The Augmented World – The Straits of Understanding

The reason they go insane and I don’t has to do with their conception of time. No matter how many times they’ve been on this journey with me, and some of them are descendants of others who had traveled this far as well, they still cling to the idea of “before” and “after” the Straits. For them, this section of sea, flush between the City and some other place which only members of my family can name, is a definite thing. It has borders, it starts and it begins, in both space and time. By clinging to this delimitation, they believe they can preserve their sanity; it codifies their reactions and emotions regarding our journey. When we’re “before”, they are worried. They have a dozen soldier’s rituals, who are well used by sailors on every water, little anxious tics revolving around gear and vassal that gives them something to do. “After” is something to be looked ahead to, a time of calm and relative stability “after” the Straits and before our destination. These templates of thought take a lot of the load off, denying their minds an escape into meta; how to do things has been predetermined by these mental categories and what things are there to do has been predetermined by me, in my stand in role as tradition.

Thus, the journey is filled with song and the creak of greasing gear and a million other sounds that make up a ship and I let all of those things happen, worthless though they are. To be honest, it also takes some load off of my shoulders. My men ease into their routines and away from my thoughts, slow moving caterpillars of ice that are already moving towards the other place. But now, as I stand on the prow of the ship and the narwhal crests the waters, waters teeming with millions of lives, those routines snap around them like shackles, tightened by the truth all around them: there is no “before” or “after” the Straits. Everything we know and see is but the skin surrounding the core of being that makes up the Straits and the lives within it. In essence, all lives are within it; to say that it’s a source would be to misunderstand the point exactly but it would also not be wrong. The narwhal’s horn crests our mast and its body keeps going, a gigantic mass rising towards the sun in a gesture that feels coordinated for us but is, of course, only coordinated for its own sake.

By the time its shadow lies across the full berth of the vessel, the wails of the crewmen have died down, collapsed as they are on the deck. Now, I am alone to witness something that has been promised me since I was a child old enough to understand. To understand that life outside of this moment, insomuch as it even existed, was but a pale shadow of this; that it wasn’t really that everything before this was a preparation for this but that this was the cause and reason of all that came before. That nothing had really come before; that now, as I was looking out on a stretch of ocean that seemed empty of water and instead filled with gold (that much life was teeming in its midst, golden flickers of energy drowning out the blue) was the first time that I was truly living. All of this raced across my mind as the narwhal, great Gatekeeper, Lock and Key Both, a distant prince to end all princes, rose and fell back to the ocean. From here on out, even though time had ceased to exist the moment the gate had been unlocked and the my body was drowned in the shimmering of shadows, I would be judged by how I dealt with this event. How I dealt with never returning here, with never being alive again. This was, beneath all the mundane secrets, beneath all the rumors the denizens of the City told about us, the real secret of the Galadcar; we were all dead for most of our lives, breathing and actually existing for a brief instant, in the time it took the narwhal to crest, overshadow us and then fall again, in the time that it didn’t take to cross this stretch of ocean, in the time it took to navigate the Straits of Understanding.

My watch had ended here and a different duty lay ahead; what it was, I didn’t know. I never found out whether my ancestors in the tribe were just unwilling or incapable of telling me what happens beyond the Straits; it’s possible that language fails beyond that which is infinite, beyond the only thing/time/place that really exists. I was about to find out, all in due time. But it was clear to me that, no matter what shared wisdom I was already the recipient of (the lifeforms in the water, manifested as fish of many hues, were whispering to me stories and facts that would feel a thousand books, could they ever be printed, words that every one of my ancestors had also heard, multitudes of lives and perspectives now contained within me, like so much reagent in a stoppered beaker, reacting furiously within), that this time would be different and unique. Somehow, even though “before” the Straits was an illusion, even though all steps on the road that led to here were already measured, I had done something different. Who knows how? Who can say, even now that I have been touched by the shadow of the narwhal (even as its bone once again peeks above the water, letting in just a bit more of magic into the world), how I managed to stray from the course, how I had managed to tell the story differently? But I did; the evidence was right there besides me, in the form of the guardsman who was, somehow, awake and (relatively) sane; sane and furious. His eyes encompassed all he saw, the endless multitude of life in the ocean, the truth of the Straits of Understanding, the reality of it all, and his heart exploded within is chest with fury. I knew this one would be a problem; his rage was already being beaten inside of him into a sword, a blade which ran with the words that were already echoing in his mind: “how could they keep this to themselves?”. And, as we all well know, once a sword is forged, it will find a target. It will create a target if one is absent and, for human rage, for human demands for explanations, for human limits of time and space, for the need of humans to get their answers, there is no shortage of targets where we are going, beyond the Straits of Understanding, into the realm of that which not only exists, but exists beyond.

The Augmented World – On the Pulling Away From Things

The white color of the clouds on the golden ambiance of the sky makes everything seem flat. In the distance, I can just make out the outline of the buildings under whose shadow I’ve made my life. One of those shadows seems larger and it is; it’s hard to define but the wall towers over even the horizon. And yet, it’s the City behind it which captures my attention, my heart, beating under a crimson not unlike the color of the blood which it pumps. I grasp the rails slightly harder as a particularly tall wave shakes me from my reverie. They tell me that this is nothing, that we’re not even out at sea proper but, for me, it seems as if the sea is doing its best to buck my balance and unsettle me. Not that it needs to do much work; I am already unsettled and me admitting that is a sign of it. After all, the whole point of what I do is that I am never unsettled.

That’s what people get wrong about guards or other such characters which are there to “enforce the peace”. They think that, like coiled springs, we are measured when the action begins, when the tension in our tendons is released and we, excuse me, spring into action. But that’s not the case at all; the action is the boring, unimportant part. Rather the containment of potential, the embodying of a possibility, is where we are most measured. By ourselves, that is. Competence among guards (and those other characters I mentioned, like painters or architects) is a ranking of restraint, a hierarchy of control. “Who are you before the water rushes from the mouth of the mountain? What is the depth of your aquifer, how deep do the waters in your bones go?” these structures ask.

This is, naturally, a result of the role we play. People have gotten this wrong as well, for centuries; guards aren’t there to stop crime or to fight wars or to eject the undesirable. They’re there to anticipate those things, to be there right before the spring uncoils and the mechanisms of action take over everyone. None of us high up on those lists kid ourselves; it doesn’t matter how fast you get or how calm you train yourself to be, when the ideas turn into words and the words turn into bodies moving through space, all of that flies out of the window and you’re left with guts and pain and grunts and willpower and just being too goddamn stubborn to die. All the stuff about uniform and tactics and commands and the rest comes before that. And that’s why they’re so important, the only thing that’s important in this line of business; with the rest, you just throw the die and lower your shoulder and barge through and hope for the best. The stuff that comes before is the art.

Here’s the problem I find myself in though, as the City slinks past beyond the horizon and the odd tricks of light which gave the Shimmering Sea its name begin to occlude my ability to scan the horizon. The problem I’m in is that the sea doesn’t care about any part of that. It doesn’t care about the before: ever tried to bark commands at your friend to impress the sea? Doesn’t work. That in and of itself is not that big of a deal; lots of things don’t care about the before and to deal with those things, we carry big swords and we train with them a lot. But the sea doesn’t care about the after either, the moments that come once words are done. For what shoulder can push against the waves? What willpower is there stronger than the inexorable pressure exerted by the sea on anything in its path?

Thus, the sea stands more than just aloof, apart or distant. People have gotten this wrong as well and that’s their worst mistake; the sea is not just a place to which you go but a road leading away from all places. It is what you must go through when you leave the City. It’s more than the other; it is the road to all others, it is the ultimate instruments in the act of pulling away from everything. And the thing about pulling away, the thing about leaving the City, is that it un-spools your meaning. That’s what the wall stands for; that’s what makes the City exist. That is the one true weak point of guards and police and painters and architects and street cleaners. They don’t exist without context and context doesn’t exist without relationships and relationships don’t exist without multiplicity and on the sea there is no multiplicity. There is only one. There is only the water.

And so, I am left with little choice but to form context. Turning away from the City and its walls, turning away from the fading brightness of the fading day, my red cloak billowing behind me in the rising wind, I walk towards the gullet, towards the stairs descending into the belly of the ship. They’re waiting there for me, my new family, the only family I have here, on the monolithic water. I have no choice but to speak with them, have no choice but to secure my own meaning in relation to them so that this sea doesn’t swallow me whole. Even if their language is blood, pain, violence and aggression, I must converse with them. I can already hear the whir of the bone drill warming up below. This is the art. The before. The how you deal with potential. With who you are before the pain begins. The what will you do to belong, knowing that belonging is the only hope any of us have against eternity. Knowing that, on the sea, pulling away from things is only natural but that in naturalness lies the death of all you are, the un-spooling of the ligaments which keep your identity alive.

The Augmented World – Brittle Bones

I stand on the sleek boulevard overlooking the dock and my bones are filled with frost and duty. They tell me someone from my family has always stood on this spot, this or one very much like it, looking out towards the Wavering Sea which lies outside the City. My hands ache, tugged towards the water as if the ice in my veins longs to return to its former, more relaxed state, to roll gently to and from both sides of the body of water. I can’t help but lean a bit further on the rail, as if the salt has one hand on the small of my back and two fingers in my nostrils, pulling me closer and closer to its abode. Around me, the busy traffic on the boulevard is as brisk as ever, although its easy to detect people picking up their pace as they pass by me. I snort, causing two boys who were just getting close to skip their stride and cast frightened glances towards me. From their reaction, slightly more than I am used to but nothing too out of the ordinary, I can gather that the storytellers have been plying their trade well recently. The man next to me, clad is he is in his crimson raiment, walks softly towards the boys and assures them that everything is alright in his golden voice. This one will be a problem.

They tell us, my family that is but also all denizens of the City, that the sea was here before us but not by much; right after the glacial melt turned this massive dust bowl into an enclosed ocean (“right after” in geological scale, of course), a Galadcar came from…somewhere and looked out across it. That somewhere constantly changes, revolving around a choice of tired tropes; we either came across a mountain or from a forest or from a land so far away that its name only means “The Far Place” or some other nonsense that the storytellers feel would loosen people’s purses. Wherever we came from, we’ve been here for ages; now there’s a City here which mistakes us, me, as part of it, rationalizing our presence so that it makes sense inside their municipal narrative. Almost a physical extension of that narrational effort, the lights of the City spill out over my shoulders and towards the sea, obscuring the stars and lending the wave-foam a glitter, as if a thousand pearls were scattered into the night air with every susurration of the waves. The lights of the City spill over me just like any other person, enfolding me in their possessive embrace, luminescent versions of the City’s attempt to incorporate us into something which makes sense.

Like the people now walking around me, to and from their early evening business, who smell the ages on me, the storytellers and mayors and aldermen created a vacuum around us inside which they could cast us, me, into appropriate roles. Guardians, watchers, those who stand at a border, perhaps the least understood border of the City, the border with the sea. A border which never stays still, which constantly moves and from which comes the dual blessing of magic. They call it the Wavering Sea because, like all bodies of water, it defies definition and demarcation. But they also call it that because, without it, the City would waver, and they feel that incosistency, that dependence in their bones, in the same place frost and duty live in my own skeleton. As the crimson-clad man returns to my side,  I consider his kind’s role in all of this. They are the visible sentinels of the City, patrolling its streets and assuring everyone that everything will be just fine, that all is in order since they, their sentinels, had killed all there was to be afraid of. They, by which I mean both the citizens who occupy its streets and the shadowy structures which rule them, don’t like to recognize the unusual nature of their demesne, shoveling the remnants of how the world was made into the realms of stories and histories, so that they can ignore that the stories are real and that they walk their streets. And we? We’re the postman stationed at the door underneath the bed, the portal through which the magic pours in, holding the portal closed enough to keep the worst of the night out but not so closed that the nocturnal part which makes brains exist, disappears. While our more visible counterparts destroy the odd thing that makes it in.

A perfect balance then, one which affords the City the wavering of reality on which its existence relies while keeping out the worst of what would seek to undo its precious routine and stability. Which is, of course, nonsense. Magic does indeed pour in from the Wavering Sea but we were here long, long before the City ever needed a psychological scapegoat, a guardian whose job it is to allow them to forget that which he is guarding from, long before these…Guards ever began their assignations. The pain in my fingers increases and my heart starts beating faster. My sailors must have hoisted the sails; I can feel it deep within, my own personal, internal glacier shifting in the face of the prospect of return, another voyage on the skin of its ancestors, its liquid forefathers. The voyage is inevitable now, not that there was ever a real doubt of that; the narwhals have been riding high recently, the tell-tale surges of their presence increasing in size, the more philosophical parts of their existence pushing against the proverbial door. I knew this was coming, as always; I had woken up last week from dreams filled with horns braying over open water, a sound no human should ever be forced to here as frequently as I have, right before the City Guard had knocked on my door. I walked up and opened it before he had the chance to rap on the wood and prepared my best cynical smile, a preparation which proved for naught as his eyes captured me for an instant.

The blaze of conviction there was something I had seen only several times and not good times, either. Down here in the warrens and alleys of the City’s neighborhoods most close to the Docks, that kind of eyes was a boon to a Guardsman looking to do his job. But out there, on the ever shifting skin of age-old glaciers, that kind of conviction would only serve as a lure, a draw, siren song to the primordial forces that still swam below/above the Wavering Sea. Nevertheless, I knew he would be joining me on this tour, this beacon of civic duty, this towering mountain of red-clothed flesh and willpower. I put on my smile, finally, already setting in motion my vessel’s preparation with a few hand-signals thrown towards the lookout always keeping watch over the portal to the Galadcar abode. “Listen closely” I said, cleaving through his astonishment at my timing, “if you’re to come with me on this trip, there needs to be an understanding between us. Out here, you shine your light into the shadowy places and the shadows recoil

Out there”, I point gruffly at the sea from the boulevard, drawing the soldier’s attention from the scampering children, “the brighter you shine your light, the bigger the shadows become. Do you understand?”. He nods and tries to swallow his panic stealthily, so that I don’t see it. But I do; he is not ready. His mind is too sharp and there’s too much weight behind it; the bones of who he is, the words that make his story and his family’s story and the story of his house and his street and his City, are too brittle. My bones ache, the terrible onus of my family’s years and calling descending upon my shoulders, the frozen torrent of eons running alongside my blood, freezing the core of me. We’re all going to die on this tour, probably. But when has that not been the case? The sails are fully hoisted now and the wind catches them, the wind which blows from the Wavering Sea and I am no longer my own person, no longer in full control of my own body. Duty rides me now and I spring over the rail and on to the docks, only slowing a moment to see that the soldier follows suit. He does and thus, with the first salt spray that plays across his brow, the sea claims him.

The Augmented World – Doublebreeze

The City (obviously[naturally{of course}]) exists in many versions of reality. I don’t like the word “dimensions”, which you might have expected here. It’s too rigid, too quantifying. The City’s existence alongside these axes is much more fuzzy, much less clear than the word “dimensions” would allow; there are no manuals to all the different directions a street can bend within it. However, most (and by most, I mean “almost all save me, perhaps there’s someone else but I haven’t met them yet”) citizens of the City don’t interact with these realities beyond the possession of the knowledge that they exist, a faint awareness of the possibilities lurking just to the side of the cobblestones they know and love. Thus, any exciting tales of travel, whether through time (now there’s a “dimension”!) or the self or genealogy, any exciting ideas of alternatives, of a very safe jaunt into what-could-have-been, are snipped in the bud by the impossibility of access. The denizens of the City continue to live their singular lives, whether boring or exciting, without the thrilling possibility of encounter, of conflict, of friction that is generated when one faces choices they have made and perhaps should have made differently.

Except for on one street. Silver Street lies in the western part of the City, but not so close to the water that you’d call it a beachfront. Instead, it’s one of those winding paths you get in neighborhoods that used to be docks,  a narrow passageway which recalls warrens, carts plodding along and brisk commerce managed from the same houses in which the owners lived (every building was “mixed use” in the past, before the curse of modernism). On good days, when the wind was coming off of the waves in any measure, the smell of salt, fish and wood flooded its air. The people who lived on Silver Street were wholesome if not fancy, dotted with the odd protogentrifier, the smell of money but not too much money mingling with that of the salt/wood to create a weird scent that was not entirely uncomfortable. Now, the area had changed but not all for the worse. Not for the City clear divisions between good and bad, sharp lines in the sand/concrete, easy definitions of what does or doesn’t make sense. Eventually, while the traditional storefronts are all long gone, they were replaced by boutiques of many types, people trading either their niche crafts or the niche products made from said crafts, catering to those who frequented the area for its “charm” and “allure”. Oh, and in Silver Street the veil (“border” is much too tight a word, going well with “dimensions”, which I had earlier discarded) between realities is thin.

It isn’t thin enough to allow people to fall through. It wasn’t thin enough that Silver Street became a hub, a center from which spokes struck out to other realities, facilitating tourism of the oddest kind. No, it wasn’t thin enough for any of that but it is thin enough for oddities to assault the senses and often take those unaware (which again, as far as I know, was everyone but myself) on a heady trip through uncertainty, self doubt and double guessing as they muttered to themselves things like “Argent Street? Pretty sure I turned on to Silve…oh, that’s odd” or “My barbershop is gone! The City changes so fast these days. Oh! It’s…on the other side of Silver Street? What an amusing lapse of memory!” and so on, and so forth. It is thin enough to allow the odd thing to travel its loosely defined tundras and prairie lands (some of the realities had actual tundras and prairies, realities where the City had never come to be) such as small animals, trinkets, food, or even a peculiar smell or some other trick of the senses. Oh, and it also allowed those with the right knowledge, perspective and internal makeup (that is to say, me)  to ever so slightly push on the elusive ligaments of Silver Street and emerge in some other place.

Alright, I’ll cut the flowery structure and get to the point. My name is Edmond Doublebreeze. No, Doublebreeze is not my given surname. Yes, Edmond is my given first name. No, I won’t tell you what my actual surname is. Doublebreeze is what I mostly go by, a moniker I had selected for myself quite a few years ago to play a game with those around me, a game like a decidedly devilish criminal might play on the police before the clever detective comes along to defuse, a game whose central move was to hide who you were in plain sight. Ever since I can remember myself, I was the fulcrum of two, internal winds. Not mutually exclusive, they would often blow at the same time and mingle into a strange regiment of prevalent winds, a barometric map of my psyche. One isthe afternoon/evening breeze, an intoxicating thing blowing off of the sea the City resides on. It is a frivolous thing, like a child pregnant with the mythical knowledge awarded to children which is, at the end of the day, mystery. It leads me winding through the streets, heart full at the sight of a couple kissing, or a tree blooming, or shadow falling on the corner of the street like so, alighting everything by contrast.

Its fellow is, in a city which, again, does not suffer clear divides, a darker but not more malignant type of wind. It is the heavy wind of night, of pre-dawn, a stifling thing all jagged edges and whipping coattails. It sends me into a contemplative mood, a bloated melancholy that feasts on loops and internal speculation. And yet, I have done some of my finest work under its auspices, my eyes made sharp by the churning air, prickled to sensitivity by the acrid flavors of the latter wind. Why am I telling you all of this when you clearly care about Silver Street and its, for lack of a better term, magic? It is because these streams, these double breezes, somehow tie me to that street’s character. How? Don’t ask me; does the sailor know how the wind fills their sails? Of course they do but I’m not a sailor and none of this is a trade or science. It is just the way things are wired; when the breezes blow strongly through me, whether together or alone, I am inexorably drawn to Silver Street and its strange twists and turns and I can make that street twist and turn.

It’s nothing so conscious as those words might hint at; there is no will, no magus’s gesture. Often, when the winds are blowing especially strong and it feels like my fingertips might catch lightning, I don’t even notice I’m there, not to mention heading there. I stumble into the familiar square, where Silver Street adjoins with Coronation, and pass the wide-door’d knick knack shop that coronates Silver Street. I walk a few more steps, laughing or crying or shouting, and, suddenly, I am somewhere else. Once that transformation happens, the breezes disappear as suddenly as they came and my psyche is becalmed, left to motivate itself by its own devices. Usually, that’s not a problem; the alternative to Silver Street is motivation enough by itself. It’s not often dangerous (although some versions I’ve stumbled upon have contained some form of weird, urban violence) but it is always fascinating. The other Silver Streets don’t exist in a vacuum; it’s not a universe full of alternatives of just this one street! How dull would that be?

Instead, the entire world around Silver Street (now there’s a Jerusalem for you) is also alternate, different, reconfigured. Is it because of Silver Street? That is, is Silver Street somehow so important that any changes to it are reflected in the world around it? That thought depresses me and so I answer, to myself since who would I have this conversation with, in the negative. It’s just that every Silver Street needs a world within which to exist and thus, whatever malevolent hand set the world(s) in motion, gave it a place which corresponds to it. On the aforementioned Argent Street, the City is a small commune that lives on the trade generated by nearby apple orchards. On S.I.L.V.E.R St., the neighborhood is dominated by personality merchants who cut and tailor opinions and moods to suit their customers’ wishes for the day. On Sterling Alley, the people wall wear top-hots except for on the 23rd of April where they shower each other with books and gives children roses. On S Way, talk is only allowed in whispers and serifs are currency, the rich owning all the sharp sounds they might wish for. And, finally (and one of my personal favorites) on Mercury Drive, the lights are all inverse and they make the most beautiful paintings in the world.

“Doublebreeze must be rich”, you’re now probably thinking, my dear guest. “How is he living in this, frankly and not to be rude, run down apartment? He has probably traded on the riches of a million versions and made a fortune!” your head is telling you, in that behind-my-eyes voice we all have. But, my dear guest, the fact is that I am not rich, not in the way citizens of our own City think of wealth in any case. I have always had my eyes and ears and olfactory senses geared towards one thing and one thing only. When the breezes blow through me and make my gait light as ball lightning or ponderous as a pachyderm or a mixture of both (resulting in a lurching dance of sorts, one part of me flying through the air after my own heart while another drags itself into the dirt), they eventually take me to the ever-winding ways of Silver Street in search of only one thing.

Dessert. In all versions of Silver Street, like all things are different, there are desserts. There are patisseries and boulangeries and boutique stalls and family owned bakeries and glazers versed in the Seventy Arts of Cooking and wonderful alchemists that wield their science in the ever elusive search of culinary perfection. And I shop at all of their places of business and I take back with me that and only that; desserts. I am the knight of the buttressed cake, a duelist of the rarest Order of the Pastry, a marvelous baron in the byzantine court of desserts! And here, in this shabby apartment, living my not-quite-ordinary life in the prison of my double breezes, I, Doublebreeze, partake and store and catalog said desserts. Come, come my guest, up you go and do set aside that dreadful cup of coffee I make for those not initiated (for I have had this conversation with select citizens of our City before, because eating alone, and especially dessert, is boring) and follow me into the Solarium and gaze upon

Apple dumplings from Eastern Pennsylvania, shipped to Argentate Boulevard at ludicrous expense, sachertorte straight from the hands of Franz Sacher while Metternich calls in at 361 Bright Lane, kunefe from Acre, sweet as dreams, chajá from Uruguay so fresh it still remembers the green plains where its dairy came from purchased at quite a price on our very own Silver Street from a lady underneath a pecan tree, mamounia from Aleppo, cream-y surface steeped in the history of ages pilfered for a smile by me from a lovely gentleman with quite gentle hands on the turn of Pearl Avenue as it spills into the ocean, marzipan from Toledo, still ringing with the sugary love that made it, Saint Honore from the well-lit streets of the City of Light blessed by the touch of the Living Saint who still walks its cobblestones at night, whispering to chefs who come to speak with him from all over the world, and all sorts of cakes, donuts, pastries, chocolate, and delights besides and all of them sampled and returned here by me from the alternate versions of this City. Possessed by my winds, set alight by flickering fire and doused by unplumbed depths, I gallivant from place to place on an endless quest for the perfect Chalice, one which I complete again and again: a quest for dessert.

Now, my guest. Shall we eat? I feel a light breeze blowing from the sea, carrying with it magic and peace and sanity and pleasure. Come, let’s eat! The doublebreezes blow.

The Augmented World – Yggdrasil Rising

My personality is a tatter made of bits and pieces of other people. The wind is high in my ears as I step outside of the school, briefly chill before I hug my coat tighter around me; it smells of rain and far away places, maybe the hill I am on acts as some sort of geographical receptacle for other points in space. The sun is setting but it’s not dark yet. Magic hour. I collect parts of people’s personalities that I find beautiful, useful, or fitting (all words for the same thing) and attach them to my own. A tree towers above me and, even though I am not stranger to the sensation, I take special note. This memory will be carved into my narrative, I suddenly know. The chill is heightened by the way the leaves’ green tinges the shade thrown by the tree, pink light of the climaxing sunset scattered between the organic holes in its tapestry. It gets colder but I don’t move; the wind is still blowing. I am a hub; I am the connector of disparate memories, disparate monads, disparate holes in the tapestry of the universe that we call “perspective”.

In the south-eastern periphery of my sight, quite long during magic hour on a hill, lies the City and a tree towers over it. Ağaç Ana reaches its hands into the sky, holding it in place. I smile. My own tree seems smaller (which, like all trees, it is) by comparison and that makes it seem more intimate (which, like all trees, it is). I take a step towards it and the wind increases. It is decidedly cold now. As my personality broke around the hardest day of my life, I realized that in rebuilding it, I could not repeat the same mistakes of my youth; monoliths are too fragile. Hours I set and tried to plan my own self while it, of course, coalesced silently into this hub. The wind suddenly changes direction and the air is filled with pollen; the tree is blossoming in the middle of the snap freeze, an Indian Winter. I raise my chin slightly into the wind and let the air blow around me, drawing tears from my eyes that are then whisked away. The tree stands in the midst of a roundabout and, around us, is a town.

Starting to walk is hard but I manage it. I have appointments in the City, mechanisms of ritual that the social unit does not suffer delay in. My tree walks with me, in the sense that I never really leave it; I leave behind a part of me that I, perhaps, picked up a month or a week or a lifetime ago. The hub molts, periodically (do not ask me of the cycle, I don’t know) and is an agile thing. As more pieces of people are added, so too pieces leave. This is useful; I am in may places at once. The road, slightly in need of repair, curves down the semi-golden ranges of the hill, leading to a highway. A highway towards the City, naturally. I have appointments. Above me, closer now, Ashvattha encompasses the sky, its multitude of branches reaching to the stars themselves. Count them: Cygnus, Alshain, Zhinü ducking underneath the cover and spinning her threads which hand across her million siblings. Walking the road, my thumb out for the kindness of strangers, I hug my tree.

Lights stop and then accelerate again and, suddenly, I am moving much faster towards the City. I will make my appointments. “What do you do” asks a voice beside me. “I gather people’s lives and store them inside me, forever branching into my own firmament” I reply. They nod. “Yes, that sounds reasonable, good idea” they follow up and a warm silence stretches besides us. They can tell my tree is swaying in the wind and they respect that. The cobblestones of the roundabout are welcoming and I feel at home in this town, even though I know nothing of its pathways and alleys, don’t know how it feels on Saturdays, have never seen its park crowded with people, have not tasted its myriad ways of being. It, like all towns and people, is a hub.

In the south-east, Yggdrasil rises and eclipses, finally, the sun. I have appointments and so does the City. I have tasted its markets in full bloom; I know the gentle curves of street and sidewalk. The lights stop and with a “good day”, I depart. Breathing deep, I turn down the boulevard and smile at its shadows waving hello to me. Yes, my friends, I’m back but only parts of me; a part has been left behind. “Yes, of course” they say. They are practical, being shadows and boulevard shadows at that (the most practical of shadows). “You’re a hub”.

Ex Nihilo – Severance

The roof is shaped conically and made of strongly translucent glass, throwing the entire room into blue waves that play across the art-deco furniture, like so many children on blades of grass. It is hard to describe the emotions that fill her heart upon this return; she had spent so long in transit, in the surprisingly warm embrace of space, that seeing a scene so dynamic makes her a little bit queasy. That’s another thing which they don’t tell you about space: nothing much changes there. Not only the void itself is motionless, that’s almost too obvious, but ship life itself is monotone, mundane and nonfluctuating. When all that separates you from certain, swift death are thin walls, rickets, bolts and pressure valves maintained by fragile humans, routine has a calming effect. Even as a passenger, albeit a military one, Inerra was merely another set piece in the flow of the crew, something to be navigated around. Options were considered: could she be used as a gravitational slingshot, a motivational force or aid that would make a job faster? Or was she instead the gravity well of a heavy, gaseous giant, inhibiting a person’s drives, making them slower? That was all that mattered.

Now, unbelievably, she is in a room, alone. The luxury of solace, much deeper and more important than silence, is a thing too often taken for granted. Inerra closes her eyes, letting her empty kitbag, a mere formality of military ritual now, fall to the floor as she stretches out both her arms, slowly, gently. She isn’t taking in a specific emotion but the feeling itself, of being alone and unconcerned with others. It has been years since she felt; years since, groped at vaguely by a planet’s gravity, she had any time at all where she could be herself. Not in any psychological sense of false authenticity; Inerra crumples her nose at such a thought, something that her mother might adhere to in her pointless attempts at making sense of life. No, simply the ability to not be dependent and not be depended on. A solitary body, bound to no orbit or other, gravitational effects except the one too large to really be felt or imagined. She smiles briefly and then continues her survey of the room. Under the slight, blue waves (their reflected light originating from the nearby bay) which flood the apartment, lies satisfaction: cold, solid wooden floors, practical yet hospitable furniture and an immense bed that is everything she currently longed for.

Inerra is far away from home, the farthest one can get in many senses. Therefore, she had decided a while ago, lying in bed staring at the ceiling of the Nihil Sub Sole Novum, that she would become her own home; an island of ideas, emotions, and thoughts that she could relate to. A self sustained system, like the efficient drive of the ship that had undulated quietly beneath her. It wasn’t going well so far, as much as she’d like to tell herself otherwise. She doesn’t quite feel lonely at the moment (the hotel room and its many familiarities help with that) but she isn’t at home with herself, a turn of phrase which pleases her vaguely among the general disquiet she is now feeling. Perhaps that, oxymoronically, is the best way to describe what is going on inside her: disquiet. As if something is stirring in the back of her mind, feeding off the empty spaces that still exist there, having been birthed either when the ship had left Episcopal or, strangely, as her skipper had decelerated towards this very planet. As if, somehow, by longing for solace, she had also birthed an aversion to it; the strong, sleek passion mirrored by an equally powerful repulsion.

She understands now, in this blue-washed room on a planet that doesn’t mean much to anyone who matters, that she has lied to herself. All those mornings (and nights) spent walling herself off from the others on the ship. Letting only transients, men and women who had come to the ship with the express goal of leaving it soon, into her bed and into her body. Stretching her arms far in front of her, coating herself in the faint lie that she would rather be alone. Now, she sighs as she folds into a nook that overlooks the recently nameless city that stretches out below the conical window that makes up one of her walls. Now, she is filled with a creeping dread that is all too cliche, a sensation which she tries to combat and fails, a knowledge that what she had sought outside of her mother’s planet and home was really waiting back there all along and was now lost. She scoffs slightly before sleep takes her, exhaustion from the last stretch of her travels finally taking hold. She scoffs at how boring that sounds, like a green-behind-the-ear jumper muttering about adventure over their first beer. She scoffs as her eyes close.

Later, in the humidity drenched streets of the port city, Inerra is lost. Not a geographical quandary nor a simpler, locally spatial one. Instead, her eyes are lost, disjointed from the purpose of her self. They flicker here and there, seemingly trying to drink in the street. There’s not much to sate her visual thirst: the streets are mostly empty, this being the middle of the night, housing only the broken effigies of lives that had once made sense. Coerced via the inescapable, and yet wholly imagined, vector of will, they used to make striking figure as they cut through the stream of life, the wide river of possibility. Now, they are still, decrepit husks of ocean fearing vessels that litter the wide bay that is the city. Inerra walks among their detritus, mixing with that of urban living, much like they themselves; un-tethered, cut loose from purpose, made to await a cue that she had no preconception of but of which she would instantly know. Her hands move slightly, back and forth, as she paces, lost in the memory of the last time she had been here.

She had felt a similar disconnection then but it came from a wholly different souce. Still on her initial vector, heading like a spear of fate deeper and deeper into space, she had been filled with the unexpected shock of exploration. It had pushed everything from inside of her, like a wounded space hulk venting what was left of its artificial air. This had been just a short stop, a stepping stone on a journey farther and farther away from all sorts of things. It had been different times for the city as well, times now lost as a faint, chronological way-point in the deep annals that is, by now, on par with that of her own lifetime. As the disparity between the years she had actually lived and the years that had passed grew deeper, recollection of places and events seemed more and more inherently absurd. Regardless, the city had seemed to her to be more than just a center; it was a hub, a place where so many ideas, words and beliefs changed countless hands, mouths, and ears each minute. Which was, of course, why it fell. Or so her H1F files told her, commonplace artifacts for traverses of the inky deeps. No one ever got past H1 but not more was needed in order to comprehend the historical tragedy of this place. Bullet-point after bullet-point had fired before her eyes as she descended the atmosphere, extolling crackdowns, Artery Law backlashes, ostracization and, finally, the ultimate punishment the Heart could levy against anyone: severance.

Left to drift in the coldness of space without a network, surrounded only by the silence that is most of reality, the city had slowly decayed. Now, Inerra walked where once ideas raced, subtly perplexed at the slow fever with which concepts were now discussed. But of course, she knew why; the first lesson you learn in space, the first lesson that the Heart taught, the first lesson that made anything go, was connectivity. Not a mystical action from afar, not a synchronicity that tied existence into ebbs and flows. No, this connectivity was wholly human but not less powerful; wholly artificial but all too innate, lying as it did underneath all things that aspired to movement. The teacher, the space-farer, the soldier, the pilot, the politician, the lover, the artist, the lawyer, they all needed one thing: context. Most civilizations realized this well before they went to space but in taking that first step out there they learned the second, more terrible lesson. In the universe, context is the exception, not the rule. Adrift in a blankness beyond words, all human ideas, constructs, and emotions fade into nothing, launched into a place that had never known, and thus could never accommodate, their foundations.

Deadspace, depression, The Haze, dedetox, Mercurial, every culture that had ever went out there had a name for the creeping dread that overcame all who traveled the inky waters. Adrift on lack of time, on the death of genealogy and, therefore, the death of culture, a million million civilizations slowly faded. Flaring again and again, humanity tried to grasp on to something out there, to make sense, a sense which would act as a node for their network of connections. Like so many bacteria in their petri dishes, they would reach out spores and seem to thrive for a cosmic moment or two before their center gave in under the lack of context and died as quickly as it appeared. Such collapses rang across human space with the threat of collateral, technology, weapons, finances, and people spiraling out of the relative restraint of civilization. Often, such collapses destabilized other hubs of humanity, initiating a deadly chain reaction. Thus humanity clung to existence in the void, until the answer came, until the answer rang out across the metaphorical skies and, slowly, over millennia, overtook them all. Where there was alone, there was now together. Where there was freedom, a freedom too cold to breathe, there was now Law. Where there had been violence, a desperate attempt to force context on the universe, there was now Language. Together, these two forces reshaped everything, including places like the ones Inerra now walked through. But the answer itself only had one name, even if that name reverberated and came back to everyone in many forms. There was only one name and that name was Heart.

Back in the now of things, Inerra starts to fade into the urban backdrop. Her mind races, vision distorted into the perspective of recollection. Thoughts of the Heart and the civilization which pulsates through and enables Human Space metamorphose into thoughts of her own motivations, objectives and fears. Out there, on the sleek Nihil Sub Sole Novum, en-route once again via the twisting roads in space the Heart had made, things had appeared clearer; she needed to disconnect and what better place was there for that then this once illustrious node, this planet and its two cities cut adrift? As the ship decelerated towards the planet, Inerra had dug deeper into the files, rows on rows of data which even flash before her eyes when she closes them, as if etched on the back of her eyelids. She’s gone off the beaten path, deeper into the ultimate dejection the city’s dying throes spread across all space. Why had she drunk so deep from the well of knowledge? What was she looking to know?

Obviously, why they had sent her on her mission. On the brink of severance, when the bell of the planet’s doom was already rung and they were just waiting for its echo, they had sent for her. A bleak message, asking for an even bleaker thing, had flashed across her work-space. Many questions: why her how had they known where she was how had they known she would go why did she go why did she do what they had asked why destroy something so large, so uncaring, so meaningful? All these cascade in Inerra’s mind once again, as they had when she had been alone, in front of a computer screen flashing with an impossible request, a litany of doubt which loops and loops and has looped for objective decades/subjective weeks as she had sped back and inwards and into the past, hands shaking now and then as the mental barricades she had set eroded underneath what she had done. To an outsider, to an impossible someone from out of the Heart, out of the Language and Law which made existence possible, her actions wouldn’t seem as that drastic; knowledge hidden here, information exposed there. From her own little terminal she set out to shift little pebbles, nudge them into a position where potential energy (purely theoretical of course and more social than physical) would be better poised to turn kinetic. Little packets that had been given to her, attached to the selfsame hopeless message, silver bullets crafted from a knowledge of history and genesis which no one should have had which was, in fact, impossible.

These bullets were even now making their way through the target’s body, the consequences of her actions were even now ringing out across Human space, echoing along the networks which made it possible. Now, as she walks through the blighted city towards the border between it and its sister, her mental defenses collapsing from sheer, internal pressure, Inerra imagines how those reverberations might unfold. Her packets would be discovered by system administrators, curious scholars, random netkids, and all other manner of those who dwell in the network. At first, it would be discarded; the story would be too old, too preposterous (empire from nothing, Language from death, Law from misunderstanding). They would wave it away and discard it into their drives, halting its trajectory from further accelerating through the invisible filigrees of civilization. But enough strains would go on, forwarded automatically or with a flippancy in writing, a careless shrug of characters and protocols.

At some point, someone would take it seriously. Someone would glean the ring of truth vibrating in the words and be shocked. Reeling backwards in their chair/console/creche, they will start spreading it in earnest. From screen to screen, from code to code, the truth of the Heart’s genesis will spread and its inherent paradox unleashed on its members. Was the story true? Enough of it was. Enough of it struck fast and deep, as Inerra soon discovered after reading it, after editing it, after sending it out. Enough of it explained many things which the lofty executors of the Heart’s will had never bothered explaining. In the wake of its blow, what? Nothing more and nothing less than what surrounds her now. Severance. Dejection. Nihilism. Unraveling. Severance, of the basic ties which held Human space together, foolishly predicated on the ability to speak and be understood. Dejection, of and from the Law that was so well founded on those aimless words. Nihilism, as the void which was kept back by culture floods in when shared truth collapses. Unraveling, of everything that had been propped to stand the test of time.

She, of course, didn’t even think for a moment about blaming those who had contacted her. There was no context for such an accusation, nothing small enough for a human mind to cling to and twist into a grudge. Set loose, cut free, floating away, an entire civilization was not only doomed but exposed on the cliffs of the universe, a child (as all human civilizations often are in the face of the ever-aging sage which is the universe) left bereft of all shelter, some deformity not of body as in days of old but of culture, of habit, of language, sentencing it to a lonely death. That might sound excessive, since all death is, essentially, lonely but there are types that are even lonelier, when the individual is left outside the campfire, outside the circle of light. There is no greater need for that fire, for that demarcation of us and it, then there is in space. And so, dying, terrified of the night, they had done all that they could and reached out to her. Not the hare trapped and gnawing on its own foot to get out but the hare confined by its very existence, every breath containing the bitter chill of the vacuum, a hare that is a lacking metaphor for an entire civilization trapped on the fringes that just reaches for anything, for something to do, for something that isn’t stillness.

Inerra looks at her hands and back at the city around her, now shimmering silver as she heads into its sister, back to the same hotel room she had left but also a different one. Back into a mirror, a silver staircase that she hadn’t dared take the last time she was here. It promised answers, introspection, understanding of self. She is ready now. Here, the results of unraveling are perhaps even harsher. The rings which surround the world in this iteration are slower than they were when she was last here, less filled with the brimming commerce of vehicles that had made their engines run. The streets themselves seem fainter, people tottering side to side. Not drunk, or at least not on any material substance, stricken with befuddlement by a force thousands of light years away. Stricken with the more precise version of what she had unleashed when she uploaded those files. Now, faced with the results of the cruelty of her target, mental defenses were long gone and Inerra’s psyche began working on the true bulwark of personality: moralism.

This was her excuse after all, what she had told herself (without hearing it, of course, since she spoke in her most internal voice, the voice which speaks with suggested suggestions, hints of hints and premonitions of maybe feeling something in a few seconds) as she had set in motion a plague which she knew too well, as she reverse engineered the hair of the dog that bit her into the dog itself and let it slip its leash, let it fly its kennel, let it run amok in the chicken coop that was human space. The arithmetic of cause and effect, of punishment and justice, the chains of worth and retribution, the silk shackles of consent, had all helped her move her hand and press the trigger, releasing her tiny, tiny bullets/packets on their civilization killing course.  Here, now, standing in this shadow city which was all too real, those petty reasons fell away. In that moment, swaying through streets familiar to her (as she had just, moments ago, walked their mirror) towards her un-hotel, swaying in beat with the others around her, stricken by the same internal malaise, she would take it back if she could. But that, of course, was impossible. The moving finger had made its always-final pass and no tears nor prayers could reverse even one flashing line, even one sickly, green line of code with which she had executed this most final of sentences.

Lastly, as her hands fumble on the un-door leading to her un-room in her un-hotel, Inerra (or rather, the sleeping part that was un-Inerra, the sister city which lives inside all of us, hazy streets mirroring our waking hours, faintly faded structures which echo our “conscious” thoughts, our inherent sibling, our unconquerable territory, our Tír na nÓg of meaning, yawing doors of not only ignorance but of the terrible knowing of things which we’d rather not to know and which therefore get squashed into the basement of our edifice) reached the volta do mar of the soul, the clasping of the snake on its own tail. Nothing left to burn by itself, surrounded by people so dejected (now outside the room but very much present nonetheless) that empathy barred even the vent of external blame, all argument corrosive to its own foundations, in that moment and place the psyche realizes that there is no one else to blame, realizes, truly, deeply, that there never was anyone else to blame but itself.

Inerra opens the kitbag that she had carried into the room with her in the original city. It had been empty. Now, inside, there is a gun.

Ex Nihilo (Interlude): Stars Serenading

They won’t think back on us, those that come after. Too obsessed with the night’s weight which will push down on their brains, they won’t remember all the little things which made up the fabric of our every-day. They won’t spare a second for the rich textures and smells of our cities, they won’t think back on me leaving my mother’s house and walking a narrow pathway in the dark towards the slightly rusty (sorry mom) gate that leads to the front yard, on my way home before leaving for two months to a city which echoes with the boundless lives of millions.


Some of them will think back on us, curious weirdos siphoned in some bulkhead on a frayed liner hauling rocks from this outpost to the next. Pouring over screens which echo green in the minor darkness floating inside the greater darkness, their bloodshot eyes will flicker over lines and lines of text that do everything but describe how things are for us. They’ll feign understanding and nod with empathy at patterns whose distorted loops ever so slightly nudge their own out of place. We’ll be their profession, those few of them, the touch of a hand across a cheek sagging with Earth’s gravity (chokehold/bosom), a fact imprinted, a ritual reported, a gesture examined.


They’ll all think back on us, buses weaving in and out of the textile of their past, trying to track down the weft which led them to where they are, on a fast(er) trajectory away from sun, from Sol, from Earth, from Cuiviénen, from an imagined lake in the shade of mountains that never existed. They’ll all think back on us, event horizons, disaster thresholds which sent them careening on a slingshot towards their future, their own explosive terminus. Our decisions, our fates, our worries, they’ll all be counted by all of them as the ultimate rear view mirror reflects a fading prison/home, an ever decreasing perspective and peace and pain and heart’s blood.


They won’t think back on us. Some of them will think back on us. They’ll all think back on us. I know, because we’re doing it right now, to those who came before: sailors, soldiers, rapists, slave owners, traders, artists, holy people, women, men, children, filth, beggars, traitors, patriots, boring people, fascinating people, houses, carriages, flags, flags, flags, fire, night, morning, bread, oil, meat, spears, chains, freedom, hope, despair, failure, brilliance. We don’t think back on them. Some of us think back on them. We all think back on them


the gaps get larger and larger and we spiral in place, gathering momentum for a shift, an expulsion into space/across space, a metamorphosis of wings, a head first dive into a sable deepness from which there is no extraction, a slowing down of thoughts, of ship’s engines, a cerebral hum that engulfs perception, a solar anxiety that hurtles perspective backwards even as tools for understanding (binding words) unravel at the edges and lost descriptiveness, even as the point of egress unwinds further and further back, all perceived continuum of a thing called “human” escaping us it borders (once thought absolute and inherent) collapsing under the night’s weight, pushing down on our brains, erasing a face in the sand drawn in chalk, erasing “heritage” and “clan” and “memory”, leaving so many by the wayside, ending so much fire, so much light, language losing its touch, orbits losing their impetus, lights fading behind us, engines roaring ahead, lives decaying behind us, stars unfolding ahead, stars beguiling before us, stars serenading