, knowing she has reached her limit. At last. He stops walking. It is very dark here, not many stars visible. He calls: ‘Freddie?’ There is a crackle of static. He calls again: ‘Open the home, Freddie.’ Though the light is weak, it is still strong enough to blind him momentarily. Even she blinks rapidly. He carries her over the threshold into a long room with a low ceiling. He lays her on a raised surface and says, confident that she can hear him: ‘I will get you water. It’s what you need most.’ He goes away down the room, calling back as he goes: ‘I will get you heated water. That is best for extreme conditions – it causes the least pain.’ But he cannot get her to drink the water. Oh, he dribbles some onto her lips, letting it run across her face in all directions, but she does not react in any
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way, her eyes still staring fixedly at the ceiling. So he drinks off the remainder of the water himself, gulping urgently in his own thirst. Then he takes her up again into his arms and carries her to the hygiene chamber where he can lay her out under jets of warm water. He stands watching patiently for some sign of life in her. She lies at his feet, soaking gown clinging to her small body, her thin arms and legs sprawled loosely in the rising tide of water. It is some time before she first moves, a huge tremor that runs the length of her body from head to foot. And it is some time again beyond that before she blinks her eyes and shakes her head, every gesture indicating that it is done reluctantly. When she does finally turn to look at him, there is absolutely no recognition in her eyes. He says: ‘I have brought you to the home so that you can recover.’ She shakes her head warily. She makes repeated efforts to roll onto her side away from him. When she succeeds, she tries to get to her feet. On her knees for a few seconds, she then slumps down into the pool of water that has gathered about her. He springs to lift her head out of the water and turn it so that she can breathe freely. He says:
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‘You are completely exhausted. It will take time for you to recover. Be patient.’ He gathers her up from the pool and carries her back into the main room. Already the air here is warm. He lays her on the couch again. He says: ‘I must undress you. I will respect your modesty. Then you can be dried and allowed to rest.’ She tries to fight him when he begins to roll the wet gown up her body, but he is firm with her now, pushing her waving arms away with little effort. To dry her, he wraps her in a large cloth and then rubs her all over, working methodically from her feet up to her head, finally drying her hair with a really vigorous effort. He does this not only to dry her quickly, but also to stimulate the circulation in her body and so accelerate the process of heating her up. He is breathless by the time he has finished, his dangling hair wet. She is looking at him. He finds that he recoils under the shaft of her gaze. He says, stammering: ‘I know I am only a child – compared with you, I mean. We were raised in a desert with only ancient archives for instruction. I have no understanding of what it is you do. I have no understanding of the extent of your suffering.’
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He kneels down by the couch in order to be closer to her. Still her stare burns into him, her small round face otherwise utterly featureless. ‘But I promise I will serve you as best I can.’ She blinks. She says: ‘I am thirsty. I am hungry.’ He leaps to his feet and runs off down the room. There is a lot of commotion, dull thuds of heavily protected surfaces, a high pitched whine for a minute or two. He returns with a large, two handled flask with a small spout. He says, kneeling down beside her again and carefully placing the flask in her grasp: ‘Drink slowly, my dear. Otherwise you will get convulsions.’ She drinks avidly, but slowly as instructed. The water is barely warm, yet is feels like molten metal rolling down her gullet. When she has finished, he takes the flask and asks brightly, obviously expecting some kind of reward: ‘There. Is that better?’ She says, once she has belched off some wind: ‘I am hungry too.’ He smiles. For the first time he makes an attempt to draw the bangs of hair off his face: he shakes his head vigorously. The long hanks of hair fly
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up about him and then settle back around his face. He uses his left hand to push the hair back over his shoulders. His face is very puffy in the white light, pitted with shadow. He gets to his feet. ‘I have prepared food for you.’ The food comes in another two handled flask, steam rising, an indeterminate odour going before it. ‘This is a very nutritious food, Sophie. It will help you recover your strength.’ It is a thick stew, ochre coloured, extremely smooth and hot. He watches her drink this off slowly, her throat gagging repeatedly as she scoffs the whole lot as quickly as she can. She wipes her mouth slowly afterwards, releasing the empty flask when he goes to take it from her. He places the flask on the ground and then uses both his hands to gently force her down onto her back. He takes another cloth from a compartment in the wall of the room and, pulling the damp wrap off her, lays the new cloth over her body, drawing it right up to her mouth. When she brings her hand up to rub her face, he pulls it back and pushes it down under the cover. He then rubs her face all over with his own two hands, stroking her brows repeatedly until he feels her finally relax on the couch.
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He says: ‘Sleep now, Sophie. Tomorrow you can continue on your journey.’ She stares up at him, blinking frequently, until she says: ‘You are not in the universe, are you?’ He returns her stare. ‘I don’t understand you.’ She searches about under the cover. ‘Where is the gown?’ He rushes off to get it. She searches around in the pocket of the gown until she finds the crumb of masonry. She holds it up to her eye, then says: ‘No. You are not in the universe.’ He shakes his head, completely confused: ‘I am here. This is the universe.’ She shakes her head, as though mimicking him. ‘No. You cannot be in the universe. You do not fit.’ He is stricken. He doesn’t know what she is talking about, but he nonetheless feels he has been judged in some absolute way. All he can say is: ‘But I am here, Sophie.’ It could be some ingredient in the food she has just consumed, but she suddenly looks much brighter and more alert. Her eyes are very clear, the whites
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brilliant, flashing as she blinks. She says, completely reasonable in tone: ‘But this is not the universe.’ It is as though she has said the wrong thing – completely wrong. He stares at her, aghast, for the moment without words – such is his disappointment in her. He swallows repeatedly, as though something is stuck in his throat. He finally says in a low voice, hoarse because his throat is now dry with tension: ‘That cannot be true.’ He bends closer to her face. ‘Have you lost the way, Sophie?’ This last statement acts like a trigger for her. She recognises the possibility of what he has said. She thinks: I am lost. There is a moment of shock as she allows this to be true. Then a voice seems to say to her, speaking inside her head: Not remembering where you have come from is not what is meant. She thinks immediately: Not knowing where I am going is not the same, either. She says to him: ‘I am afraid.’
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He sobs out loud upon hearing this confession. He bends forward and places his cheek against hers. Tears trickle from his eyes. He whispers to her with total conviction: ‘I will protect you from all harm, my dear Sophie.’ Now she realises that this is not true: she is not afraid. She is stricken with something like a kind of terror, a sense of utter and unavoidable exposure. But it is not fear. She thinks: if I am destroyed completely with no trace remaining, then that will be as it should be. She says to him, speaking in a low, level tone: ‘You cannot.’ He goes completely still. It’s obvious that he must think before he speaks again. He draws away from her and sits back on his heels, so that his head is now on a level with hers. She has turned her head to watch him with unblinking eyes. She sees something in him. She says quietly: ‘After the Restoration, you will be in the same position. All of you will be.’ He is startled: ‘Is it real? Truly real?’ She is looking around her, asking: ‘Which way do I go now?’
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He gets to his feet. He wants to walk up and down, but is afraid to leave her. ‘Stella said that you have tried to enact the Restoration many times, Sophie.’ She is getting agitated. She shoves the cover off her body and forces herself onto her side. She pushes violently then and rolls off the couch. The collision with the concrete ground is hard, first her shoulder, then hip and then her head, which bounces like a ball. He screams and runs around the couch. He grabs her and hoists her back onto the couch. He holds her down while he lays the cover over her again. ‘You must rest, Sophie. You must learn to trust me. I mean you no harm. Look. There are no machines in here, are there? Machines cannot enter this home, that is a condition of the relation between natals and the machine.’ He bends close to her face, suddenly vehement. ‘Now, rest. Sleep if you can. There are some hours yet before dawn.’ She is stunned, her eyes flickering from side to side involuntarily. She tries screaming, but only a ragged squeal issues from her mouth. He is distracted by her agitation, both frightened and irritated by her behaviour. He shouts into her face:
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‘Please, Sophie, will you be quiet!’ The shouting attracts her attention. She looks at him searchingly, as though trying to remember who he is, then says plaintively: ‘I am thirsty.’ He runs off immediately and fills the flask with warm water. This time, she sits up on the couch to drink it off. She looks visibly revived afterwards. He says, pleading now: ‘Will you try to sleep?’ She looks around her. ‘Is this the domicile?’ He shakes his head. Gently, he forces her to lie down again and draws the cover over her body. ‘Close your eyes, Sophie.’ She remains staring at the ceiling, not moving otherwise. He repeats, trying to remain gentle in tone: ‘Close your eyes, my dear. Try to sleep now.’ She coughs once then says: ‘Every man will be restored.’ She looks at him intently: ‘All must be restored, don’t ever forget that, no matter what happens.’ She closes her eyes. Sleep comes like something she had forgotten about, but which had not forgotten her
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I didn’t dream last night. okay. No. Nearly seven thirty. Well. Didn’t dream. Okay okay. Go to bed too early. So maybe that’s why. Same fucking thing every day. Heh. what’s the big deal? It happens every morning. Like waking up is not the best thing to do. knucklehead. Well. Got to get that organised. Yeah yeah. I mean. Dreamland. Sometimes I do that. like you’re really on your own. Well. too early.’ Really get sick of this place. Joe. Don’t like staying up late. Sure. Oh 253 . Dreams? Hey. I don’t like the night. if it’s such a tear waking up? ‘Jesus. Wake up suddenly. ‘What time is it?’ You’re not to talk to yourself. it’s nearly over. did I? Can’t remember. Seven thirty. Sure. where do you go in sleep? I mean. Oh yeah. remember? Okay. Definitely not. Like I’ll do it today. nearly every morning. Night was made for sleep. move yourself. So. sort of empty. No.I am awake! Jesus. Sure. Gets sort of pointless. Sometimes I know I’ve dreamed though I can’t remember anything. Come on. Wherever that is. have to think about it.

Hey. A real pretty clerk. I mean. What’ll I do? I’ll go fucking crazy! Sure they’ll have guys to advise me. I still can’t handle this. or whatever the fuck they call it now. do it today. friend. ‘Hi. Say hi to everyone. A chick. like. yeah.’ And the guy. I’ve been locked away in that capsule. Heh. I’m Joe Jarpinski. Fuck. they’re smart guys. Over three hundred million dollars. Yeah. And she’ll. check her screen and then… Oh fuck. Slo-time Joe? Yeah. the time capsule man. say it. Check it again. I can’t handle this. Did they know this? Sure. Yeah. that’s a lot of money. Hey. I mean. Oh shit. Little tits and long fingernails. They knew what they were setting up. two hundred grand at say five per for say one hundred fifty. Like open the door and go out again. That gets me. Remember? I’m the Time Capsule Man. Like I want to check my bank account. Count out all that dosh. There’ll be 254 . Okay. you know.yeah. Yeah. do that. That’s me. Hi! Count the money. Get the balance. I can go through that door and just walk into a bank and say hi I’m Joe Jarpinski. Hey maybe a chick.

say hi to the security guard or whoever. Yay. Too much too much. And lawyers. I mean. And they’ll say I should do this and do that. Maybe they trained him for this moment. At average rate of consumption. And look at the beer reserves. And… ‘Jesus. Just say hi and help you pass the time till they get there. Man. Once the coffee runs out. Thing to do. Remember who you are. I’ve really got to get myself together on this. Man. If he asks.’ I’m shaking. Cereals? Eleven days. Getting to that time. Hungry? Naw. You know. you know. I’m scared! Need to talk to someone about this. enough coffee for another two weeks. got to start sorting this out. Jesus. Three weeks. Just press that button that says OPEN and the door or airlock or whatever will slide open. you’re a fucking engineer! Okay okay. You’ve been through college. Huh. Oh yeah. That’s all. just walk through that door? Yeah. Ten days. there’ll be lawyers too.accountants. 255 . Buy the basics. just tell him everything is fine. You know. Invest the money. Come on. Bread. Get a house somewhere nice. Have some coffee. And you just walk on through. Yep. A car. Just get on it. old buddy. He’ll get on the phone to his boss.

a whole lot! Heh. Rambling in my head all the time. OKAY. Say twenty one fifty. Fucking uniforms everywhere. Have some cereal. King of America. Stuff like that.’ Stop swearing out loud. Six days. Put some rolls in the microwave. Milk? Twelve days. Say two today. Cameras in every room. Okay okay. Sugar? Heh. it would be if I had not come in here. ‘Shit. Maybe there’ll be a king. Well. A Bush or Kennedy dynasty? What if the place is run by shit fascists? I wouldn’t last long there. I am hungry. How many? How many do I want? Hot rolls. But what year will it be? They said a max of one year would mean about a century and a half. A lot 256 . Hey. Guys watching everything you do. March twenty five. That way they last for what? Over four weeks. What year will it be? Today is. Got to get it together again. So that’s two one six four.No. how will I hack it with these people. Jesus. That’s a bad habit to get. Jesus. Will everything be fine? I mean. I’ve gone slack here. Need to sharpen up. Honey. Two thousand fourteen. what if the economy is fucked.

no electricity! Okay okay. No electricity. Maybe trains. That gets us eighteen sixty four. just go out that door and say Hi and move on to the next stage of my life? I mean. I mean.could change in a century and a half. No electricity? Wow. ‘But I’m not ready.’ Don’t whine! You’re never going to be ready. So what is it going to be like today. no computers. no kidding? Horses pulling those guns. Look. one hundred fifty years ago there were no cars or planes. No games. No music. Let’s look at this. More coffee with the rolls? More coffee means the sooner I leave here. No net. you don’t know what’s out there. Just cut the shit on this. a hundred and fifty years into the future? Hey. Okay. Jesus. Say we go out today? I mean. just count back one hundred and fifty years from twenty fourteen. No cars or trucks. Sure. What was that like then? The Civil War? The fucking Civil War? Jesus. how did they manage? Hard to think about that. just do it. there could be space travel! Maybe I could fly to the Moon. Look. 257 . But no airplanes.

Coffee it is. Oh Jesus. finish your breakfast. But 258 . Jesus. I want a piece of this! Hey hey hey. What else then. Look how that chair went that night.maybe Mars. Heh. That was a blowout for Christmas. chump. Say in a fancy hotel somewhere sunny and bright. No way. Anything is better than this. No. what about more coffee? Going to be a busy day today. It’ll all be still there in an hour’s time. Okay. Thing to do is check out the scene. I’m rich enough to go anywhere I want! Hey. How fast are the cars? Maybe they can fly. you were out of your head that time. No. Have you ever seen anything so shitty? Cheap suburban junk. So. what else? Cars. Maybe they can fly to the stars. No one would do it otherwise. I mean. not back here. Back here. Look at it. I only hit against it. Took you a week to remember where you were. Hey. Sure. I knew. Will I be glad to get out of here. like. let’s go let’s go. Look it over. Then cool it for a few days. too. That’s why they off ered so much money. Come on. Huh? Jesus.

Back to this. Say it’s just dandy. you won’t know what the score is until to go out there and find out.why me? Two thousand guys wanted to do it. Like that time with the mescaline. Loss of reason. What do you call this dump? Jesus. What if it’s shitsville? So it’s shitsville. who can tell? Am I? No. Nothing is real for you. Why did she do that if she wasn’t crazy crazy. You wouldn’t know it if you went nuts. Sometime between now and ten fifteen days’ time. Hey. Yeah. she was suffering! Okay okay. Like Jennifer. Detached. Look. That was crazy with fear. Gotta go out. Joe. No. Fucking terrified. I could tell. that’s why. You’re a fucking pixie. that wasn’t mad. Trying to eat herself. I could be raving mad now. that is mad. So. then just go doggo until I see what way things are? That’s it? Okay. No. it’s not. Right? 259 . That’s why they gave you this job. Jesus. Okay. makes sense. all the same. Yeah. Maybe too much pressure. Maybe too much coffee. Remember how she was? I mean. As in crazy. I just open that door and say hi to everyone out there. Ended up crying for mama. Oh no.

Just saying How you doin to everyone. Fly. then. Go out there like that and I’d be a prize bullshitter. Make me sweet. Wait. So. I know it. Yeah. he was totally out of it. Sure. take a shower. that’s be nice. Okay. Oh fuck! Look like that hippy we picked up outside Salem that time. something mellow. You could see the lice in his hair. Like I owned the place. Jesus! I’m a fucking wreck. man. A little maryjane maybe. Just go to the door and press the pad that says OPEN. Ease the pressure. the way to approach this is. Right. Now. Okay.Right. when did I last look in a mirror? When did I last shave? Jesus. Make everyone sweet. so a general spruce up. I mean. Okay. really nice. maybe I do! Heh. 260 . yep? So. one. No. What? A number two. What will be the style out there? Long hair? Short hair? None at all? Okay. Hey. I fly on that stuff. maybe. hold on. really? Use the other mirror. No. Jesus. Hair will need cutting. Can’t see in that mirror. Now. How do I look? Huh? I mean. No. how do I want to appear to them? Like how straight am I. Wish I had something. Hey. Coke? Whoa. just a toke would do the trick. you haven’t showered for a week.

She was a pusher. Just have one chick give me the eye. Sure. Hey yeah! She said. Some exercise. Never could get easy with women. Cut it back. Hey. what about that? I have so much money. You’re a clinger. But not a number two. Hey. That’s it. Joe. Want to look like I’m on it. regular sleep. what was it? Oh yeah. you know. Remember what Veronica said. Carol said you were immature. Hair’s too long. Not that one. way too long. Get it cut properly later on. okay. no beard. That’s it. a little stimulation and I’ll be fine. No. Always were. Yeah. I just stick to one if she gets too close. Okay then. Okay. Okay. Trim it. No beard. Okay okay. to start with.” 261 . come on. Even mom said you were needy.Hey. What about this? Can’t go out there looking like Robinson Crusoe. Oh no. Just make out and walk away. Just cut it back short with the big scissors. You won’t do it. Good old Nicky. “There’s not enough time for you. Look how straggly it’s got. No. It’s not that bad. Let’s start with the easy bits. Want to look clean. That’s not cut straight across. Won’t be a problem making the chicks. Fuck. It’s like they’re magnets. Joe.

I’m pudgy. Check them. eight. Yeah. We just drifted apart. Then. they don’t fit! Jesus. That’ll do. Man. 262 . Dark red – that one. Hey. I really really hate that. no problem. Red shirt. We never had sex. Never liked her body.I so understood that. Fawn chinos. man. Letting yourself go like that. Jesus. Only a year in the fucking place. Okay then. doing nothing. Trainers. What else? Okay. Always a faint odour. How the fuck did I let this happen? Just laying about watching movies. I was afraid of something about her. Used to lie together for hours. I really understood what she was telling me. you could run ten miles once. Fuck this! Wear the shirt outside. It was like she was asleep and I made sure never to waken her. socks. Fuck. Remember that! What now? That’s a real downer. No. as always. Looks tidy enough. Nicks. Getting fat and soft. Get some new gear out. Drinking beer. Leather. look a real fatty then. Naw. Jacket? Not sure. First thing: get in shape. Looking better already. saying nothing. Now shave. Gone soft. Nothing else.

Wins the lottery and blows most of it in a year. the line is Howdydoody and wait and see? Yep. And check the balance. Jesus. Mom said she ran with us after a month. Mom wasn’t hungry. Hey. Saw it coming even then. wrecks everything. don’t waddle. Get it sorted out pronto. I won’t be coming back here nohow. They told you how to exercise. don’t worry. Check the fucking balance. fatso. yeah. Ready for anything now. I know I will. It’ll be okay. Coffee. I won’t do that. Just leave it. Just like the old man. Remember. then. I’m like mom. No. now just leave it. I’ll go wild. I’m not hungry the way he was. Now. She 263 . just like the old man himself. Twenty times round the yard is a mile.And there’s a gym in the back. Ready for it now. Seeing him that time downtown sitting on a stoop with that old hooker. Okay okay. Heh. Sure am. let’s have some more coffee. So. sack potato? Oh fuck it. Coffee. Hey. then out the door. Yep. Glad to get out of this shithole. Anything they offer will be better than this. Shut up! Shut the fuck up.

before it’s too late. tests.could live tight and it didn’t bother her. not me. Tests? Ah. That’s the difference. Anything else? Anything else? Think. So. If you’re not. List everything. Now hold on. So why haven’t they switched it off from 264 . You’re either hungry or you’re not. Here we are. Right to the end she did that. Kept the money for our education. I say Hi. Is that true? Find out soon. And then. then you can make do with what comes your way. yep? Okay then. That’s what mom used to say. Okay okay. Jesus. and they say Hi. never satisfied. What tests? I’m no guinea pig. how long will that take. OPEN. beanhead. Just press that little button. Why have I not heard from them before now? They said there were supplies for up to a year. What is there? I’m dressed and all set to go. Hey. Hey I’m hyped. Too much coffee. It’s the capsule they’re testing. Yep. They said they thought it wouldn’t take that long. If you’re hungry then you want everything. I can just walk away and let them get on with it.

Always looking forward to getting out and getting the money. Am I the last man on earth? Hey. Jammed? You’re kidding. It’s either okay or it’s not. come off it! Why do you always think the worst. That’s all. Like mould of some 265 . Not too much can have happened. I didn’t. Disease. Hey! Something works! Stand back. but this place’s a dump. Press it! Okay okay. the absolute worst. think. something like that. Like what? Can’t open the door. that’s about it. You’ve got to try anyway. Would they have let it run on this long? Jesus. Yep. No. And now? And now. Wiped them all out. No. Maybe there’s a simple reason. it’s only a year since. Sweet Jesus help me here. Huh? A plague. Yeah. Do I want to think about this? I can’t stay here. Just press that button and see what happens. Come away from the door. Now. What kind of situation is it? I mean. Jesus. Don’t hit that button yet. What is it? Not dangerous. sooner or later. Who knows? Okay. God. whatever happens. let’s go. just try it. How did I stick it? Didn’t know any better. Funny smell.their side before now? I mean everything is running out.

In the meantime. take a look. I’m fucked. Signed Colonel Alvin Meyerbeer. that’s not true. Doctor Jarpinski. we ask that you remain secure in the Capsule until that time. Okay. Backdon. you dope.’ A problem has arisen which prevents us from accessing the TCU at the moment. Jesus. It is hoped that this problem can be resolved very quickly. God. I need a coffee.kind. A hundred and fifty years ago! Jesus. New Mexico. 266 . A problem. what is that? What do you think? It’s a fucking notice board! I go a hundred fifty years into the future and what do I find? A fucking notice board. it’s been shut up for… Hey. Please be assured that we are doing everything within our powers to correct this situation and so allow you to come out of the TCU. They fucked up. Well. please read this notice carefully before you do anything else. What? Not last year. ‘Fuck me. I need a drink after that. This I have to think about. Fuck. For your comfort and convenience we are providing some additions to your stores. June second twenty thirteen. That was last June and still they have not fixed it. Officer Commanding. That’s it. TTCC.

No drink. scan that stuff in and see what we have got. Keep me going until science advances far enough to find a way out.No. Got to keep my head here. Maybe live here for another century or two. And there’s extra food and things. No. Coffee? Sure. Well. And it functions okay. Reckon that’s the idea. So then. Still a couple of those rolls. I’m hungry again. So what is it? Maybe something wrong with the time shift itself? Maybe they can’t get me back out of this time shift or whatever. Yep. then that’s it. Oh no. science there will be. what’s the situation? I’m trapped in here until they get the problem fixed. If I lose it. that’s why they went ahead with this test. they’ll do. It’s like any skill: if there’s a use for it then it 267 . Okay. What kind of problem. So no problem with getting in or out of the capsule. If there is any science now. So what is it? I don’t know. Okay. There’s no one else. for a start. So the situation is? Still here. I just don’t know. I mean. They got those animals back no problem. they were able to construct an annexe to the capsule.

Is that it? Can that happen? Well. while the world is three hundred years older. some kind of cosmic catastrophe. Something happened to the world. So time will change and I won’t? Say three hundred years have passed in the real world and only two years here. No. Didn’t they? Sure. No. maybe a plague. Maybe it was nuked. consciousness or something like that. they’ll go on working at this problem. You know. You know farming works. That’s the only thing I can think of. wasn’t I? Okay. You don’t give up farming just because a harvest fails. Maybe the US collapsed. No. Try to think what happens over time. I saw them.survives. I was there. I wonder what happened? Maybe something about us humans. What did they say? 268 . No. I mean. They really wanted this time travel. the animals they used in those experiments survived. What? A few months after I came in here? No way. So I am only two years older. what to do now? Scan those new supplies in. I’ll step out of here into a future way beyond what I left behind. I can’t see that.

Okay. Another year’s supply. In the meantime. Please be assured that we are doing everything within our powers to correct this situation and so allow you to come out of the TCU. And maybe they did. A problem has arisen which prevents us from accessing the TCU at the moment. See? At the moment.A problem has arisen which prevents us from accessing the TCU at the moment. 269 . Like somewhere else to go. Yep. It is hoped that this problem can be resolved very quickly. New Mexico. Bear up. we ask that you remain secure in the Capsule until that time. For your comfort and convenience we are providing some additions to your stores. Like the US is totally fucked but tune in again tomorrow for an update. TTCC. June second twenty thirteen. You’re gonna have to stick it out. Backdon. What then? Jeez. They wanted time travel pretty badly. Doctor Jarpinski. Officer Commanding. Still. that’s a lot of stores. old partner. Signed Colonel Alvin Meyerbeer. it’s a pretty cool note. Some problem. please read this notice carefully before you do anything else. Joe.

Don’t move. Okay. Well. this is big. Jesus. Another annexe. it’s huge. Shows how time travel has developed.But what the fuck went wrong? Hey. Don’t move an inch. Figure this. go back and get drunk. check this. another notice. Deep breath. after all. straighten those shoulders. 270 . best foot forward. So we just go on then? What else? Well. There’s a problem. Joe? Yep. for one thing it’s much larger. And then? And then? Sure. Hey. They got it fixed. wait. and then and then and then and. Heh. Oh fuck this anyway. They leave the notice unchanged? Guess what. we could throw a tantrum. Huuuge. they got it fixed. They fix the problem and open the door to the real world. Man. This door is open. Like we still have this problem but here are some more goodies to allow you pass the time until. ‘Whooowheeee!’ They got it fixed. They set up a sign telling me there’s this problem. Like. Man. this door is fucking open! Jesus. I bet there are dozens of capsules now. Good ol’ buddies got it fixed. maybe hundreds.

That’s it. Jesus. About that. you bozo. But this place is like a stadium. Big style. based on the language of the Inter Galactic Empire or something. like a house. Everything just so cool. What sort of world is it now? What year? About twenty one fifty. and that’s not very big. maybe that’s how they do things today. Hey! Maybe there’ll be a galactic lingo. I forgot about that. Well. Yep. Will language have changed much? Maybe they still speak American. I forgot about that. and maybe people live a lot longer. Single storey. Why should there be? They’re not going to pay a succession of people over a hundred fifty years to sit and wait here for me to come out. sure. Maybe sensors that will triggers an alarm in a back office. That’s it. There’ll be some automated system somewhere. Then they’ll send in a specialist team to debrief me. The roof curves over.Oh yeah? Then where are they? Look more carefully. And the money! Jesus. How much am I worth? What did I calculate? About three 271 . Space travel. where are they? There’s only that building over there. It’s like a huge stadium without a pitch or stands. But there is no one here. Heh. You know.

let’s go. But worth about the same. Maybe a hundred million Galactic Credits.’ Got it! This is the reception committee. Doctor. ‘Attention. Makes sense. Please state your full name and title.’ And off it trundles on its little wheels. Probably been sitting here for fifty years. Of course. They’d have those. Fully automated system. Follow me to the domicile. Okay. So this is how they do it.’ ‘Welcome Joe. you can call me Joe.’ ‘Welcome Doctor Joseph Stanislaws Jarpinski. ‘Well. ‘Joseph Stanislaws Jarpinski. Machines don’t mind waiting. Looks like a water cooler on wheels.hundred millions. Please state your full name and title. They’ll probable hold off until the reception procedures are completed before showing themselves.’ What the fuck is that? Looks like some kind of robot. Maybe they’ll have a different way of expressing it. How do you wish the machine to address you?’ Machine? What has that to do with anything? Oh fuck it. ‘Attention. I might be carrying 272 . machine.

Hey.strange bugs as far as they are concerned. Domicile? Does that mean what I think it means? Is this just another annexe. I might run amok. after all. So. With a sigh. Right. Pretty plain. Slow Time Containment Unit. let’s go. Well. will you. it’s just going to go off and leave me here like that. serial two five dash cee six.’ The fucking thing didn’t even stop for an instant. Thank you for your cooperation. it is the future. No windows. Okay. Small. things were going that way back then.’ Jesus. What the fuck do I do now? Maybe this is how they do things nowadays. Instruct the domicile. ‘How do I get in?’ ‘Instruct the domicile Joe. Looks like black plastic of some kind. Can’t tell much about them from this building. Just get on with it. Heh. and that’s it. Just a debriefing chamber. so there’ll be some science fiction. 273 . wait. ‘Hey. one door. sector one.’ And the door opens. after all? ‘Open the door. some kind of antechamber. For the record.’ This is fucking weird. ‘This is your domicile Joe. No.

Be happy here. What am I to make of this? Just one room. Walk over and see. The facility is fully automated and self-maintaining. Like you said. ‘Full lights. They will activate at your approach. door closes behind me and another opens in front. Horrible blue light. Ah. It’s a couch. Try this. Door closes behind me. Leisure provisions are sited to the right of the entrance. The controls are simple and clearly illustrated.Yep.’ Hey! And full lights there are. The controls are simple and clearly illustrated. It will open at your approach.’ Holy Jesus. It will activate at your approach. To the left of the entrance there is the hygiene stall. ‘Welcome to your domicile Joe. This introduction will be repeated any time you utter the word inventory. Directly facing the entrance there is the sustenance hatch. 274 . Maybe there’s a switch. Joe ol’ buddy. Those marks in the floor. please. This is neat. Very hi-tech. really neat. welcome to science fiction. This place may be pretty fully automated. Items such as clothing and custom requirements can be obtained by making specific requests to this machine.

You can instruct the recliner to provide the following attitudes: sitting. Hundreds of years ago. Please bear that in mind for…’ Fuck me! Out of this out of this. Some fucking screen. It will activate 275 . The whole wall! ‘Welcome.‘The recliner is multifunctional Joe. For details of the leisure facilities. Doctor Jarpinski. Directly facing the entrance there is the sustenance hatch. What the fuck was wrong with him? Jesus! A drink. what’s that. What the fuck does that mean? ‘Please rephrase your request Joe. see the panel on the right side of the appliance. I need a drink. Get your bearings. May I say at once that this is a recording made possibly hundreds of years ago. It will open at your approach. See the details on the left side of the appliance. To the left of the entrance there is the hygiene stall. For your information please take note of the following. viewing. These controls are clearly illustrated and easy to use. ‘How the fuck do I get a drink around here?’ This is just too much. I hope you are in good health. Hey. The facility is fully automated and self-maintaining. sleeping.’ Sit down for a moment. I need something fast. resting.

‘Open up.’ Jesus. ‘Open this door.’ Hey. This is the absolute pits. They will activate at your approach. The controls are simple and clearly illustrated. Open the door. No! They’re only machines. ‘Come on. Got to… ‘Fuck!’ The fucking door is closed.’ No! Out of here. Leisure provisions are sited to the right of the entrance. How the fuck can I be expected to handle this? That place is fucking weird. is it? The fucking machines have done this. The controls are simple and clearly illustrated. will you. for fuck’s sake.at your approach. ‘Open the door. Comprende? Only fucking machines! 276 . ‘The machine is responsible for the wellbeing of humans Joe.’ Oh fuck this. Joe. open the other fucking one.’ Don’t swear. This introduction will be repeated any time you utter the word inventory. Items such as clothing and custom requirements can be obtained by making specific requests to this machine. Come on. Be happy here. It has been judged best for you if you make the transition speedily. you fucking water-cooler. this is not automated. just move it. Don’t let it get to you.’ This fucking thing.

‘No.’ ‘There are no human masters Joe. 277 . you fucking bottle on wheels. One shock and I’m shot. It is being absorbed.’ Oh fuck. Now fuck off!’ I’m shot.’ ‘What do you mean. really take it. Understand? I want to speak to the humans out in the real world.’ No. I’ve got to get it together again. you give me a link to them. Out in the world. pronto. This domicile no longer functions. you fuckhead?’ ‘It is surplus to requirements Joe. okay? You just tell them I will deal only with them directly. You must be assessed. too. You are the only human here. Do I have to take this? I mean. I can set some ground rules here. it no longer functions. not here.‘This door cannot be opened Joe. no. Yep. Tell them to handle the debriefing themselves. I don’t care what century it is.’ ‘Absorbed? What the fuck does that mean?’ ‘Absorbed means absorbed Joe. Now that really scares me. I mean. ‘I want to see your human masters. Return to the domicile. I don’t. Look. No.

pal.’ ‘Return to the domicile Joe. Not quite a servant? More like a maintenance worker with a job to do.’ ‘The machine is responsible for the wellbeing of humans Joe. Oh shit. Return to the domicile. Sit down here for a while. ‘Hey. You must be assessed. The Slow Time Containment Unit to be reconnected in the event of the demise of the test subject. Get me something to drink. Directive two. Sustenance is available there. Maintenance of the test subject is the priority. The securing of clonal samples in the event of the failure of the test subject is the secondary objective. Keep it simple. It doesn’t understand me. Guess what. Directive three.‘Directive one. Take that in. Okay. It’s simply selecting contextual responses. First things first.’ That’s it.’ Who the fuck is that? Must be the boss machine. Okay. Which is? Keep things tidy around here. Jesus. Need to do some serious thinking. ‘I want a drink. Joe ol 278 . have to use its language. bottle head. will you.’ No. It has been judged best for you if you make the transition speedily.

Morning. No. God. Still with that insurance company downtown. I mean. If we knew we lived for ever there would be none of this pressure. doesn’t it? Maybe. He smiled when he turned around. Like he was telling me something I would need to know in the future. What the…? I heard that so clearly. And he said that? I had completely forgotten about that until now. Go back and ask. I want to think for a while. But it makes sense. Think about what? Same as before. That’s about it. it was so clear. I’d been reading in my bedroom. Did he know he was speaking to me? Yes.buddy? Bet they don’t have alcohol or caffeine in stock. The old man’s voice. Saturday morning. Jesus. When did that happen? Ah. Yeah. in the kitchen that day. only you have machines to do some of the dirty work. not dying. maybe not. just out of bed. He was looking out the window. Looked rough. this is weird. Yep. So. sure. Yeah. Came out for a coke from the fridge. life is about survival. and when he had 279 .

Really like. No. You can really use your imagination. Jesus. I mean. So what’s the point? Strange that I should remember it right now. he was saying something. Every time I throw a switch I imagine the forces I bring into action. When the hero found he was both inside and outside the universe. and it looks as though this is going to continue for a while yet. I was only what. I remember that now. Maybe I will go even a thousand years into the future. Too weird. His Empire of the Atom. For an instant I felt what that was like. call it coincidence then. I 280 . about thirteen then.enough for the rest of his life. Jesus. How do I remember that? Because that’s why I came in for the coke. Oh yeah. that blew me. What do you think of that? Can that happen? Okay. What was I reading that morning? One of his science fiction novels? Sure. Yeah. this is a pretty unique situation. But those science fiction novels were the reason I studied science. way too weird. Then I go into the kitchen and the old man said that to me. imagine that. I just locked it all out. Yep. Okay okay. I have already lived way into the future. Van Vogt. what else? He had a roomful of them. what did he do? Drank himself to death.

I always feel something in me go out into that unknown part.’ ‘For your information please take note of the following Joe. Ah. Is this another universe? Maybe a whole universe running slow time? Maybe I can contact someone here? Jesus. It will open at your approach. The facility is fully automated and selfmaintaining. Wait. like it was being drawn there. Nice to see that all over again. It will activate at your approach. as though some greater truth is hidden there. That’s why I liked reading Newton.’ That does it. Is that on? Only one way to find out. Directly facing the entrance there is the sustenance hatch. ‘Drink. The controls are 281 . ‘Open. He experienced the world in that way. otherwise they’ll screw me up. To the left of the entrance there is the hygiene stall. but it is the other part – the part we don’t understand – that really fires me. Am I in the universe or outside it now? Does it matter.understand part of what is going on. if I can’t go back to the universe? But wait. So. Okay. next stage. Keep it simple with these machines.

The controls are simple and clearly illustrated. everything at once. Leisure provisions are sited to the right of the entrance. Be happy here. There. ‘You should undress first Joe. Where the hold handles are. surely? Ah. Items such as clothing and custom requirements can be obtained by making specific requests to this machine. You crouch there. this is cool. They will activate at your approach. You’re gonna be a clean boy. Hey.’ Oh fuck. Nice and hot. now I must use the john. Oh Jesus. so it’s got to be pretty thorough.simple and clearly illustrated. Let’s see if I remember. First is the quote hygiene stall.’ ‘You should undress first Joe. here it comes. Whoosh. Those directional sprays did that. So where’s the john? Not that drain in the centre. really emptied. Spraying from all directions at once. This introduction will be repeated any time you utter the word inventory.’ So how does this work? Well. the word is hygiene. buddy. 282 . Feels good.’ Hey! ‘I only want to pee.

Now what? ‘No! No. that’s good. Am I so calm about that? Well. though. faeces. No doubt I look weird. what now? 283 . Okay. not my hair!’ ‘Depilation is necessary for hygiene Joe. But fuck them for their liberties.’ ‘No! No fucking no! Don’t you fucking well understand that?’ All the hair just fell out when it squirted that cream onto me. All of it. Good. Like I only half exist. ol buddy. No stubble. Have to try harder to stop them next time. Blood. right now I feel as though I could fly. Got to try to make some rules. Feels strange. looks like that’s it. this is where it’s at. Looks like I’m never going home. Have they removed the hair completely. these fucking things are taking me over. Those thumps are sonic.Hey? Now what? This must be the assessment. roots and all? Does it matter? Does it really matter? I mean. These driers are pretty efficient. tissue. Oh fuck it. Jesus. but so what? Hey.

‘Alcohol. This meal is comprehensive for recovery. Hey. The accompanying drink is alcohol. The accompanying drink is milk. Now what? Go over and watch that intro movie? Oh ho? This is what? ‘Choose from the menu Joe. this is a gown.’ Hey what do you think of that? A little running figure. will you.’ Where did that come from? Like a shallow drawer. I can do with a drink now. Now fucking do it. Oh fuck it. ‘I want alcohol. I’ll eat what comes with it. Appropriate liquid refreshment will accompany your choice. did I hear alcohol? Jesus. The accompanying drink is fruit. Don this garment if you need to dress. Jesus.’ ‘The comprehensive meal is appropriate Joe. There is no record of you ever having eaten.’ 284 . This meal is enhanced for activity. This meal is consolidated for leisure. then on his hand and knees. No mistaking those. Like an institution.’ Oh fuck this. please.‘My clothes? Where are my clothes?’ ‘The garments are absorbed Joe. then laid back on the couch.

Main course and dessert. There will be pauses from time to time to allow you make an initial 285 . For details of the leisure facilities. Of course. Looks good all the same.Hands and knees is flashing. I hope you are in good health. it will begin from the top again. And? Ah. It will then resume at the head of the section or. even if it failed. but this screen is huge. Best make a seat. A lot of thought went into the design of this place. see the panel on the right side of the appliance. if you issue the command start. Must have thought the project important. ‘The recliner is multifunctional Joe. Fuck this. Seems like I’m going to have to eat this first. And the milk. Please bear that in mind for what I have to tell you here. May I say at once that this is a recording made possibly hundreds of years ago. See the details on the left side of the appliance. Okay let’s have it. I also ask you to pay close attention to what is said here. Oh man. I mean. ‘Welcome. a dinky little table just where it’s needed. These controls are clearly illustrated and easy to use. Also note that you can stop this introductory talk at any moment you wish.’ The images are pretty clear here too. Doctor Jarpinski.

that’s over a thousand years into the future. But what’s that. Estimated date? What the hell does that mean? ‘What is the accuracy of the date on the screen?’ ‘Tolerance is plus or minus ten years Joe. I am the chief representative of the west hemisphere natals to the World Machine. I will pause…’ Holy shit! Twenty five forty seven! Well. Bear in mind that you will find ample documentation on these subjects in the memories of the domicile machine. Jesus. And he said this was recorded hundreds of years ago. No one has ever lived longer. That’s over five hundred years into the future. The year in 2547. fuck me stupid. Thirty one seventeen. ‘Hey! What do you think of that? I’ve lived more than a thousand years!’ Fucking hell. I just can’t believe this. And I’m only a year older.assessment of what you are being told. More later on that too. I will explain something of this in a moment.’ 286 . My name is Carl Seagun. Say the word resume when you are ready to continue. ‘What date is it?’ Oh holy God! I don’t believe this.

I want to give you some background first.’ ‘Resuming. so as to create a context for what I have to propose later on. I really wonder what the world is like now. No.So still thirty one hundred. It seems that the situation is as follows. that’s the best explanation. Many experiments were undertaken alongside the one in which you had part. Larger animals seem to die at some point just prior to 287 . most likely we have become dependent on the machines for some reason. Doctor Jarpinski. Like he is seeing something awful but cannot close his eyes to it. Yep. What happened? World machine? Were we taken over by the machines? I never thought that was possible. Even his eyes had that quality. they found that some of the insects and rodents they were using in some relatively harmless tests died during their time in the chamber. I really do. Like his skin has been stripped off. ‘Resume. It was discovered within a matter of weeks after your particular trial had begun that certain animals died during the experiments. Or so it seemed. We have studied with great care those records of the slow time project that survive. Man. Guess we finally fucked the world up. Initially. It looked pretty weird in the twenty sixth century if that guy is anything to go by.

They discovered there was a correlation between the relative evolutionary development of the animal and 288 . which had been enclosed in the chamber for a month. the animals became the age they had reached in the time chamber. Intensive study of the results led to the theory that what they were witnessing was the very rapid aging of the unfortunate animals as they returned to normal time.the reopening of the chamber after being incarcerated for longer periods of time. Dozens of theories were proposed and they were discussed with great urgency by hundreds of scientists around the world. weeks rather than hours and days as in the case with the smaller creatures. monkeys – were tested in this chamber and in others that were rapidly built in various universities. cats. Each creature seem to shrink and wrinkle in a matter of a second or two. All died in the same way. Tests were now undertaken to discover the tolerance of various species to this process of aging. Then a young scientist decided to film the event using high speed cameras. Meanwhile. Then they witnessed the death of an ape. In other words. Weeks were spent trying to discover why this animal had died. others animals of similar kind – dogs. which occurred even as they opened the door of the chamber.

On the basis of these data it was postulated that a human being might survive after a maximum of about seven weeks in the time chamber. It would be something like that. so I’d be thirty three then. yes. I live here totally cut off from the real world for maybe a year. Only I am as though a thousand and thirty three years old in the real world. up to two weeks for a cat or dog. This is just too weird for me.’ Well. No. How can the real world know I have been around since nineteen eighty two? No. think of this. don’t you think. buddy? I mean. Okay. It so happened that you had been in your time chamber for just about eleven weeks. In other words. and so on.the length of time they could survive in the chamber. Hold on. Isn’t it my body that knows that? No. It was only a matter of days for rodents. 289 . I will pause here. wouldn’t it? We think of everything and forget about the obvious. Like I am thirty three years old right now. I go into the real time world and it knows I am really a thousand and thirty three years old. Kinda strange. Doesn’t make sense. Yep. just doesn’t make sense. you will age and die in seconds if you ever leave the chamber. no no noooooo.

They learned a lot about the vortex that creates the slow time phenomena and found many other applications for it.’ ‘Resuming. ‘Hey. Joe. Hey. Better give it a break. Cheers!’ And it’s there for the asking. machine. However. I would like now. man. Initially.A lot of things are too weird all of a sudden. Hey. what do you know! Just like that. Like a thousand year old brandy. that’s real neat. a huge effort was made to find a solution.’ Hey. nice booze you got. Looks like whiskey. As you can expect. Smells more like a French liquor. Doctor Jarpinski. Okay. Maybe try and get a drink from this place. Ah. that is nice. ‘Resume. Yes. mostly in the fields of propulsion and weaponry. ‘Alcoholic drink. to give you an outline of the subsequent history of the slow time project. that is really nice. I mean that’s the obvious word to use. they could not crack the problem of trans-time aging. what’s that word? It’s not continue. It puzzled many scientists and led to the establishment of a whole new 290 . this involved thousands of experiments over the following decades. once they became aware of your situation.

Given its defining remit to maintain human existence. was finally abandoned in twenty two sixty one. but by the twenty third century the whole project had been largely forgotten. the World Machine rediscovered the project during its systematic trawl of all of the world’s knowledge. on its schedule of administered sites. which you can study at your leisure. a genetically pure human being surviving from before the horrors of the twenty fourth 291 . that is.field of philosophical enquiry. Suffice to say here that a broad consensus was quickly reached that the phenomenon indicated the existence of a meta-reality where life processes occur outside the limits of time. that is you. But given the unique nature of your situation. at Backdon in New Mexico. it of course placed the project. The various time chambers around the world were put to other uses and the main installation. at the onset of the second economic war. You will find exhaustive sources in the machine’s memories on this subject. In twenty four eighty six. Doctor Jarpinski. And so things stood for over two hundred years. of all that had survived the disasters of the twenty fourth century. in the then United States of America. at a time when hard science itself was losing interest. This claim did stimulate further research.

to give you notice of the problem discussed above. Shit. who would know? Man. that scares me.’ This brandy or whatever is pretty good. I could lose it at any moment. It was my father’s idea that your chamber and the annexe built not long after you were confined. I don’t need to think this. 292 . Hey! Am I babbling right now? Am I? Yeah. and I took up the task on his death. I mean. well. that really fucking scares me. You know. I think I should pause here. Oh fuck this. was given the task of co-ordinating the Machine’s attempt both to preserve your life. leave it alone. and to study the problem that keeps you apart from the normal world. I’m going to fall out with myself. Thus it came about that my father. no way to judge it. I could start babbling or something and I wouldn’t know it. just leave it fuckingwell alone. as it is tasked to do. He spent most of his life working out the details of this enclosure. it called in the support of those few qualified humans that remained. chief professor Caterius Seagun. Maybe another one.century. Jesus. be surrounded by another chamber. It’s like there is no place for sanity here.

But they were soldiers. it will be like having a gun with a bullet in it. Pretty clean work this. Okay. What I need is mental strength. Insurance for when things get too much. An airlock. There’s no such thing. Never thought like that before. Must be pretty mucky out there. there it is. No. I’d say 293 . that’s what the mind does. Where’s the fucking door? ‘Open!’ Ah. I’m going to think things whether I like it or not. That tells us something about the present day earth. all the way round. Now we walk the perimeter. I’m not. and see what we can see.’ And phhhit.‘Alcoholic drink. Said it kept them sane. It like a heart beating or any other organ functioning. Two doors. did I? Okay. A kind of rubbery plastic. No. Then I didn’t know I was totally fucked before. I need a mental discipline. Like those army guys at the base. there you are. get out of here for a while. I should develop some kind of discipline. Is there an exit gate? Let’s go take a look. And if there is? Well. Everything covered with this matt material.

bottle head. ‘Fuck off. ‘Can I be of assistance to you Joe?’ What the? Uhh. Humans keep out. Try it anyway. ‘I want to get out of here. machine domain? Yeah. I don’t feel any 294 . Where’s the exit?’ ‘The exit is machine domain Joe. I really feel like smashing this dumb machine. do you reckon? As long as I live. right. bottle head.’ This fucking thing is spying on me. Meant to last. ‘I want to get out of here!’ Jesus.it’s pretty tough. obviously.’ What the hell is that. How long. ‘I want to leave here. bottle head. Heh.’ ‘That is not advisable for your welfare Joe. you fucking tin can? Who the fuck are you to tell me what is advisable for my welfare?’ Jesus.’ ‘What do you mean not advisable. I think I mean it! Is this how it happens? It’s like stepping onto another track.’ ‘There is nothing of interest to humans in this area Joe.

Now let’s see what the bottle is made of. It is programmed to attend to all the needs of human beings so long as such assistance is not categorically refused by the human recipient. It is a simple matter of a tasteless and odourless addition to your sustenance. You should understand that this is a machine domain. you accept treatment for your unsettled condition Joe. And a fucking barroom lawyer too. regardless of his or hers condition at the time. not a human domain. so that your rights here are limited to matters of purely human concern. one good shove and over it goes. 295 .’ Ah. the boss machine again. must be accepted by machine. ‘The machine recommendation is that. In the present instance. what you seek is not within your power to demand. Got the fucker. ‘Machine is bound by the principle that the human beings have an absolute right to selfdetermination Joe. But machine also has responsibility for the well-being of every human being on the planet. I should be scared and I’m not. The decisions of every human being. in the circumstances. There will be no adverse effect. You will…’ Ahh.different. So. but I am behaving differently.

296 .Yeah! I’m going to wreck this place.

What have I been doing? She opens her eyes. Blank. Definitely not machine. A figure is curled up on the floor by the couch. A man. Too dry. she thinks as she makes the first tentative move. 297 . She checks her wrist. She asks. Not machine. Still blank. Pain everywhere. She also knows that this is not the Rift. completely unable to place the environment. She wonders if this is why she is showing evidence of extreme exhaustion. So no machine presence at all.It is the odour that first takes her attention. But why have I come here? Is there someone here? She sits up. but most take a lot of time and effort to reach. She is surprised to find bright daylight filling the chamber. anyway. She is intrigued now. stunted trees in the background. ‘Ugh. She knows that only in the Rift does forest of any size survive. asleep. She knows that there are many blind spots about the Earth. She can see vegetation through the nearest window.’ Pain. She presses the screen. She wonders where she is this time.

She crosses to the nearest hatch and says: ‘Sustenance. so it must be hers. she finds a crumpled garment on the floor between the couch and the sleeping man. Searching. A narrow door a little further down the room opens onto a small cooking area. she reminds herself. Now she walks about the chamber. 298 . but serve their various purposes. She crosses the couch on hands and knees away from the man. She drinks slowly. She wonders what she is doing in the company of a natal. following the walls closely. No machines at all. She drops the gown at her feet before she showers and washes it perfunctorily afterwards. The hygiene facilities are primitive.’ There is no reply. It fits her body. He is very tall. She wonders again how she has been able to push herself so far.‘Who are you?’ The man does not respond. It is damp and smells strongly of sweat. all the while feeling the water as it spreads through her. Standing takes time and no little endurance. mug after mug until she is almost sick with the stuff. A spigot provides water that smells reasonably clean. She walks until her bladder fills.

The man wakens as she re-enters the chamber.’ he shouts at her. Water is still streaming from her body.’ He bends towards her for emphasis: ‘Don’t you know that’s dangerous?’ She pulls the heavy clinging garment over her head and drags it down her body. he sees that her eyes are open. She recoils when she sees it in his hands and bends to get her own wet gown. like those of a child. It’s soaking wet. He rushes off for the drying cloth and sets to work vigorously. ‘You can’t wear that. didn’t I? Don’t you know what that means?’ Though her head remains bowed. He says something. once again open and unblinking. She says to him. ‘No. Sophie. He is beside himself with anxiety. looking directly into his eyes: ‘I am hungry. ‘Why didn’t you wake me up. When he has finished drying her. but she has already gone. I said I would take care of you. a wet rag dangling from her left hand. He has very bright eyes. Then he screams: ‘Sophie!’ She stands with her head bowed. he gets a clean gown from a drawer.’ 299 .

He shouts out inarticulately. He takes it into the hygiene closet and wrings as much of the water from it as he can. still shouting: ‘The sun won’t come round for another hour. He comes back. The rush of cold air makes her shiver.He immediately spins a full circle before her. She is standing with her arms hoisted over her head still. Sophie. Then he forces her to sit down on the edge of the couch. pulls her arms one by one down by her sides. ‘You are not to move. seemingly lost in another daze. Mind you heed me this time. then grabs the hem of her gown and drags it forcefully up over her head. but the air is dry enough even here to suck most of the moisture out of your dress in a short while. though. pulled one way and then another by her needs. ‘I will get you food in a moment. but does not break her reverie. But I want to lay this outside to dry. First.’ 300 . Sophie. and wraps it tightly about her.’ He grabs the cover from the couch. you must cover yourself against getting a chill. I will get you some food in a moment. He shouts.’ He slams his way out of the domicile.

as though whispering from the far corner of a large chamber: ‘This is service. In fact.’ She nods. she knows that the green matter is alive.’ A small voice says very distinctly. She bends to examine the fronds more closely. This. But she must go on. of course. straightening. a mass of short fronds that shiver in the gentle air flow. She says: 301 . cannot be: only humans can be alive. Suddenly. as though coming from a great distance. She stands up and struggles for a while to shrug off the wrap. The surface is green. though she does hear what seems to be a low buzzing sound. There are few stones underfoot. She asks: ‘Who are you?’ There is no answer. She says: ‘Is this punishment or sacrifice. It falls away. The intensity of the light startles her and for an instant she is deeply afraid.He goes to the cooking area. She is alarmed by this movement. hands shading her eyes from the worst of the glare. suddenly filled with a feeling like reverence for the green matter. She goes to the door and pushes it as she had seen him do. so she steps out into the open. the surface is so soft that she looks down out of curiosity.

’ At her back. She is filled with the impulse to lay out flat on the ground. even for your own good?’ She takes the flask and drinks the thick soup greedily. Such is the grace by which I live. It is hot and sweet and settles heavily in her stomach. the natal man shouts: ‘I told you to stay inside. 302 . She sits down on the ground and says as she hands him back the flask: ‘I want water.’ She bends again and lays the flat of her right hand on the green mantle. and never am I exhausted. fearing that she will slide down into some condition that could not be changed.’ He fumes loudly but he can do nothing else but run off to get her what she wants. She is frightened by this impulse. For a moment she is intensely happy. as though some good fortune has touched her. It makes her drowsy. Do you want to kill yourself?’ He appears before her with the two handled flask. Sophie.‘But must I walk on you?’ ‘I serve to exhaustion. The voice says: ‘You honour me in your understanding. ‘Can’t you control yourself.

but she would no longer see it. there are now only brilliant flashes of green and gold light. falls down and rolls about in the agony of it. still distant and therefore low: ‘It is no sin to lie on the bosom of the Lord.’ She swings about in sudden anger. The voice says to her.The light is intense. The sun has just appeared above the rim of some obstruction and its brilliant rays strike her full in the eyes. then she knows that this is nonsense. She opens her eyes. ‘You must dress. The man is gaping at her. She says: ‘The bosom of the Lord is the pit of unknowing. but she feels that if she lies down a darkness will take over. The light would continue to shine. She wants the water with an avid hunger. She screams. We have…’ She reaches for the water. the two handled flask heavy in his hands. She forces herself to her feet again. yet she does not feel thirsty. For a moment she believes that this is the power of the Lord manifested. She drains the flask. The sun will surely burn you.’ 303 . He says. Sophie. Where her eyes had once seen the world.

She drops the flash. her hands pulling at his ears as though looking for something to hold on to. the water she is spewing falling warmly on their bodies.But he reaches down instead and grabs between her legs. so that the rest of its contents are vomited up. then ejaculates with a series of mighty surges. the physical shocks she is suffering too much for her. then she screams. and he rocks both of them in a spasmodic way. this time shooting out against his throat. He is languid afterwards and can no longer support her body. They fall over and writhe on the grass. so that she 304 . She throws herself onto him. He bellows. First he shouts out. She is drifting into a faint. twisting away. He picks her up with little effort and pushes her down onto his erect penis. The pressure on her stomach is too much now. a kind of shock in this. He cries out inarticulately but with a heavy note of longing. The water regurgitates. arms and legs wrapping about him. He simply clings to her small body. the water filling her stomach nauseating her. his penis pressed as far into her as he can managed. but really she is beginning to respond to his agitated drives up into her. as though she was more an extension of him than his partner in sexual congress.

I have been obedient. and he walks away absently brushing his hands down his front. the sticky mess making a loud squishing sound in the otherwise silent place. The ejected contents of her stomach that cover his chest are now cooling. gracious human incarnate. then replies curtly. hardens her mouth. to dry the wetness there. She turns about until she is facing sunward and lets its warmth play onto her face and breast. her mouth pressed against the fronds of the being: ‘No longer is there rest in any place. She observes her anger. There are several aches in her body. ‘You will see in your time. Then you’ll understand. It’s like she has been ripped open. The voice says: ‘It is no sin to rest on the bosom of the Lord.’ ‘I have served my Lord.’ 305 . Her legs are very unsteady. ‘The Lord no longer knows who serves. For an eternity we rested thus without fear.’ ‘Oh.’ She pushes herself up from the ground.begins to slip down to the ground.’ She is reminded of her anger.’ ‘No!’ Her anger swells in her chest. It tightens her throat. say not that. No longer.

‘Are you many?’ 306 . though not in sacrifice. spherical body.He comes back to her. She does not remember ever seeing a structure like it: slender base. Sophie. ‘And you don’t know how death is welcomed?’ She looks about until she spots her gown. She is not cold – yet she feels chilled. She sniffs. much taller than the one she addresses. then swings back as the gown falls into her arms. who also abide in service. ‘We are companions of the grass spirit. She is stunned by this knowledge. She goes over and pulls it down. She looks at him. affronted by her own surprise.’ The heat of the sun is welcome. ‘Who are you?’ she asks curtly. The thing is alive. spread across some low structure. as though she is no longer protected by her own body. arms hanging by his sides now. The reply seems to come from further back among what she sees are other alive structures. He says to her with a sad resignation: ‘You will surely die soon. The structure sways towards her. squinting up against the glaring sky.’ She is surprisingly gladdened by this reply. looking thoroughly dejected.

She looks 307 . Behind her. She walks slowly towards the taller structures. He says. as though these spirits withdraw. now alas but a remnant. ‘ – there is water from the reclamation plant up there. too. approaching the largest structure.‘Once a myriad. Sophie. though it should not be. there are not many left. Sophie? True. But here – ’ He points back towards where the sun stands.’ He walks off into the dense foliage. It has all been used by the machine to draw omnium from the Other World. She has pulled the gown into place on her body.’ ‘We greet you with joy. ‘I will serve you.’ There is only a keening cry in response.’ She says. though we are afraid. You see.’ She nods. ‘You will suffer only as you are prepared. Come and look. that fades away to a whisper. There is no longer any free water. She draws the gown over her head. coming up beside her: ‘Let me tell you about this place. he says: ‘Have you never seen trees before. the problem is water.’ She is standing among the structures. It is unique.

I want you to see this first.’ He flares up at her: ‘Can’t you have patience. pulled in different ways by their competing desires. There is the intense bitter odour of life all about them. Sophie. He shows her the flowing water. Sophie. I am only trying to help you. They go down a narrow path. looking up at him. But he is determined. squinting in the subdued light: ‘I am hungry.’ She hurries over to him and says: ‘I am hungry. the soil dark because it is damp. You’re like a little child. She says. not seeing him – now that he has left the clearing. pushing through the gentle resistance of the leaves.’ He takes her arm and pulls her along. flushed with pride. Once the 308 . Sophie. ‘In a while. look at this and admire it. It is wonderful. At the bottom of the incline is a broad shallow channel. ‘Here.’ He is suddenly distracted.’ He grabs her shoulder and pulls her around until she is facing the stream. He reappears and shouts at her: ‘Will you follow me.around for him.

approaching slowly at a crouch. She pulls loose from his grasp and approaches the being.’ The little being has turned back towards her. She asks: ‘Who are you?’ The little being seems to jump up in the air.’ Something moves on the periphery of her vision. and the land was covered all over with beautiful vegetation. its dark eyes steadily focused on her. Every blade of grass I nibbled 309 . turning as it does and making as if to run away. She kneels to look more closely at it. It looks at her. She feels she ought to reassure it. She says in response: ‘No. coming it seems from a point above the being’s head: ‘You will be the end of us all. Lady. A small being has appeared out from under one of the living structures. She is startled. The whole flat world in my grasp.whole world ran with water like this. Your time has come.’ The voice has a slow measure.’ The little being face twitches all the time while it stares at her with an imperturbable fixity. ‘I have not come to harm you. ‘So long have I reigned here. a quick tremor running through it. The front of its face is twitching. Lady.

‘What have you done?’ She says.’ There is a small cry.’ He shouts at her back: ‘Are you talking to that rabbit? Are you utterly mad?’ She says quietly. as though some obstruction has been 310 .remembered. A greater destiny is finally yours. He shouts: ‘They are all dead!’ He bursts out into the open again. The destiny of all.’ She gets to her feet. How many members only I know. ‘Stella brought them specially from Gobi. sobbing in his extreme upset. gesturing behind and above her: ‘Behold your father. like the moment of light striking into the dark. ‘What have you done. He runs up and bends over the rabbit. We had plans to regenerate this whole area. She hears him thrashing about while she contemplates the little still form lying at her knees. There is like a clarity about her for now. part intense relief. part sheer fright. dripping onto his chest and creating little runnels through the dried vomit there. How many sacrificed in their vulnerability. you monster?’ Tears run down his cheeks. knowing what she does here: ‘Go now.’ He runs around her.

Sophie.pushed aside. Sophie?’ He has crouched down at her side. part a sense of discovering a secret. like an abandoned toy that nonetheless still bears the value it once had. she knows. She looks up at him. He is at her back again.’ She drinks her fill. She says: ‘It awaits you too. wringing his hands in his distress. The water is slightly salt. She sees his swinging penis dangling below his body. She kneels down and bends to drink from the stream. with a musty quality that reminds her of something old and forgotten.’ ‘But don’t you understand even the simplest rules of hygiene. She sits down at the edge of the stream and patiently waits until the wind is released in a series of loud burps. others obstructions will appear. Soon. She lunges and 311 . She walks back to the stream of water and lays her right foot in its centre. as though only now becoming aware of his presence in her life. The water is cool to the touch. Her expression is a naked leer. this time screaming: ‘You can’t drink that. part also of making a theft. taking the water up in full mouthfuls at a time. It’s just come from the reclamation plant.

It stiffens very quickly. She goes perfectly still while he ejaculates. He scrambles to his feet. extending and fattening in her hands. pressing herself forcefully into his groin. falling partly into the stream with a noisy splash. then the telltale stain in the water flowing away from her. grunting with the complete agony it causes her. he hurries his climax. She sits down on him. and jumps onto him. There is nothing for her to do but jump up and down on him. He falls back on the ground. part triumph. fighting the post-coital torpor. part joy.grabs the penis and begins to pull on it with a savage abandon. head down. willing it forward against the depressive effects of his discomfort. and nothing for him to do but cry with the pain and clutch her waist in an attempt to limit the damage she is doing. a bright stain against the fevered flesh of his detumescing penis. body splayed out along its course. shouting in alarm: 312 . He sees the blood first. still surprised by the speed of their passion. In fact. Then she rolls off him and lets herself collapse into the stream. He makes no attempt to enjoy the experience this time. She shouts incoherently.

trying with all her strength to push him off. She looks up at him.’ She is startled by this realisation. spreading his own limbs to press hers into the bed of the stream. which she utters immediately: ‘I have lost the world.‘You are bleeding. for sure. shaking her head from side to side. She hisses in her fury.’ She is roused by his panic. but his throat is so constricted that what comes out is a series of meaningless croaks. staring with a sick fascination at her thin legs in the water. the pink tracery of her life-blood streaming away between them. Then she begins to thrash about in the water. Sophie! Oh you are dying now. She says again.’ He hears only the word “lost” and it fills him with an overwhelming misery. He is trying to say something. ‘We have lost the world. There is this insight. the only movement now permitted to her: 313 . her arms especially flaying the surface. like surfacing from sleep. She screams out: ‘And it cannot be recovered!’ He throws himself down on top of her.

Her skin is almost translucent. that she should say something quite so categorical. At least. He raises himself on his arms so that he can look at her. ‘What do you mean. moved by some quality she possesses that strikes a deep chord in him. blue veins evident.’ It is as though she has just woken up. like a memory that can reveal itself only in this way. Every reason we had to be human. He is moved to argue with her. their grey blue evident in the strong light. He says: ‘What kind of life do you have.’ He is very surprised to hear this. She looks at him with a deep puzzlement tinged with fear for herself. Her lips are dull purple.’ 314 .‘We have lost it all. a whole network of them across her cheeks. I tell you. the artificials and the natals are. thin and flaked with dead skin. He shakes his head. Have you spent your whole life in the madness of what they call reality?’ ‘Restoration must begin. ‘What are you talking about?’ Her eyes are shining. Sophie? Your plugs are worn already. Sophie? We are still human.

Sophie. The gown sags at the back. weighed by the heavy mud clinging there. nor was it bliss. shaking the gown out so that it falls down along her body. He remains lying flat out in the water – not conscious of the cold penetrating him – then he shouts out part in alarm part in outrage. He says. The word surprises him. Sophie. She turns until the sun is at her back. he understands: it was transparency. Why should it happen now?’ But she has already walked away from him. dragging herself through the mud of the stream bed until she has worked her way free of him. He is stunned that she can get up and leave him like that. stomping her way downstream. Only in its passing does he see the value of what he is losing. ‘I will leave you to your death then. He says: ‘We have waited the Restoration for a long time. a long long time ago. He thinks: I was once like that. It was not happiness. of course. She scrambles to her feet.’ This is self-pity.She struggles under him. The memory she invokes in him is fading and this is the source of his misery. forgetting that she has already walked away: 315 .

when there is nothing to see?’ And that is true. He sets off after her. He sees her a distance off down the glade. When he catches her up. Sophie. ‘What is it about water. looking at the water that flows beneath his gaze: ‘Such a clarity. he bends to her and asks. nothing to know.‘Why should clarity be so important. Sophie?’ She stops and looks at the water that flows past her feet. He shouts incoherently in panic – afraid now that she is leaving him behind – and scrambles to his feet. There is nothing to see. but keeping to the edge of the stream – to the extent that the vegetation permits this – knowing he will make better progress there. ‘In the beginning there was only water. And then he understands: What a light! He says.’ When she does not answer. so that light can pass through without hindrance. water splashing up about her as she stamps her way along the stream. Only it is like being a crystal. Sophie. he looks up and then around him.’ 316 . Only that water.

He is not angry this time that she hits him in this blind impersonal way: he knows that he is impeding her – again. ‘You don’t know. no more that can be said. surely. he is overjoyed to hear this. You just don’t know. He of course runs off after her. He stares at her small form as he wades along in her wake. But he does say. He steps away. his head down. her face for once animated with something like recognition. seeing how the gown drags 317 .’ And her expression says that that is it. bending so that his cheek can press against hers. She turns from him then and sets off along the stream. treating it as a mild distraction at first. She turns to look him in the eye. stamping down on the water in what must be a very tiring way of walking. abashed. She is surprised by this. Yet he is beginning to understand something about her.’ She is about to resume her march down the stream. she begins to pummel his arms. but she falters when she hears this. He reaches and gathers her into his arms. Sophie. When he does not respond to her gentle pressure to push him away. even so: ‘Then why complain if the world is lost. It is a darkening place. natal.Oh.

I saw its light.on her. then raising his voice by degrees as he speaks. as though testing the power of her hearing. the depth of her abstraction: ‘I said. He feels a tentative quality enter him. he knows. In fact. and is 318 . help her. She stops and lets him catch up with her. coughing rhetorically first. wants her to turn and acknowledge him again. obviously dragged at last from her inner concentration. how her left shoulder sags. He speaks again. a sense of trespass that he cannot acknowledge. wants to encourage her. that I witnessed that water too just now. Even her anger. how blood still drips from her and how the stains rapidly disperse in the flowing water. And he does think of something to say. When he has done so. What lost world can compare to that?’ She makes no attempt to answer. which is: ‘I witnessed that water. What world would not be abandoned for that wonderful place?’ She brings her head up. she shows no sign that she has even heard what he said. is preferable to this indifference to him. So he lengthens his pace relative to hers and allows himself to draw closer to her. Sophie my dear. He wants to speak to her. Sophie.

He can see clearly how he has always proposed himself as this centre as the final indication of his own worth before the fact of his own existence. He wants to make some 319 . He wants to cry.’ He is aghast now at his own presumption. He is profoundly embarrassed. he knows that there is something false in this memory. Sophie!’ Even his vehemence points to the falsity in him. a child again caught out again in some easily discerned stratagem. you fool. she says curtly: ‘It no longer exists.bending towards her with a plausible expression on his face. a pole around which all else is arrayed in orderly patterns. Don’t you know yet that when one thing changes. ‘Not all changes. It is as though her rejection of him echoes an earlier rejection. all things must also change?’ It is like a slap in the face. But even as he speaks again. arising from his own past. staring greedily at her. ‘No. not what she has said – which he really doesn’t take in at first – but the tone of voice she uses to address him. and this impulse to let go finds an echo deep in him. He can see very clearly how he has always attempted to create this illusion of a fixed centre. There is a fulcrum prepared from the beginning.

If only she could keep control of herself. Here his thoughts are interpreted by the sudden rage that erupts in her. He wants to propose someone else as the centre of his life. perhaps for the first time in his life. knowing that she 320 . So much pain. you spend your time dawdling around in the effluent of a glorified abattoir and think that you too are on your complacent stupid way to saving the world. so much useless pain. Look. who in turn would enhance your own vanity? Can you not even begin to grasp the delusions that tempt the few women remaining capable of breeding? They bring out sorry specimens like you and that fatuous sister of yours and think they are on the way to saving mankind.correction here. do you think that a heaven of motherliness exists just for you? Do you think that you were born just to enhance the vanity of some woman. ‘Fulcrum? What kind of jackass notion is that? Just because you had a mother. though this time his insight disturbs him in a novel way. she thinks. a fever engulfing her head. But even here he can see the ruse. her throat dry again.’ She pauses for breath. You even think that you can save me by making me the new centre of your leftover world. Then she is off again.

In a few thousand years’ time the last human being will die. the water shallow enough to let her stride forward. beginning to spread out as the land levels off.’ She looks around. 321 . It might be better if she was not aware of this. dry and utterly lifeless. but speaking some final words as she does: ‘That is your world. the logic of the machine system fatally corrupted by the errors we failed to notice when we created it. Progress is easier now. The edge of the wood is just a short distance away. She turns away from him. using this gangling youth as a whipping boy for all her own frustrations. By then the earth will be a ball of stone.’ She resumes her trek down the stream. If you cannot see further than that. natal.now indulges her anger. Already the stream is losing momentum. then make the best of your circumstances. Then the world we have created will last a further hundred thousand years or so. He will die of utter loneliness and despair. and then it too will just crumble away. even though she knows that her body is almost completely exhausted. surrounded by all the care and comfort that our machines can provide. She presses on. ‘Let me tell you the truth. That is your destiny.

pressing in on either side and – she feels – looming over her back. The water level is dropping rapidly now – then suddenly there is only damp earth. She stares uncomprehendingly at the blood oozing out from the tiny cuts. spreading out and slowly subsiding into the damp soil. She checks her direction relative to the sun and sets off across the wide flat floor of the valley. cut over and over by the small sharp stones that litter the place. It is like she is insulated in a box now from all the pain and discomfort she knows assail her body. But there seems to be space to the front. 322 . thinking: I don’t feel the pain! And this is true. acting like an invitation to her to continue to move forward.’ She waves him off impatiently. After a dozen paces both her feet are bleeding.The light is very strong out in the open. sunlight glancing brilliantly off the rippling water. sudden heat on her cold wet flesh. it is a tight fit for her. Sophie. you’re not dressed for that terrain. As for the box itself. The stream is disappearing into the thirsty earth. leaving only the odour of life in its wake. She looks around. He shouts at her back: ‘No.

his own arousal like a gale in his chest. So he just stands there. ‘No. It will kill you. going back and back 323 . an unease both sad and terrifying coming to make his whole body tremble. because she stops the vain struggle. muffled by his flesh but nonetheless eerie for him to hear. trying to reach down to his penis. Instead. still bearing the odour of her gastric juices. She is struggling in his arms. His flesh is hot. Sophie. He can see her as though stretching out into time. He shouts ‘No!’ again and tightens his grip on her. that wild hunger back to drive her. an angry hiss: ‘You will cripple yourself trying to cross the river bed in your bare feet.She resumes walking and he shouts at her back: ‘No!’ Then she is picked up from behind and he is saying in her ear. she throws her loose arm up around his neck and pulls herself up towards him.’ He turns about and makes his way back to the damp earth.’ She seems to hear this. her body rolled up against his naked chest. no more of that. For a moment she just squeezes herself against him. She presses her face into the soft flesh of his neck. his own bleeding feet sinking into the soft mud. He is holding her tightly in his arms. then she begins a loud moaning. Sophie.

How could anything matter? And she looks up and says to him: ‘That’s it. He can see her strange keening come alive in her as an ancient desire. Sophie?’ She merely shakes her head then lets herself slump flat on the ground. each being completely separate. natal.’ He stares down at her. He is terrified by this vision. it is simply that the sudden dispersal of her passion has left an emptiness that she cannot fill. reaching across from some terrible event of departure towards an end that is at once recognisable in its familiarity and utterly strange in its reality. 324 .into ages he could never understand. It is not rest that she wants. Then her pain actually enters him: it is as though he is now one being. yet both are himself. He crouches down to her and asks again: ‘What are you talking about. She lands on her hands and knees in the mud and finds she hasn’t the strength to raise herself to her feet. then the first being again. then another being. but at the same time he feels himself indifferent to it. then asks: ‘What is?’ She wriggles free from his now loosened embrace.

He. too.’ He walks away in among the trees. This insight leaves her unmoved. then sees that his own feet are bleeding. Her outrage is immediate: one instant flaccid in the mud. all ablaze in a brilliant sunbeam. settling slowly into the mud as dark water wells up around her. next instant on her feet. seeing the sun as a kind of god-being. by contrast. at least until she considers the obvious: What sins? She can remember no transgressions of that kind. The question still echoes in his head. is cold and clinging. but he can no longer remember why he asked it in the first place. shouting her protest 325 . The water that oozes up around her. allseeing. on her back. He sees that her feet are bleeding. Its heat is like a hand on her shoulder.He stares at her supine body. capable of the forgiveness that comes from comprehension. but then she sees herself rising up from the ground into the air. all-caring. like a being that accepts your sins because it too is sinning. Only when he has gone does she become aware of the sun. is empty now. A consoling hand. She whimpers as she thinks this. He says matter-offactly: ‘I will get footpads.

She sees how water dissolves under the influence of the sun. the trees. Loss. She doesn’t know how she has failed. but she is also staring at something else. She remains standing there gazing at this imaginary mist without moving for a long time. She walks. That’s how it presents to her. 326 . into the eddying wind. She must walk. she must go somewhere. There is knowledge here that she can contemplate without feeling. That is the word that comes to her.incoherently at the sky. There is more anger. She is staring out across the level stretch of stony ground towards the beginning of the incline that marks the far side of the valley. nor does she know how it might have been different. and how the brilliant light of the sun is thereby dulled in the ensuing mist. I have failed. but also there is the beginning of an understanding. a contamination that is unavoidable. When her foot encounters the first of the little sharp stones that block her way she stops. It is like an impurity is involved.

rather the truth lies in his capacity just now to utter those words. words that can charm. the words springing spontaneously into his throat: ‘You are beautiful. squinting against the glare of the sun. to hear.The contamination is at root – it has always been with her. standing with arms extended. He can walk out onto the stony ground – feet securely padded – and stand staring at her. to find a place for the word beauty and thus demonstrate to himself that he knows something of what beauty is. She goes to step towards him. to touch – even to know – already admits to failure. Sophie. 327 . He says. his eyes lurid. It is to understand that the need to see. He feels he has admitted something. She is roused by his words.’ They are powerful words to speak. her whole body as if radiant. though she doesn’t know what he said. but he stretches out his long arm to stop her. The sunlight makes his face pasty bright. his mouth red. This is how he finds her on his return. its terrible limitation. It is not a question of the truth of what he says. There is an echo here of that ancient vision of the original water. acknowledging some fundamental truth.

He nods. She walks out onto the stones. She misses him already. arms limp by his sides. she stops and looks back. She wants to raise her hand and yet she knows she will not do it. She is bewildered by his behaviour. as fatalistic as she is. ‘Put these on first. He is looking at her without expression. After walking so far. the distraction. He is standing where she left him.’ He pushes her back away from the stony ground. the sun behind her. She is disappointed by this.’ He holds up her footpads so she can see. Now she can go. Sophie. more part of the deadness of the world. She knows that if she raises her hand he will come. There is something different about him. The gown makes him appear more real than he had been naked. and she is puzzled by this until she sees that he is wearing a gown. It is the separation that counts. to console them both: ‘There is something else!’ Her voice is thin and reedy in the clear warm air. it is creating something tangible – as 328 . So she reaches and takes the pads he holds in his other hand and slips them on.‘No. But she shouts back to him. the land rising in the near distance – her marker for now. the attention.

She turns back to face the slope she will climb once she has crossed the flat valley floor.though allowing space for something new to enter. Hitherto going forward has always been easier than going back. For the first time. as though anything he chose to do for her would be just the thing required at that moment. his mouth open in his naïve way. a gesture ultimately futile. And yet: something was done by him. or even standing still. she will merely die. 329 . She cannot see what is was. She knows there is nothing behind her and she knows that if she stands still. but she knows it informs her now. The confusion of the encounter is taking on a definite form: she sees him bending down to her. Because she is surrendering something implies that something else will come to take its place. She looks back at him again. Already he is becoming as complete for her as a memory. She is buoyed up by this insight. as though at a moment of death. she experiences a whisper of reluctance. She waves to him: goodbye. He waves in return – a poignant gesture.

but some require her to jump. the stones varying now in size and shape. with no character of its own. And context means? Simply that there is no stopping. But she is convinced that there must be something else too. A drained colour. something else is also happening. then the next foot. Not in the way she meant it for the natal. She is very hungry to know what that is. perhaps. They are not deep clefts. There are clefts running across her path. it will bring her to her destination in any case. That’s the word she hears. It is while she is jumping one of the wider clefts that she catches the first glimpse of what might be the something else. A colour. no matter what she might otherwise like to believe. no more: an orange mass.Context. The ground under her feet is becoming more broken. though she thinks 330 . one foot. This doesn’t disturb her too much. The colour is that of a flame that provides no heat. most narrow enough to be stepped across. but the bottoms lie in shadow and so might be treacherous. A place. What is happening here? The word for this is accommodation. just one after the other. She realises that she is plodding across the stony ground. anyway. After all. Something else in the sense that while she is merely walking on the surface of the Earth.

But she will be the agent of the event: what they used to call the midwife. It is at this point that she understands the feeling of reluctance. Such a relief for her.of it more as a container where a kind of transformation of content occurs. immobile and dumb. so that nothing could be grasped. It is only when she perceives this last insight that she knows that she herself is not faced with this threat. how being buried alive might feel: the blindness and the limitations that implies. the victim? She had thought of herself on her way to her doom. She has the courage – as is to be expected – to look deeply into this phenomenon. annihilation. And the transformation is like a change of perspective. It will happen to another being. undertaking repeated attempts at destruction. She can suddenly see it so clearly as being like a stiffness in the hands. What is happening is a kind of entombment. 331 . Why had she always assumed she was the target. an extreme happening. And it will be a terrible event.

is a wonderful temptation. she steps onto the slope. This. The slope rises above her. In fact. a worn-down litter of stone and gravel. she wants to turn back. uniformly grey in the bright sunlight. She asks. So. 332 . Only the steep slope is available to her. how much of this can she accept. Turning back means going back to where she came from. one foot then the other. bending over in a effort to get as much air into her lungs as she can. But it is such a wonderful temptation: just to say it’s impossible to go on. a deathly trudge that is answered by how quickly she is reduced to exhaustion. unless. pains in her legs. an unnerving rattle. of course. the dried. breath rasping spasmodically in her throat. She looks around. for her in her present condition. For a moment she is daunted. The sun is hot now on her back. She slips to her hands and knees.She stops walking. She can fail – which is not the same as turning back. muddy gown very uncomfortable. Being defeated means wandering the earth until someone or something kills her. as though she no longer fitted to the world about her. she feels an all-over discomfort. clinically.

but again the externalising of her consciousness helps leave her body to its own operations. she starts up the slope again. but there is also a clear pulse in her blood. The pain is her legs sears her. stupid way at this implacability. There is a residual ache in her legs. her lungs are dangerously dry. the fine dust and grit she is raising coming to coat her throat. Then – after a unknown length of time – there is a flicker 333 . Now. Ten paces and she is on her knees again. Nothing is impossible until it is impossible. Slow work. She stares in a dulled. pacing herself more carefully this time. the benefit of this fit of thought is that it has taken her attention away from her body. It is that stark: she must go on until the effort kills her. She tests her step first for stability before committing to it.Ah! Immediately she knows she has used the wrong word. so that it could get on with stabilising itself. acknowledging she could drop dead at any moment. So. Instead she is filled with an implacable fatalism. Unfortunately. she knows that she does not have the refuge of thought this time: there is nothing to think. Is this possible? That’s how it is. seeing absolutely nothing at all.

her body ready for the next round of climbing. step after step on the cruel slope. until she again collapses breathless and in agony. she is asking herself. She finds her breathing is under control again. why didn’t they arrange for her to go there directly. There might be that fatality again.somewhere that draws her attention away from this blank. She is so skinny and worn that she is prepared to believe it. a dreadful wheeze in her lungs now and a dangerous tension in the tendons of her legs. She is only slightly recovered. taking her mind off her physical condition. have I found myself in this situation? Why go about this particular mission in this way? The anger works. Why is she in the process of killing herself in order to traverse utterly irrelevant terrain? If the man she is to treat is in one of the Spires. Yet. the question asked demands an answer. though. What age am I? 334 . She stumbles on up. Another thought: has this happened before? She looks down at herself. but she feels the shaft of fear and finds an anger rising in her instead. Why.

face pressed down into her hands. He shouts. First.’ He takes her up into his arms. It is a simple…’ She whirls in instant panic just as there is a harsh zizzz sound. Its as though every muscle in her body has finally seized. She begins a tight dry weeping. however. She doesn’t fight him this time.Then a number of events occur in quick succession. She starts up the slope again. This time. scrabbling up the slope to her: ‘I’m coming. In 335 . I’m coming. sharp pains shooting right up into her chest. Her legs are tremoring uncontrollably.429 red. she notices that the wealth clock at her wrist is displaying again: 851.17 amber. She sees the bright violet flashes and hears the flying machine squawk as it darts away. It’s just too much for her. Sophie. rolling her in – in a by now practiced way – tight against his chest. Then the panic abates as quickly as it came and she is left vaguely irritated that she should be distracted in this way. -3. she collapses in a heap after taking only five steps. Then she hears a voice from the sky behind her: ‘The recommendation that you accept treatment for your delusion still obtains.

Long legs help.’ And he sets out up the slope with no further ceremony. and raise a surprisingly large cloud of dust and grit. Soon. There is some slipping. letting her pitiable bawling sound out in the quiet air. pressing her hot face to the smooth skin of his neck. my dear. I said I would take care of you and I will. however. then. my sweet. as though she was a child: ‘There now. an awkward climb with his arms filled with her trembling body. she gropes to draw herself even closer to him. He dotes on her. Once or twice he is down on one knee. I will stay with you to the very end if you let me. fighting for 336 . I’ll carry you to the top of the slope now. not since I met you. he finds that a sort of running clamber serves them best. so also does a full reserve of energy. so glad to be in contact with her again. Everything will be fine. with plunging steps that slide and skitter on the loose surface. There is nothing else I want to do now. I can take care of them.fact. He murmurs to her in a crooning voice. He begins. either. She doesn’t try to hide her upset either. And you are not to worry about the clones. one foot down and the next already pushing on up before the initial foothold in judged secure.

but a memory really of a disposition that resides just beneath a surface. almost by now more a comfort to her than a sign of pain. while he strives frantically to get a foothold with the other foot. She seems unaware of his toil on her behalf. her moans very low. she knows. but when that doesn’t make sense. There is something familiar about this state for her.his balance. This is a thoroughly irrational fear. because she is actually connected to the Sun. mouth to his neck. nestling in his arms like a baby. as though she dangles high in the sky at the end of a thread that reaches all the way up to the Sun itself. She hears Being born first. she sees herself floating high in the sky. though she recoils at the idea of being so close to the Sun and its terrible raging heat. Not a childhood memory. It forces her to pay more attention to her meandering thoughts. up near the Sun. She is pleasantly surprised by this interpretation. A chorus of voices shouts in perfect unison: ‘Who the fuck are you?’ 337 . Is this how she wants to be? A mewling infant? She stops the moaning. She asks: what am I thinking of? Being borne. not liking the characterisation she has just made. ready to activate at any time.

’ His uncertainty galvanises her. you know. She says as a question: ‘Clones?’ He nods and mutters: ‘This is really careless. colour. These jokers can be pretty dangerous when they get going. if you can.He stops abruptly and mutters: ‘Oh no. putting her instantly on the alert.’ The chorus of voices again: 338 . globular wheels and perched up side by side on a bench behind some controls are three large men.’ The chorus of voices sing out again: ‘Come on now. bringing his left arm up as though to shield her from their view. and expression. Always. And that is. each togged out in a head to toe silversuit. tell me who you are?’ He turns away to the right. There is one rule regarding them that should always be observed. They’re synced. He bends to her: ‘I’m going to put you down on the slope. never let sibling-clones operate together. Stay out of sight. She sees a large machine with six fat. each with exactly the same build. They always sync. natal.

but each bigger.’ He goes back up the slope and walks towards the approaching vehicle. just keep your head down. If they catch on who you are there’ll be a lot of trouble. They say together. much bigger.’ There is the whine of powerful electric motors and the crunching of super-dry grit and stones. I want to see what he’s up to. ‘Damn. I have. anyway . All you can do is scratch your balls to pass the time. Two. He bends lower. than he will ever be. ‘…And that other thing. you know. Three. drive over there. natal. not as tall as he. He’s tall enough to look the clones straight in the eyes. Sophie. loudly as before: ‘What do you mean. will you. that 339 . The clones begin to file off the bench. natal? We’re not fucking robots. What Five means. You fuck off. He says as casually as he can: ‘They’ve allowed you to sync?’ The vehicle judders to a halt. and he deliberately shifts his gaze from one pair of eyes to the next. and speak for yourself. is that we’ve got minds of our own. moving in a perfectly matched rhythm.‘Hey. If it wasn’t for Three and me they’d have melted you down for soap years ago…’ They are now standing in a row facing him. Look.

if you’re so sure of yourself. I’m not getting in reach of that Do it yourself Two. their muddy complexions paling with shame. That’s why I must speak to your Caretaker. But. it never works.’ Does this gross flattery work? Actually. They stop shouting immediately. He can only say: ‘My task here has the greatest priority. and this occasion is no exception.Three is always bitching about. clones. you search him and Fuck off. while the three clones hang their heads immediately. ‘It will be necessary to speak with your Caretaker. palms out towards them. They stamp their right feet simultaneously and begin shouting again: ‘I think we have an argument for making an arrest.’ Mentioning a clone’s controller always induces a massive feeling of inferiority in it.’ 340 . I can’t see what that has to do…’ He raises his hands. I will have only the highest praise for each of you. Two. so the unfortunate creature is incapable of vanity. each of them has also produced its Flashrod. Three. The clone’s ego has no abode. He says.

part annoyance. but it is evident that they are properly flummoxed by her direct approach. He steps forward. She sees what is going on. deliberately coming closer to the three hulking brutes. ‘They’ll surely kill you for what you’ve just said. He runs over to her and hisses: ‘You’re going to have to find cover somewhere. reminding them that they were grown in jars while everyone else had the comfort of a real womb. The clones.’ He shakes his head in part wonder. Calling them bottle-babes is about the worst thing you can do. They wave their Flashrods at her. aghast that she should insult the clones in this way. Meanwhile. Sophie. her voice thin and wavering after all her exertions: ‘Will you bottle-babes shut up!’ He swings around at once to face her.They stutter into silence. that the three clones are armed and that he is walking up to them in his dogged earnest way. She shouts. She is gasping for breath and her legs are trembling again. for their part are momentarily struck dumb.’ She steps around him and walks very slowly – actually walking as fast as she can without falling down – towards the clones and raises her two thin 341 . she has made it back to the top of the slope.

’ They get so excited that they begin to walk in a circle. ‘This has to be a conspiracy. moving in a tight line.’ She cuts across this nonsense by waving her arms and shouting: ‘Will you all shut up for a minute!’ They shut up immediately. stamping their heavily booted feet down onto the dusty gritty ground. ‘And stop that running round. Then they shout out together.’ 342 . get on the radio to HQ. stunned and deeply curious at the same time. They are raising a lot of dust. pointing their weapons at her head: ‘A fucking artificial! What the fuck are YOU doing over here? Shoot her. then over across to her. The clones are staring avidly at her. She speaks in her more normal voice this time. each with the same emphatic jogging gait. shoot the bitch. And the fucking natal. Three. We need reinforcements. A fucking revolt against the Masters. We need to stamp this out at the root. He brought her up here. first back around their vehicle.arms above her head. We have to interrogate her first. will you. but keep on jogging in their circle. Don’t forget that bollocks either.

We need to get them under control first. Faces are suffused. so that the clones cannot hear: ‘Ask to speak to their Caretaker. whom they have been created to serve. Yet it is a hard fact for them to accept.They stop running round. but it is as though they have never experienced the feeling before.’ Consternation is renewed in the clones. but now they notice that she has a wealth clock at her wrist. He comes up behind her and says in a low voice. then shakes her head. This signifies to them that she is one of the respected Masters. you old slag? We will fucking go when I say we go. Let’s go.’ There was to be more. coming to a halt on the far side of their vehicle from where she is standing. They each point its right hand at her wrist – each hand holding a Flashrod – and shout thunderously: 343 . She nods to the clones: ‘Right. they wave their weapons menacingly – though erratically – and they shout in one voice: ‘What the fuck do you mean let’s go? Who put you in charge.’ She glances up at him. She goes over and climbs up onto the back of the vehicle.

She would most like to sit down. she says: ‘Look. you old bag? You want us to believe that someone made someone like you into a Master. At least one of the clones wants to get on with it and drive the Master back to the Base. Instead. either you drive this thing or I will. She knows she is too weary even to try this. The clones are quiet because they are trying to have an argument. with only the best interests of mankind in their hearts. to be perfectly still for a long time. The bench extends the full width of the vehicle. This is evident in their stuttery body language. in case you don’t know. They do not wander around in grubby rags in the company of scrubber natals from the deserts of the world.‘Where did you get that. Calm and devoted. getting her breath back and trying to subdue the shake in her legs. to close her eyes. where each attempt to step forward is immediately 344 . they reside in seclusion in their Towers from birth to death.’ She is leaning on the support bar that runs along behind the bench on the vehicle.’ Could she drive the machine? She’s finding it hard to work how she gets from this side of the safety bar forward to the controls. so she will have to dismount and remount the machine. The Masters are noble beings.

so that the clones are as though dancing in a line. trundling in a shallow arc while maintaining their line abreast exactly. a stomping gait that generates a ground pulsation that even she can feel up on the vehicle. wanting to appear decisive in this matter: ‘Look. Something will be needed to break the impasse. How long could this go on? No reason why it should not continue till the clones drop dead through exhaustion. if you want. They are silent at first. jerking forwards then back again in a fast staccato rhythm.countered by a tug backwards. That something is the natal coming forward to volunteer to drive the vehicle for her.’ Well. Sophie. it so unsettles her that she lets herself sink down onto the vehicle’s platform. In fact. her legs buckling under her just like that. The clones are hurrying to put themselves between the natal and their machine. all their energy concentrated on moving into position as quickly as 345 . the clones break their dance routine and set out towards him at a smart trot. I can drive us right up to the Spires. He has his hand up to attract her attention and he is saying in a loud firm voice.

They stare at her crumpled figure and then let loose a chorus of braying laughter. deeply scandalised: ‘Hey. Sophie will not be restrained. eyes tightly closed as she fights the nausea. utterly forced and false. He says to them. do you pong!’ Now they each express a triumphant contempt. ‘Oh man. They shout out. pointing at her: 346 . The natal. eyebrows arched just so.possible. of course. each tossing its head with exactly the same gesture of revulsion. one hand still clutching the safety rail.’ He points towards her crouched on the back of the machine. natal. Then they get close enough to get their first whiff of him. He continues on towards the clones and they in turn intensify their charade of deep disgust. you SMELL!’ They exaggerate their response.’ Now they are in position between the natal and the machine. ‘What would you expect from someone who spends his life up to his neck in the shit from the rendering plant over there. upper lip curled just so. however. in explanation: ‘I had not time this morning for my toilet. is still aiming to get aboard it. They shout. It is the name that diverts the clones this time.

Mother of the World. It’s his turn to be stunned. they speak for the first time in a more normal tone. She is sweet and considerate. and when they resume. what a complete fucking fool you are to believe that. Didn’t they teach you even that out in the bush?’ He stops in his tracks. We know Sophia. waving him away rhetorically with their left hands: ‘Shows what you know.‘SOPHIE! You think this old bitch is Sophie? Man.’ They pause for dramatic effect. nature boy. ‘What are you talking about? This woman is called Sophie because her true name in unknown. his own convictions weak through lack of practice. Sophie is a character in reality. bin-brains?’ The clones respond with a dramatic dismissal. You obviously don’t know Sophia. stick-boy. She cherishes the artificials and admonishes the natals. 347 . all-wise and all-forgiving. Sophia is merciful to us clones. an indication of their deep worshipful regard for this woman: ‘We even know where she lives.’ He is completely thrown by these revelations.’ He now tries to be sarcastic – thus betraying the lamentable influence of the clones on his impressionable nature: ‘Didn’t you know that.

More delighted even that the controls are so simple – green button for GO.’ He doesn’t grasp what has happened at once. seated now at the controls of the vehicle. his finger still pressing the green button. He is beside himself with joy. He makes a gesture of surrender. of resignation – even of submission – to the clones. They have barely time for the merest taste of what it means to be one up on someone else before they are screaming in their more usual outrage. Thus the clones’ experience of victory over a natal – a unique experience for this unfortunate trio – does not last very long at all. red button for STOP. The voice says again: ‘Please insert your control stick.’ The appropriate slot on the little dashboard is flashing blue. then sidesteps them and jumps up onto the machine.He is unnerved so far as his own knowledge is concerned. and a little crossbar for controlling direction – he just goes ahead and presses the green button. A tinny voice from the control box says: ‘Please insert your control stick. but the strength of his feelings for poor Sophie – as she lies broken on the machine – are if anything stronger than before. the machine still 348 .

’ The clones are horrified.’ 349 . He sits quietly for a moment. each folded as though grasping the stick – ‘and you don’t have one. ‘Well. He stands up – awkwardly. We’re almost there. Sophie. Then he says. do you?’ The last phrase comes out especially loud. So only we can drive it.asking for the insertion of the control stick. We are responsible for the machine. forced ribaldry in their voices. you need this’ – one clone holds up the little plastic stick. ignoring the clones’ jeering. then. you had better give me that stick. Then the clones get around to shouting again: ‘Huh! Think you can just drive it off like that. because there is not much room between the bench and the control panel – reaches down behind and hoists her up and sets her sitting on the bench beside him. the other two clones hold up their right hands.’ He nods at hearing this. He pats her back and tells encouragingly: ‘You bear up now. ‘We can’t do that. do you? Well. He has at last taken his finger off the green button. once the clones have run out of things to shout at him. you idiot. The blue light stops flashing. thinking.

who seem to be waiting for him to answer them. fists pressed to their eyes. even snot dribbling from their noses in seconds.Having her sitting beside him like this – though she is slumped against him – fills him with new confidence. Then they break down in unison. But that seems an unfair thing to do. then thinks he has not said enough. Therefore. blood suffusing their faces.’ He pauses. I insist that you surrender the control stick to me. and says in what can only be interpreted as a patronising tone: ‘I need to get dear Sophie to shelter as quickly as possible. The bawling is very loud. He leans over towards the clones. What can he do now? He could go and take the stick from the thoroughly distracted clones.’ The clones stare at him in complete disbelief. They fall together onto their knees. and cry wholeheartedly. tears sparking up from their eyes. They are simply overwhelmed by what they experience as their utter defeat. besides. he doesn’t know where to go. He says to her at his side: 350 . and has time to add before the clones react: ‘Be sure that I will report your cooperation – your enthusiastic cooperation – with us in this matter. He is nonplussed.

She looks around. I may need your help here. but does that stop them? I mean. The old man at first seems not to notice him. But he does say. Now. You did everything you had to do. I don’t know what to do now. then he says. having eyes only for the clones huddled now in a pile on the ground. obviously addressing the two of them on the vehicle: ‘I could see it coming. he stands up in order to gain the old man’s attention. The poor things are not really up to confrontations.’ He stands over the clones for a moment. they are so stupid and headstrong. touching each of them on the shoulder in turn: ‘Alright. She pokes the natal in the side and points.’ 351 . seeing that an old man is shuffling towards them from the right.’ She revives herself to some extent. I tell them not to be so challenging because they won’t win. Being suffused by the warmth of his body helps even more. She hardly notices the whinging clones. shaking his head.‘Sophie.’ Reluctant to descend from the machine. ‘You can ask him for help. get up on the back of the patrol cart and we’ll go home again. boys. Being seated helps.

He herds them gently towards the flat back of the cart. He reaches under the dashboard and produces a stick. As I said. But he does say conversationally: ‘Well.’ The natal is bewildered: ‘You mean you deliberately sync them?’ The old man has got the clones up onto the cart and has them seated in such a way that they won’t easily fall off again. His teeth are brilliantly white. nodding all the time in the old man’s direction. you know. otherwise they just pine if left alone. ‘Now. ‘Always keep a spare. ignoring the baleful stares they throw up at the natal. after all. Then they’ll be just fine.’ He gestures that the natal should move along the bench. Just in case. I think myself that grouping them – which we must do. it is their duty. Showing it to them.The clones clamber to their feet with alacrity.’ 352 . He comes back along the cart to the front. otherwise they just pine away and die – only reinforces their individual behaviour. ‘We can do nothing else. then he clambers heavily up beside him. he says. let’s go and put the clones to bed for a few hours. Even two together are not enough company for them.’ He smiles a wizened smile.

spread out on the wide platform. Once the machine has settled down to grinding over the littered surface. while the other two didn’t. they called it. you know. that’s exactly it. Even the handier groupings can lead to problem. ‘Yes. If there is a conflict in their actions. That’s what happens. its motor straining loudly.’ He grimaces. that is. About the only structure to have survived the Flash. He returns to the earlier subject. 353 . The old man points. One of them wanted to take us to their base.’ He drives the cart along a narrow track among the ruins. the impasse can lead to deaths. ‘Just crumbling away now.’ The old man nods. Anything much over that and they become completely unpredictable.The cart chugs along under the heavy load. we saw that happen. Nearly two thousand years old. The old man steers it in the direction he has come from. They just stood there jerking back and forwards. ‘A castle.’ Some ruins are coming into view.’ The natal interrupts: ‘Oh. he takes up the earlier subject: ‘We find the clones are happiest when grouped in threes or fours. A fortification. you know.

but it was found that they either argued and fought incessantly. or just pined away.‘You know. and as for natals…’ The pause is heavy. the plan at first was to mix them across sibling lines. The natals want to tell everyone else what to do. But the truth is that we need them.’ He smiles a chilly smile for the natal. because no doubt it seemed such a good idea at the time – were in existence before the real problems emerged. Most artificials won’t take orders from anyone. ‘Well. my friend. the old man bowing slightly in his direction. in a word. They are clearing the ruins and are following the track – with an improved surface – towards a small cubical structure set into the rising ground over to their left. ‘Well.’ The old man blows his breath. as you can see. And it is true that millions – literally millions.’ He points behind without looking round. you can ask if creating the clones was such a good idea in the first place. I know very little about clones. you know all about that yourself. for that matter. Or about artificials. Everyone has done that from the beginning. ‘And they are still producing them.’ The natal promptly asks: ‘Know what? I was raised out in the desert. 354 . Oh.

You wouldn’t want to underestimate Sophie. Seeing that the old man is a little bit impressed by what he has told him. ‘Oh.All the natal can say is. He glances around the natal. hoping to appear sage. still slumped against the natal. ‘Her? She looks about ready for the render. She has important business in the Spires.’ She suddenly says. She has remarkable powers of recovery. eyes closed: ‘I am very thirsty.’ The old man leans around again and studies her more closely.’ The natal sits bold upright – as though coming to attention – and lays a protective arm around her shoulder.’ The natal shakes his head slowly. He sees a skinny little woman in a dirty gown who looks close to death. perhaps not having noticed her before now. He speaks slowly.’ He pauses. ‘Oh no. he takes the 355 .’ The old man seems surprised to hear her talk. He is even more sceptical this time. obviously trying to elicit a more respectful response from the minder: ‘This is Sophie. then asks: ‘Who’s your friend.

’ She sighs and lies back against the natal. ‘It’s straight ahead.opportunity to go further. She is on an important mission to the Masters. her blunt conviction is a wonder. He answers her factually. thus betraying the fact that he is bluffing.’ The natal is of course completely deflated by this response. However. ‘She is also remarkably knowledgeable. pointing. opening her eyes at last. she chooses this moment to interject. The old man doesn’t bother to take note of the bluffing. Next you will be talking about the Queen of Heaven. In a world where the human race has long ago lost all confidence in itself.’ She turns her head towards the old man. He simply laughs out in a cordial manner.’ Unfortunately. his voice falters on the last word. ‘Where is the domicile?’ There is no authority in her voice – something the old man has unconsciously been looking for. ‘Don’t tell me you believe the guff they t each the unfortunate jar-boys. despite his ridicule of the natal – but her rock-solid assurance impresses him even more. The natal responds immediately to the sigh by pressing 356 . ‘I am also very hungry.

Almost at once a trolley machine appears through an opening in the gloom at the back. Everyone is thrown forward. The machine suddenly says: ‘Staff number three four four cee is unobtainable at present. he murmurs: ‘Stupid machines. 357 . A very loud klaxon begins to sound somewhere within the building.’ The old man is so annoyed with what has just happened that he is unaware that the cart is entering the drive bay.’ Under his breath. An opening is appearing in the building they approach. He feels very much better. Only she goes flying forward. landing in a sprawl on the deck of the bay. the other to the right. one to the left. You should contact staff number zero five six eff instead. Both the old man and the natal become jammed up against the control dash. the clones are bundled up against the safety bar at the back of the bench. His pleasure is such that he sighs too. which stops pretty suddenly half in and half out of the bay.her into his side. but a loud buzz seems to alert the cart itself. Thank you.’ The old man hisses. two panels sliding back. He hits a button on the dashboard: ‘You were told not to relay routine signals.

She of course fights it off. But the natal says: 358 . it continues to reel her in towards itself. The natal has recovered from his shock. Her exertion has set her throat burning again. He gets down from the cart and goes over to her and says: ‘The med only wants to help you. its tentacle arms snaking forward to seize her. He sees her struggling with the machine. then he sees the larger picture but of course doesn’t understand why the woman is resisting in such a desperate manner. and though it lies helpless on its side. However. He is at first angry that the natal has tried to damage the medical trolley. It takes all this time for the old man – who is used by and large to a quiet life – to realise what is happening. She fights too. unable to uncoil the tentacle arms. He leaps over the dashboard.It shoots across towards her. The natal is getting wild. Can’t you see that?’ She cannot speak. the trolley has not given up. lands on the trolley machine at such an angle as to force it over onto its side. trying at the same time to get to her feet. Its tentacles have a secure grip on her. but her arms and legs are securely bound by the coiling arms.

helplessly.’ The natal is suddenly beside himself. ‘She must stay alive!’ He points at the trolley: ‘Tell the machine to release her. It’s hard to see what the machine can do for her. He shouts at the old man: 359 .’ The trolley has drawn her right over to its couch. She is completely exhausted again and lies supine in the tentacles’ embrace. you know.’ The old man nods. breathing deeply. a ragged rattle in her throat. I will carry her. But fear? I mean. they are under our control. creating new furrows through the dried vomit there. The natal swoops at once and picks her up in his arms. ‘She is near to death. but reaches across and presses a button on the machine. reaching as though to quieten her with a pat of his hand on her head: ‘How strange.’ He straightens up so as to address the old man directly. He says. Sweat is running off his face on to his chest. ‘For some reason that I don’t understand. The old man shakes his head again.‘She is terrified of the machine. I can understand hating them.’ The old man shakes his head at hearing this. I don’t care for them myself.

360 . to be treated like some kind of beast. You can go now. The old man says conversationally: ‘I have been in charge here for over thirty years. with doorways on either side.’ He turns now towards a doorway and it slides open to let them through. He points and says: ‘Strip her and leave her there. ‘No! She is not one of your wretched clones. and I have never known such outrageous events as have occurred today. I admit that I am merely an artificial – and so should be immune to such upset – but I think having spent most of my life looking after the boys has made me perhaps oversensitive.’ The natal is scandalised. The machine will treat her. Now there is a short corridor.’ He says the last with a surprising authority – no doubt the admission by the old man that he is an artificial helps boost his confidence. I will attend to her. It is a hygiene chamber. lit by a low blue light.‘Where do I take her? Quickly!’ The old man beckons for him to follow and heads off towards the opening the medical trolley had come through. you know.

’ Then he does leave – his movements obviously habitual – not at all fazed by the natal’s assertiveness. The controls. Please press the appropriate button. the blotching of the skin where the gown has chaffed. ‘Begin.’ Nothing happens. The machine says: ‘Some preparatory cleaning will be necessary.’ He searches the panel and finds a button labelled Complete Service. He calls. I have to look after the boys anyway. He has to support her through 361 . Then he notices a small control panel on the wall opposite the doorway. Complete Service is very thorough. Medical treatment is a blue button. Then there are the prickings and scrapings. Full medical. The natal undresses both of them. Every organ is subjects to tests. Undertake a full medical examination. He presses this button.’ Still nothing happens. each sense examined in turn. the internal probes. luckily. He presses it. ‘Well. First they are washed down and stimulated to full evacuations. He calls again: ‘Begin your procedure. the dried blood all down her inner thighs. the swelling of her joints.The old man merely nods. He sighs at the state of her body. are clearly described.

He says. The subject must be left undisturbed. At the end the machine says: ‘The woman requires further intensive treatment.’ He is startled by this direct admonishment. He bends over her. turning her body about as required by the busy machines. So much so. her eyes opening wide with momentary fear. He is surprised at first to find himself subject to these examinations.’ She is lying flat out on the couch. Please do not interfere with the medical cart this time. He is reluctant to do so. The machine says: ‘Treatment will continue for seven hours. ‘I will watch over her.most of this procedure.’ The natal understands this to mean that he should leave. He is surprised to see pipes inserted into the sockets at her navel. but his resistance is brushed aside without a word. his hand laid on her brow: 362 . Here she is transferred to a couch surrounded by very elaborate machinery and controls. arms by her side. She grunts when the sphincters in her navel are broached. he stands aside when a trolley eases into the chamber and lifts her onto its couch. But he does follow when it trundles off down the corridor to another chamber at the end.

of course.’ He blushes hugely when he hears this.’ She nods at this. Relax now and sleep. natal. 363 .’ She says.‘No. ‘When you sleep. Only when you sleep. his thumb coming to rest on her lips. dear. dear Sophie. I will watch for you. it’s only the machine healing you. He draws his hand down her cheek. hoarse. She thinks sleep will be difficult to find in the universe of heat and pain she now inhabits. her voice very weak: ‘You must consider your own welfare. thrilled that she should consider his wellbeing. She’s wrong.

2nd and 3rd. – suitably labelled as befits a younger brother of a King of England. Then comes the lance bearer. First in line of course is his trusty esquire. who has three long wooden lances to manage – which he is not doing very well. three leopards or. blood clings to most of the surface of his armour.The Lord Bedford is returning from today’s battlefield. helmet under his arm. Behind him there is a string of servants and soldiers carrying the remainder of his battle gear. Then a soldier in a scuffed jerkin – obviously pressed into service for the occasion – carrying his sword balanced across one shoulder. Each pad of a foot is accompanied by a squelchy sound. In fact. the result of the blood that has collected in his boots – and which is slowly congealing there. Next comes another soldier – a fine strong young man – 364 . azure three fleurs-de-lys or. who carries his shield on prominent display. with gouts of clotted blood enmeshed in the chain mail that protects his joints at shoulders and groin. his mace balanced on the other – which he is carrying with a cocky insouciance. gules. the Plantagenets – quarterly: 1st and 4th. He is afoot. The shield is decorated with his coat of arms. actually the armorial of his family. body armour rattling loosely.

The saddle is thickly coated with by now congealed blood. the duke’s great cloak. all set in the grounds of a now severely degraded chateau. The Lord Bedford has quarters in an expansive layout of marquees. Being in the field for the duration. The Lord Bedford doesn’t have much time for all this glamour. for instance. on which white swans and strange looking ducks float in the sunshine. His feet. walking seems – 365 . a large awkward structure with heavy stirrups and an enormous elaborately chased pommel. Today. awnings and covered walkways. and feel as though they are turning into lardy puddings. Being obliged to walk does not help matters. pathways flanked with an abundance of lavender. are horribly sticky. for instance. and a large orchard weighed down with apples and pears of a number of varieties – most of which are unavailable in The Lord Bedford’s native England. his large spurs and the like. tents.who must needs bear his saddle. There are a few more soldiers coming up the rear bearing various other accoutrements. There is even a small lake. It is a delightful environment: many flowering bushes. which has spread onto the soldier in liberal quantities. worse. however.

Henry Angevin. that is. But The Lord Bedford is a man of many matters. create an Empire to rival that of his ancestor. poppycock. or a short life with great fame to follow? He knows very well that to have some great deed of his written down in some book – his name forever linked to that deed – is better than appearing along with the rest of the royalty lumpen in this genealogical list or another – with perhaps a Roman numeral after his name to further diminish him. Of course. many other matters. The Lord Bedford has now arrived at the entrance to his extensive quarters. An overdressed lackey appears and – with a lot of bowing and 366 . Providence allowing. Other matters bother him. in his more sober moments – when reality obtrudes more than it usually manages to do – The Lord Bedford knows that this is so much idle nonsense. a long life as ruler of lands. a man who could. the virtual ruler of three or four lands. The truth is that The Lord Bedford believes he will die soon.in an even more horrible way – to serve to knead his feet and so speed up the process of turning them into puddings. he has often asked himself. that he will leave no progeny. and that he will be remembered for all eternity. Which is the better.

which can better cope with his filthy condition. stablemen. The Lord Bedford’s emotion is genuine. slaughtered by French artillery!’ The ostler shows every sign of upset and despondency.mincing – manages to divert his Grace around to the back entry dedicated to the military aspect of his career. but Veronica is dead. He is so distracted by his grief that he struggles with the dressers who are attempting to prise his helmet loose from under his arm. what a dastardly commotion for you today!’ Whatever about the ostler’s show of sympathy. His ostler. So The Lord Bedford and his entourage go around by the rosebushes. and military dressers are waiting for him. He is expected. He cries out: 367 . most of all by waving his thick arms high in the air. lined up according to rank and seniority on either side of the entry. Harry. The Lord Bedford breaks out in relief at the sight of the ostler. a heady display of red and extremely yellow blooms to nod and wave as he passes. He shouts out in grief. Already. ‘Oh. ‘Oh my Lord. heavy rush matting has been laid out in the open area before the entry.

But then it shattered and split away in all directions. 368 . his next words smothered as a result: ‘Oh. Harry. Ah. the stablemen have managed to persuade the soldier bearing the mucky saddle to carry it a few paces more out onto one of the many lawns that dot the chateau’s demesne. I am drenched in the poor girl’s blood!’ Meanwhile. Poor Veronica got a particular evil shard in the neck. All her blood simply gushed out. who breaks down in a flood of tears. the ball landed so far away.’ The Lord Bedford raises his arms: ‘Just look at the state of me. It will take days to clean up this mess.‘Oh. Harry. you know. All without the stablemen once being contaminated by the horse’s sticky blood. Harry. who are obliged to manhandles the good Duke’s armour. right through the dear beast’s neck. which are to flush the saddle clean. they call for pails of clear water. unstrapping straps coated on all surfaces with the congealed mess. but pity the poor dressers. Once it is safely settled on thick sod. and worst of all faced with the prospect of scraping the soufflés of congealed blood from the surfaces of the armour. unknotting knots buried in the appalling goo.’ The grief is too much for The Lord Bedford.

even confidence.’ He bends as far towards the ostler as the ministrations of the dressers will allow. my Lord. He says loudly.The ostler has by now absorbed The Lord Bedford’s sad news and – being a plain. But you know. that she is pastured above near Rooan?’ The Lord Bedford is very surprised to hear this news. she’s a game one and no doubt about that. It is a very good question. ejaculating forcefully in an attempt to appear jolly (the ostler’s habitual response to enforced warmth of heart): ‘Rosie. my fellow?’ The ostler betrays his surprise. 369 . a sign of conviviality. practical man – asks the grand Duke the following question: ‘And pray. in this: ‘You know she is a game mount. eh. who else but Rosie. For a small second or two. my Lord? Aye. Sire. then he opens his mouth and out comes: ‘Oh. he is completely unsure of what he will say. but can cover that quickly enough so the somewhat slower witted royal does not notice. who will you mount for your next foray?’ The question stops The Lord Bedford short. Harry.

’ He pauses. And today has been such a disappointment. looking for the sun. The dressers panic momentarily. ‘But. you know. He shakes himself mightily. But no. Harry. The French won’t come out tomorrow.‘Oh. He says acidly: 370 . he looks ready to sulk. well into the afternoon. Sire. The Lord Bedford is merely expressing his frustration. The Lord Bedford looks glum again. is that so?’ Momentarily glum.’ He looks up at the cloudless blue sky. Harry. not wanting to have to endure one of the The Lord Bedford’s sulks today of all days: ‘Oh certainly. Such a big game girl. need I remind you of this. my Lord.’ The Lord Bedford frowns and then smirks. one of his more sickly sweet grins on his face – a sign that he is not about to please his master. Then he frowns again: ‘Oh dear. Ah. believing their Lord is fed up with their attentions and is about to turn temperamental with them. ‘Tomorrow. but she is a game beast. What a nice way the ostler has put it.’ The ostler hastily concurs. I do look forward to riding her tomorrow. my Lord. is the feast of the Assumption. you know.

bending forward like a merchant about to clinch the sale.’ The Lord Bedford stares at his ostler. The noisiest. glad that The Lord Bedford can today surmount this crisis without too much drama. I fear.’ the ostler adds. but. ‘They say that boar will be hunted. my Lord.’ The dressers have at last managed to remove most the The Lord Bedford’s armour. Harry. most foul creature that a man can hunt. He echoes vacantly.‘Then it is the hunt. ‘It’s still pig shite. my Lord. ‘That is so.’ He pauses.’ The ostler sighs with relief. All that remains now are his large. my Lord. cringing before his master in that contemptible way he has perfected. In honour of the Virgin. He absolutely dreads having to endure the smell of the pig shite. ‘Ah. dirtiest. in the mildest tones: ‘Aren’t you finished yet?’ The Lord Bedford detests boar. A 371 . I am afraid. ‘Boar?’ Then he says to the dressers. ‘it is French boar.’ The Lord Bedford is only mildly affected by this insinuation. bulky and heavy boots.

Then the The Lord Bedford’s Armourer appears on the scene. A breakfast of fried black pudding made with mare’s blood and you are ready and able for a day’s hard work on the battlefield. clouds over upon sight of his Armourer and breaks into renewed lament. He sniffs but once when he encounters the bloody mess around his Lord. Everyone stops what he is doing just to watch the entry of the Armourer. his bloody drawers squelching loudly as he does so. The Lord Bedford. His nose tells him – an experienced fighting man – that the blood he smells is the blood of a mare. however.dresser runs off and return with a narrow bench. The Armourer has a mighty presence. followed by a couple of his armoury assistants. The Armourer nods to himself at these pleasant reflections. Once The Lord Bedford’s Serjeantat-Arms – until he committed a never specified transgression – the Armourer is six and a half feet tall and dressed for the occasion today in a tunic and apron of heavy black leather. 372 . which is known to make the best black pudding for a fighting man. with a tight band of black leather around his cropped head. The Lord Bedford is manoeuvred to sit on this. Congealed blood means black puddings to the Armourer.

arms slack on his bloody thighs. But habit is strong enough for him to mouth: ‘Ah. as though a priest had just issued a blessing. It shattered on impact and a shard pierced the poor beast’s neck. my Lord. priding himself on his ability to 373 . How many times he himself had been the agent of such waste. The Lord Bedford must complete his tale of woe: ‘A French ball.’ The curious intonation in the last sentence – a sign of the Armourer’s vast regret – is such that the assembled company bow their heads for a second. He slumps on the bench. would you believe. Freddie.’ The memory is again too much for The Lord Bedford. ‘Oh.’ The Armourer can only nod at this tale of utter waste. the blood. such a wayward tragedy this is for you.‘Oh. so much blood it was unbelievable. For us all. Freddie. indeed. How many times had he himself seen this happen. He can think only of the waste. my Lord. Freddie. my good Veronica was destroyed by the French today!’ The Armourer is staring at all the congealed mare’s blood that saturates his Lord’s shirt and drawers. his mouth suddenly dry at the knowledge of what has been missed.

Once the Armourer resumes his train over towards the soldiers bearing The Lord Bedford’s arms. Meanwhile. Then the boot begins to dislodge – with a loud sticky and slurping sound – and the stench is such that all but one of the dressers run off. their gorges heaving of a sudden. they seize their chance and get down to work. with no help at all from the sulking Duke. There is the dresser seated on the mat. they on their knees in a crowd around one boot. He takes a firm grip on the boot and lets himself fall back onto his broad bottom.behead a horse with one stroke of his great Irish sword. Heavy work it is too. The sound is enough to attract everyone’s attention. the dressers have been hovering about at The Lord Bedford’s feet. getting in each other’s way in their eagerness to get the job done as quickly as possible. 374 . The one who remains is more than adequate to the task. The boot comes free of The Lord Bedford with a loud plop. a complacent expression of satisfaction on his wide face. awaiting the opportunity to begin the heavy task of removing his boots. boot in hand.

you see.’ The Lord Bedford is listening intently. He asks. a genuine simplicity prompting him at first: ‘And who are you.The Lord Bedford says. naïve expression on his face. most call me Tom Clarkson. The dresser is again seated on the mat. my Lord. what manor are you. my man?’ The dresser is still seated on the mat. One pull. ‘Well. The dresser gets to his feet with surprising agility – consider what a heavy man he is – and embraces the remaining boot with his great hams. The Lord Bedford’s second boot in his hands. ‘So. thinking how wonderfully earnest this little man is. ‘And now the other one. The Lord Bedford is truly delighted now. Them’s that knows me. his translation of the man’s language helped a great deal by the explanatory rider. an open. my good man?’ And the second boot it is. Tom Clarkson?’ 375 . chortling in sudden good humour. He nods once he understands sufficiently. then another and another – with loud sticky and slurping sounds – and that boot comes off with another loud plop. that is.

lest you don’t know – seeing how far we are from there. my good Tom Clarkson?’ ‘Ah. That’s down Wiltshire way.’ The Lord Bedford nods now with a deep satisfaction. 376 . over by Barcombe. then. a very practiced roll off his bottom and a complicated play with his knees getting him up very quickly. He then draws himself up. ‘Good land there. If you see what I mean. Tom my man.’ The dresser is on his feet again. ‘And what land do you hold. I have a task for you. Another dresser – one of the more faint-hearted – runs up and takes The Lord Bedford’s boot from his grasp. ‘Well. ’Tis dry when we need it dry and wet when it’s good for it. my Lord. my Lord. my Lord. that would be Netherholt. Tom?’ The dresser is at once happy with the memory. ‘Oh aye. That be close by Bottomley?’ Again The Lord Bedford nods once he understands.’ The Lord Bedford nods once he understands this.‘Why.

he stands on powerful legs.The Lord Bedford has been eyeing the dresser. his habitual persistence appearing here as the kind of earnestness that a peasant might easily understand. waving his hands gaily. now he says: ‘My.’ The dresser smiles modestly. The Armourer is to the front. lowering his eyes momentarily.’ The Lord Bedford laughs out heartily at this sally. There is now a moment of quiet. thick neck supporting his small head. Tom. in which it becomes apparent to everyone that the Armourer and his assistants have taken The Lord Bedford’s weapons into their care. five foot wide. as though in explanation: ‘Need a good brace when the bulls get giddy. powerful arms hanging away from his sides. He says. They are in fact processing across the matting towards the Armoury. And for a moment his face does display that ambiguous simplicity that can indicate foolishness as easily as extreme cunning. my Lord. The 377 . but you are a fine block of a man. and five foot thick. a sturdy and secure wooden structure built on the front lawn of the chateau. Block is a good word for him: five foot tall. of course.

I want you to procure the sharpest knife you can. Tom Clarkson. like an Archbishop approaching his Cathedral and bearing the full regalia of his dignity. The Armourer looks extremely solemn. Shouting out. Tom?’ Instantly upon hearing this request. the dresser gives The Lord Bedford a salute. First off. And no more need be said.Lord Bedford’s sword held in both fists by the hilt. my Lord’. covered now only by a thick coating of dried blood. ‘Say no more. Then I want you to cut away these underclothes of mine. The Lord Bedford addresses his next remark to the dresser just as the Armourer moves out of sight behind a brightly striped awning: ‘Well. he toddles away through an opening into a small tent on the far side of the matting. The dresser reappears with a long. Now the other dressers appear – accompanied by soldiers obviously pressed into this service – each 378 . The Lord Bedford rises at his approach and presents himself backways. A couple of careful slashes and The Lord Bedford stands naked. this is what I want you to do. blade pointing downwards. Do you think you could do that. gleaming blade.

This he does alone. They process past The Lord Bedford. bringing the air to a stunning transparency. Not for The Lord Bedford very clear air and bright light. each upending the contents of his bucket over the Duke’s head. No. 379 . coming as though from nowhere.bearing a deep pail filled with water. Then The Lord Bedford is passably clean and so in a fit condition to enter his quarters. It is only as the light dims under the striped awnings that he realises he had been very uncomfortable in the bright glare of the sunlight. Then the familiar scent of lavender and rose as The Lord Bedford enters the marquee that serves as an informal antechamber. The light is low. There must be shadow. without a backward glance. A servant appears in The Lord Bedford’s view. which – though it allows the past to obtrude – most of all permits the future to compose itself. which can trap one in the mundane present. especially the wonderful wall hangings depicting an elaborate and beautiful garden. very French colours derived from the furnishings borrowed from the chateau. August sunlight in the Loire valley is very brilliant. The air is coloured red and lavender. seeping in through the openings let into each side of the tent.

He agonises thus for a few moments. Pierre. then sets off after the servant down a bright passageway protected by a 380 . Pierre.’ begins The Lord Bedford. My mount…’ The servant in gone from view. then turns away – breathing a word that The Lord Bedford doesn’t quite understand – and disappears through the opening in the opposite wall of the tent. The Lord Bedford speaks to the retreating servant as though in reply. the servant looks The Lord Bedford up and down with barely concealed distaste.’ Once he understands. what to do at a moment such as this? The Lord Bedford does so want to be French. The servant at once shows signs of deep concentration as he labours to understand the Master. and besides – as The Lord Bedford belatedly realises – the servant is himself French. ‘As you can see. his words blurting out: ‘Oh. slipping at once into that curiously inflected language of theirs that the English insist upon calling French. He finds he has clasped his hands together and – becoming aware of their clasp – tightens his fingers’ embrace of one another. Oh. my dear Pierre.‘Ah. at least French in the best way possible for a Norman-Welsh Englishman. you know. I had such a tragic morning. I am in need of some clothing.

381 . Seeing him again renews in The Lord Bedford the impulse to share his troubles with another mortal being. and there is the servant busy in a far corner.’ The Lord Bedford wrings his hands. ‘But the finest mare in my stable – a magnificent creature out of Red Corsair by The Flaming Mark – she cost one hundred pounds Antwerp when only a foal…’ The servant finishes his task and leaves the tent. It’s hard to see the way in the low light. The Lord Bedford arrives at his own private quarters. but the most awful tragedy occurred this morning. his back to his Lord. deep couches along the walls. the servant continues with his task. This gives way into a somewhat smaller tent with heavy plain hangings and a smouldering russet carpet. At the end of the next passageway. laying out fresh clothing for him.cheerful red and white striped awning. of the benefits of a mild and indulgent climate even as he stumbles along. Pierre. by his bed. but The Lord Bedford in any case is thinking of softness and comfort. each littered with soft cushions covered with gold-ochre velvet. He begins in gushing lament: ‘Oh. A set of low tables defines the way across this chamber to another passageway.

she would pass for a sturdy young esquire of good family. The Lord Bedford is terrified of her.The Lord Bedford is astounded. knowing at once who addresses him. uneducated and rough. my Lord?’ The Lord Bedford swings about. my Lord. feeling as always the confusion she rouses in him. do you think only of killing good honest Frenchmen?’ The tone is not respectful. An object lesson to the others. though of course he will never show this. He shouts in his best voice – not something he is used to doing off the battlefield: ‘PIERRE!’ Silence.’ ‘Oh. Jehanne? That servant walked away from me even as I spoke to him. not even the least bit ingratiating. But he says anyway in his natural outrage: ‘Did you see that. Are all your servants as impertinent? I’ve a good mind to have him gutted. He replies in the best haughtiness he can manage in the British French he has: 382 . just silence ensues. though she is only a peasant’s daughter. With her military bearing. The Lord Bedford faces her. you know. ‘And how many Frenchmen did you kill today.

a gesture The Lord Bedford has never managed to understand. very French. very indifferent to another’s feelings: ‘What arms.‘Why not. clenching his hands into fists in annoyance: ‘These arms. her cropped hair bristling. you impertinent hussy. my Lord. if let. my dear. this is just too much! How much of this French impertinence must he endure? ‘Henry will rule through justice. her big mouth in her big face opening to show her perfect. and the arms of another million stout Englishmen!’ Now the girl makes a moue. ‘You murder loyal subjects of the anointed King of France. but otherwise by force of arms. my Lord?’ The Lord Bedford raises his naked arms. strong teeth.’ Oh. green eyes steely. when they are all rebels?’ She smiles.’ The girl smirks. on behalf of a grasping family that seems unable to sustain its rule in any kingdom. 383 . She brushes a broad hand down over the soldier’s coarse jerkin she wears – dyed in glorious French blue: ‘How can rebels crown their King where true Kings of France have always been crowned?’ Her face suddenly firms up.

‘We have our King. Not for the first time.Sometimes. Now it goads The Lord Bedford into a fury. even stupidity in the sense of a lack of interest in understanding. while other times it seems little more than a jeer. it seems to indicate ignorance. Jehanne. a boorish rejection. You have nothing. The girl enacts that throwaway laugh of the French – the should-I-care? laugh that so infuriates the foreigner – and saunters away.’ And she does leave The Lord Bedford’s chamber.’ he breathes fervently. Now he clenches and unclenches his fists repeatedly.’ She turns away. an unpleasant swagger. ‘Never. Bedford. You cannot deny that.’ The Lord Bedford has lowered his arms. looking over towards the opening she may leave through: ‘Yet lose the war. the surface of his body flushing red: ‘In open battle. much what you would expect from an arrogant soldier. The Lord Bedford wonders if she is actually the woman she claims to be. we will defeat you every time. What if this is not a plot to undermine the confidence of the Plantagenets? 384 .

Ah yes: get dressed. a maiden in the service of France. fresh and wonderful in bright green. that is what the French call the colour. The Maid of France. what can he do? What can he do? The servant has reappeared – again as though from nowhere – and is holding towards him a pair of his wonderfully soft Bruges drawers. We pause here. A compromise. a pure white. However. The Lord Bedford is convinced he has the right to wear an outer garment coloured French Blue. The Maid of God. styled in both the French and English manner – the latter always worn in England. wishful thinking! He knows on the authority of his own wife that she is indeed what she claims to be. Yet always that instant of reservation: his wish that his drawers were white. as befits his dignity as the Regent of France. a faintly dirty yellow. as The Lord Bedford often does. indeed.Oh. However. no less. 385 . There are a number of very fine cote-hardies and doublets in his wardrobe in this colour. Ecru. dyed a truly brilliant vermillion. The Lord Bedford’s hose is of the finest Lucca wool. Then there is a shirt of Laon linen. Oh. the truth is that The Lord Bedford has not yet dared to appear in France – in Plantagenet France or Valois France – dressed in French Blue.

This young serving girl is such a woman. A group of horsemen are raising the cry as a young 386 . Behind her paces a young female servant bearing a broad salver. The tapestries on his walls – taken from the master bedroom of the chateau – show a scene from a hunt. self-absorbed in the way that increases the woman’s vulnerability. She is slight and gamine. Only one kind of French woman takes The Lord Bedford’s interest. Now Jehanne reappears – even as The Lord Bedford glances in that direction – coming in by the opening she had previously departed through. So there. of arranging some refreshments. The Lord Bedford understands at once that there is a provocation here. with pallid skin and grey eyes.’ What to do? Is this true service or more insolence? The Lord Bedford looks about his tent. my Lord. His outer garment is invariably made of scarlet velvet – a colour chosen almost entirely for its expense – but his little shoes are made from leather dyed French Blue.then. Jehanne says perhaps too loudly in the intimate space of The Lord Bedford’s private quarters: ‘I have taken the liberty.

very dark and very aromatic. Their dogs are leaping with joy. so must I accept your kind invitation. The Lord Bedford says.’ The young woman smiles her most plausible smile: ‘Ah. ‘So true.buck is espied among a thicket of hazel. The lidded jug is hot. my dear.’ Another smile. my dear. this fare is too rich for my poor digestion. my Lord. ‘Then perhaps you should join me in this treat. ‘Oh. ‘That is not hard to achieve in so public a man. so true. but you do know my weaknesses.’ The woman nods. leaving only the faintest fragrance of her young body. this time of something very close to irony. The aroma 387 . dear Jehanne.’ So the attractive young serving girl places the tray on a convenient surface and withdraws. my Lord.’ The Lord Bedford is mildly rueful. ‘But as you press me. It contains chocolate. The hart seems only mildly surprised by the intrusion. The Lord Bedford smiles. Then she raises the lid on the silver box that sits alongside the pot on the tray.’ She pours measures of the hot thick liquid into two small bowls.

388 . indeed. my dear Jehanne. He braces himself for the girl’s tart response and all that will follow. ‘You reward me. lips pursed against the heat. you know. for my omission today?’ The young woman smiles as she hands The Lord Bedford a bowl. of course. He says. Soon. the unfortunate mare was French also.’ The Lord Bedford has no sooner spoken than he realises how he has given the game away. He.of almond is at once about them. I console you for your loss.’ Oh. and another smile – the less pleasant one that she can command: ‘After all. takes it with a slight bow. a little more tartly than he had planned: ‘Your swordplay improves. The Lord Bedford must smile in appreciation. The Lord Bedford smiles more broadly again. ‘Oh no. But she takes a finger of almond flavoured cake from the box and offers it to The Lord Bedford. She takes a finger of cake for herself. my dear. my Lord. my Lord. you will be quite the courtier.’ A wicked sally. Then they sip the hot chocolate.

yes?’ The 389 . if the truth be told. ‘When you consider the labour and cost involved in making these hangings. my Lord. Who will speak next? Will the peasant girl forbear? The Lord Bedford grows afraid that she will. Nothing too much should be made of the fact that it is The Lord Bedford who gives way. The forces arrayed against him are very great – overwhelmingly so – though he himself does not know who or what these forces are.’ The girl tosses her head back in an amiable courtly manner and observes with peasant candour: ‘They keep the heat in. He chews slowly on the dense cake. savouring the almond though unease grows in him. There are small pages that tell the same story at less cost and expense. you might wonder why they went to such trouble. as The Lord Bedford well knows.There is the weight of silence in these actions.’ She pauses to sip some more chocolate. ‘You would need to burn your little books to achieve the same end. And with greater beauty. He points with a cup-bearing hand at the tapestries lining the walls of his tent. my dear.

’ 390 . which are public images for the people. being a well-known collector of illuminated manuscripts. speaking in the testy pedantic tone of the school teachers in his memory: ‘I was not referring to their function.tone is flip. very much the tone of a street arab though incongruous in a strapping peasant girl like Jehanne.’ He sips his chocolate. Jehanne. ‘In any case. Your churches are full of images and statues. licking sugar crystals from the corners of her mouth. good solid wainscoting would serve better. even so. she replies: ‘Surely images are a vanity. not yet aware – thank to the emollient influence of the chocolate – that he is being manipulated: ‘I would not have thought of you as a radical. He cannot resist pulling rank. my Lord?’ The Lord Bedford reacts very badly to this question. She is nodding in acknowledgement of what The Lord Bedford is saying. He is spiteful in his reply.’ The girl has reached for another finger of cake. my dear. Once she has the cake in her grasp. The Lord Bedford is irritated. though of course he won’t show this.

Surely they are not all fools?’ She raises her head. She tops herself up as well. You French are miracle workers in the kitchen.’ She takes up the pot and offers The Lord Bedford a refill. yes. It’s all a matter of habit. as it were. To show them the way. my dear.She is chewing cake. her eyes widening as though she suddenly understand what The Lord Bedford is getting at. Jehanne. saying as he does: ‘These little cakes are absolutely delicious. ‘But they are not just idols. You see grown men everywhere on their knees before those images. such images are for the children. short square chin jutting. Her voice is thick when she replies: ‘Oh. my Lord. accepting the compliment but also suggesting that The Lord 391 . my Lord. The Lord Bedford takes the opportunity to get another almond finger for himself. She flashes him one of her big smiles. you must know for yourself.’ She makes the familiar moue. ‘Ah. teeth gleaming through the chocolate patina. which he immediately accepts. no more. sipping a little chocolate now and then to enhance her enjoyment.’ Now The Lord Bedford is becoming upset. Well.

The Lord Bedford finally decides that the question had better be asked. ‘You mean Heaven.Bedford must live a deprived existence if he is wonder-struck by such ordinary fare. the pleasure arising in him for all the world like a surrender to a temptation: ‘I mean a world made perfect. my dear. There are many ways of dealing with this trap available to him. both chewing cake and sipping chocolate – the latter easier now that the thick liquid has cooled somewhat. It is obvious that there is something to be said. ‘What is it that I know. He is so thoroughly under the influence of the chocolate that he is quite willing to expose himself. Even the theologians permit that 392 . he does not feel forced to speak – as had been the case previously. he says. There is silence. though. But before he has even begun to consider them. of the Eden that lies at the beginning. This time. We hold memories of the primary state. my Lord? Is Christ hanging on the cross your idea of Heaven?’ It is at this moment that The Lord Bedford feels the first suspicion of the trap that awaits him. The silence is pregnant. my dear: that images picture a perfect world?’ She is taken aback by this.

He is so happy to have explained this to her. Nonetheless. The Lord Bedford realises too late. my Lord? Do old people pray on their deathbeds for guidance for their future actions?’ The Lord Bedford is furious with her.’ He is very testy with her now.’ The Lord Bedford turns to face the girl. mesmerised. Then she grins. It is her turn to express her triumph. he responds without thinking: 393 . ‘Why. an ignorant peasant girl. ‘What do they do then? I daresay you know the answer. all courtly bonhomie quite gone. is the trap. ‘Is it. He stares at the congealing liquid for a short while.’ And that. ‘After all. they speak to God. that is what you said yourself just a moment ago.belief. my Lord. my dear. In our images are projected those memories to act as guides for our future actions. then swiftly licks it up. Doesn’t she know that grinning is forbidden at court? He shakes so much in his fury that some chocolate splashes out onto his hand. remember?’ She favours The Lord Bedford with a long look. He smiles triumphantly.

She smiles to see him caught so off-guard. ‘Have you never spoken to God. The Lord Bedford takes this opportunity to drain his cup. not forgiving himself for the sniffy tone that betrays him: ‘I pray to God. She watches him closely.’ Which. She even waits until he has placed the empty cup on the salver. lying nakedly clear between them.‘They might be foolish to worship images. beside the chocolate pot and the cake box. she does not. if that is what you mean. she says happily: 394 . her ability to attack from an unexpected quarter. my dear.’ And so there is the crux. He licks his lips to catch the very last traces of the chocolate and cake-sugar. my Lord?’ The Lord Bedford should be used to the girl’s cunning by now. Putting down her now thoroughly drained cup beside that of The Lord Bedford. The Lord Bedford says. Madness. but they are not mad for doing so. as though she had nothing better to do at that moment. She pauses – as would be expected in the circumstances – to allow for the seriousness of the situation. of course.

when a hint of sulphur pervades his quarters.‘Ah no. He finds in himself a tendency to stammer. This mute response offers The Lord Bedford a moment of relief. I’m told. for that is what prayer is. There are times. God. after 395 . I mean have you ever considered even passing the time of day with Him?’ It is getting worse for The Lord Bedford. She simply nods. my dear. my Lord. turning to face him directly. not all of it coming from his armoury. arises when that person claims that God replies. ‘Passing the time of day?’ The very prospect unnerves him. my Lord. arms hanging by her sides: ‘Most of your counsellors will burn in Hell. You are merely confirming the suspicions of my council. in which something of his more usual acerbic manner can reappear: ‘These are mad words you utter.’ This is something The Lord Bedford cannot deny. So he relents to the extent that he can afford: ‘They say there is no fault in speaking to God. Bishop Cauchon has already admitted as much.’ She is unfazed. The danger. even. so exposed is he.

is evidenced in His Works.” Or you could say. of course. Sir. for instance – as I have heard gentlemen. And in His Holy Church. His throat is not under his control. you would wish him the time of day. Sir. say – “Good morrow. Is God not to be considered a gentleman? You need only salute Him with a simple greeting. much as he has seen peasants do at markets and in their cups.’ She nods in agreement.”’ She 396 . my Lord. ‘Then you have never greeted your God when He is in your presence.all. if a gentlemen were to enter your chamber here. I hope I find you well. both French and English. yes? Why then can you not treat your God as such a gentleman. would you not? And you would expect that gentlemen to return your salutations with an equally kind salutation. So she continues. You could say. Were you afraid He might answer you?’ This time The Lord Bedford knows he cannot speak without his stutter becoming evident. to fill up the silence: ‘I mean. “You have my best wishes. a sage nodding of deep seriousness even if the subject is the price of pigs.

’ And it does help.’ The Lord Bedford is by now shaking all over.’ 397 . a false warmth. though he still hopes that it will be mistaken for anger. but for the utter madness of it. He knows very well that he is shaking with fear. ‘How do you know if you have never tried to do it? You need only extend your greeting to God. But there is no hope for that. The Lord Bedford imagines for an instant greeting God with such a salutation. He is speaking.smiles broadly. stammering: ‘That is m-madness!’ She smiles again. as though you intend them for a gentleman. ‘Just utter the words. People would think him insane. her eyes bright with the fun of it. much as you would to any gentleman. as though to soothe him at this crucial juncture: ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. my Lord. He nods. The Lord Bedford finally understands how much this young common woman loathes and hates him. for he finds a long gentle sigh issuing from his mouth. ‘What could be easier?’ Indeed. Only know that this gentleman is your God. for she murmurs.

what might he say? 398 . The Lord Bedford has put the tips of the fingers of both hands to his lips. It is an immensely satisfying thing to do. amused. as though trying to stop something escaping from him. transported by the experience. for he now presses the palms of his hands to his face. calm and dignified – and says in his most emollient tone: ‘Good day. he can send this peasant girl away. She is like a simple child watching the antics of an animal or a bird. back to prison. She watches him closely.’ He sweeps his right arm as any gentleman would do in greeting another gentleperson. If he speaks. Even The Lord Bedford’s eyes are as though straining to pop out of his head. for instance. enraptured. I hope I find you well. He bows – suddenly at one with himself.What can he do? Well. and claps her hands in delight when she sees him suddenly stunned. This seems not to work. He can do almost anything – if he really wants to – except what he does do. my Lord. tension in his cheeks as he clamps his gums together. which is extend a greeting to his God. go to visit his wife. He himself can simply walk out of her presence.

even in such a circumstance as this: Why not the rose? Oh. why not the good English rose? 399 .And yet he can think – a part of him forever cold.

‘You should rest for now. But she does manage to speak. even in her tongue when she tries to move it. You are still in trauma. she is awake. Carabella. She has difficulty opening her mouth at first. For a while she is filled with this luminous light. a startling clarity in her awareness. Suddenly awake. The umbilicals must be detached.’ The light has faded so that only the dull external light is apparent through her eyelids now.I’m awake! The thought is so clear that she strains to listen. And so it is: a sadness and regret. then a voice speaks. Yes. definitely coming from outside her: ‘Do not move. very low and weak: ‘There is no time for rest. then the emptiness.’ She knows what this signifies. then the chill of aloneness. so she waits expectantly. The trying moment is not the separation of the pipes themselves. but the cessation of the flow of fluids into and out of her body. as though someone is speaking to her. The blue light is familiar.’ 400 . a croaking tone. There is pain everywhere. So she opens her eyes.

a huge urgency suddenly in her.’ He says. the internal light strengthening again. And he bends towards her. Otherwise you will undo the healing that has been achieved. The machine – it is the machine that first spoke today – now says: ‘It is advisable that you rest for now. You are very weak.’ 401 . ‘I must go. I must go. galvanising her despite the many aches and pains. dangling hair grazing her shoulder and breast.’ She wants to rise towards him. stiffness rather than outright pain accompanying this action. Why can’t she rest? The prospect of moving puts her into a swoon. Then another voice. also outside her: ‘You are awake. his arms coming to support her and bear her up from the couch. She raises a hand towards him. Sophie. his features clearer now that he is closer: ‘The machine is right.She is surprised to hear herself say this. Sophie?’ She sees only a shadowed form looming above her.

I must go on. Fruit. pressing her body in close to his. as though he too drew some strength from his contact with her. which is good for activity. The machine says as he approaches: ‘Choose from the menu.’ A brightly coloured pad lights up and flashes: ‘Pressing this will provide an enhanced meal. like a tonic. The door slides open. The corridor is lit blue. ‘No. It is a large room. which is good for leisure. An appropriate liquid refreshment will accompany your choice.She clings to him in response. He hurries in that direction. Today is the day. holding her tightly in to him.’ So he lifts her clear of the couch. a row of couches facing the end wall.’ A second pad lights up and flashes: ‘Pressing this will provide a consolidated meal. which is good for recovery. He lays her on the couch closest to the sustenance hatch. Alcohol. He asks loudly: ‘Sustenance?’ A door slides open further down the corridor. The warmth he radiates is truly wonderful.’ 402 .’ And a third pad lights up and flashes: ‘Pressing this will provide a comprehensive meal. Milk.

It is the first time he has seen her fail. ‘What is it. miserable sobs shaking her thin body.’ He is unnerved by this direct admonishment. deeper and so more authoritative: ‘Enhanced meals are indicated. head down. He decides to take the milk and the meal over to her first. He sees that her arms are goosefleshed and her nipples distended and dark.’ She touches her brow. another voice. eyes wide open as though frightened. Sophie?’ She raises a hand to him and says: ‘I saw something.’ She begins to cry. You make sure she drinks it. ‘I can’t remember what. He wants to call and ask her advice.He is not sure what to do at first. No. He shouts at the panel in front of him: ‘I always do what is best for Sophie! I don’t need a machine to tell me that!’ The panel slides up with a low hum. She is seated up on the edge of the couch. and it frightens him for a instant. Then – it is as though he is 403 . Two trays and three beakers stand awaiting collection. He is alarmed. but then the machine says. Extra milk will be provided for Carabella. I can’t remember now.

stroking her head: ‘You will find it again.’ She obediently drains the beaker and gives it to him. she knows. then she slumps and nods. He says. The truth is inside her. even though he doesn’t know what he meant.’ She acknowledges this. saying while she draws the food tray towards her: ‘And you must eat too.set for a moment remote from the world – he is not frightened. eyes red.’ He indicates the beaker. ‘Eat now. laying his hand gently on her thin shoulder. natal. You have a long day ahead of you. Sophie. then swings herself back onto the couch and swivels the little table around in front of her. It is there already. I have no doubt about that. Sophie. But now he says. Sophie. ‘You are to drink the milk first. face awash with tears.’ 404 .’ She looks at him. Her mouth curls as though for a sarcastic response. ‘Then you should eat. He sees that she is relieved by what he has said.

even though there seemed to be no light source. She might speak. he says: ‘I had a dream last night. she seemed to know me too. her hands 405 . Not like the domiciles. eyes narrowing for a moment. A woman sat on a stool in the corner at the back of the room. I only met my father once. the food as ever both fortifying and tasty. though I didn’t recognise her. but then she nods abruptly. ‘There was a little chamber. but last night the dream was very vivid. when I was very young. but very ancient.He flushes with the deep pleasure her concern gives him. The door was open and I could see into the room. Mother hid us – Stella and me – in the desert and so we met very few people. ‘But the woman in the room was familiar and though she never looked at me. I rarely dream. Sophie. I never met either. how people once lived. and that my father had a sister too. In fact. They eat in silence. I know my mother had a sister. She seemed familiar. He collects the rest of the food and drink and takes the couch immediately beside her. Can I tell you about it?’ She stares at him. When they have eaten. She sat very still on the stool. It’s one of my oldest memories.

It was much like the machine trolley. Such a smile you never saw. for who I was and for what I was doing there outside that room. I immediately wanted to help her – perhaps to push the little trolley into the room – but I knew instantly that 406 . ‘I discovered I was standing in a short corridor. ‘I was standing to one side of the door to the room. and there seemed to be no controls. I got a shock when the infant came closer. I thought it was important how her hands were pressed together – palm to palm flat together. Sophie. I knew that she smiled that smile just for me. I saw that it was a little girl. It moved in complete silence. my dear. The little girl smiled at me. so the little girl passed very close by me as the couch swung around to enter the room. and that she had no arms or legs. It was dazzling in its brightness. a very brave smile. and as I looked up it – it too was lit even though I could see no light source – what seemed to be an infant child came along towards me on a small wheeled couch. a comforting smile. She wore a blue gown that covered her body completely – even her feet were hidden.pressed together and resting in her lap. but smaller.

just looking at her daughter. The words that come to me to describe it are sadness. The room was lit bright by her joy. Even so.the little girl was very independent and would not welcome my interference. There was no motor that I could hear. Then she reached her right hand and stroked the little child’s head. the trolley shot straight across the room towards the woman seated in the corner. It was though the mother was aware that the little crippled girl was her daughter and loved her because of that. forbearance. and she had no way of driving the wheels. Sophie. When she got there. The poor child was overjoyed to see her mother. hands joined together. ‘The woman sat impassive. ‘So she swept past me and went into the room. Even though the girl had her back to me. At once I knew that the girl was the daughter of the woman. I don’t know how the trolley was propelled. But at the same time she knew that the little girl was a separate being with her own destiny. The girl’s pleasure knew no bounds. having no arms or legs. I could sense the radiance of her joy. The mood of the woman – the mother – moved me very much. and most of all compassion. Her compassion 407 . the little girl just beamed up at the woman.

’ He slumps when he finishes speaking. His eyes are glazed and bright.’ It’s the Caretaker. The lists go on and on. of course. Do you know how many different kinds of shoes there were a thousand years ago? Hundreds. ‘Ah. I would say. literally thousands. Everyone at their breakfast – as they used to call it. and also from the knowledge that her daughter’s destiny would be a hard one. as though he was glad to be up and about in the morning. during the long days when nothing happens.’ He has come around so that he can approach her from the side.’ 408 . I get the machine to search out all sorts of bits and pieces. The door opens behind them with its usual whoosh. you know. ‘That time of day.arose from that knowledge. his smooth scalp shiny. You know. I thought I would find you here. I have been researching shoes. ‘They had words for everything. So many things. So many different things. No. my dear. speaks loudly with a false cheer. drained by the effort. I study them.

You know. do you know that? They spent fortunes just 409 . Then he turns back to her: ‘But. a whole variety of materials. Oh yes! They has all sorts of funny clothing. coming to stand close to her. my dear. ‘They were so proud of their hair. bits and pieces of things. spooning the food into his mouth with a practiced rapidity. The old man pivots and seizes up the tray and beaker with a blind habitual motion. Even so. He lays the tray on the edge of her table. and begins eating at once. I mean. drawing an imaginary belt towards the front – ‘and then they fasten the ends together in one way or another. if you could take the time to study them. but I am sure you would find these people interesting. obviously repulsed by the growing mop on her head. They used them to hold up their clothing. he can resume speaking: ‘You know.’ He falters. what really fascinates me about them are their belts. A lot of them stuff no one alive today has ever heard of. here’ – he indicates with two hands. I say that because of your fondness for hair.He swings about towards the sustenance hatch and taps a pad with a brisk stab of his index finger. You know what a belt is? It’s strap of sorts that goes around the middle.’ The sustenance hatch flies up. you know my dear.

’ And indeed she does hurry. he takes his tray and beaker and tosses them into the serving hatch. then lights up. gazing at her reclining body as if looking for inspiration. And so tight!’ Finished eating. Now.’ He sets off down towards the door. for the utensils fly straight into the hatch. wiping his fingers across his gown. He turns to her.’ the old man says with deep satisfaction. ‘There now. I mean. But. Must have you decent for the Superintendent. no time to waste.maintaining it. ‘Come along now. snatches up her tray and beaker too – she has just about finished drinking off her fruit juice – and throws them towards the hatch. ‘Ah yes. she fights against the pain 410 . they used these belts to hold all these pieces of clothing together. Very shaky at first. we will have to get a gown for you. as best she is able. Though I must tell you that they often strapped a belt about their bodies even when it wasn’t strictly required. Obviously a lot of experience here. my dear. sliding down off the couch until her feet touch the floor. landing with a clatter among his own. He returns. it was such an extravagant waste in the end. as I was saying.

In the corridor. yet he bends towards her.’ He has stopped in front of a door along the corridor. as though he was taller. it is this. He barks ‘Open six. He takes her elbow and guides her in. and yet nobody ever asked why! Now. That kind of muddled clothing was around for over a thousand years. 411 .’ and the door opens. Why.and discomfort of moving until she is able to walk rapidly with short paces in his wake. my dear. But the question is merely a rhetorical device the old man uses – usually with the clones – to maintain the fiction that he is being listened to. he suddenly stops his forward rush – his gown wrapping and unwrapping itself around his legs – and waits for her to catch up. my dear?’ She is getting into her stride by now. even the religious sort continued to dress sensibly right down to minus one thousand. ‘Well. in here. So…oh. Sam. can you believe that. my dear? We know that the cultures that preceded them dressed much as we do. though pain and weakness remain in the offing. and she throws a wary glance at him in response to this question. They are almost the same height. when he speaks: ‘And do you know the remarkable thing about all this.

’ There is a set of shelving against one wall. then. for those are the reserve of the Custodians – when they visit.’ It is as though she has just awakened. It will not be a blue robe.’ He steps towards her. Show me. what do you say to a yellow robe?’ He takes a robe from a short stack and shakes it out. Today. ‘So you do have a preference. So. They are reserved for our Candidates. Come over here and choose your gown. upon which are piles of garments of different colours. though which one that is I’m afraid I don’t know yet. Nor can we dress you in red. one thing is for sure. He catches this at once. that is. The old man begins a slow review of them: ‘Well.‘Now. She recoils at the sight. raising his voice in exasperation: 412 . But – yes – I see you have participated in reality. my dear. We must get the correct gown for you. his eyes narrowing. She steps back towards the door – which has remained open at her back – her hands coming up as though to ward him off. my dear. A green stripe runs down either side. ‘I must go on.

I know how you feel. ‘No! That one cannot enter the City. my dear. You were 413 .’ The old man cuts the air with his right hand.’ He steps away from the shelves.’ And she does step forward. Many are overwhelmed by the honour of entering the City for the first time. something like jealousy heating him. ‘Now. seemingly confused by his changed temper. even that?’ She shakes her head at his anger.’ He even reaches and touches her shoulder. I have seen greater than you in tears in this very room when they finally don their gown. a warmth radiating from him. don’t say that.‘But you need to be properly dressed for your visit. ‘See? You can come and look for yourself. taking an interest in the array of colours. now gentle. ‘No. ‘I can go with the natal.’ He steps towards her again.’ Suddenly. ‘Look. That is completely forbidden.’ He is startled by her admission. Don’t you understand that. ‘Look. But then she stops and says: ‘I am afraid now. let us select the right gown for you. Don’t you know that the boys would fry him if he tried. when I saw you last night for the first time. his whole manner changes.

I assure you of that. After that. you must dress.’ She turns back to him. Then he says. ‘I know! I will go and get your old gown.’ He gestures to 414 .’ He shakes his head in unfeigned admiration. my dear. The one you wore when you arrived here. her hand reaching towards him. a flush running up her body from her feet to her face.’ She turns towards the open door. as though they shared a language in this way.near to death. and I will do it.’ Now he finally stands before her – the old man stooping slightly though they are of the same height – and he spreads his hands before her. For a moment she is animated. And yet you were so determined. She says: ‘I can’t remember. everything will go by itself. but I believe that what you do is important for us all. And he flushes in turn. my dear. There is no one in the world like that anymore. ‘Tell me what I can do. ‘I don’t know who you are or what you are doing here. the corridor outside lit with the weak blue light. shouting out in his relief. concentrating intently on her every word. I don’t know what to do now.’ He nods repeatedly as she speaks. Then he says slowly: ‘For now.

415 . Only say the word. snivelling as she tries to breathe through the tears. Now you stand right here until I return. very seriously: ‘Now. don’t you move. She cannot think. And this is how the old man finds her on his return. She can only to judge what is the case as best she can. There is no word that she knows. She hear this.stop any reaction she might show. ‘No. She is shaking. She finds she is crying and thinks in deep misery: I don’t know. for some reason.’ Then she is alone.’ At the door he turns again. Besides. she lacks the power. It’s like not having a light in the dark. I don’t know. but doesn’t know what it means. No. Head bent abjectly. shaking all over. It’s not reluctance. as she first fears. wagging his finger in admonishment. Any action she takes now could lead to disaster – a great disaster – not just for herself but for everyone. she knows that it is not up to her to decide. chills running up the back of her legs and into her spine. not for anything. fearing most of all that she could make a mistake now. but not having that light. She is terrified of this fact. wanting a light to penetrate the gloom.

Didn’t the natal bring you here? If I remember rightly. look. might you not consider that others may be there to help you?’ She is startled by some aspect of this suggestion.’ He hands her the gown in any case. And look. he raises his hand to stop her. ‘Look at it this way. I don’t know what to do. Then he nods and says: ‘Well. exposed to such misery.’ He bends 416 . speaking with something of her more usual candour: ‘No. my dear. I did get your old gown for you. it has been cleaned too. as though an impurity might be introduced in this way. you see. She says. all the time regarding her closely. I’m not sure anymore. Then he is moved by a common pity that someone should be so vulnerable as this. All he can do is hold up the gown and say with forced cheer: ‘Now. But before she can reply.’ And she in turn is moved by his concern for her. my dear.His first response is the fear that something has been lost – even though he hasn’t a clue what might have been lost. you were hardly able to move when I first saw you.

’ 417 . you will find your own way again.’ He pauses. ‘Now. He takes advantage of her hesitation: ‘So. isn’t that true? Didn’t the natal help you find your way here. too. my dear.’ She doesn’t want to grant this argument at all. Yet she does stop to consider it. What I am saying is that if you look at the facts. once the Carriage has taken you to the City. ‘After all.towards in that way of his. the Superintendent will be there to help you. old man?’ ‘I’m not saying I know anything at all. yes? And later.’ And this idea startles her. in the same way. then that conclusion can be drawn. it’s something to go on for now. Maybe once you get to the City. She says. isn’t it? I mean. my dear. You have your task – and I’m sure it is a very important task – and we are here to help you achieve it. you might consider that I am here now to help you.’ He smiles a beaming smile to encourage her. suddenly harsh: ‘How could you know anything like that. ‘Perhaps that is how it works. it’s better than simply crying because you are lost.

my dear. So long as you can get into a routine. my dear. See it in the boys. why don’t you get dressed now and we can get on our way. ‘Close six. even. ‘Now let’s go down this way. ‘There!’ he says loudly. ‘We are such creatures of habit. you know.’ His enthusiasm daunts her. she does so reluctantly. unable to trust herself even here. perhaps the continuity. She pulls the gown over her head and down her body. did it?’ The gown does reassure her. The door we want is just down to the left. for instance. Sam. he calls out. ‘Oh. ‘That didn’t hurt. The old man is beaming. She nods and the old man says immediately: ‘So.’ 418 . but perhaps also some other element of it: the colours. then anything can be done. I’m glad it consoles you. Even so.’ In the hall. He nods to encourage her.’ To her he says conversationally.’ He takes her free hand and guides her towards the door.She finds she must concede this argument now. She runs her hand down the front of the garment. She hesitates.

this one bending away to the left. The light is a pale yellow. is that we don’t have much else to do anymore. ‘But the boys were terribly thrown out by that incident yesterday. which relieves her.’ He stops walking.’ Through the door and there is another corridor. He is saying. Oh. still holding her hand. though only slightly – walking forward of her to encourage her. But. Sam. and the flooring has an elastic quality that eases some habitual tension in her. you’ll see. ‘Got them dressed and out on patrol first thing this morning. Cranky this morning. my dear.’ He pauses and stares down at the floor. my dear woman. you know. They say I think too much.He still holds her hand – she has even returned his clasp. Especially if the machine sends one of its fliers over and gives them something to shoot at. Didn’t give them a chance to brood. you see. glancing back to smile at 419 . The truth is. Just in through here and we’ll have you on your way to the City in no time at all.’ He shrugs. Open twelve. the thing to do on such an occasion is getting them back into routine as quickly as possible.’ He flashes her a smile. ‘Perhaps I should leave this subject. still walking just forward of her: ‘We try to maintain routines here. it’ll work. ‘So here we are.

and then adds in a lower tone.’ he says with the utmost gentleness. ‘What else is there to do. back into the past. No.’ The lighting is now a yellow white. ‘Lights!’ he shouts. There are symbols inscribed across the doors. low-lit as ever by blue light.her with an irony she cannot possibly comprehend. Sam. But I do it. Open fifteen. Curiosity. Ah. so absorbed that she did not see that they approached a wide doubledoor entrance. the walls are bright red. ‘Stupid machines. It should already be here waiting for you. unpleasantly oppressive. I suppose. here we are. There is a raised platform about 420 . ‘Now. I roam through the archives. as they like to call them.’ She has been listening to him. my dear. The walls are coloured red. I always say. which appears now as a dull muddy brown. The old man makes a clicking sound to signal his disgust. You see that I can’t enter reality’ – bending his head forward so she can note the absence of a socket – ‘and I don’t have the patience for the actuals. but of course she cannot understand them.’ The area is surprisingly large. ‘We go through here to the Carriage. mainly.

halfway across the chamber and on this sits a long sleek vehicle of some kind.’ The old man at once increases his pace.’ He shrugs. He says. ‘But that explains the large carriages. Departure is imminent. 421 . ‘Only part of one of the Spires is used now. No exceptions. ‘The City was much bigger than it is now. still holding her hand – her returning grasp is stronger now – and walking ahead.’ The interior of the carriage is brightly lit. So we must hurry. pulling her in his wake.’ The doors of the carriage – all four of them – slide open as they approach and a soft feminine voice says: ‘Please board the train at once.’ He gestures with this free hand. Would you believe that? Fought with the machine over material allocations and priorities. The seating is covered with a vividly patterned material. you know. Carried a lot of people once upon a time. seats set two by two on either side of a central aisle. People complained about overcrowding then. ‘They run just to time.’ Then it is as if he is talking to himself: ‘Long time ago now.

It is as though she wakens from a daze. He gives her the gentlest of shoves and she sits down. Departure is imminent. There is a low musical tone. He smiles a big smile for her. saying: ‘Now just you sit quietly there. ‘Now. I assure you. why don’t you sit here?’ She turns towards where he points to the nearest seat behind her. touching her first on one shoulder then on the other.’ 422 . his face creasing abruptly into deep folds. Anywhere will do. Don’t leave me alone here. ‘You must really sit down somewhere. He turns away immediately.He releases her hand once they are in the carriage. She springs up and cries: ‘No! Don’t go.’ He watches her closely.’ He moves away towards the nearest door. my dear. The journey won’t take long. my dear. you may sit where you please.’ The old man fusses. Look. The soft female voice says: ‘Please take your seats. The journey will take no time at all. my dear.

He sits upright. my dear.’ She begins to wail. waits until she has seated herself. ‘I will really get into a lot of trouble over this.’ He is genuinely upset now. Departure is imminent. He says hurriedly: ‘Very well.’ 423 . He bends towards her. then sits beside her. I’m afraid. my dear woman. caught in a dilemma: ‘But I cannot leave the Outpost under any conditions. ‘Oh but you must go on. ‘But I don’t want to go alone. tears gushing from her eyes. That cannot be allowed under any circumstance. I have never broken a rule before. her face red with anguish. I will come with you.’ He shoos her into the inside seat. The soft female voice says: ‘Please take your seats. stiff and anxious.He hunches his shoulders as he turns back to her. That is your task. The boys would be unsupervised.’ There is a low musical tone. He is alarmed. then. He seems grief-stricken.’ She has clasped her hands together. Never. so that he must look up to catch her eyes.

while she can see everything with perfect clarity. Would you believe that?’ Is she listening to him? Is she aware of anything at all? No. He is saying: ‘Just imagine. ‘They could look out at everything they passed by. But of course in these tunnels they would see nothing. then settles down to a smooth almost silent pace. the old man can’t resist looking about him. Isn’t that strange? 424 . It is as though she is blind and therefore cannot see anything. she is not. face suddenly lighting into his big smile. ‘You know. ‘I haven’t even been in the City before either. yet in contact with every surface around her. Despite his acute anxiety. with no limbs to touch.’ He looks over to her. but still they wanted these windows. Again.The doors close with a soft whoosh. It accelerates strongly for a while. At once the carriage jerks forward and they are under way. these trains – that’s what they called them long ago – once had windows all along either side. as though deaf and yet hearing every little sound with perfect clarity. but it is as though she no longer has use of her senses.’ He points to illustrate. I have never been on one of these before. Again. She knows where she is and what is happening.

I must get back to the Outpost at once.’ She is reluctant to move. I know people nowadays find that very strange. Oh. You can see them in the archives craning forward to look. He goes forward to the nearest door and then runs back. She knows she will eventually stand up and walk out of the carriage. anxious again. Please be ready to leave the carriage at once.’ There is a low musical tone. 425 .’ The old man jumps up. There will be a lot of trouble if anything happens. The carriage come to a stop. every one without exception would wait until the train entered a station. There is a low musical tone.Apparently. The doors whoosh open. But I have seen the evidence myself. The soft female voice says: ‘Approaching the Root Station of Spire Three. when they would avidly study every detail. ‘Please hurry. Then there is light. The soft female voice says: ‘Please leave the carriage at once. Every time the train came into a station. a deep reluctance that she cannot bring herself to overcome. but she does not know how this will come about.’ The carriage begins to slow steeply.

Superintendent. unless I accompany her. a frown coming to crease his heavy features so that his natal-eyebrows almost hide his eyes. But he says. when an impulse drives him out of the carriage into the station. high ceiling. His anxiety has changed to something more like deep terror. fully in character with the appearance of his condition: ‘She would not come. A tall man stands in the middle of what is a very large area indeed. ‘Jimwellan? What are you doing here? You know it is strictly…’ The old man has clasped his hands as if in beseechment.’ He sweeps his right hand back towards the carriage. He runs down the carriage to the door again. The old man runs towards him. perhaps rehearsing something he has witnessed in the archives. The tall man is stunned to see him. distant wall coloured a deep gold. ‘And now she won’t leave her seat. He is about to run back.The old man is growing wild in his anxiety.’ The Superintendent bends forward slightly in his dignity. as though he is merely acting a part. 426 . Yet the expression in his eyes remains unchanged.

The Superintendent is very tall.’ the Superintendent begins in his strong voice. straightens up and says slowly: ‘Then we had better talk to this woman. Instead. then steps aside to allow the Superintendent lead the way. He steps forward with his long pace and the old man hurries to keep up with him. Jimwellan. ‘You know.‘So much difficulty in this. who stares back with his glazed eyes. with grey hair trailing out over his gown. he shifts his gown – coloured a rich blue – on his shoulders. ‘You say you were conscious that you were making a very serious breach of the rules?’ 427 . his shorter pace becoming a comfortable toddle very quickly.’ He would say more except that he has checked himself. Jimwellan.’ The old man is intensely relieved. but he carries himself with a noticeable stoop – perhaps the burden of his duties to blame. He bobs his head in acknowledgement. you know.’ He stops walking and looks down at the old man. ‘I believe this is the first time I have had reason to reprimand you. All these years of exemplary service.

But. of course. you see. is that it?’ The old man steps back. what you did was justified. Yes?’ 428 . There will be no need to take this further. ‘Oh yes. no doubt you made the right decision in the circumstances.’ He reaches and touches the old man’s shoulder. thick lips tightly pursed. that you go back to your station in the Depot at once. But what I suggest now is this. eyes narrowed under his heavy brows.The old man nods. What then?’ The Superintendent nods abruptly. Superintendent? She would still be crying her eyes out at the Depot otherwise. ‘Yes. ‘Yes.’ The Superintendent nods slowly. yes. Not indulging either. I had to assess the gravity of the situation. Superintendent. ‘Yes. ‘Is humouring the correct term.’ He takes a very deep breath. ‘And you felt obliged to humour the woman. I understand now.’ The Superintendent resumes walking towards the Carriage. Jimwellan. ‘Yes. The old man is up at his side in a matter of paces. Yes. I was very aware of that. Not humouring.

’ The old man is flustered. ‘The rest will freshen her for the task ahead. both craning forward to look into the bright interior. you had 429 . I never. She is slumped in the seat.’ The Superintendent looks very sceptical. The old man shakes his head. a feeling akin to disappointment rising in him. Then that’s decided. saying. Let us then attend to this woman now. She is snoring loudly. and the Superintendent follows. still deeply bent. They pause.’ They have reached the Carriage. ducking as he enters the Carriage.’ The Superintendent turns and gives him a hard look. standing to one side while the tall natal fills the aisle between the seats. ‘Well. ‘Well.’ ‘Good. after her long journey here. That would please me very much. He backs away from the woman. sagging over against the wall. The Superintendent bends lower to study her. The old man goes first.The old man replies with a very obvious alacrity: ‘Oh yes. until he finds himself in the empty area before the door. ‘She was extremely tired. Superintendent. knowing something of what to expect. Superintendent. when he straighten as best he can.

knowing full well that she will start bawling again when she awakens. The old man is reluctant to disturb her. I have served faithfully. ‘It was a momentary lapse.’ The woman continues to snore.’ He points at the scraggy woman cowering in her seat. ‘It was this 430 .’ The Superintendent is stricken. ‘I have always done my duty as best as I could. saying: ‘No one has ever shouted at me before. The old man raises his hands as a signal to quieten her. The old man backs off until he finds a seat on the far side of the aisle. very loudly: ‘Will you waken her up!’ The woman starts awake.’ The old man steps forward. sees the old man bending over her. She screams. a thin trail of mucus rattling in one of her nostrils as it forms itself into a drip. hand rising until it hovers over her nearest shoulder. Jimwellan. ‘Please wake up. The Superintendent loses patience and shouts. He looks up at the Superintendent then looks away. He says. She responds immediately.better waken her. so she can continue on her way. a fearful expression on his face. Never. Jimwellan.’ Tears well up in his eyes.

creature.’ She pauses. eased by his tears and the Superintendent’s contrition. They say she will save us all and what do I find? I mean.’ Now she looks up again.’ She stands up. looking small and thin in her scruffy gown. That is. Superintendent. She says. ‘Though it may be too late. We must make allowances here in these circumstances. have we really come to this?’ The old man nods his head.’ This is spoken very directly to the Superintendent. ‘ I must go on. voice thin and reedy. He nods. suddenly wanting to protect her from the Superintendent’s large presence: ‘But she is very very tired. though he is taken aback by such forthrightness from an artificial. if you want them to take you seriously. Then we must hurry. ‘Good. 431 . bending his body again: ‘But Jimwellan says you won’t leave the Carriage. especially one so old. How can you go on if you don’t leave here and go into the City?’ The old man says.’ The Superintendent comes towards her.’ ‘You are a natal. looking for a moment down at the row of seats along the Carriage. that stricken look back on her face. Then he looks across to the woman and says: ‘You’re going to have to start behaving yourself here.

She says: ‘Very well. as the true size of the structure becomes apparent: 432 . I mean.’ The Superintendent quickly makes a passage for her as she leaves the Carriage. then follows her closely out into the gigantic concourse. very dubious about this. natal.’ He pauses. A skill learned is never forgotten. He says: ‘You will know what to do when you are in his presence. I don’t know what to do anymore. He is saying.’ She splays her hands. signalling to both the Superintendent and the Caretaker that a decision has been made. a dramatic gesture to the Superintendent: ‘I have lost the something.But she speaks firmly nonetheless: ‘Something has changed. I will trust to what you say.’ The Superintendent is remarkably emollient at this point. I hear. then nods again. She purses her mouth. He walks very close to her.’ She shakes her head. remarkably sensuous for such a large blunt natal: ‘And you have practiced your calling many times. then says in a silky tone. just behind.’ She nods upon hearing this. The Superintendent interjects very quickly: ‘That is my experience. When you see how he is. his swinging hand coming very close to her back at times.

‘No doubt you found Jimwellan very quaint? He spends all his time lost in the past. disliking her shabby artificial quality. Do you know that only two natals were born last year on the Rim? The number we need to replace our existing numbers is more like two hundred.’ She turns her head slightly and asks: ‘What has that to do with me?’ The Superintendent is taken aback. it’s hard to know what to do. you know. but what about us in the Citadel itself? You would be shocked to know just how few of us there are here now. you know. Even so. He’s even infected me with it. perhaps it’s the long days we spend here maintaining order. feeling extremely haughty. It’s fine for Jimwellan. But he must speak to her to fill up the terrible chasm he perceives to lie between them. as you can hear. The truth is.’ The Superintendent doesn’t know whether she is listening or not. he can play with his boys when the urge takes him. the typical self-importance. exposed because 433 . the brutal insensitivity to others. Well. he is very afraid of her. he is saying: ‘Sometimes. seeing only the back of her head most of the time. keeping things going. He bends forward.

‘I believe you have the power to reverse this trend. At once she can see the teeming masses streaming this way and that. to and from the trains and the risers. 434 . high roof curving up into a broad hemisphere.he has spoken intimately with an artificial. She hears music. even if she is so important. After a moment he says: ‘It is sweet. a soft flowing melody playing at low volume in a high register. She thinks how this would once have been used by many people. Fast paced music for the busy periods and lulling like this when things where quiet. the music is still here. The concourse is vast now.’ And so it is.’ He pauses and closes his eyes. The Superintendent is continuing: ‘I believe the mood of the music would vary with the time of day. isn’t it? It plays sometimes when a group of Candidates come. Isn’t that right?’ She stops walking. She spins around and says to the Superintendent: ‘I can hear music! How is that possible?’ The Superintendent raises hands: ‘Oh.

and this time his hand is repeatedly touching the small of her back. Jimwellan is very excitable.though only very rarely. ‘Perhaps then it is because of the commotion in the Carriage. my dear.’ It’s a flat statement that she obviously means – it is a warning she can remember from somewhere. She turns and continues across the wide floor. I will be careful. ‘You know. if you like.’ 435 . saying. The Superintendent steps closer.’ She is not impressed by this. She glares up at him. he cannot tell whether she is listening. She says: ‘You will kill me. He asks. ‘That’s why he was chosen as Caretaker. She looks puzzled more than anything else. his gown still hoisted. The clones like excitement. it has always struck me as strange that all the clones are male. The Superintendent hurries to follow. don’t you think?’ Again.’ He looks closely at her: ‘It’s remarkable that it plays just for you. ‘Surely not. Why do you think that is so?’ She stops walking again.’ The Superintendent is walking very close to her again. ‘Do you have a minute?’ and lifts his gown to show her. He collides with her.

’ They are approaching the perimeter of the great hall now. The Superintendent is still pleading with her. not used to intensive use. you know.’ When she continues to hesitate. says: ‘Please board directly. No one comes here anymore. it’s only the riser. his heavy voice growing quickly hoarse. when she notices that the platform appears to hang in empty space. ‘It will help you too. Would it not be a consolation to have…’ Through an arch and there is a sizeable round platform rimmed with a low rail made of a transparent material. A low voice. The Superintendent is brusque. Just step on it and you will be taken up to the Seclusion. You must be apprehensive by now.’ She is about to obey. You are the first woman I’ve met in eight years. he reaches and pushes her 436 . I mean. That won’t take long. ‘Oh please. very musical. The Superintendent runs after her. out of humour by now: ‘Oh. Such a great task ahead of you and no assurance of success. letting his gown drop. just once. A row of arches come into view. She whimpers with sudden fear.She simply turns away and resumes walking.

She knows something now. now an element of dread enters her. saying in a soothing voice: ‘I can come with you.’ The Superintendent is leaning towards her. 437 . In the dread there is a powerful sense of regret and reluctance.’ She has been merely afraid. She knows enough to experience a terrible dread. To keep you company. Soon it is rising very rapidly. The Superintendent lifts his gown again to display his engorged penis. ‘Look. yet there is little sensation of movement and absolutely no air pressure upon them. my dear. distracted. if you like. The word Seclusion has triggered it. The platform begins to move without even the slightest jerk. He says: ‘Now. I mean. I don’t have Jimwellan’s patience for this. just do it. The voice says: ‘Please stand clear of the platform. while we have a spare moment. It is not death that she is afraid of. The insight comes that everything is to be changed. What do you think?’ She looks up from her thoughts.forward on to the platform.’ She knows the dread does not presage death. The Superintendent comes and stands very close to her.

the sensation in her sudden and harsh. she can feel her warm blood trickling down her inner thighs.She says to the tall natal: ‘Everything will be changed by this.’ She is immensely sad. then lifts her up into his arms. He enters her with no warning and drives hard against her. 438 . her gown still partly hitched up on her body. It is a moment of abandonment. yet she feels even as she cries out in her passion that the act is superfluous. Superfluous? Has Restoration been achieved already? Is there another Midwife? The Superintendent cries out at his climax. She finds she cannot stand when the Superintendent releases her. She coughs a dry barking cough and asks: ‘Has the Restoration begun?’ The Superintendent sees the blood when it trickled down to her calves. He sighs loudly with the relief. She cannot do anything else but cling to him. Also. as though he too was coming to his senses too soon. The Superintendent nods. diffused quality in his ejaculation. but there is a shuddering. He whimpers with real fear.

’ When she makes a first step.’ He bends to looks closely into her eyes: ‘But believe this. The Superintendent reaches and lifts her to her feet. At the door. Of course. ‘There’s no machine up here to help you. The platform has gone. some script in lines across it. my dear. but her feet do tend to stick to the ground. 439 . which she cannot read.He stares at her. She is alone. Beyond the platform there is only a wide doorway. she can overcome this.’ The platforms slows at a steady rate until it stops. I regret not paying attention to what you told me about your condition.’ The more she walks the less sticky are her feet. generating a sharp squelchy sound each time. ‘I cannot go any further. But the Superintendent says behind her – he still standing in the centre of the riser platform: ‘You just go through. she hesitates again and looks back. as he tells her. she finds that the congealing blood has glued her to the platform surface. I can only plead the overwhelming power of my basic drives. again without the slightest jerk. aghast. It will open for you. only for you.

It is long and black. She turns to the figure on the ground and asks: ‘Is that one of the tunnels?’ 440 . She hears nothing. after which the land is uniformly flat and brown.The door opens for her. making a wide detour around the figure on the floor. a little to the right of where she looks. The windows are filled with blue sky. But there is a short line of hills at one point on the far horizon. It is a bright room because a line of tall windows fills the opposite wall. It seems that she is standing at the top of one of the Spires. The furrow ends abruptly over to her left. It is lined with a white substance. Not far away from the Spire she can see that a furrow has been created in the earth. There is a man sitting huddled on the floor in the centre of the room. The view is unknown to her. very high above the ground. It is a train. He is naked and she can hear his teeth chattering from where she stands by the door. She is wondering what this furrow is when something comes shooting into view from the left. travelling at a truly amazing speed. a wide brown terrain that stretches flat away into the distance. She goes across to the windows.

a natal. It is a man. asking as she does: 441 . then replies: ‘I am overborne. His face is a flat white. She sets off across the floor towards the one on her right.The figure starts and looks up at her.’ She has turned back to the window. There are doors on either side.’ She nods on hearing this. to watch the amazing train – immensely long now that it has cleared the tunnel – as it streaks away rightwards.’ ‘Is that submission accepted?’ ‘No. his straggling hair clings to his narrow skull. He says. croaking voice hardly above a whisper: ‘Will you please help me. When the train has finally disappeared from sight. out towards land that changes from brown to grey in the middle distance. an old natal. she turns and calls across to the man on the floor: ‘Do you know what is happening to you?’ He gasps as though he has lost his breath.’ She looks around the room. ‘And what have you done so far?’ ‘I have been in submission.

’ She stops walking and turns back to look at him – he is crouched sideways to her.’ ‘Do you think your mentors understand your situation?’ ‘No.’ She skirts the man on the floor fairly widely. but no voice admonishes her to undress first.‘Who advised submission?’ ‘The Mentor Council. She backs out again into the main room. but I am not being raised to Heaven?’ ‘What is happening?’ 442 .’ ‘I believe that the Angel has descended to me. She notes that he does not try to look at her. She enters it. ‘And this is not a true understanding?’ ‘I don’t know. asking as she does: ‘What was the understanding of your situation?’ ‘That an Angel of Glory would descend and raise me to Heaven.’ The door opens onto a large hygiene booth. ‘Explain. She sets off across the room towards the other door.’ ‘Do you?’ ‘No.

‘Oh no.’ ‘And is that not Heaven?’ The man moans loudly. She recognises the seating provided. It’s like reaching the end of a journey. She withdraws to the main room.’ ‘But mustn’t you die in order to enter Heaven?’ The man moans again. then slumps in a heap again on the floor. There is a fatalism in this that gives her a deep relief. She understands her own calm perfectly. of arriving.’ He pauses. some small. some large. it reveals a large subsistence booth. She resumes her journey across to the other door. I suffer too much. a long piteous moan.‘I shiver and sweat at the same time. ‘The Angel tells me that I burn in ice. Nozzles and pipes protrude from the wall in one place and there is a deep container of some sort nearby. some low benches and a number of individual seats with back supports. It will kill me. There are all kinds of surfaces here.’ 443 . Opened. this cannot be Heaven. She says to the man as she approaches him: ‘I will do the best that is possible. lowering his head.

’ She stands over him. He says.’ Being addressed as natal brings the man to the awareness that she herself is not a natal. ‘How do you know something like that?’ ‘The same way you do.’ Her casual response to his accusation annoys him. But you were not aware of that until what you call the Angel descended. staring hard at his drained face: ‘You have suffered like this for all your existence. saying offhandedly: ‘And it seems that you are a fool. then says: ‘You must instruct your Angel.’ She shrugs. as you call it. then makes her more familiar moue.’ 444 . I have suffered like this for many days now. natal.’ He is startled to hear this. You are an artificial. so much so that he forces himself into a sitting position on the floor. ‘You’re not a natal.He lifts his head immediately and gushes in an abject gratitude: ‘Oh thank you. ‘Who are you to tell a spiritual being what to do? What can you know of these things? You’re little more than a fancy clone.’ She simply nods. partly in accusation and partly in astonishment.

artificial! I don’t know who deputed you to be the Mediator here. so she cannot see very far. It opens at her approach. then walks over to the main door. The screen at her wrist is dark.There is a moment of disengagement here. glaring at her with hot. She asks: ‘Where is the platform?’ Silence. weak eyes. shrugs. let alone something that was brewed up in a bottle?’ She glances at the seated natal. She looks over the edge into the shaft that serves the platform. The vestibule outside is empty. The natal is even more angry now. She can feel the blood dried to her legs. ‘How dare you speak to me like that. the dull ache in the pit of her stomach. She goes back into the chamber and shouts across to the natal. and this allows the matter of her physical condition to come to mind again. 445 . She remembers that there is no machine in the Spire. How can you think that a holy spirit can be dictated to by a human being. but I think a mistake has been made. The light is dim blue down there. ‘How do I call the platform up?’ He is huddled over again and does not answer her.

They do move about. She says as she passes – feeling obliged by her role to make this observation for his benefit: ‘The Angel – as you call it – may be a mighty being in Heaven – as you call it – but here on earth it is little more than a mewling infant. He stares mutely at her and she knows that he cannot bring himself to ask her again for help. she sets off across the room. a tinny voice devoid of character. The jets are hot and very powerful. ‘Please undress first. That done. The controls each bears an illustration of the action it initiates. She cleans her gown by the expedient of walking back and forth across it until the water runs clear here too. then runs clear. directing the water across her body. She takes the wet gown with her when she leaves and spreads it out on the floor of the main chamber to dry.’ She pulls the gown over her head and throws in on the ground at her feet. She presses the shower button. The natal looks up as she approaches.’ 446 . The runoff is stained pink for a while.She crosses to the hygiene booth. A voice says. Another button activates the driers.

where two were made one. leaning towards her while supporting himself on his arms. A very ancient ritual. a fury he cannot contain: ‘How dare you demean the Angel of Glory? Who are you to speak of infants? You prattle like a cocky child. He screams at her back.’ 447 . Her question takes him by surprise. where she lays it out across the back of one of the seats. ‘What do you mean. She also discovers which button to press to get food: a crunchy bar that is extremely satisfying to eat. She goes over and collects up her wet gown and takes it into the subsistence booth. Returning to the main room.She skirts him widely and continues on to the subsistence booth.’ She has just had a very good idea. Back in the main room. she replies: ‘They used to call it the Sacred Marriage. married? That custom died out centuries ago. It is cool and sweet.’ In the subsistence booth it takes her a moment to work out how to draw a beaker of water. she says to him: ‘Have you been married?’ He is glaring at her. Now it will dry more quickly.

natal. It is not possible.’ 448 . catching herself on. But the discomfort is so great that she must go down on her knees. The spirit that you insist on calling the Angel of Glory will withdraw. a momentary worry interfering with his fine rage.’ She bends towards him.’ She shakes her head slowly. She lowers her head until she can catch his eyes. ‘Now.He shakes his head. staring with an increasing fascination at her pubic bush.’ The worry now takes him over.’ She stops. ‘There is very little I can do for you. She says: ‘It is as though you are trying to give birth without the mother being present.’ She waits until he sits up and transfers his attention to her face. ‘Please pay attention to me. I said I would help you as best I can in the circumstances. He at once transfers his attention to her groin. you will shortly die. ‘But I am overborne. You will follow it – you won’t be able to resist doing that – which will result in your death.’ ‘No? Then you have been poorly prepared for your ordeal. ‘I’ve never heard of that. then she crouches.

you will no longer be identical to all other spiritual beings. Two. Instead.This news shocks him. you will experience yourself as a separate individual among other separate individual beings. His mouth falls slack. It will be possible for you to learn. ‘I will now address the spirit coming to birth – still-birth – in you. you will able to learn about this world and its inhabitants. your knowledge will no longer be complete. However. There are three principles that need to be accepted. That is. One is that you will no longer be a universal individual being. you will discover yourself in the most profound darkness of ignorance. but she holds up her hand to stop him. ‘I don’t understand any of that. you will discover that your particular physical being is only a part of the larger Earth being and returns to it after a time.’ The natal is crestfallen. In experiencing this world and the individual beings that inhabit it. Thus you will in time replace the darkness of ignorance with the light of real knowledge and find that you yourself live in the knowledge of the other beings about you. artificial. Instead. the greatest gift of human incarnation will be available to you. Three. He stammers.’ 449 . This is the light they call love.

It is her turn to feel crestfallen. She stares at his supine figure. It has even formed a small pool in a hollow in his chest.’ His rage is back: ‘Who else is there?’ ‘You are the shadow cast by your real self.’ she replied factually. She wanders off. then she sees she is heading for the main door. waving feebly. She clambers to her feet.’ The natal makes a glum expression on his thin white face.’ he says in a low hoarse voice. ‘This is Hell. It opens for her. Sweat is streaming from his face. She is totally at a loss now. She asks. ‘This is the Earth. wondering ‘Is that it?’ The natal remains unmoved.‘I wasn’t speaking to you.’ She bows her head momentarily. then slumps again into a huddle on the floor. seemingly waiting for the moment of death. ‘I cannot abide here. The natal is lying on his back. She returns to the chamber.’ 450 . at first with no sense of direction. ‘Where is the riser?’ No answer.’ he gasps. his right arm partially raised. There is no platform. ‘As we all are. She goes across to him. ‘You always have.

’ ‘I cannot enter.’ She bows her head. The natal closes his eyes again. lady. as though something like an inner sun begins to shine there too. She wonders at this: What is it? What have I done? You understand. I know. These are not her words. ‘But you are kind. The way is not clear. The tall windows attract her again. ‘You know that. Gazing out over the bright day shining upon the dead land.’ He pauses and glances momentarily at her. looking around.’ 451 . if you will take it. I know.‘No!’ She nods and steps away. even so. She nods to the bright world outside. She walks back to the natal and says: ‘There is a shelter prepared for you. all of a sudden deeply moved. ‘I cannot.’ ‘Yes.’ The natal has opened his eyes and is staring at her with a mixture of entreaty and compassion. The strength of the feeling so surprises her that she cannot speak. The two were not made one. and yet they come as though part of her already. she feels a stirring inside herself.

She sits for so long beside him – eyes absently on the wall some way off – that she becomes aware of how the light in the room changes over time. yet the light shifts imperceptibly all the time. then closes his eyes.’ The natal stops shaking his head. She explains: ‘I am lonely. changing like a texture on all the surfaces in the chamber.’ The natal shakes his head slowly. ‘How can you abide alone?’ he asks her. He seems to be sweating less. ‘Because I am not alone. it’s getting dark. but I cannot be alone. spontaneously: ‘I will sit with you. an honest curiosity. as if he too watched the light change in the room – though his eyes remain closed – ‘Oh.’ The natal opens his eyes. At one point the natal says. She sits on the floor beside the natal.’ 452 . but where will she walk to this time? There is nowhere to go.She will walk away again. either not believing her or in wonder at the depth of her delusion. There are no shadows. He blinks. She says.

‘The sun is setting now.’ A final upward spasm. forlorn like an abandoned child. This is happening close to her. unable as yet to connect with the world around her. She says.’ He shakes his head frantically: ‘You don’t know what it is like. low light with a faint yellow tint. yet she does not move. He cries out and begins threshing about on the floor. and the natal collapses flat on the floor. She sits on. arms and legs bouncing with hollow thuds against the tough elastic surface. the natal opens his eyes wide and shouts: ‘NOOOOOOOOOO!’ He looks at her. watching how the light continues to change at the window. dead. She stirs herself and wanders about for a while. Comes the moment. extreme upset in his eyes: ‘The light has gone. when lights in the chamber switch on.The light in the room is becoming tinged red. I cannot live without that light. that bathes all the surface with a warm glow. then. as though something is being torn from him. seeing the blue of the sky pale to green as the light ebbs slowly from the room. Finally.’ The natal begins a piteous weeping. She is thinking: 453 .

Shadows. inhabited by insubstantial shadows. She sees through the windows that some clouds have gathered in the twilit sky – sees how they stand forth from the fading sky as a set of luminous shadows. In the main chamber. She pulls it on and braces herself until the worst of the chill has been abated. she goes through to the subsistence booth. as though something was drawn even from there at the final moment. Only the dying world of humans. She would call for it. She goes back out to the vestibule. the body of the natal is stark white. of course. mouth hanging open. The room cools as night approaches. utterly flat against the floor. Nothing to be seen. In any case. approaches the edge and peers down into the dark.how the sun sets each day and the crises that event can engender. No machine. but remembers enough to know that it would make no difference. but she finally understands that nobody in this Spire knows what is happening up 454 . A dying world lit red. She shivers. She goes through the main door and finds that the platform has not come. small penis erect. cool to touch. The gown is still damp.

She returns to the subsistence booth. 455 . ‘Are you alone?’ She nods. Against this sameness – machine sameness. keys for a beaker of water. a sameness in the artificial light of the vestibule that unsettles her. She drops the beaker into the dark void. slowing in that steady fast way it has. She drains off the water very quickly – not thirsty as such. braced as though ready to jump. but she finally hears the rattle as it strikes the platform. Contact with another living human is inducing a weariness in her. something she doesn’t remember happening before. which threatens to become a more depressing listlessness. The platform comes into view. ‘But you have failed?’ She looks up at him. He stares at her. She is curt. It takes time for the beaker to fall so far down. and in herself. Then to wait.here. but her body welcoming the water nonetheless – then goes out to the vestibule again. as she sees it – there is the continual change in the world. stepping with no ceremony onto the platform. The Superintendent is standing in its centre.

however. She is staring at the natal’s finger pointing at her. for he merely gulps loudly and then adds: ‘We don’t ask for these responsibilities. for instance.’ The platform drops away suddenly. especially from an old artificial woman. As did the clowns that mentored him. The Superintendent continues in any case: 456 . a sickening lurch that throws her to one side. With you. She knows some kind of ending is coming. A feeling of irrelevance is growing in her. She knows this intimately. Whatever she might reply is lost in the ensuing nausea.’ The Superintendent does not like hearing this sort of talk. ‘We act always for the best.’ He points over towards her just as the platform stops its reckless plunging and begins instead one of its fast slowdowns – obviously precisely calculated by some machine somewhere but nonetheless hairraising. you know. seems more used to these conditions. even though she has no memory of this happening before. as you should know.‘The natal failed. The Superintendent. The level of preparation is really minimal.

But yet. when it occurs in my Spire. I assure you of that. do try to understand. Why didn’t you tell me? Saying that I could kill you was somewhat oblique. the next instant no motion at all. though obviously he has ridden the riser many times before. He staggers slightly and this prompts him to speak some more: ‘I mean. Even the Superintendent seems surprised. ‘I. There is something to be said. have I been instrumental in the failure of your operation? I know there is an – well – esoteric element in this activity. interrupting the rambling Superintendent in a brutal manner: ‘Why do you persist in not understanding?’ The Superintendent is pained by this intrusion. nothing as absurd as deifying a human being. Though of course. He lays his right hand flat on his heart. Especially this time. that is what some say. I mean.’ 457 . you know…’ And now she does speak. wasn’t it?’ She is still staring at his finger. for one.‘I wasn’t aware of the special protocols involved. I have never given any account to that. I would like to add. But what is to be said? The platform stops just then: one instant slowing rapidly.

’ She turns about abruptly and shouts harshly: ‘It is so obvious. you say the most provoking things and then you refuse to listen to any explanations. I mean.’ She makes a sweeping gesture with her hand. That’s all. ‘You spend most of your lives driven mad by desire and you never ask yourselves what it is you desire. calling in a louder voice: ‘But you are extremely aggravating. you know. The Superintendent hurries after her.’ She turns away abruptly to continue on down the corridor just as the Superintendent begins to speak again: ‘I mean.’ The doors slide open at her approach. She stops in the corridor and waits for the Superintendent to catch her up. ‘If you simply asked yourself that question. we could see that Quarimore was seriously ill. A short corridor leads on to another set of double doors. The fevers he endured while he was in 458 .She walks off the platform. Just ask yourselves that one simple question. No years of study or meditation or special preparation. Nothing else is needed. heading for the double doors immediately before her.

She turns right. dried it out until it is little more than a cinder. Your lunacy has depopulated the world. a corridor is – as it were – passing by her. and all the time it is hidden inside each human being.’ He stamps his foot in his frustration and shouts. though her first impulse is to turn left. Ah. You have spent centuries searching the universe high and low for the answer. and sets off along that stretch of the corridor. The Superintendent is standing in the middle of the corridor. There are doors along the inner wall only. under your noses. arms akimbo. glaring at her. extending in either direction left and right. saying as though in retort as she does: ‘Why can’t you see the obvious? The answer is lying just there. ‘Why won’t you listen for a change?’ But she has gone through the second set of doors. Wait. And 459 . will you? I’m trying to explain the situation to you.our care. ‘You see? Why don’t you wait?’ She sweeps past him. At her back the Superintendent shouts in exasperation: ‘Not that way! This way.’ She turns about and starts off in that direction. both curving away inwards out of sight.

’ He walks down the chamber. hands behind his back. The Superintendent roars. that feeling of listlessness returning. Sam. The Superintendent shouts: ‘Go in there!’ She swings left and enters the chamber. but the Superintendent raises his right hand with as much dignity as he can manage and says: ‘Shhhhhhhhhh!’ She deflates.’ A door slides open just as she passes. He turns to her and says: 460 . literally roars: ‘Now please shut up!’ She turns and looks at him in surprise.you still persist in this ridiculous search outside yourselves. A couch rises from the floor at his approach. She opens her mouth to say something. The door slides shut behind them with a low hiss. Don’t…’ ‘Open four. The Superintendent follows her in and presses the switch by the door that brings up full light. a complete loss of interest. The Superintendent is sardonic in his experience of victory: ‘Now that’s better.

turning away from to go into the hygiene booth. only now – at the end – realising that he may have misunderstood her all along. It must happen. the end-wall screen. the Superintendent standing by the couch. suddenly near to tears. you do not understand. Only now that the end has at last come and she can withdraw again. the exhaustion returning after the demands of the day. She says. sees the door to the hygiene booth. They know.’ 461 .’ She is a little dumbfounded even so. She enters the room. the little subsistence alcove. I’m sure you remember how to use them. There are all the basic amenities.’ The Superintendent steps towards her.’ She sighs. ‘Let what happen?’ She shrugs. ‘They are prepared. losing interest again.’ The Superintendent gapes at her. does she feel that this time there is a difference. ‘No. ‘But how can it happen? We don’t know. a nameless anxiety in his bowels. gesturing: ‘It will nonetheless happen.‘This will serve you for tonight. You must let it happen.

The Superintendent is still standing in the middle of the domicile chamber. she answers for herself. He is looking away to somewhere far off. This is happiness.In the booth. but now more vacant. her mood changes again. Is this happiness? she asks herself. She sinks to her knees when the water sprays hit her. a return in part to the earlier listlessness. she pulls the gown over her head. that remote part of herself ever-attentive as always. The dryers then are very powerful. But once the judgement is made. drying her in minutes. glowing at the edge of some dark horizon. though she cannot remember ever thinking of it before. not falling to the ground in defeat again. the fingers of his right hand 462 . She washes the gown by the expediency of walking back and forth on it for a while. There is a pale clean light somewhere. She presses the button for the Complete Service. Yes. She knows this feeling is called relief. not so much a loss of interest as the absence of any memory of a foregoing interest in anything at all. bending down and bursting into tears. And yet she feels that she is rising in some way.

dragging her wet gown behind her. just looking at him without expression until he suddenly nods and looks away. He starts when she come back into the chamber and blurts out: ‘It’s all very well saying what you say. Only then does she answer him: 463 . intent on satisfying a deep hunger she is only now becoming aware of: ‘Pretend you are a woman. The Superintendent has followed her and stands at the entrance to the alcove. why aren’t woman getting restored. directly but with the nearest to consideration that he can manage: ‘Why is that?’ She presses for the meal and then presses for milk. He asks. ‘Oh. She goes into the subsistence alcove and examines all the buttons until she finds the largest meal available. or whatever?’ She takes the trouble to stop and look up at the Superintendent. She says absently. In that case.stroking his lower lip. Do that. come on now.’ This reply exasperates the Superintendent. you know? But letting something happen? How is that done?’ She is crossing to the subsistence alcove.

while her hands are full – but the Superintendent is quick to grasp the situation. watching her eat with an intensity that surprises him. then whatever it was – intuition or innate knowledge – he has just assented to. hissing a tuneless air 464 . along with a beaker of white milk. He comes forward and arranges the couch for eating.‘Why? Because men have the seed. He knows that if he asks her any question on this matter. She is so hungry. hands behind his back. would be put utterly beyond his grasping. He doesn’t know what to do with himself then. The Superintendent stands over her for a while.’ The Superintendent nods though he cannot understand what she has said. It’s that simple. She takes them over to the couch. Then he goes and gathers up her wet gown and puts it into the cleaner hatch. The food is as ever tasty and fortifying. hungrier than she has felt for a long time. even the little table swinging out for her convenience. so he follows the walls around the domicile. It’s awkward at first – she finds that all the controls are manual here too. A soft tone sounds and the hatch opens to reveal a tray upon which a number of dishes are arranged.

Only now does she wonder. I suspect it is some esoteric entity. The Superintendent has returned to the vicinity of the couch. he remarks: ‘I’m assuming that this is not a sexual matter. I mean. the seed you refer to is not the male spermatozoa. feeling pleasantly replete. stretching her legs out to their fullest extent. momentarily fretful. a growing sense that this time again she has done the best she could in the circumstances. He resumes speaking: ‘Though I need hardly add that I haven’t a clue what the seed you refer to is. She closes her eyes with a feeling of true relief. She presses the button that reclines the couch to sleeping mode. is it?’ She has finished her meal. Laying herself out slowly – an edge of indulgence in this – she asks: ‘Will you lower the light for me?’ She composes her arms down by her sides. The light changes to the low blue light of the machines. Perhaps a capacity that can be…’ 465 . if she will be able to sleep.through his teeth. Then back near the couch.

’ Berenice tenses.Towards evening the command comes to form the circles for the night. Berenice brings the big caravan around as she is instructed. This is called the Clover defence. 466 . around the command truck. She waits then until she receives the switch-off instructions. The practice by this stage is to form the convoy into three circles that intersect at a common point. that tells everyone that the perimeters have been set. releases herself from her chair and runs across the cabin. ‘Relay relay. Even Corry feels it. Reno announced general evacuation at sixteen hundred local time. its six large balloon wheels turned so that the vehicle enters crabwise into its place on the number two perimeter. Corry claps her hands in delight. she smiles for her daughter’s benefit and presses the switch to raise the shutter on the inner window. Reno announces general evac. Not all of them. for obvious reasons. even though she is not on relay duty this evening. of course – even so young a child knows that by now. for she cries out from her little seat down by the hub for the windows to be opened. The relief is palpable. Despite this.

How can I. the heavy clouds over the mountain peaks fiery along their edges. for all the world like a huge oil fire. It happens that they are facing west. broody grey black otherwise in their bulk.‘Oh look. No. she complains to herself. mommy. Corry turns at her approach. The stiffness in her lower stomach is especially bad. there is no one to relieve me. mommy. Thank you. Is it Flagstaff? she wonders. 467 . she agrees with herself. ‘Call cee four two. She realises she has forgotten again to take the breaks during the day. Exercise period till nineteen thirty. Please remain within your sector.’ Berenice releases the harness and swings the chair away from the screens. I ought not. but you ought not to let the tension build up. Repeat: exercise period now until nineteen thirty. The sky’s all on fire!’ And so it seems to be. while knowing of course that cities no longer burn while being annihilated. look at the sun!’ she squeals. Berenice shivers. ‘Oh come and look. jumping up and down in her excitement. Yes. gesturing that she should hurry to the window. The sky is filled with the burnished light of the sunset. seeing how dirty the light is under the clouds.

She touches her daughter’s head. because she knows that her mommy dreads looking out the caravan’s windows at the now so dangerous world. The impulse is to embrace her delightfully innocent daughter. saying in the singsong tone they use together: 468 . for the little girl knows that she must be brave so that her mommy will be brave. just as terrified. very brightly. She says. comforted by the feel of Corry’s silky soft hair. But of course Berenice doesn’t do that. mommy. Instead. eh kid?’ And Corry is as complicit as her mother. to justify the move: ‘I’m hungry. Aren’t you hungry too?’ And of course Berenice follows her. the smooth curves of her skull underneath. away from windows and the terrible light it has revealed tonight. And well she might smile so brightly. to draw from her some grace. she moves away slowly and crosses to the little catering area at the back of the vehicle. enough to maintain her courage for another few hours. for she looks up and smiles brightly. ‘Mountains are sure a great place for sunsets. And further. hand still hovering closely above her daughter’s head. she pats her daughter’s head and says flippantly.

all that is needed for their evening meal is the press of the little green button at the base of the Pot. trotting ahead of her mother: ‘I’d like what you’d like. They keep you alive in extremities. they can be eaten either hot or cold. hard. shrill really if circumstances didn’t make suppressed excitement the norm. plain. honey.‘Sure.’ Her voice is just that bit too high. and what would you like tonight? Apple pie? Something really nice?’ And Corry sings out her reply. So. Dry. beige. but packed with nutrients. And yet both know that what will be available – all that has been available to them for months now – are Mariettas. as befitting the whole tenor of the Other World phenomenon. What could be more idyllic? Except perhaps for humanity’s insatiable appetite for cheap clean 469 . The button is pressed and the little miracle machine pipes up immediately: ‘Water needed here!’ Very jaunty. an apparent infinity of clean energy in return for trickles of plain sweet water. fresh or stale. but at the rate of no more than two per day per person. mommy. Fabricated to order in their Other World Pot.

’ Berenice accepts the pail from her daughter with a dutiful air. that is. wonders what this means now. at the door she hears Corry’s shrill scream: ‘Don’t forget your shades. Route seventy west of Denver closed. Berenice squares her plump shoulders theatrically: ‘Looks like another trip to the well. ‘Drat. eh. who has already perfected the family irony and so can beam the smile back up to her mother.’ The daughter has run over to fetch them from the hook by 470 . ‘Relay relay. Berenice says.energy.’ Smiles down at her daughter. However. obtained at the cost of a finite resource that is even more essential to human existence. which in fact is a minutely calibrated plastic jerrycan holding what has become a Ration of water. Is there anyone east of Denver anymore? Another smile for her daughter – returned promptly – and Berenice is away to the well. like a willing worker serving her boss. She wonders where Glenwood is. mommy. Glenwood on route seventy closed. Repeat: Route seventy at Glenwood Canyon flashed at sixteen twenty local time. honey?’ Corry dances her little jig of excitement and runs to get what they like to call the “pail”. four litres of that by now precious liquid.

Berenice takes another step. The air has an acid tinge – so much bare dry rock. a serious admonishment in her voice: ‘You know you have to wear them.’ Sure. There is no wind. mommy. but she handles the polarised spectacles gingerly. Berenice dons the glasses. Corry claps her hands in relief.’ It’s like taking a giant step. Berenice is suitably contrite. often leading to blindness or worse. ‘Now may I go get the water?’ Corry seems not to notice. She rushes to unlock the cabin door. pulling it open but remaining hidden behind it: ‘And hurry back.the door. Berenice asks with a not entirely mock patience. 471 . She looks up and the glasses darken against the sunset. tightening her grip on the handle of the jerrycan. She knows that the sky could flash at any moment and that such a flash could seriously damage your eyes. mommy. She hands them to her mother. as her foot grinds down the grit that litters the bare rock. leaping up to snatch them down. The door slams at her back. anticipation then anticlimax. She hates them above all else as the abiding statement of the reality she now inhabits.

as usual right beside the big black command vehicle. psshh. that it will fly away out through her tightening throat – before it is too late.Berenice wonders how long since she was last outside. but not many. Scan the barcode. three. Bernie. They don’t know each other. With the dark glasses. He nods. Oh yes. The man at the end of the queue looks up as she approaches. check the screen. a week? Who knows? Who cares? For a moment it is as though her heart has wings. grainy skin of the dehydrated like the rest of them. unwashed overall clinging to him. A queue.’ 472 . way before Durango. insert hose. the registers of the soul. she tells herself. She wonders where they can be going if they no longer remember where they have come from. and that’s it. ‘Hi. Balding. But when? Berenice cannot remember. and he could be anybody from anywhere. Berenice nods. When? Before Durango. abandoned. Then it is the water truck. Last time she went for water. as usual. Two days. you can’t read the eyes. What they have left behind. The transaction itself doesn’t take long.

weeks on the road. ‘How’s it with Corry. ‘Oh you can guess.‘Oh hi. In compensation. as though she too is blind. a reflex that indicates that she too has been bullied into obeying the shades’ rule.’ Then she focuses directly on Berenice’s face. acting like a blind person though she can see well enough through the shades. making do as best can be. heading off further enquiry: ‘And yours. as though only now becoming aware of his presence.’ She now looks at the man standing between her and Berenice. next up on the queue. grimaces. how you all making out?’ Martha swivels her head. Martha. Martha. ‘Oh. honey?’ Berenice bobs her head. dear.’ This is Martha. 473 . Bernie. Berenice inserts quickly. But she stops herself as quickly. saying. her voice is louder when she continues. From Newport via Jacksonville. passing through a land they’re all afraid to look at. the restriction in one sense implying restrictions in other senses: ‘Janice says she’s fallen in love. her shapely body wobbly in the loose overall.’ Martha chuckles. you know yourself. her hand reaching up for the glasses that cover her eyes.

That’s how she puts it. standing quite close to her: 474 . The man coughs and says. not knowing what else to do. appreciating thereby Martha’s uncertainty.’ ‘Oh. but how they even think of starting something like that now? I mean. She becomes aware that nobody is out and about. ‘Yeah. didn’t they?’ It bothers Berenice that no one has come out. But she says: ‘Maybe they’re more serious.’ She shrugs now. like it signals a premonition. I know. which is profoundly uninteresting from behind the shades. and spins around to face towards the hatch.’ Berenice stares through the dark lenses.’ Martha jumps. She looks up at the sky. Chuck hasn’t changed his habits much. the greyish world of evening time. how can they think of something like that now? Okay. quietly out of politeness: ‘They’re ready for you. Used to be only kids dreamed of love. teenagers did sex. Martha shrugs. Only a tall young man walking away from them. there’s so much involved. counterbalancing his full jerrycan. The man says. Berenice goes back to looking at the greyish sky.‘God. yeah? I mean.

then she says: ‘And good luck to Janice. ‘Uh huh. throwing harsh fluorescent light out into the gloaming. for some reason. you hear?’ The door of the command vehicle opens. his eyebrows rising above the wrap round shell-lenses. Martha.’ He looks directly at Berenice. Maybe he’s coming on to me.‘God.’ A pause. Even so. Both of you. ‘That you. ‘You take care now. ‘Always loved the desert.’ ‘Sure. showing white teeth that signal good maintenance. That is. how loose his arms. money. a blind man’s smile. Just the quietness. how straight his back is. she thinks.’ Berenice likes hearing that. anyway. and you too. At first. you know. Maybe. ‘Stars?’ He darts a look up above. Bernie?’ It’s Sam. it’s so quiet out here. she replies with the nearest to warmth that she can manage: ‘You mean all alone under the stars?’ The man smiles.’ A voice from the hatch calls next. Martha passes. honey. Always wanted to come out here. seeing almost at once Corry’s fury at the loss of focus. touching Berenice’s elbow. the convoy 475 . Berenice watching how the man walks towards the hatch.

leader’s deputy. Berenice shuts her eyes tight and crouches down immediately. not panicking as much as fighting a novel kind of confusion in her head – why tell me now? The man. Not clear who. hits against her. sorry. Berenice steps out of line – there are a handful of people behind her now – and approaches the door. could merely blind you or turn you into a gibbering idiot. all the way up to thousand and twenty. The burn might not kill you.’ Then everything goes dark. keeping her head perfectly still. Just one stray reflection off an inner surface of the shades could burn a hole in her head. Okay? Get back as fast as you can. Now she counts. Then she drops the jerrycan and runs as fast 476 . Jack says to tell you that an overflight has been reported west of here. She knows she must not look down or look away. Literally burn a hole way into her head. turning away from the water hatch. pitch-black dark. ‘Uh.’ Berenice turns away. He signals urgently with his hand. counting thousand and one. Sam bends to her and says in a low voice: ‘Corry said you were over here. thousand and two. She knows this so well. both reflex actions difficult to control.

Corry! Is it shut?’ She sees that it is. elbows braced forward to take the brunt. The door whips open immediately. she going flat out on the floor. She rolls onto her back. It could be some appalling scream that would cut right to the heart of her own deepest terror. the rising pitch of her laboured breathing. foot catching on the step. so Berenice shoots on in.as she can back to the caravan. burning up everything in its path. a shrewd expression on her face. Berenice can run fast – heavy limbs still well muscled – and all the time she is listening for some sound behind her. There is only the thuds of her boots on the hard stony ground. Only then does she realise the extent of her panic.’ 477 . What kind of sound she doesn’t know. Corry is leaning over her. She opens her eyes long enough to target the door of the caravan. Berenice sits up and shouts: ‘Close the shutter. how she fears the pain of dying more than the actual death itself. adjust the aim of her pell-mell flight. It could be the roar of a flame dragon. She lets herself run blindly up against the door. She looks again at Corry: ‘Good girl.

Berenice kneels to embrace her daughter. Berenice passes her right hand across her daughter’s hair. ‘See? Nothing at all. Berenice sees that the flash alarm is still lit. Berenice has laid her hand on her daughter’s shoulder.’ She takes the shades off to show Corry. it ain’t no harm for you to be afraid.’ She nods for Corry. on your own here. I think it was okay. She says: ‘You were lucky. I guess we were in the shadow of the trucks. we’re all 478 . ‘There was no one out. getting some control over her abject state again. Corry has followed. I was worried about you. resigned weeping of utter misery. honey. to show how serious she is in this. Sure. savouring the curves of the child’s head. Corry comes over and places her little hand flat on her left arm. the silent. ‘Now look.’ She starts to cry.’ Corry stifles the tears. ‘You did good. kid. mommy. ‘Oh.’ A pause now while Berenice draws back so she can gain eye contact: ‘Sam warned me. a reassuring support for the other. deflated now that the high excitement has eased. as she always does.Corry shrugs. She goes over and resets it. sweetie. This has a wonderful calming effect. a reassuring weight for one.’ Berenice gets to her feet.

She holds her daughter firmly. She doesn’t hide the falseness in the false cheer she now assumes: ‘So. She starts off down the caravan at a high-kneed gallop. ‘So when we meet other folk. Right?’ Corry nods earnestly. hugging her as tightly as she can. is better at covering for this. now. Both are a bit non-plussed. It’s all Berenice can do to keep the tears back. ‘Well. ‘You always were a good kid.’ This is too much for the little girl. she stops. down by the kitchenette. Berenice braces her little thin shoulders. what are we going to have for supper?’ Corry is up for this. kid. 479 . You got that. Corry. Berenice. whooping loudly. But you’re a perky brave kid. we won’t pull them down by showing we’re afraid. tuning into the seriousness at last. now ain’t you?’ Corry nods. you and me are going to go on being brave together. a steady embrace that she knows will reassure her. of course. They get about two minutes of this silent communion before self-consciousness takes over again. She throws herself into her mother’s arms. And I sure am proud of you now. honey?’ Corry nods emphatically. At the far end.afraid now.

mommy. ‘Oh. She could see her daughter so clearly then. She shakes her head slowly. But Corry. Go right up my nose and make me sneeze. then spins around. gaining this perspective on her daughter. Is that all? It’s a relief to know that they still have something that hasn’t been contaminated by the disasters happening around them. Then the big sneezes.’ Even Berenice has to laugh at this memory. ‘My.pauses. mommy?’’ She giggles at the memory. full of a spluttery laughter.’ Berenice can say this with something like acceptance.’ She runs back towards Berenice. Corry. Corry very surprised by them. her little daughter – two and a half then – with the big tumbler out by the swing. avidly drinking the lemonade. ‘Remember the lemonade. 480 . it used to be so fizzy. but you were a sweet baby. See her intimately as her own offspring. inevitable recession from her away into her own self. to see that much at least achieved. and at the same time see her beginning the long. Is this just sad? Berenice wonders. We’ll have apple pie and some of that lovely lemonade you make. her fair hair flying out. her clear eyes so bright: ‘I know.

Flagstaff reported flashed. you’ve gone white! You look like you’re dead. ‘What are you talking about?’ Corry answers by grabbing at her hair and screaming: ‘We’re gonna die! We all gonna die.of course. her feelings already running to extremes.’ Berenice is startled by the child’s mounting hysteria. who regards what is just a natural process as a personal achievement. Then something clears and she can say. Flagstaff Arizona flashed at eighteen twenty two local time. I just felt something was going to happen. Repeat. ‘God. She stands back away from her mother. First reports state damage extensive.’ ‘Relay relay.’ She turns to Corry. hissing the words at the radio – at the other end of the caravan: ‘I knew it. ‘Mommy. simply: ‘I sure am hungry. ‘I felt that. mommy. mommy!’ 481 .’ She puts her hand to her mouth.’ It’s like a relay closes in Berenice’s head and she says. who is staring at her with something like shock. There was no one out. for a moment consumed by the vanity of her own emerging identity. Avoid the area. Corry. how many have just died?’ Corry says. is still really only a child.

In the next instant. by which time she has succumbed to the contagion of her hysteria. it seems.’ Sam nods.For an instant. In the next instant. Berenice believes her. He removes his shades. she of course does not believe her.’ Sam glances at Corry. the jerrycan held forward as a permit. Sam has his permanent wry smile for them. both calculating rapidly: How much have we given away? Not much. who is calm in a pale rigid way. 482 . Berenice glances at Corry too. Instantly both mother and daughter are as though nothing has happened. stepping into the caravan. holding up their jerrycan. for there is a strong rap on the caravan’s door. blinking in the low caravan light. which startles her. Bernie. ‘Sure. both very lucid. It is like they are caught in the powerful current of some river. and finds she is hovering between anger and fear for her daughter’s sanity. Sam. ‘Jack thought you might be busy here. It is so dark. What might happen next doesn’t happen. Just heard the news. she understands Corry. looking like an immature plant for some reason.

Corry. the one he knows she really likes. it’s sure kind to offer. ‘So how’re you making out. hunkering in that limber way he still has.’ Corry swallows. as though she has completed some demanding task. Corry has clenched her little fists by her sides. ‘Well. It’s your call. the way things are. ‘We’re doing okay. is drawn to Sam. especially. But it looks like we’ll be busy most of the night. kid.‘Yeah. You want to stay for dinner?’ Sam glances up at Berenice. Sam. He straightens up. Jack says we’ll have to cross the desert south tomorrow. the need for a nameless reassurance so strong in her. liking his tall dark looks. his sly sarcasm. Reckons we might make Phoenix in a day if we step on it. kid?’ Both Berenice and Sam can see that the child wants to embrace the man. Sam rotates on his toes to face her when he has connected the can.’ He attaches the can to the Pot. He smiles his super-wry smile for her. an ambiguous 483 . who raises her brows as much as to say. She comes to stand by him. Then she nods.

touching some kind of more settled base by speaking his name. 484 . Sam nods at this.relief evident. handsome face limp and grizzled. ‘Jack said to tell you he’ll try to drop by for a while later on.’ He pauses at the door. you hear. as though she has survived some temptation or been saved a tedious social chore. He brushes Berenice’s shoulder with the tips of his fingers as he passes. ‘Another time. kid. maybe. When things are back to rights. okay?’ Corry lowers her head. He touches the top of her head with the tip of his index finger. the two exchanging their relief that the child has been able to relent. giving way to a feeling here. ‘Sure. Sam habitually gentle in his ways. Be an early start in the morning and a long day to follow. his tall frame gaunt in his unwashed overall.’ she says. I reckon I’ll be off now. Sam crosses glances quickly with Berenice. ‘You two be sure to bed down early. his smile softening.’ Sam turns away towards the door. ‘Well.’ The door closes with a soft click. But once it is closed. Sam. Busy night ahead.

This is what Berenice thinks in that minute. so that all the myriad parts to her could go their own ways. It is as though her daughter has simply surrendered control. Not death this time – mere cessation – instead it is the threat of a fundamental collapse that would render her incoherent too. It is as though the child is eating.Corry lets out a long whimper. And that is all it takes for her to regain control of her own crumbling self. cold and silent. kissing – all at the same time. seeing darkness. Nothing. The panic is back in Berenice too. sucking. her mouth working while the rest of her seems to wait for its turn to collapse into confusion. as if the formal principle that allowed the child to cohere as a living being has withdrawn. But it is how Corry’s mouth works that really gets to her. Once again. But then she thinks: As though nothing is possible. it is the fundamental weirdness of Corry’s behaviour that affects Berenice. It is a stark prospect for as much as a minute: Corry stepping forward as though to follow Sam. blowing. to say in the most comforting tone she can manage at that moment: 485 . It is a low basic sort of sound – the kind of sound even animals would make – and Berenice can easily handle that.

shutting the cabinet door and pressing the large green button.‘Well. comes to stand by her mother. Corry. meanwhile.’ Fixing the table involves lifting the table panel up from the wall and drawing the support out under it. turning her face quickly towards her mother. has begun the preparation of their meal. She comes together again in an instant. conscious that it is preparing their evening meal. Likewise. yeah?’ And that is all it takes for Corry too. She knows Corry’s smile is cheery just for her benefit. Berenice. looks as though we can eat now. the seating is brought out from recesses in the wall. having completed her task. This involves setting the controls of the Pot to produce two Mariettas and sufficient milk to fill two small beakers. ‘And I’ll fix the table. flashing her a bright smile. but this time lowered until their legs drop down and hit the floor. mommy. honey. The Other 486 . Both stare at the Pot. Berenice is fascinated by her daughter’s mouth. she is amazed how quickly the child could adapt herself once she had taken control again. Then she fetches two side plates and the beakers from the nearby cabinet and places them in the appropriate positions within the Pot itself.

Then the Pot makes our supper. This is the cue for Corry to step into her little-girl mode. comforting chime that tells them that their meal is ready. her somewhat busty figure becoming dumpy in the blink of an eye: ‘Well. Berenice nods as any informative mother would. mommy?’ Berenice can easily slip into her wise mother mode – once. big and small – of any internal activity. best I understand it is that we send some water through the Looking Glass thing and the Other World gives us some of its omnium in return.’ Corry nods as any bright little girl would. though there is no indication anywhere on the white plastic drum – white for some unknown reason always the colour of OW machines. until the Pot issues its soft. which allows her to fill the gap between them by asking a little-girl question: ‘What’s it doing. both quite stupefied by their shared ignorance of what actually is happening. of course. Corry has prompted her – and she physically sags as she enters the role. mother and daughter can only becomes more aware of each other. They nod together.World process will not take long. With nothing happening. 487 . honey.

488 . But there is some difference this evening. why are they called Mariettas?’ Berenice is surprised by this question.Press the blue button and the little door springs open to reveal their supper. either. Berenice takes the plates to the table. ‘Haven’t I told you the story before?’ Corry shakes her head. So Corry resumes her little girl mode again. Just sitting there nibbling the round paten of the biscuit and taking little sips of omnium-based milk is simply not sufficient for this evening. which they both do in the steady way that the frugal have with their limited means. holding her partially consumed biscuit up: ‘Mommy. Corry reaches up and collects the beakers and brings them to the table. Berenice can’t remember telling it to her. Corry pushing her mother’s beaker across in her direction. her bright eyes huge in her little round face. Then there is nothing else to do but eat and drink. one nice Marietta on each plate and the beakers filled with cool creamy milk. They sit opposite each other. So maybe she has never told her. Berenice positioning the plates. Death and destruction on an apocalyptic scale is close to hand.

Her solution was very simple. Well. She was a beautiful woman who had come from another country to marry the King of France. there was no bread for the people to eat. The country she ruled was a very rich land with a long history. she was very upset and asked how this could happen. When the Queen heard about this. Reckon this is as good a time to tell you as any. Her name was Marie Antoinette. But one year there was a very bad harvest. kid. Her counsellors were 489 . She called her council and declared she had the solution to the problem of famine in the country – which was beginning to worry the court very much. then perhaps they should eat cake instead. If the people couldn’t eat bread. which led to famine among her subjects. ‘Now. now. She of course was very rich and powerful and lived a life of luxury in a huge palace. ‘A long time ago there was a Queen who ruled a country called France. the Queen did not have much experience of the lives of her subjects.‘Okay. But she did give some thought to the problem facing her people and so arrived at a solution. having lived all her life in palaces served by many servants.’ Berenice takes a really deep breath. It was explained to her that because bad weather had destroyed the grain crop.

citing her own case. ‘The court was very amused by all this. that cake would serve as a very good substitute for bread. She pointed out that while bread might be scarce. and that to tell Her Majesty that cake was too expensive for the common people. where she explained that she could not remember the last time she ate bread. She argued further. Unlike many of the royal servants. ‘The Queen had never reason to consider these matters before. That is. there was certainly a lot of cake available. the Queen 490 . that her starving subjects could not afford to eat cake. the old baker was respected by the Queen. So one day she had her chief baker brought into her presence. She actually knew practically nothing about the lives of those she ruled. Now. to do what no one else dared – or cared – to do. The Queen’s chief baker was a small old man. would not be put off. She explained the problem of the shortage of bread to him and her solution to this problem.very surprised to hear this. then. The Queen was angry that no one would take her seriously. It was possible for him. The Queen. however. very learned in the arts of bakery and with many years of experience in producing all kinds of delightful cakes for his royal employers.

He was very patient with Her Majesty. in which could be combined the advantages of both bread and cake. The Queen’s curiosity of course had by now become avid. So the old baker was given the task of producing a new kind of biscuit that could replace bread. Even so. for the whole court had fallen silent when the Queen got to her feet. He laid the plate on a little sidetable and had it brought forward to the throne. that is the biscuit. ‘Well. the old man was gone for more than a week – a long time in the middle of a famine – and one morning he was shown again into Her Majesty’s presence. He carried a small plate covered with a white muslin cloth. The old baker did enjoy this moment of being the centre of attention. So it was possible for her to ask for the old baker’s advice. This information inspired the imagination of the Queen.was very conscious of her rank – and insisted that everyone observe its dignity – but she was not a proud person herself. He also made her aware that there was another kind of baked food. 491 . explaining in detail how bread and cake were made. who immediately conceived the possibility of designing a biscuit that could feed her people in these straitened times. so much so that she rose to her feet and came closer to the table.

She reached to take the biscuit. he whispered to her. eating but one of these biscuits a day would maintain the perfect health and tranquil spirit of any man. this would happen only if that person ate no other food of any kind. He explained that this miraculous biscuit had been made possible by the existence of a secret ingredient in the universe. described in a very ancient document. He spoke in a low voice for the Queen’s ears only. obviously very curious to taste it. he told her. He simply responded to the Queen’s unfeigned curiosity by drawing away the muslin cloth.he was a very wise man and so not seduced by vanities. But. On the plate lay a thickish waver that would lie comfortably in the palm of a man. The baker bowed to demonstrate his humility and begged Her Majesty to listen to what he had to say before she sampled the confection. It was the colour of lightly baked crust. the old man leaned forward and laid his hand over the biscuit to prevent this happening. There was a murmur through the court: no one intervened in the action of a French monarch. woman or child in the realm. The Queen of course could hardly contain herself. ‘However. with a smooth surface and regular form. If a 492 . Because of this secret ingredient.

Even so. In other words. ‘The last thing the old baker did was to bow down before the Queen with full ceremony and announce in a louder voice that the biscuit had been named the Marietta in her honour. so that the whole court broke out into loud applause. Berenice is aghast. help me out here. for only a starving person would have no other foodstuff in his or her body.person should attempt to do this. The Queen appeared to be very flattered by this honour. for she was seen to flush red in response. Corry. but this time the fear does not overbear her. she says out of concern for her little child. who is yet so immature and vulnerable: ‘Aw. Berenice is seriously frightened by this. It is like her daughter’s face is melting and about to run down of f her little round skull to fall in blobs like candle wax on the table. he explained.’ Corry’s face suddenly crumples. only a starving person could begin to live off these biscuits. as though there is an appointed place in her for this terminal fear. She feels it finds an abode in her. will you?’ 493 . then the secret ingredient would immediately become a poison that would kill the person in a matter of hours. tears springing into her eyes.

This is Jake Geats. Reckon you folks know what happened over at Flagstaff tonight. We’ll head down the old one nine one a ways. So there’ll be a change of plan for tomorrow. then cut across the desert towards 494 .‘Call cee four two.

She starts awake. Ah. Am I dead? ‘Ah. too. though we’re not 495 . Still the question persists: What was it? She moves her foot and it feels as though her leg extends away and away into the far distance. We thought that you might be over-sensitive to whatever noises linger here. too. At last. Raised the caul. you’re awake. What was it? Is it dark? No light. It was decided to cover you with the caul to help you sleep deeply. both night and day. These structures creak.’ Why did I think I was dead? ‘Rest for a moment. So we took the liberty of keeping you asleep as long as possible. Donandis. Sometimes quite loudly. if you will. You’ve done it. there was a lot of background noise.’ The low blue light hurts her eyes.’ ‘It’s Don. Carabella. ‘Ah. There are the trains. Apparently. Sam. We thought you would be very tired after all your exertions over the last few days. These cauls were designed to dampen all that noise. Raise the caul. They were used long ago to cut off all the noises in the Spire. you know.

But some say they do. Sam. We had no way of preparing you for the effect of the caul. good. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. I am thirsty. of course you are. Like something separating.supposed to be able to hear them. Very unfortunate. we know.’ There was a bright flash. still that low blue light. and as she coughs she remembers yesterday. How many times now? Fifteen. There is some stiffness.’ She sits up.’ 496 . ‘Hungry? Well. ‘He died. Light.’ The natal seems surprised to hear this. The light is not so bad this time. his long hair falling forwards over his shoulders. Apparently you can suffer a form of deprivation that can be fearsome for some. so we took that into account too. Were you frightened at any time?’ The figure is dim in the dim light. You should be alright this time.’ The natal stoops towards her. ‘Yes. ‘Ah. we believe. but evidently a natal. A dream? Of death? Yes. but no pain. Yes. Though of course you don’t remember. Of death. She suddenly coughs. ‘I am hungry. He was not restored.

artificial. The light still disturbs her.’ She has put her hands over her face. ‘It’s Don.The white light hurts her eyes all over again.’ The natal limps away heavily. feeling a hollowness that should perhaps be dread.’ ‘The machine?’ 497 . favouring his right leg. You can ask Sam for anything you need. causing her to think of something like long shards of glass that stretch out immense distances into an empty dark space. What disturbs her most here is the notion of inertness. The transparency of glass and yet its sterile quality – that it is nothing more than a permissive structure. ‘Who’s speaking?’ ‘Me. ‘You should eat. She thinks of bright light. There is no one in the chamber.’ She starts. if you will. She is reluctant to remove her hands from her face – she might be disturbed by her introspection but there is nonetheless something very familiar about it – but she does so anyway. ‘I presume you know how to use the feeder? I will leave you to refresh yourself. The Controller.

Everywhere there is a barrier. She takes them back to the couch and eats standing there. She looks around. then keys for the activity meal. She keys for milk. ‘The Committee is waiting to interview you. but again there is no pain. She could ask why she is not. Her legs are not strong. Yet she knows she is not dismayed by the existence of this barrier. How is it possible for me to see into the land of the dead? The very possibility frightens her so much that she involuntarily whimpers.‘No.’ Then she has a very strange thought: Is this what death – being dead – is like? She shivers. perhaps because his form in bent. There’s no machine here. the tray resting on the surface of the couch. Yet he is not old. but she doesn’t. A ping and the hatch slides up to reveal the beaker of milk and tray of food.’ She gets down from the couch. He is not as tall as most natals. ‘What? Aren’t you ready yet?’ The natal limps across the chamber until he stands on the opposite side of the couch. The sustenance hatch is familiar. 498 . The feature of glass shards that is disturbing is the resistance. There is a barrier. The implacability. The barrier is there.

I can see the dead.The natal is startled to see the little woman flinch and clutch at the couch. who is crouching so low that his eyes are on a level with hers. I don’t know what it’s like to be dead. He moves away – though it’s obvious that while he is eager to get away from her.’ Then she says something she does not understand. She sighs. He presses for the complete 499 . this time as if to seek support. a lot less frightened now.’ The natal draws back immediately. She says. ‘Do you see? The dead are ordered. at the same time he wants to remain close to her – and limps down the chamber to the hygiene booth. He looks around the chamber. acknowledging her lack of understanding even as she speaks: ‘The dead are as if one in their death. then asks hesitantly: ‘What’s the matter.’ No. only see them. artificial? I know you have to cope with another failure of your mission. whispering out of that fascination: ‘The dead are ordered.’ She looks over at the natal. but surely you are used to that by now. He looks around him again. The vision of the long shards as of glass extending out a long way into the dark now comes to fascinate her.

’ She has stepped away from the couch. He straightens as best as he can: ‘Remember who you are and where you are.’ Now her agitation increases. turning towards the natal: ‘No! Will you pay attention!’ The natal is stunned by her tone. The dead are one. ‘But you must try to understand this. The natal steps back into the chamber again. Do not keep the Mentors waiting.’ The natal now shakes his head. Hot water gushes immediately. The Mentors will answer all your questions.service. However important you think you are. shouting in her shrill voice: 500 . steam condensing down along the stream. ‘You should prepare now for the meeting. You must prepare for the meeting. for the vision is fading and she is afraid she will forget it – in the way she forgets everything else.’ She shakes her head. you are still an artificial. artificial. He indicates the hygiene booth: ‘There is no time for that now. She hurries down towards the natal.

scrambles to her feet and screams: ‘STOP!’ The jets cut off.’ The natal answers by grabbing her arm when she is near enough and propelling her onwards into the hygiene booth. that she will shortly fly apart into a myriad of little pieces.‘Will you stop talking at me! I’m trying to tell you something of the greatest importance. Then comes the moment when she slips and falls. Please be patient. The water is hotter than she expects. The jets are unrelenting as she threshes about on the floor. She feels she is expanding at an explosive rate. her skin tingling all over. It is designed to overcome the effects of the caul deprivation. ‘That was a stress test. the water pleasantly warm on her sensitised skin. Then it is as though some force grows mighty in her gut. She screams loudly in terror. He draws over the door behind her. she loses her temper. Now the normal cleansing process will begin.’ The jets begins again. She tries to evade the jets but they follow her around the booth. 501 . The booth is full of eddying steam. and she yelps loudly. Finally.

at once everywhere in her body. And she is consumed in this. a mixture of consternation and amazement at the sight of the little woman electrified in the way that she is. a flare of light then only a crinkle of ash remaining. a vacancy.At once the door of the booth draws open and the natal hobbles in. And with the relief there grows a kind of darkness in her womb – a dark fire – smouldering though apparently still. They do manage it. Oh but the pain! Like probing an open wound. but she has already thrown herself onto him. She knows that this is an emptiness growing in her. a searing pain that erupts at the centre. She groans with relief. in a frenzy to get him into her. the other groping under his gown. still present in some real way. scrabbling compulsively. The natal is unable to resist her. he now frantic to pull his robe free from the tussle too. his thin body shuddering in its passion. the pain telling her that she is still alive. like a sheet of paper burning. He opens his mouth to speak. the ejaculation so brutal that he cries out in agony. so they fall in a heap together onto the flooded floor. one arm tightly around his neck. and she knows that she will be consumed by it. 502 . The natal has poor balance. then she bears down on him.

’ She says. his heavy wet gown twisted about him in a way that aggravates his deformity. ticklish against her tender flesh. so that she squirms and giggles. much more aware of his unpleasant situation. but the lassitude is so strong that he cannot concentrate and so must endure the heavy ache along his spine.’ She feels so wonderfully hollow. given the nature of his deformity. A cripple among the natals. like a huge balloon. To find love and passion so suddenly. But he can say to her even so: ‘You don’t know what it is like. Its entry is feather soft. ‘The dead are everywhere. as though some impurity has been burnt away.’ The water jets cut off. ‘Please present for examination. She is nothing but surface. He tries to straighten it.The natal is writhing on the wet floor. ‘There is blood flow. unimaginably expanded. The natal is less detached by now. But he does manage to say when he hears her giggle: 503 .’ It happens that the probe can examine her. He is now trying to roll over onto his back – not the best position for him.

seeing him lying helpless in the twisted wet gown. You should transfer yourself to the couch in the main chamber.’ She experiences a dart of heat inside her. If anything should happen to you. natal. She turns her head to look at him. She finds the supine body of the natal blocking 504 . she first rolls over on the wet floor. This should be done at once. but manages to say: ‘Oh dearest. but finds that the weight of the gown is pressing his chest. The driers begin to play over her body.‘It is so wonderful to find such joy under these circumstances. ‘Further treatment will be necessary to effect a complete recovery. The dead are everywhere. He pants loudly. To see love overcome adversity in this way.’ There are no further words: the natal has been reduced to a series of coughing sobs as strong emotion further restricts his breathing.’ Hearing his voice reminds her. I do advise you to follow those instructions.’ The natal is lying on his back now. his arms waving uselessly: ‘Remember what I say. Under their influence. then the chilling surface prompts her to get to her feet. Even in you they are all gathered.

she pauses and turns around to face the natal. the red brilliant against the pallid flesh. where are you? Where is Timbokto?’ The hairy face of a stout natal stares at her from the large wall screen. intent: ‘Each time I see these truths but forget them when I re-enter reality. yes?’ The pain afflicting the natal is intense. in reflex: ‘I don’t know. ‘Timbokto? Timbokto. She goes into the main chamber and climbs onto the couch. His right eye is deeply bloodshot in one corner. she skirts him widely and in this way manages to get out of the hygiene booth.’ The natal is immediately startled. Where is the tracking camera. He is finding it increasingly difficult to breathe. Not confident of her own strength and balance. She speaks slowly this time. But at the doorway. He shouts impatiently: ‘Sam! The tracking camera. This time you might remember. He waves his arms to draw attention to his predicament. She says shortly.her way. She wants to sleep now. his head bobbing about as though he was blind. Sam?’ 505 .

Our little artificial.’ The natal on the screen flicks his head rapidly from side to side: ‘Yes. We should never have let an artificial – an artificial woman. It’s as I thought.’ The last word is surprisingly conciliatory. As you requested. Mandarin. moreover – into 506 . ‘Timbokto is distressed. First I…Ah. Mandarin. then he looks up: ‘Sam. she is naked? That little cripple was sent over to get her prepared. Mandarin.’ The natal’s eyes narrow with irritation: ‘Then can you set it on whoever is speaking.’ Now he looks away. In the hygiene booth. yes. given the natal’s apparent frustration. Please. apparently. Where is he?’ ‘There seems to have been an incident. as I am informed.’ He smirks unpleasantly. to the right then to the left. ‘Our saviour. We can deal with that in a moment. the stiff hairs about his thin mouth bristling.The answer is muted from her position because the voice speaks in the natal’s chamber only: ‘It is set for Timbokto.’ The natal gives out a dry sarcastic laugh: ‘Not the first.

His hand comes into view pointing: ‘Has she gone to sleep again. even wholeness. nose in the air.the City. can’t you? They are completely ungovernable. considering something. Instead she floats as though in a bubble of soft light. Now his face becomes peaky. of course. a sense of potential pervading: a sense that she should be doing something. I have succeeded! 507 . Please do what you can to get her dressed. realising at once what this must signify. while she experiences a peculiar satisfaction. She knows enough to know that this is a reward. Sam? Will you waken her. nostrils flaring. I will have to send someone else over to collect her. but she is in that state of abstraction where the senses are as aware as usual – in fact even more aware than usual – while the capacity to respond has been put in abeyance. She thinks fleetingly about this.’ She is not asleep.’ The natal has returned his attention to what the tracking camera is showing of the chamber. You can see that I was right in my misgivings. Yet she does not think in this empty place – much to her relief. despite the lack.

’ The joy is like a pin point she stands on. ‘The gown is at your feet. very close. that raises her above the world. as though the person spoke in a very small space far away. You have one more task. for everyone’s sake. ‘Carabella? You must get up. They are coming for you now. standing on the pinpoint yet standing steady. Carabella.’ 508 . She stands erect then.The joy that pervades her seems capable of expanding to include the whole world and all its miseries. where Timbokto dropped it. ‘Not yet. she just does it. She opens her eyes and says: ‘I can go into reality now. ‘Carabella? Please. even hearing the very faint echo that accompanies it.’ She does not decide to slide off the couch. even though it should be impossible to stand erect on a pinpoint. ‘Carabella?’ The voice is in the chamber now.’ ‘No!’ There is emotion in the voice.’ She can hear the voice very clearly. Now please stand up and put on the gown.

the gown dropping down over her body with a brittle scrabbling from its worn fibres.’ She asks. artificial?’ She turns away. staring with acute intensity at the very graceful natal: ‘Are you a mother?’ The natal’s face wrinkles. The outer door slides open. long fair hair.’ That she does. The natal is a woman. please dress. She says: ‘No. The gown. I want the gown. She says.’ A drawer in the wall over by the screen slides out. which does not detract from her stunning features in any way: ‘What business of yours is that.The gown is green. Zwintore. She shivers. tall. extremely beautiful. ‘Now. She is in a distressed state at the moment. clean and folded.’ It’s the voice that answers: ‘Her name is Carabella. high 509 . abashed rather than annoyed. On it lies the old gown. staring with unfeigned curiosity at her: ‘You must be the artificial I have been sent to collect. The wall screen now shows a long chamber.

The gown she wears is deep blue in colour. Carabella has sacrificed her life to helping us. her voice cracking as she attempts to gain the attention of the natal: ‘Are we going to this chamber?’ 510 . natal. but it hugs her long flank as she turns. in any case. Donandis. You should keep to your duty. staring at the ceiling – from where the voice seems to come: ‘I am not required to be kind to the artificial. Are you ready to come with me?’ ‘Zwintore. please don’t be so cruel. artificial. feeling as though she is drinking cool water. She is relieved to see the blue sky in the windows of the chamber there.’ She has walked across to be closer to the screen.’ The sky in the high windows is a bright blue. The natal has turned away to face towards the door she has just come through. loose fitting. I am curious.windows down one side and a large round table in the centre. ‘That still does not make it any of your business. The chamber is empty. At least show some consideration for that fact. ‘I have never met a mother.’ The natal swings about. She asks.

’ She sweeps a long slender arm towards the outer door. Nor does it concern me. So she follows the natal’s long slender figure – the deep blue gown billowing out behind her – down the curving corridor. doing it without any hesitation – in fact eager to get to the room with windows opening to the sky. will you just follow me without any more fuss. Immediately.‘My task is to lead you to a door. ‘Now. the platform shoots up into what proves to be a long tube-like arrangement that stretches away up the Spire. Then it’s through an arch into an open area where a round platform seems to hover in the air. I don’t know.’ She does follow the natal out into the corridor. artificial. 511 .’ ‘Carabella. when she presses a bead set into the underside of her left wrist. obviously not encouraging any talk between them. At first the natal stays away towards the far side of the sizeable platform. staring fixedly before her. just go with her. What lies beyond the door. The natal steps on this and turns to stare hard at her until she too steps onto the platform. But then she grimaces violently – a change of expression that does distort the harmony of her features – and turns her head to stare at her.

‘Why cannot a woman embrace the Angel of Glory?’ She speaks with a stinging tone. The natal is at once impatient with her hesitation. at once so personal and yet so stupid. artificial. her wide mouth open fully in a fearsome way. ‘Why only men. so I don’t believe them.’ ‘But what about you?’ The natal now shrieks. natal. I see no visions. And I never feel enlarged by the presence of the Spirit. artificial?’ She is profoundly surprised by the question. seeing no reason why her own bliss should be disturbed by such a trivial question. the way it is. I hear no voice. becoming somewhat contemptuous of the natal’s stupidity. obviously to the point: ‘You have just said it yourself. ‘They tell me only men have the ability. the deep bitterness evident here disquieting in one who seems well favoured. It is hard for her to take the trouble to answer. The woman does not have the means. But I’ve demeaned myself as much as any man does and nothing happens.’ She shrugs again. ‘I 512 . ‘That’s just it.’ She shrugs and answers. It is men who tell me this.

She. A woman cannot perform the marriage that permits the two to become one. So she decides to tell her: ‘Natal. not being used to the performance of the platform. You will have to wait until you next become a man in order to achieve this. Only a man can do that. so that when what they call the Restoration begins it usually kills them in a matter of hours. She is moved by this. ‘But bear this in mind. but aren’t you a woman too.’ The natal reaches the limit of her anger and frustration and breaks down in tears. ‘I will tell you this once. The natal 513 . natal. throwing the two woman off balance. falls over. ‘Me? I don’t know any Angel of Glory.’ The natal is shocked to hear this and opens her mouth to protest.know you are only an artificial.’ The platform abruptly stops rising.’ She waits until the natal stops her crying and looks at her. but she raises her hand to silence her. How can you do it?’ She is genuinely thrown by this sudden change of direction in the natal’s rage. seeing how badly this natal woman has been treated. The natal men do not know how to perform that marriage.

inviting her to enter. sees then how it has stained the hem of her gown. Carabella. merely stumbling once and then steadying herself in a habitual way. she hears what it tells her next: 514 . You must complete your task. The surface of the platform is surprisingly soft and warm. She closes her eyes. fully prepared to surrender to the bliss and never want again to waken. ‘You must go on. Even so. She wants to withdraw. She shrieks again and shouts: ‘Oh what are they doing to you?’ It’s more than the natal can stand.’ No. She runs away out through the arch and into the corridor beyond. The bliss seems to strengthen within her. ‘Get up. She curls her legs up tightly. You must get up now.’ ‘No.copes better. her task finished. The aura of the bliss induces a sense of availability. at the spot where she had been standing. The natal sees the blood on the platform.’ she murmurs loud enough to drown what else the speaker might say. Carabella.

‘There you are. hands bony and thin. The Committee is waiting for you. flat with no expectation at all. I have come for you myself this time. the stains on the hem of her gown. He points at her: ‘Now. She compresses her body as tightly as she can into a ball.‘If you do not go by yourself.’ She knows this is true. As you can see. She is trying to squeeze herself into the bliss. His arms seems very long.’ The natal is very tall. get to your feet. they will send someone else to bring you to them.’ He steps onto the platform. He steps back again. She is surprised for some reason. a carnal desire in this – as though the bliss was an organ she could actually enter. artificial. ‘What have you been doing. Only a dull emptiness remains. The bliss vanishes with a pop. His bright eyes are very vivid. you dirty woman?’ He gestures brusquely for her to get up and follow 515 . sees the pools of blood. She wonders if she has forgotten something already. an expression of fear alternating with revulsion on his face. hair covering the lower part of his face.

goosepimples elsewhere sending waves of chill right up into her body. would be proof against your wiles. which curves away left and right on either side. but then he doesn’t walk very fast either. The natal turns left out of sight. is crawling in a particularly unpleasant way.’ At the end of the short corridor there is a junction with a wider passageway. ‘I sent my daughter to fetch you this last time in the hope that she at least. especially. could not protect herself against your malicious tongue. but still she can hear his loud voice. The skin around her knees.him. ‘How is the Committee supposed to interview you in this state?’ He doesn’t wait for her. Even her. high ceilinged and brightly lit. my lovely sweet Zwintore. She gets to her feet – once again without giving the action any thought – only to find that the blood that has dribbled down the inside of her gown is cold and sticky against her legs. but what do we hear but you preaching your nonsense to the detriment of the faith of others?’ 516 . But no. loudly and with an impotent vehemence. as a woman. a declamatory element creeping in: ‘You are sworn to silence in these religious matters. The natal is still talking.

an imploring expression on his face. which makes him appear both menacingly tall and ridiculously thin and elongated.The sticky blood is causing the gown to drag on her body. He raises his head and shouts: 517 . He literally shrieks: ‘You foul creature! You think now to seduce me?’ He raises both arms in the air. his red mouth pursed and fat. She finally loses all patience and drags the gown over her head and drops it on the ground. ‘Mandarin. arms dropping by his sides until they almost touch the ground. arms akimbo.’ The voice booms all along the passageway. ‘What would they think of us here in Phoenix?’ He suddenly trots away down the passageway. which of course is creating discomfort everywhere by now. He is stricken. then trots back again. the Committee has convened and is waiting.’ he says. The natal is standing in the middle of the passageway. ‘You can’t appear before the Mentors in this state. The natal immediately crouches. His eyes widen when she appears.

He makes what can be only a whimsical moue and nods. crosses the room and presses a button on the panel. She is surprised by what she sees. He steps back and she follows him into a small compartment. The man comes to stand beside her – quite close – and he nods for her benefit. it’s not what you expected. saying: ‘Yes. glances briefly from the raging natal to her.‘Sam! Please arrange for a gown here. I know. he presses another button on another panel that closes the door again. The inner door opens. He signals that she should come. Immediately. too short in stature to be a natal. and when she does.’ All this shouting seems to have brought another person out into the passageway. He signals for her to enter with him. She does. A young man. eh?’ Anyway. he closes the door to the passageway. We always give the impression that there is an important 518 . bare except for a small panel beside another door across the room. He smiles at her as she enters and says in a low confiding tone: ‘Same as usual. again responding without reflection.

Catratsion has mentored you for almost twenty years now. he is a natal. As you can see. like myself. like you and a few others. but this project has extended over three hundred years. as you can see. but no large table. Next to him is Catratsion. she has been like a sister to 519 . and though we do not expect you to remember such details. On the right there is Ovaltire. He is now the oldest among us and has watched over you for many years. I have mentored you now for six years. the smiles welcoming and even intimate. in fact. the youngest of the group.meeting under way. ‘Would you like to see out?’ Before she can answer. She looks around at the walls. Almost from the beginning. It impresses them and what harm is there in that?’ There are a number of seats formed in a circle. a small door at the far end of the chamber opens and a file of three persons enters. She is. were carefully bred by the Union. ‘We are your Mentors. and has involved much care and suffering for both the Guides and the Incarnates themselves. an artificial. Each smiles at her in turn.’ He stands away so that she can see him. I don’t know if you know this. We. ‘We’ve closed the windows already. I am.

She puts her hand out to her.’ He takes a deep breath. I want to assure you – of each Outing. ‘I am thirsty. So. ‘We know you do not carry memories – of necessity. eyes bright as she approaches. but we have developed the custom of outlining the project for you at the end of each of your Outings. but this time from the minority branch. saying: ‘Come. if you will bear with us just a little longer. Few will be aware of this.you through many of your crises. but the orient natals have contributed a greater proportion of their numbers to this project than almost any other branch of the human race. a little in front of the young artificial and so closer to the short line of doting natals and artificial.’ She grows weary during this address and feels she could take the liberty of sitting down in the nearest of the chairs. She says. ‘I am hungry.’ Then she adds in a separate breath.’ The artificial woman jumps to her feet and rushes over to her. And last but of course not least is Getrydi. I will take you to our little dining hall and there you will have whatever pleases you. I will try to explain in as few words as possible just what we are about. He is another natal.’ 520 .

She is stood in the centre of the booth. She finds that she is tremoring again. The artificial woman leads her across this chamber and through another door into what is obviously a hygiene booth. The artificial says.’ she croons tenderly. ‘I will leave you here while you are attended to. There are moments of extreme discomfort.’ Through the little door on the far side of the chamber there is a smaller chamber with arranged tables and chairs. drawing the door behind her.The blood on her thighs is congealed. gluing her to the seat. curtly but in a soft rounded tone: 521 . She whimpers in panic. The machine says. The hygiene unit is thorough.’ The artificial women immediately reaches to embrace her shoulders and draw her into her own warmth. but the artificial woman takes her by the hand and pulls her to her feet. ‘and we will deal with that also. ‘Come. her legs all goose pimples.’ She presses one of a row of studs just inside the door and quickly steps out. She clutches the hand that holds hers: ‘I am cold now. but at the end of the process she feels vastly improved in wellbeing.

’ 522 . She says. and pulls vigorously against the artificial woman’s restraint. my dear. Lengthy period of complete rest indicated. you must dress yourself. she draws back.’ But she is adamant. We did not know of your changed preference. ‘You have previously worn blue.’ She lays her arm across her shoulders and gently but firmly leads her out into the larger chamber. Will you come and choose a gown for yourself. That is proper.’ The artificial woman relents immediately. Then we can see to your sustenance. We must dress you. She crosses to the wall and presses there. beaming with pleasure to see her so revived. You should take note of this recommendation because you are in danger of dying.’ The door slides open again and the artificial woman reappears.‘Serious lesions detected. quietly but with obvious determination: ‘I cannot wear blue. so that a shallow drawer slides out from the wall. my dear. The artificial woman is patient: ‘No. When she sees the blue gown laid out across the back of a chair. my dear. ‘Now come.

She chooses a gown coloured vivid red.There are gowns laid in the drawer in almost every colour. ‘Now. I have no memory of you ever having worn such a bright colour before. which she sets down on the nearest table. saying awhile: ‘Such a bright colour. Perhaps then…’ She is now dressed and she says with brutal directness: ‘I am thirsty. and caffeine is available to the elites only. my dear. sit here. There are some low sounds and then she returns carrying a tray. I am hungry. The artificial woman notes her hesitation immediately and explains: ‘Yes. Tea contains caffeine. my dear. the artificial woman at once hurries away to a shallow alcove set in one of the walls. as for recovery – but the liquid is unknown to her. It gives clarity of mind. The artificial woman helps her don it. my dear. See what I have brought you. You had always preferred a more subdued tone. You will like it. 523 .’ The meal she recognises – comprehensive.’ Sure enough. that is what is called tea.

unfortunately. I know we are supposed to frown on such mass entertainment. my dear. but it can excite the irrational also. He sailed across what was then the Atlantic Ocean and discovered the American continents for the Europeans.you see. I find so much truth in them. blurting her words in her excitement: ‘I admire your missionary work. I have always wanted to play a part in an actuality. She drinks most of it straight away to counter her thirst. She says. The artificial woman has sat down opposite her. elbows on the table and leaning forward so much that her brows crease deeply right up onto her bald scalp when she looks at her. but I freely admit to watching the actuality shows when I can. Apparently he lived about one thousand five hundred years ago. They are on this ship on their way across 524 .’ The liquid is hot and bitter. but I want to tell you that I really envy the time you spend in the actualities. My favourite – can I tell you? There is this episode that I watch over and over. Look. they can be so life-like it’s sometimes frightening. there is a part in it that I must tell you about. I’m not sure how they are made – I mean. I mean. It’s about a man called Christopher Columbus. Yes. She too is drinking tea.

But.’ The artificial woman clasps her hands together as a sign of her contentment and says. “They will sink into even worse delusions if not. On board is an aristocrat called the Duke of Orro – who is a representative of some king who has an interest in the voyage. There is 525 . gazing steadily out at the huge red ball that is the setting sun.” Isn’t that a wonderful answer. suddenly wry: ‘I don’t watch many.’ He glances at her. this Duke and Christopher Columbus are talking up on deck. We must continue with the ceremony. The sun is setting before them into the blue ocean and it is very quiet. sir. glancing from the artificial man to her and back again: ‘What is you favourite actuality show.the huge ocean. ‘I’m not sure I have a favourite. your Excellency. “Does it not trouble your conscience. you see. Anyway. Petero?’ The artificial man must pause to think. saying: ‘There is not much time now. Then he says simply. And the Duke says to Christopher Columbus. yes. that you are about to lead whole nations into the deepest of delusions?” And Christopher Columbus pauses before answering. my dear?’ The door opens and the young artificial man enters.

grinning in the charming way he has: ‘Still it’s an interesting proposition. Time presses. The liquid she has drunk is having its effect. I can remember clearly the first time I heard it…’ The artificial woman – who also has had the benefit of the tea – cuts in. as though surprised to see him there. it’s where…’ The old natal enters the dining hall. I mean. bending slightly to peer down at the assembled artificials. No rules are set for us. The artificial man is saying.’ He presses a finger to his lips. remember?’ 526 . his brow corrugating with concentration. He speaks in a low voice. a tentative quality that indicates restraint: ‘Perhaps we should finish our business. my dear Ovaltire.’ She stares at the natal for a moment. Hence the reflex of looking around the now crowded dining hall. She feels like she is an utterly empty chamber that she has just left. as it were. ‘Well. artificials.one I have seen a number of times that strikes a chord. She looks around her. exploding into a thoroughly vapid mirth: ‘There is no hurry. closing the door after her.

The natal asks. And she looks around this chamber too. One of the panels in the wall behind him slides down.The natal is disturbed by the response of the artificials. a mark of respect that she doesn’t immediately understand. seeing him as though a sentinel fixed in place to mark a significant event. is alert to her. his voice steady despite her extreme distress: 527 . as though he expected her to return precisely when she did. He raises a thin hand in admonishment. Lady?’ She nods. She cries out and bends to escape that terrible light. The sun shines straight into her wide-open eyes. with his wrinkled ivory skin and narrow dark eyes. after-images flashing green and gold. The little natal. The natal nods in turn. she gets up from the table and goes into the other chamber. Her meal finished. He inclines his head and says in a very clear though small voice: ‘You wear red. how the inessential falls away once you have grasped the essential. The natal stands up as she approaches. seeing its utter vacuity too. then presses what seems a little dot on the thumb of his left hand.

then bends them down at the elbows. The screen rises and cuts off the sun’s light. She explains: ‘This being lives before the sun.’ 528 . fingers splayed. straightens up until she can look into the sun again. Lady?’ She answers directly: ‘I see green and gold flashing lights. hardly seeing it because of the residual flashing. It is a form she cannot comprehend. But like this. Lady?’ And then she sees it. with a given intent that surpasses her understanding. She turns her head to one side. Lady?’ She looks down at her palm. He walks over to her – she blinking again to clear the green and gold flashes from her sight – takes her right hand and traces a pattern across her palm with a long yellowed nail. The natal nods with satisfaction and presses the dot on his thumb again. asking as he does: ‘Is this what you saw.’ The natals asks again: ‘What do you see. I hear the rustle of many movements.‘What do you see. huge. ‘Yes. She opens her eyes.’ She extends her arms on either side.

wrapping his hands around each other – thin bony fingers with their long nails in a tight embrace – at his breast.’ He bows again. I mean. She sees that his hands remain tightly clasped against his breast. The door slides open behind her and she hears the surviving natal say in a low tone of finality: ‘Oh. This is significant. Catratsion. The artificial woman says brightly. don’t you see? We must each evaluate what we experience. She watches him slide down. Getrydi is dead. his bony arms hard against her back. I do you honour.’ The artificial man is saying: ‘…the principle well enough. though she doesn’t know why. only a low murmur as the fabric of his green gown abrades against the resistance of the flooring material. enjoying the conversation: ‘But that is just it. Then he drops dead on the floor. Then he steps back and bows low before her. Lady. is it true? How can we judge?’ The surviving natal comes and stands over the slumped body of the dead natal. you 529 . But.The natal steps forward and embraces her. ‘You have saved us all.

may find one truth in an episode and I – or anyone else, for that matter – might well find another. But that does not invalidate either truth. Don’t you see that?’ The artificial man responds: ‘No, that cannot be good enough, dear. There can be only one truth…’ She says, suddenly understanding and thus speaking with a fervent intensity: ‘He flies. You must understand this. He flies.’ The surviving natal says immediately, as though her speaking has stimulated him to speak also: ‘He said there would be a time. I never believed him. These orients took themselves so seriously, we believed.’ ‘…question of who is to know.’ The surviving natal turns slowly to her, bending in order to gain an intimacy: ‘What happened, artificial? Was it something you said?’ ‘But as I understand it, Petero, each participant acts according to his – or her – own lights. How could there be anything but individual truths?’ The artificial man comes to stand beside the surviving natal and takes to staring at the dead body on the floor. Then he sighs and says pensively:
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‘You know, Ovaltire, and he really wasn’t that old. I mean as they go.’ She says, turning with a blind instinct to the artificial woman: ‘You can see him flying before the sun.’ She points towards the screen that had been opened for her. The artificial woman stares at her with something like revulsion, then says loudly: ‘She gets madder each time, you know.’ The surviving natal nods. ‘But it is a demanding task, Catratsion. She must be allowed some latitude.’ And the artificial man says immediately: ‘Yes, yes. And you have to remember the memory loss she suffers each time.’ The surviving natal heaves a great sigh. ‘Well, Velcott always said it would come to something like this.’ He glances at both his artificial colleagues. ‘He believed that she loses part of her soul each time, you know. But, mind you, he never expected her to last more than ten years or so. He ended up in admiration of her resilience.’ He nods now towards her. ‘ He made me promise on his deathbed that I would never restrict her in any way, no matter how strange she became. And you two must remember that.’
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The artificial man says, very conversationally: ‘But, yes, you have to take into consideration the question of how such a situation could maintain coherence. I mean, if everyone does what they liked, why then do we not have chaos?’ ‘And even the Machine – much as we hate it – could not come into being from purely selfish motives,’ the surviving natal adds, thus showing that he has been listening to the artificials’ discussion. The artificial woman is surprised by the natal’s intervention. ‘But what is the organising principle then? I mean, what is really greater than the consciousness of the individual?’ She is suddenly overcome by agitation. She shouts: ‘Before the sun, do you hear? That you must understand.’ The artificial man glances at her just as he speaks: ‘I grant that. And I am sure Ovaltire here’ – gesturing towards the natal – ‘will do also. But yet the fact remains that selfish individuals trapped within their own individual consciousnesses nonetheless can act together in harmony.’ The artificial woman now becomes agitated. She steps back and trips over the dead body on the
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floor, falling heavily against a nearby chair. Both of her colleagues rush forward to help her. The younger and more agile artificial man reaches her first and helps steady her, just as she might topple forward in reflex and land on the body of the dead orient natal. The artificial woman is quick to recover, however, and she says, absently rubbing her scalp with both hands – the residual evidence of her recent shock: ‘I was going to say something, but I have forgotten it! That is so strange.’ The artificial man continues to support her by the elbow, though it is evident that the artificial woman has regained her balance. He says, bending close to her ear: ‘If you trace your train of thought perhaps, Catratsion. That can often help.’ The surviving natal also hovers close by, both hands up as he looks for a way to also help her. He says, nodding repeatedly: ‘Yes, yes, yes. That’s just the thing to do. Look, let me reprise. We are discussing the nature of the truth to be found in the actualities. Both Petero and I hold the view that there must be a presiding intelligence directing these shows, while you argue
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that each participant acts freely out of his or her own best judgement. But we…’ The surviving natal stops speaking abruptly when the artificial woman suddenly reaches and grasps his right hand and shouts: ‘Oh no! Not that, no, not that at all!’ She is surprised by her own vehemence and glances from the surviving natal to the artificial man with an increasingly sheepish grin spreading across her features. ‘No. I just can’t remember. I mean, that’s what’s so strange. I had a thought, and then it just dis…No, not a thought. Oh, I saw something. I mean this, Petero, I saw something.’ She starts crying loudly, gushes of tears, face riven by grief just like that. She wails loudly: ‘Oh, what did I see? What did I see?’ The surviving natal is becoming agitated now – perhaps the physical contact with the artificial woman induces this – and he too begins to sob, as though an abiding fatalism in his nature comes to the surface. There is the slightest jarring of the floor. It is left to the artificial man to try to bring some order to the situation. He draws away from his
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colleagues, feeling his way around the circle of chairs, saying as he does: ‘Oh, Catratsion, come on now. It’s not such an important subject, now is it? No one is saying that you are entirely mistaken in your opinion. In fact, there might well be some merit in it. After all, we are all free individuals to the extent that we can make mistakes. Isn’t that right? No one will ever insist that you are entirely wrong, but you must admit, for your part, that our argument must also be taken into account.’ The surviving natal frowns such a deep frown that the corrugation of his brow has the effect of drawing his hair forward in a very strange way. He releases the artificial woman’s grip on his hand and turns to face the artificial man. He speaks slowly with careful enunciation: ‘But that is just the point, Petero: how can blindness be regarded as a freedom? I mean, within the usual definition.’ The entrance door slides open and a small man comes bustling in. He is wearing a grey gown, over which is tied a long apron of some glossy black material. He also has a mechanism strapped around
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his head, a number of cables dangling from it over his shoulders and so down his back. The artificial man stops circling the circle of chairs – fully opposite the surviving natal and the artificial woman, as it happens. He visibly bristles, his eyes especially showing the strength of his reaction: they narrow and seem to sink into his head, so that they gleam like lights in caves. He speaks with an unpleasant abruptness: ‘Just because we are limited as individuals does not mean we cannot participate – and perhaps in certain cases participate fully – in the ongoing activities of the presiding intelligence. We are agents, even if we are not originals.’ The small man comes up to her, smiles in a way that indicates familiarity and reaches for her left hand. She immediately reacts by trying to pull her hand away, but the small man shifts his grip to her wrist – which is very thin – and so secures an unbreakable grip upon her. He pulls her to follow him across the chamber to the open door. She resists this, so the small man pats her left hand to reassure her and then draws her again to follow him. She does so this time, but still with some resistance and tensed to make a greater resistance should she feel the need.
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It is the artificial woman who responds the more strongly, an inarticulate cry escaping her tensed mouth, but it is the surviving natal who replies, however. ‘I do not intend to implicate the artificial alone here, Petero. Even the natal is an almost helpless pawn in this matter.’ Once he has drawn her to the open door, the small man seeks to move more quickly. She immediately jams both feet against the floor and utters a short ‘No!’ The small man smiles wanly this time, indicating some understanding of her situation. He signals that she should step out into the corridor beyond. When she baulks, he twists her wrist so that its inner surface is uppermost. He points at the dark indicator there and then points out into the corridor. ‘… would indicate this most clearly by the analogy with…’ She steps tentatively out into the corridor. The indicator lights up. She reads it as a reflex: 22,486,205 black; 3.76 green. She knows what this means, the delight springing in her as from nowhere. She looks at the small man, all resistance gone, and utters the blissful words:
537

‘I am wealthy.’ And then she calls out, another reflex response: ‘Situation?’ Immediately the voice resounds along the corridor, male in tone, curt and practical: ‘The Aeon Bubble. Forty six percent commit. Entering bulge. Projected yield eight point two percent over ten days. Secured to within point zero seven and falling.’ She is very pleased to hear this. She says to the small man – alongside whom she is now walking freely: ‘I am wealthy. I can go back to reality.’ The small man nods to reassure her, smiling but not saying anything. The corridor runs straight ahead, creamy white light glowing on the brushed metallic surfaces. There are doors at intervals along both sides. Then, as they approach, one of these doors slides open. The small man stops at it and indicates that she should go through. The chamber is small, intensely quiet, a couch in the centre, a control panel at its head. It’s not necessary for the small man to guide her anymore. She draws the gown over her head and
538

drops it on the floor. She climbs onto the couch and lays out flat, arms by her sides. She is smiling, filled with anticipation, the growing relief like a glow inside her. The small man takes one of the cables dangling from the instrument strapped to his head and – after gently turning her head to one side – inserts it into the socket at the top of her spine. He listens intently for a moment, then nods and smiles more widely than before. He withdraws the cable and she brings her head around to face him. He nods for her benefit. Now she is the one to smile broadly. He, meanwhile, has drawn up a thick tube from the side of the couch. He inserts it into one of the sockets in her navel. He then draws up a second tube and inserts that into the second socket there. Now he speaks for the first time, a small thin voice: ‘Are you ready?’ She nods emphatically. He reaches under the couch and at once she feels the rush of pleasure as the fluid begins to flow into her. He has come around to the top of the couch and is drawing a cable up from there. As a last gesture, he touches her brow lightly and asks:
539

‘Are you happy?’ Oh yes! She nods emphatically again. Then she turns her head away from him and waits for that special moment. He says: ‘I will count back from ten. Please listen attentively. Now.’ The cable enters the socket in her neck. ‘Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five…’

540

I will join him once I have completed my devotions. 541 . as though Vladimir Mitrofanovich might pronounce a blessing to forestall worse behaviour.The servant is still bowing. Both Sofya Vasilevna and Vladimir Mitrofanovich are disturbed by the sudden change of tone in the room. Excellency. ‘But. as best I can remember. He said. Sofya Vasilevna. for her part. but part also the uneasy distaste of those who do not wish to experience revulsion of any kind. “Tell His Excellency to carry on with the festivities. experiences a shock that presents itself as a shock of recognition. he did say that he would be along directly. part the easy cynicism of those willing to be cynical in certain circumstances. left hand to the Prince by his side and right hand to the Grand Duke just across the chamber from him. The latter is especially exercised by the negative elements – both the cheap cynicism and the more genuine aversion – but he waits until the servant has retreated to his quarters before raising his hands. Excellency. bobbing his head up and down.’ Both the Grand Duke and the Prince are sharing the same smirk.” That is what he said to me. It is a priestly gesture.

Not a satisfactory object of study: cold.’ She knows at once that the tone is wrong – too didactic – and this is indicated as quickly by Feliks Feliksovich. speaking also all of a sudden. He covers his uncharacteristic loss of mode by redirecting his attention to the burnt-out cigar he holds between the fingers of his right hand. my dear Feliks Feliksovich. She says. Madame.’ ‘Oh now.though she knows herself well enough to realise that what in fact is happening is a trick of memory. though in fact not so: ‘It is always the problem with gesture. but who says – as though in compensation. who raises his eyes to meet hers just a tad too sharply. When it presents itself as other than a convention.’ the Grand Duke says softly. Dmitri Pavlovich heaves a great sigh. speaking suddenly when she had not the remotest intention of passing any remark on the behaviour of the aristocrats: ‘It is curious how embarrassing we find the private religious practices of others. As though there is something unseemly in the purely personal. so profound a deflation that Sofya Vasilevna on the other side of the little table can hear 542 . that is. stumpy. with a whiff of stale tobacco about it.

but of what is admissible. rich buttery foods. But some attempt has been made to clean those teeth most easily seen. And he is aware of her sudden attention to him – to his clothing. dear lady. so that the front teeth exhibit panels of lighter surface against the general gloom of his mouth. that is – for he raises his eyes slowly to catch hers. the gums raddled by all manner of disease. And when he has achieved contact. coffee drinking. she has no reply for the Grand Duke. Yes? If a man claims to be god. but this fact never comes to light – Feliks Feliksovich has his own quick reply: 543 . he smiles a doleful smile for her and says in an openly conciliatory tone: ‘It is as ever. Unfortunately. They are seriously discoloured by years of cigar smoking. And Sofya Vasilevna thinks: Dmitri Pavlovich is exhibiting intimacy. but she is taken by the condition of the Grand Duke’s teeth. bow down or shoot him?’ His smile expands until it becomes a grin.how the stiff fabric of his jacket abrades across the smoother fabric of his waistcoat. even friendship. do we laugh it off. Sofya Vasilevna knows there is a challenge here. not the question of truth.

my dear Dmitri Pavlovich. It would be ungracious of her not to respond to this 544 . To wit. for his part. for Feliks Feliksovich turns abruptly at his side to glance at him. and has all the stains associated with such a function – has been unfolded palm upward on the little table between them. your Excellencies?’ Perhaps spoken too lightly. though not without him first registering its serious undertone. a more benign expression on his face now.‘Ah yes. so that Vladimir Mitrofanovich must be equally quick to dissimulate: ‘I would. He drops his hands into his lap – as a gesture of resignation – saying as lightly as he can possibly manage: ‘Would you not be jealous of such a man. then all men will want to be god. with the latter adding to increase the general humour: ‘Perhaps a walk on water?’ But this sort of humour passes poor Vladimir Mitrofanovich by. as I remember. your old riddle. for if one man can be god. glances again at Sofya Vasilevna.’ The Grand Duke. how do we judge such a claim?’ Both the Prince and the Grand Duke of course find this very amusing. and she can see that his hand – that customarily holds his cigar.

’ ‘Then pray. dear lady. ‘What higher truth. your Excellency. do not for an instant make that assumption. just a myth. genuine alarm written in all his features. his tone within an ace of the sarcastic.invitation. We are dealing with a fiction here. This is how the ancients communicated the higher truths to each other. if a man can be a god. our good Russian philosopher. ‘I beg you. straining forward towards the Grand Duke. beaming now on the flushed Sofya Vasilevna: ‘As the ancients understood it in the case of Dionysos.’ intrudes Feliks Feliksovich. something like relief – and perhaps an intense gratification – lighting up his face. Dmitri Pavlovich smiles broadly. as 545 . the Prince says. then that man is a god. by means of fable and myth. She lays her left palm down against the palm of his right hand. yes?’ ‘Oh no!’ This is Vladimir Mitrofanovich. he leaning forward too towards the agitated young man at his side. Is that not so?’ And as though fulfilling his part is this rather coy game. ‘And.

you call it. at least. but Sofya Vasilevna. Won’t you agree?’ She hears a quick sigh. thereby including everyone present in her audience: ‘Whatever truth can be gleaned from Arianna’s condition will surely be tangential to our modern assumptions. looking over to his good friend. the Prince. and feels pressure on the hand that lies in the grasp of the Grand Duke – she having forgotten she was thus held – and Dmitri Pavlovich says. for instance. are we to make of the Minotaur himself? What truth hides there?’ 546 .’ she interjects and then pauses to look around the compartment.’ And Sofya Vasilevna decides to capitalise on the situation by venturing another question. one she feels – she only now recognises – has always fascinated her: ‘What. ‘That is certainly a point that should be included here. are we to understand from the tale of the poor Arianna?’ The unfortunate Vladimir Mitrofanovich is too heated at the moment to notice the Prince’s negative intervention. is in a position to insert some kind of palliative: ‘But.

your Excellency. which must be expunged in order that the higher spirit within us can rise to its proper station. after all. Are we to reach for the ostler’s knife? Is that what you advise. holy Russian philosopher?’ 547 . The Minotaur stands for our lower nature. a woman was involved in his creation. who – startled all over again – rears up his head to stare hotly at her: ‘Himself? Do you imply that the beast is somehow to be regarded as human?’ This time it is Dmitri Pavlovich who acts to defuse the situation by inserting an element of good humour into their conversation: ‘Well. my dear Vladimir Mitrofanovich. I cannot allow this line of reasoning.’ But on this point Vladimir Mitrofanovich remains adamant: ‘No. though it goes against all good sense for me to insist thusly.She is surprised most of all by the response of Vladimir Mitrofanovich. after all. my dear Vladimir Mitrofanovich? Such an emphasis you place on that word. had asked for this information in the first place – he drawing back from the by now thoroughly upset young man: ‘Expunged.’ It is Feliks Feliksovich who responds now – who.

’ Sofya Vasilevna murmurs involuntarily. feeling some obligation for having broached this particularly tender subject. each with his hands pressed down onto his respective thighs. dear lady. He studies the cigar closely – rolling it between his fingers even – then observes even as he studies the burnt-out cigar: 548 .‘Ah no. then where will he spring from?’ It looks for a moment as though a real and genuine spat might erupt between the two gentlemen on the couch. They are staring at each other with fevered eyes. each consumed by the same wonderful fury. If this higher man cannot rise out of – to quote our educated friend here beside me – man as we find here on earth incarnated. But then the Grand Duke releases his hand from that of his companion on that side of the compartment and – by reflex – takes up the dead cigar that has rested on the edge of the ashtray at his elbow. ‘Perhaps this is too cruel?’ Here Feliks Feliksovich laughs the short bitter laugh of the melodramatist – a remarkably excessive gesture it seems to everyone else – and fixes his now hot eyes on Sofya Vasilevna: ‘Then it is a cruel subject.

The holy starets is coming!’ 549 . is cut down once and for all by the great Teseo. crying in his weak old voice: ‘Excellency. Well then. even Sofya Vasilevna herself seemingly taken up by a momentary reflection – and the curtain on the right lifts and in hurls the little old servant.‘But. that is what we are told happens in the myth. face alight.’ Now he raises his eyes to gaze with his familiar benignity from the Prince to the young philosopher. smiling his vague smile: ‘And remember also what gift the higher man – in this case the man-made-god Dionysos – grants out of his supreme power. he is coming now. and everyone settling down again – the Grand Duke still preoccupied with his wasted cigar. the two men on the couch sitting side by side in exactly the same posture (hands now only resting upon respective thighs). my dear Feliks Feliksovich. is it not? The Minotaur. part indeed out of an instinctive graciousness that would oblige the Grand Duke in almost every instance. but also because they both recognise that you cannot argue with a myth as you might with a philosophy.’ Both Feliks Feliksovich and Vladimir Mitrofanovich relent at once. the devourer of virgins. oh Excellency.

Instead. palms out and says in a hushed voice: ‘Please remember the limitations of our modern understanding. yet no one seems to notice. he says.’ All the men have their eyes at once riveted on her bosom. each expertly weighing the actual proportions of her discreetly compressed breasts. then runs back.The shrill voice pierces the thick atmosphere in the compartment. glancing from the animated woman to the animated servant. ‘But you wouldn’t want to exaggerate matters either. face suddenly animated as she breaks out of her daydream. where he bows low before Dmitri Pavlovich and pleads: ‘But your Excellency. The servant – consumed by his agitation – runs across the narrow compartment to the door there. here is a saint coming to sit among you gentlemen!’ At this point Sofya Vasilevna leaps to her feet. She raises her hands. that is. who cannot see her embonpoint quite so clearly from his position to one side of her. the Grand Duke. ringing his hands in an earnest and even wholesome display of acute anxiety. We must watch at all times for error. All the men sigh in response to their respective findings – except. would you?’ 550 .

faithful Alyoshka. obviously fearful the great saint will appear amongst them before the appropriate reception has been prepared. so much so in fact that it in turn 551 . he is a holy man. They even say that he has raised the dead back to life!’ This last assertion is intended to clinch the argument. The most notable response is Vladimir Mitrofanovich’s wince – the servant is standing closest to him. masters. for he stands up and raises his hand to quieten the servant.The servant is throwing repeated glances towards the velvet drape to his right. He has cured many of the people of their illnesses. when was the last time that the dead were asked if they wanted to be resurrected?’ It is a witty sally that Dmitri Pavlovich is quick to acknowledge. pray. But Feliks Feliksovich seems also affected by the uncomfortable sound. for the servant announces it in his shrillest voice so far. saying in his most facetious tone in order perhaps to restore some of the bonhomie to the little group: ‘And. saying in a naked attempt to impress the gathered nobles: ‘But. emitting a loud chuckle that sets his whole torso atremble.

but it is known to all that no man wishes to die. If he was about to venture a sally himself – as seems to be the case – the coughing renders that impossible. So it is left to his friend. mostly because he understands that he has offended his beloved master. if that was possible. the Grand Duke. at least for the moment. it is the servant who answers. to reply – his breath back under his control – which he does in the smooth tone he had learned as a child in his dealings with the contrary: ‘Ah. of course.sets off a fit of coughing. quails immediately. But he manages to stammer. what good does it do you to fall for the nonsense of a charlatan?’ The servant. standing up forthrightly to his social superior and speaking out without any obvious fear for the consequences: ‘Ah.’ For once Feliks Feliksovich can do nothing but stare at the audacious servant. even so: 552 . In any case. and partly the inescapable recognition of what a jackass he can be at times. you numbskull. your Excellency. partly mortified that such a lowly being could correct him before company in this way.

such a charism is not unknown. The 553 . of course.‘But. so that he blurts out. They say that God has incarnated in him!’ This.’ Now it is the turn of Vladimir Mitrofanovich – still seated and looking extremely calm.’ By now – with three of the four occupants afoot – the little compartment is becoming crowded. I have seen him heal others. surely. I swear before the Mother of God. they say he is the new Christ. who now jumps to his feet in his agitation and shouts out recklessly: ‘Don’t you dare utter such a vulgar superstition in this company! Remember who you are and where you are. for the servant is as though galvanised by this unexpected support from one of his Excellencies. And it would be as well to grant the benefit of doubt in this case. is too much for the spirituallyinclined Vladimir Mitrofanovich. Excellency. looking at the servant but obviously addressing the Grand Duke: ‘Certainly.’ It is an unfortunate intervention. given the circumstances – who says. the words obviously already primed within and ready for expression: ‘Oh. Seen it with my own eyes I have.

even tears sparkling in his eyes. Dmitri Pavlovich says quickly: ‘Oh there there. still toying with the dead cigar. He says.’ The servant has clamped his lips together.light. his thin face gone white. Then you can bring us some refreshments. don’t let it upset you so.’ Dmitri Pavlovich waves his free hand at his servant: ‘Oh yes. is he?’ 554 . the acrid odour of burnt tobacco evoking a succession of vague memories especially related to experiences of late-night ennui. Yet the Grand Duke remains at ease. Excellency. Alyoshka. is much dimmer. Go in now and wash your face. moreover.’ He turns his attention to the rest of the company: ‘Perhaps we should all resume our seats. huge erratic shadows looming on all the walls. that is what people say. Grigory Efimovich may be a holy man. but he is hardly worth all this excitement. comforted by these memories: ‘My dear Alyoshka. He turns to look at the Grand Duke: ‘But. but you do not have to repeat it with such enthusiasm. how many times have I told you to guard your tongue when there is company?’ The servant is startled.

‘Ah. intense gleaming eyes. a tall figure appearing there. come at last. your Excellency.’ resumes the Grand Duke. bald head. bowing a stiff shallow salute.’ The monk presents himself in the proper way to the Grand Duke.’ 555 . the entrance darkening. He lays it on the little table between the Grand Duke and Sofya Vasilevna.No sooner are they seated than the servant – looking extremely refreshed – reappears with a large tray bearing glasses and a bottle. Your intellectual fame extends further than you probably realise. a questing look at the servant: ‘Five glasses? And who…’ The curtain to his left is lifted. your Highness. ‘it is Grigory Efimovich. his thick lips pursing redly amidst the abundant hair. ‘Your willing servant. He bows more deeply for her. I have so looked forward to meeting you. my dear Lady.’ Then he turns to the Prince seated at his back and bows stiffly again. heavy peasant beard. ‘Ah. A quick count of the glasses and Dmitri Pavlovich asks. ‘And your humble servant.’ Then there is a nod for Vladimir Mitrofanovich – who responds in much the same manner – and then Grigory Efimovich can finally concentrate on the only lady present.

It is a tricky operation under the circumstances in the crowded compartment. So the first glass goes to his master. who nods civilly in accepting it. filling each of the five glasses to the brim. Sofya Vasilevna manages a tight smile. my dear Grigory Efimovich. then a glass for Vladimir Mitrofanovich seated at his side. distrusting immediately the word intellectual as it oozes from the heavy monk’s mouth. Back to the tray on 556 . saying in his best mock-cavalier tone: ‘Your ration. the Grand Duke. what with the holy monk making a ceremony of his entrance. First glass should go to the only woman present. as is the custom. but the monk has succeeded in taking control of all access to her. The servant has begun to distribute the glasses of vodka. my dear. so it is Dmitri Pavlovich who offers a reply to his compliment.The servant is meanwhile pouring vodka. ‘Ah. He immediately places it on the table at Sofya Vasilevna’s elbow.’ The servant has continued the distribution: a glass for the Prince. but you should perhaps grace the lady as it more suits your wont?’ The monk draws back at hearing this.

Feliks Feliksovich and Vladimir Mitrofanovich are seated side by side towards the centre of the settee.’ There is a crux here. then. monk. to discover only one glass remaining. tightly mantled in a typical black podryasnik: ‘We have resorted to this seating arrangement for your benefit. Dmitri Pavlovich offers a suggestion: ‘Perhaps on the settee alongside those gentlemen. saying loudly with a faintly sardonic edge: ‘Perhaps. both with eyes down. so my servant might serve you also.’ 557 . of course.the little table.’ Grigory Efimovich starts at the sound of her voice. He turns slowly – like a cornered dog – and says.’ There is a general clenching of jaws. Then Sofya Vasilevna says looking at Grigory Efimovich’s broad back. Lady. Dmitri Pavlovich spares the old man confusion by raising the glass he had himself taken. apparently studying the clear liquid in their glasses. Grigory Efimovich. The monk takes the trouble to look around the compartment. you might be seated. bending so that his intense eyes come close to hers: ‘All will die when I die. No one moves.

Now the servant can complete his task of distributing the glasses of vodka. Dmitri Pavlovich transfers his cigar to his left hand and takes up his glass in the now freed right. for instance – but yet no two in the little group are less willing to accommodate each other. glancing around at 558 . perched no doubt on one buttock while wedging his shoulder against the party wall at his side. Now please sit there by the good Vladimir Mitrofanovich. He smiles his more measured smile. his tone light and bantering: ‘And all live while you live. Is that it. holy man?’ Grigory Efimovich will turn again to face his new tormentor.’ It is the obvious choice – in terms of seniority. who I’m sure will accommodate you. Grigory Efimovich. So Grigory Efimovich must content himself with a corner of the settee. saying: ‘You make yourself fair game for this cruelty. but the Grand Duke raises his hand – the one holding the dead cigar – just a fraction and makes as though to clear his throat.It is Feliks Feliksovich who replies.

’ The vodka is drunk in one mouthful. The servant collects the glasses. convulsed by a very strange feeling indeed.each member of the group. 559 . He jumps to his feet. her eyes suddenly vivid with intoxication. ‘And the beast devours the woman?’ This from Dmitri Pavlovich in his mildest tone. She says. She says. departs in silence. They all breathe a sigh as the alcohol infuses them. now that we are all together at last. her mouth uncharacteristically slack. then raises his glass and says: ‘So a final toast. She breaths deeply. the men watching her face expectantly this time. our inspiration.’ Grigory Efimovich flares with intense hatred. as though some other being lurks within her. To Arianna. stepping towards Sofya Vasilevna so that he looms over her. as is the custom. looking directly down into the black eyes of Grigory Efimovich: ‘God in man is a beast. Then Sofya Vasilevna stands up. The men go to rise but she signals them to remain seated. as though the earlier conversation is being resumed. lays them in order around the bottle on his tray.

Grigory Efimovich catches the movement from the corner of his eye and swings about and makes a grab at the gun. The light is intense here after the shadowy gloom. a reflex insight that comes to her like a reminder: 560 . seeing it then reflected an infinite number of times.’ He reaches inside his jacket and produces a heavy military revolver. She can register a thought nonetheless. He glances at the Grand Duke then lets his eyes run down Sofya Vasilevna’s body to her bosom. Vladimir Mitrofanovich draws a pistol from his jacket pocket. Still seated. saying spitefully: ‘And you believe that your science can protect you?’ Feliks Feliksovich now rises to his feet. speaking in the deliberate tone he uses in such situations: ‘And you no doubt believe your god will protect you. The apparently instantaneous recession stuns her and induces a swoon. but she catches sight of her reflection immediately. aims it up towards the back of the monk’s head and fires. Sofya Vasilevna edges around the staggering Grigory Efimovich and steps through to the other compartment. peasant.Grigory Efimovich takes these remarks badly. receding in both directions in the facing mirrors.

‘You are a very brave woman. Now Feliks Feliksovich enters the compartment. ‘Courage in a woman is the greatest virtue. Drawing deeply on the lit cigar. dear Sofya Vasilevna?’ He helps her to a chair. He says in his more usual cheerful tone: ‘Ah.Do I dare understand? The Grand Duke enters the compartment just in time to steady her. ‘Perhaps you should sit down. He lights it with one of the lucifers from the box on the little table at his side. his whole body rocking back and forth in sympathy.’ Dmitri Pavlovich nods agreeably. preoccupied with straightening his clothes. my dear friend. Sofya Vasilevna. 561 . I see you are settled in already. he exhales a long slow plume of smoke. then seats himself across the compartment from her.’ He bows his head towards her.’ Dmitri Pavlovich draws a cigar case from an inner pocket and extracts a fat cigar. composing his clothes about himself in a habitual way.

then announces: ‘Well. I know I have told the story before. He is unusually flushed. his features set. I thought I might relate my adventures in Siberia some years ago. his clothes somewhat awry. Feliks Feliksovich returns the younger man’s nod. but I believe it will serve as a agreeable diversion while we wait for dinner. He too takes his seat.Vladimir Mitrofanovich now enters the compartment. He nods once and then takes his seat at the little table. across the table from the Grand Duke. across from their female companion. now that we are all here. He wiggles once or twice to settle himself into his seat. even a little grim. What do you say to that?’ 1 May 2007 – 3 December 2008 562 .

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