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


The Augmented World – The Complete Garden

She sits in The Complete Garden with the stars singing out the names she had given them above her. Around her, trails bend and weave, quartering grass into discrete, endless segments. Within this fertile, contained, expansive space, dozens of communities thrive. She sits apart. Here, a few friends plant future promises, delving hands deep into the warm soil, a mutual handshake that’s been going on for millennia. There, a loosely defined pack of people hover around a clearly defined group of dogs, brought together by their need of ritual, of shared similarity. Smiling, these things wash over her as she waits for him. They would have washed over her anyway; her lack of motion is not subservience, not a change in routine in favor of a stronger other. It is simply an augmentation, like so much of her life has become now that she had him. Calmly, her days flexed, familiar time stamps and footmaps expanding to encompass this new thing that was coming to life between them. For now, The Complete Garden held her hand and pulsed with her breaths, expanding with the smell of evening citrus and contracting with a soft, cool, autumn breeze.

Above her, the stars sing the names she had given them. A whirl of constellations, a blizzard of choirs, their silver voices dance among the trees and their rough, welcome barks. At times, she paces, circumnavigating The Complete Garden with familiar ease. Of course, inevitably, the question creeps into her mind: “what makes this The Complete Garden?”. She knows that the very nature of the question is futile, its motivations moot and sterile from birth. However, the machinations of asking questions, the settling of mental muscles into well-worn, cerebral grooves, attracts her. It was she, after all, who had named this place The Complete Garden (silut in the magical intonations that made up her personal, universal dictionary). That day was not much different than today except that the sense of wholeness had not yet settled upon the place, reaching supporting hands to give The Garden its own, prehensile abilities.

Was that it? Was this The Complete Garden because it reached out to its visitants, not content with staying passive like its other, tellurian sisters? Perhaps. The idea certainly had its attractive symmetry but the fact remained that whatever responsiveness The Complete Garden now possessed had come after the naming and, thus, could not be its motivation. Such simple laws of causation still stood in The City, although for how long none could tell. Her brow furrows slightly at the idea and at the implicit, subtle, accusing finger pointing from inside of it. After all, was her naming not often in defiance of other rules The City held as fundamental? Did she not break the precious real with her very voice, every syllable uttered against the tapestry of understandings that made up the corpus of contracts called The City (a city)?

Perhaps but what did that matter in the face of such beauty? Furrows now gone, her face lights up in a smile as she notices the children at play, more infinite fields unfolding in their minds than any Complete Garden could ever hope to contain. Her eyes wander across the multiple ponds The Complete Garden contains, waters reflecting the astral litany being sung from above. She wonders how, with their sharp hearts and emphatic relationships, her fellow sojourners in The Complete Garden cannot hear their melody. She could change that of course, she knows, with but a few names sprinkled here and there. But the warm itch across her shoulders which signifies such an event is not upon her and she has learned to trust her body with these things. After all, were not the tongue and the heart which did the naming a part of the body? Most assuredly. And besides, he was coming and her new rhythm urged her to conserve her strength.

She had never taken him to The Complete Garden before today. In some ways, The Garden was her place, an island where her work flowed most vividly. The entity which was The Garden now, having been named, felt so close, so familiar, that she hesitated to share it with any others. This thought brought another assault of furrows; it was not in her nature to hoard. Even when she worked the Orange Market she was forthcoming and welcoming, traits that were among the most precious resources in a market offering everything except decency. In that regard, The Complete Garden was perhaps the opposite of the Market and, alongside her own abode, her own fortress of shadows, was where she felt most at home in The City. That was, she knew, not a feat to be disregarded. The body urbane was home to many castaways, shunted off from the main flow of things by their own aberrations, their own rhythmic inconsistencies. Staying with the community was a balancing act of firmness and suppleness, a give and take of everyday life which could determine your fate for years to come.

And now, she was bringing someone into one of her modal cores, a thrumming beat at the heart of the percussive symphony that was her personality. That was dangerous, for everyone, but doubly so for a Namer. For what are Names if not specific cadences, spoken by tongue and heart in measured signatures? The furrows increase; perhaps this was a mistake. She once again looks around her and feels the warmth exuding from every bend of trail, every cry of play, every soft, murmured, constant humdrum of small community and she is suddenly not sure if she wants to share all of this with him. A bench presents itself at the right time, buckling slightly beneath her weight, burdened as it is by by-now dire contemplation, and she takes it without noticing. The smell of eucalyptus increases around her. Her hands are drumming against the wood, a hollow cadence that rings out only around her but where it is heard, leaves no thing the same.

Which is, of course, her answer. She is not the cadence, nor the fingers drumming. She is not the warmth of The Complete Garden nor is she The Garden itself. She is not the stars, whirling in their dervish dances in the sky, crying out their names. She is not the hands going into the dirt, welcomed warmly back to a contract signed by her ancestors. She is not the small community, nor the humdrum, nor the children at play. She is not even the bending paths, the trails carved into The Complete Garden, segmenting it into discrete parts. She is not, of course, the trees and their ugly, welcome bark or the shade beneath their leaves or their smells, so comforting to aching minds. She is not him or her or a floating piece of rhythm against a common stream of stage directions called society. Nor is she, indeed, the totality of this and its meaning, she is not, after all, The City.

No. She is the wood. She is the substance against which all of this strikes and drums and the Names are the beautiful music born between those things, sweet music born of conflict and meeting. And that gives her no small measure of freedom. The furrows are gone. She sits back in the bench, comfortably ensconced by its structure as only the body can ensconce the self, perfectly fitting and yet not at all there. She is the wood and suddenly he is there and his arms drum against her skin as he greets her and she smiles.

“Hey. I’m Elhar. I believe we’ve never met before, although you might remember otherwise. Will you walk with me in The Complete Garden and tell me who I am?”
“Hey Elhar. I named you, so I feel slightly affronted, but certainly, I will walk with you. But how will I know who you are and how will I tell you when I know?”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll tell you when”.

The Augmented World – Enshrine

The fecund smell of dates assaults my nose as I make study of the night. Long robes of white against me, faint shelters against a deep sky, are wrapped across my knees. I am perched; my chin almost reaches over the railing of the balcony, swirling iron giving precious, and hard won, comfort to my face. Oscillation Tower, my home, sways in clashing fronts of falling and rising winds. This is the autumn-spring, an in between indistinguishable from all other in betweens. You remember the beauty of her face, you’ve enshrined it. The wind is blowing softly, softly, singing faint hymns against the skin of my cheek. I am perched; my eyes survey the city, as the nose basks in the rich rot of dates, and its streets which never end. In these regards I am perfect for the season, the spring-autumn, an accessory well worn for the mood, theme and setting of the climate.

I contemplate turning, for just a moment, but a loud noise from the street below re-holds my attention. A band of youngsters, drunk on an abundance of time, their social nerve ends fraught from an expected catharsis. Some of them wheel side to side, bottles clenched hard in whitening knuckles, an easy going, nervous energy to them. Others are fumbling in each other’s embraces, eager lips attempting to communicate the now, the urgency, the death that’s coming, the release that’s needed as a dike to stem it. You remember the awe of her hair, you’ve enshrined it. As they pass beneath my balcony, sound increasing, I draw a deep breath and take a hold of their scent. It fills me. It enriches me. It turns me into a part of the scene and a part of my memory drifts into it, summoned by familiar traces: trees, wind, humans, sweat, alcohol, dog shit, pavement, neon, sleep for most but not for all of us.

There is a Namer’s touch to them. One of them is related to her, the girl who with a touch and a soft spoken word has changed my life. You recognize her grace, you’ve enshrined it. Here, atop Oscillation Tower, the City in which she resides still escapes me. But her touch is on one of them; perhaps it’s the girl with the frayed pants, knees peeking like submarine eyes on stems, clutching at her other so brightly. With her firm, prehensile grasp she seems to make her realer, as if her kisses anoint personhood, as if her encompassing, needy love describes her objective boundaries like the sea describes a cliff and the woman in her arms exists more for being kissed by such lips. Definitely her touch on her; the power of reality is the power of Names, and in this City she is the source of syllables.

Kfevic. In a half stumble my ears processed the words as I turned, a green park all around. I was sure I was alone but there she was, enshrined in chopped up light. Smiling at me, lightly touching my elbow and saying “kfevic”. I had never heard the word before, not in all the blazing banks and  dusty repositories of Oscillation House but I knew instantly what it meant. “Observer”. Supposedly detached, expectedly emphatic, pathetically imagining myself to be more than what I studied and humanely unable to resist sympathy. Observer. She spoke my being in a few moments and then pushed on, spices on her back and a destination on her mind, her knees in between the three and carrying the first closer to the second via the third. She named me and moved on, leaving me to stand in my own existence, splayed out in the fading light of a summer afternoon, as summer was dying.

It’s autumn-spring now and the coolrushofcoldwater that is existing hasn’t left me yet. I’m more present than before, the contours of my body not ending in a world I’d like to imagine as other. Instead, it’s all a blur and I realize that I’m faintly leaning over the balcony, wanting to join the extrovert bodies below me, wanting to scream wildly and dance and kiss. I draw back. You remember her touch, you’ve enshrined it. Deep breaths run across my esophagus, cooling my insides that would propel my outsides, cooling the kfevic resounding in my head, cooling the implications of being an observer that would use me to become realized. That would have me live out their story, that would have me live out my name. Harshly, I finally turn around, the sound of their revelry now fading down the street, the sound of my own breathing increasing around me. I shut the door of Oscillation House, leaving out the spring-autumn, leaving out the street, leaving out the rotten smell of dates. Bringing in myself and my existence and the power of a Name that’s burning inside me, as much as I would like to be rid of it. Back to the banks and the repositories, back to knowledge and the dissection of lineages, back to a bird’s eye view of a living map that won’t stop churning. Back to Oscillation House and the torpor of detached thought with the Name burning inside me as a contrast, an oscillation of being between what I am, who she says I am and how much I have no idea, not even a faint lead, of reconciliation.

I remember her voice. It has enshrined me.


The Augmented World – The Ritual of Sight

The thick, soft velvet of the Officers’ Court is like an island unto itself in the thick, musky dust of the Spice Markets. The orange particles of who-knows-what which swim in the crowded alleys bow to its fabric like so many courtiers, innately recognizing the authority which stems from military might blended with nobility. The hands which call the broad sleeves home, infrequently shaded by their cloth and then cast into light by the afternoon sun, flicker adeptly over the materials on display in the Markets: spices yes, but also rarer cloth than even the officer’s coat, delicate foods and flesh. They are strong and skilled, somehow warm in their prehensile strength, the hands of one who is both a warrior and an orator, who uses hands to cut the life from bodies but who also uses them to undercut the rhythm of one’s words. The hands lead upwards to muscular arms, broad shoulders and a gait which broadcasts, effortlessly, complete ownership and command of the situation and the people within the situation.

The hidden/seen contours of the arms, buried as they are underneath all that cloth but also so powerful as to defy obscurity, lead the eye up to the collar where three golden chevrons lie, dotted with silver stars. These tell a story which takes place far from the Spice Markets and the City which houses them. The chevron’s fine, definitive lines speak of a career spent in exile, training for a goal which the trainers feared. They speak, in their golden punctuation marks and sure, firm weave, of one who had identified the silent beat of such a life from the first day. Eyes coldly surveying the fateful scene replayed across a dozen dozen bases, camps and drafting points, that one’s mind had instantly deciphered it all, the discrete relationships of power and oppression which made the body called “military” run. It rightfully discerned the threat in the veteran’s gaze,  and it swiftly broke apart the fears, motivations and emotions of one’s fellow draftees and cataloged them for future use.

It did all this without even noticing it, the forward parts of it which understood things awash in the terror of separation and change. Of all of this and much more sang the golden chevrons, expanding their tune to encompass not only that one but also countless others who had worked alongside them. Their melody extolled ranks, platoons, units, regiments, divisions, whole systems of knowledge and reality designed to make things the same, to erase differences and make sure that unity and the military ontalogy prevailed. They sang of other necks, other shoulders, other strong, impossibly thick arms which led to hands so gentle as to almost make you forget their danger as they sorted through dried fruit at the Spice Markets, with the afternoon sun making particles of the air and the streets ringing with the shouts of the hawkers. They made sure, the chevrons did, that you did not forget that the one which stood before you now, back slightly turned to your gaze as if always on defense, even from spectators, that one was not unique. They were privileged but not singular; many others bore their chevrons, their careers, their memories, their understandings. Their catalogs. And all those mental catalogs were slightly different but quite the same, said the chevrons.

The silver stars sang a bittersweet counterpoint to all of this. They, more scarce in their existence, told discrete stories for the onlooker who spoke their language, the language of heraldry, communal memory and the intricate relationships which existed between them. To such a savvy onlooker, they told of personal sacrifices, missions undertaken and goals achieved which were personal and non-obvious, each one placed on one’s shoulders willingly, without command. They spoke of the City’s Walls, blue-green usually in their metallic somnolence, deep red with the blood of invaders who had crashed upon their ligaments, flesh made from men and women like the one who stands before you. The silver stars chant of the mechanic ease with which those same arms which brought you to gaze upon such astral decoys then rose and fell upon the building blocks of a new bridge, one which would connect the City and a far away, long lost settlement. They whisper, mumble and babble about all such things to the onlooker with the language to listen.

The eyes which do such skillful gazing are, however, beginning to show some hesitation, a slight flicker to their so-far hungry exploration. They know that now, with the deep channels of the arms explored, the broad plains of the shoulders excavated, the towering monument of the neck explained, only one destination remains for their hunger to feast upon. In that realization, that selfsame hunger collapses on itself, avidly attempting to battle the ocular momentum it had, just before, fed constantly with the need for knowledge, trapped forever in the ritual of sight. It knows, this hunger and the onlooker which serves as merely the host to its base intentions, that the only place left to go is the face and it is afraid of what it would find there. Far beyond the songs of chevrons, well past the storytelling of embroidered stars, it knows it will find pain, fear, defeat, horror and resignation, as it has found every time in the faces of the City’s “citizens”, if that moniker even fits any of them anymore.

This shock of disappointment, this death of hope is what it had come here originally to avoid, why it had drifted so avidly to this one, this seemingly unbreakable bastion of the City, made flesh by years of order, years of obeying order (and orders). It hoped, and its host hopes, convincing itself that it and not the hunger was the progenitor of this observance, to finally find conviction in this broken place and now it fears that disappointment awaits it once again. And so it does, but not in the sense which it had imagined, not in the sense which, born from failure as it was, it could ever have imagined. The eyes finally have their way, as they always will, momentum cresting over the moment and a slight wind turning the officer’s cheek ever so slightly in their direction, the afternoon light flinging golden unmasking on the face’s features. And in it blazes that same conviction which the hunger had convinced itself that it sought, that it had chased, through the onlooker, for so many years, bright and mighty and self absorbed. Through their eyes, the officer speaks all there is to know about the songs of chevrons, the chasms of secure arms, the mesas of bulwark shoulders. Their cry glory and honor and the faultless assurance that all is right and so long as the City stands nothing can really be wrong.

And the hunger screams and shrivels and burns in the light of such conviction, consumed by victory.

The Augmented World – Starnamer

In the city, there’s a woman. She’s quite young but not so young that your adult mind could catalog her into the rubric of a child. She has her own stature and poise, her own vector through the crowds; she has places to go.During the day, with the warm, warm wind subtly holding her cheeks in a supple embrace, she runs from stall to stall. She has the day’s goals tied to her shoulders, containers that hold all that must still be done. Be it for her own, humble aspirations or for those of men and women of longer mustaches and larger ambitions, she pours her sweat into the cobblestones. Anointed with her spring step, with the fluid embodiment of her time and effort, the stones disappear under foot as she hops from place to place in the Orange Markets (so named, of course, for the distinct hue which makes up the walls and the air and the people).

Afternoon. There is a hint of respite, both from the heat and from the sharp gazes of those that hire her, as the sun begins to fade. There are plenty more hours of light remaining but, soon, as the harsh yellows of noon fade into the soft embers of early evening, lemon water will wait on a windowsill. She lives, our woman, a few blocks away from the market. Somehow, contrary to what you might imagine (I’m on to you, you sneaky imaginer), she doesn’t live in a hovel. Her house is spacious and embracing, existent without flaring into grandeur. Most of all, it is cool; shadows dominate its interiors, providing an imperfect mirror to those casts by stall coverings in the Markets, tarpaulins which suffocate the air rather than free it from the heat. Here, in her home, close to the Markets, there are soft edges and softer people, murmurings of water and whispers of shade. It is a good place.

The house is called Matner. It means “flowing dark” but in what language, only one person knows and others wonder. You see, it is well into evening now and our woman is, like the moon which now celebrates a triumph through the Rome of the sky, celebratory in her other skills. After the day’s hopping is done, after a scorching return across anointed cobblestones, after the lemon water has been drunk and the shade sojourned in, our heroine names. In her own, soft language, syllables woven from intentions and intuition, she names everything around her. The stories are street corners and treetops, shadow and light splayed between the streets that run underneath her veins. Walking them with a sure, calm stride, she lets her eye roam. Naming, to the chagrin of the learned Stolae in their University Towers, is a skill more akin to art than to science (not that such a divide means anything, whether in scorching noon or cool evening). So, her eyes roams free and whatever it lands on, whatever her heart calls out, whatever her supple, weary hands come to rest on, she names.

The denizens of the city, often bejeweled merchants or stocky up-and-comers that live like squires around the knighthood of the Orange Markets, react according to their own temperament. Those whose eyes are still wet, whose blood still runs fast and free through the capillary caverns in the underworld of their bodies, they lean slightly forward. Like the poor clutching at carpet-ends after a king’s coronation, they slightly bend towards the sacred moment, knowing that it doesn’t exist by sheer probability but hoping that, perhaps this time, a name shall be bestowed on them or their things or their loved ones or their places. Those who already stand bowed, their shoulders hunched over with something quite different to the fever that possesses the aforementioned semi-believers, they move slightly back. Their calcified fingernails and manicured bones move before the ripples of the naming, the ontological premonitions that herald the coming of verbal genesis. Like a sleeper who wakes too slowly or your skin when it transitions from extreme heat to cold, this initial bestirring hurts them. Muscle memory long repressed suddenly comes back and that which was once dead (or, at least, storied to be dead) now jolts back to life with a painful pinch.

For names are, in this broken world, the closest there is to magic and our heroine is, in this broken world, the closest there is to a magus. “Matsel” she whispered once at the opening to her house, where light flowed in (which explains the name) and mixed with the dark within and so it was, the light dancing ever so slightly faster, almost giggling underneath the touch of the syllables undulating from her tongue. She smiled then and went to her favorite cafe, where upon she consumed oily vine leaves, her favorite dish. Naming left her ravenous, as if something rode back on the vibrations of her craft and knocked at the doors of her cellular structure and demanded a balancing of the price. This evening, which could be any evening, really, her stomach is yet full; no flagpole or tree or window has yet caught the sparkling hook of her eye. She’s not frustrated exactly, our heroine, but perhaps her step is a bit quicker, as the sun begins its slow descent into the ocean. Perhaps her teeth are slightly set, soft pressure permeating her cheekbones as words and names dip and dive behind their white, calcium-constructed bars. Perhaps her poise is somewhat missing, muscle-awareness and balance lost in a growing desire that sweeps before it the pretensions of the self at control.

All that is meaningless for she turns a corner and suddenly, she knows where is she is going for she has already arrived. The corners of her lips, far from delicate after years of working in the orange dust, crack slightly as the faintest smile pushes them upwards. She is in a square she knows well, not far from Matner, her home. In fact, she can see its cool windows or one of their corners, at the very least, just up the street. Above the square though, her eyes now returned to survey the scene for a place to rest, lies a very different house than her abode but perhaps one which is also somehow the same? Regardless, she knows it well; everyone knows it, and its blue-wearing denizen well. Perhaps she even spies his face on one of the balconies, moving one of the silken drapes quickly across to avoid her gaze. Yes, this is definitely where she had been heading. For, you must by now understand, nearly nothing of the square and even less of the house and surely nothing of the blue-clad man had been named. Not exactly a fear but an apprehension, an instinct written deep into her cells, had up until now guided her away from this place. Even though it was so close to where she lived (or perhaps exactly because of that, sensing some domicile danger) she had only once or twice entered this square and let her eye snag and her heart leap and her tongue speak.

But now that biological tug was gone and with the ease of olfactory oils she slid across the square and closer towards the small garden in front of the house, naming left and right. Her eye snagged and her heart leaped and her tongue spook, all imagery of bursting dams irrelevant in the face of the flood of song and language that flowed from her. “Sinbak” (Little Friend) she spoke to the curve which made the square a square. “Selnir” (Light Shadow) she told the flicker of shade that hugged the lamp as the sun fled the coming night. “Baket” (Friend Maker) she sang to the gate that opened into the little garden. “Filop” (Sister Stone) she intoned to the first step, one of three, that led to the door of the house, the door that opened only once or twice a year. “Elhar” she whispered to the man in blue as he opened the door from within, tears carving deep tunnels into his cheek as years of isolation came crashing down in front of her shoulders, in front of her callouses, in front of the practical, human, living, breathed, lived in beauty that was her body, in front of the radiating vitality she exuded, the Orange Market smeared on her knees, the musk of spices that she carried lilting on her long, dexterous fingers.  “Elhar” she breathed to the main in blue as he offered her his hand, his eye snagging and his heart leaping and his tongue craving the contours of her neck. “Elhar” she murmured into his shoulder as she gathered herself to him, tension breaking between them, the city humming inside them, the names flooding before them, the drapes snapping above them, the house resplendent around them.

“Elhar” he recited, finally breaking his age old silence, as the door closes behind them, finally naming her, finally giving her back what she had given so freely to everyone, merchants and urchins and citizens and strangers and crooks and priests all, simply taking and taking more. “Elhar” he assures her, his voice muffled as they stand in his flowing, deep hall, giving reality to her name, anchoring it to her body, to her self, to her dreams, to his hand on her shoulder and her calcified fingernails coming to life as they brush his tears from his eyes, as they eat at his sorrow with their soft hunger, as they trace the valleys of each and every line on his cheeks.

Elhar. Starnamer he names her and in doing so she dies and he dies and the lights die and the night comes and the stars live and they smile.

The Augmented World – And He Weeps

There’s a house. It faintly glows with a warm, golden light, the bright stones that make up its walls storing the translucent light of day and amping it through the air. Like a monitor for phosphorescence. It’s large and opulent but somehow humble, cleverly built to blend in with the other buildings which surround it. It has a small yard, no more than a stone’s throw in size, where a wizened tree bends around air. It has a sturdy door, almost never open, a fixture that somehow invites while being forbearing at the same time. It has porches and silken curtains covering wide windows, wooden shutters fending off winds and rain when the mild winter comes, a fence covered with vegetation and a gate. Not the stuff of myths of castles, a wide gate made of sturdy oak with a menacing moat, but a fair affair which radiates the feeling that it doesn’t want to be opened. That it wants to be left alone.

And yet, despite the fair amount of coldness and rejection that might be gleaned from its external nooks and crannies, it seems inviting. Perhaps in an old way? Like a man who, no matter how rough and ragged looking, has stood at the crossroads for so long that you have grown as used to him as the posts which mark the meaning of the roads, the non-terminal destination to which they lead, just nodes which in turn branch off into more crossroads? Perhaps like that. Regardless, the house stands on the outskirts of a square named after a forgotten king who had visited the city years ago, softly humming with the early morning wind as it stirs the leaves of the massive trees which dominate the square. Other buildings face it, some grand and some not so much, but they are all slightly less than that house. Perhaps it is because they are inhabited; more of a function, of a protocol, these buildings serve transient purposes. But the house, the blended house, is filled with presence. Even though the curtains stay drawn and the shutters shut, and the door closed and the gate barred, everyone knows that someone lives here.

In fact, it would be impossible to imagine the house without imagining its denizen. When he exits the house, once or twice a year for festivals or crucial supplies (crucial only to him, vague and seemingly unrelated items purchased at the local market for outrageous prices), he always wears blue. Funnily enough, or perhaps not, the blue faintly radiates warmth, just like the house. It is not a blue of somber skies, or of stormy horizons or even of clear, crisp, cold-day skies, though it hints subtly that it might have been one of those or all of those at some point in the past. No, it is a blue of a bright morning, before the sun has quite established itself, when the color of the day is deep, primary, initial. It is the blue of a soft breeze blowing across the back of your neck as you walk between buildings, bringing sorrow tinged with wonder, bringing stories to your fingers. The man often smiles; his smile reaches his eyes, engulfing them with momentary mirth. His fingers are dexterous as they are lanky, efficient, long wires that are attached to a supple yet thin arm. The man is old but the weight of his memories seems to be borne not lightly, but perhaps with a resignation, an acceptance which lends their wearer strength, like a good cloak. When the people see him and he is gone, what is left behind is a hint of laughter, a faint touch of those gentle fingers and the smell of a field under bright skies. They sigh then, the people of that city, thinking of places they had been, places they now miss, thinking of that house and its balconies, and its silken curtains and its fullness. Not knowing why or how it is full and why they feel so empty but somehow refreshed, empty in the sense of readiness to be filled, empty in the sense of a sweet goodbye, of a faintly morose embrace, of a greeting that falls slightly short from expressing exactly how happy you are to see your friend.

The nights are warm. They are not so much filled with stars as they are at peace with stars, complacent towards the place starlight plays in the shadow-act that creates and un-creates the supposedly, and foolishly, fixed locations that are called “streets”. The house is still bright but in an unassuming way, almost as if it doesn’t want to draw attention itself but still would like to light its surroundings, perhaps in order to better accentuate the fair qualities of the buildings around it and, through them, to draw attention to its own beauty and grace. Silently, with a fluid hint of light the house says with fingers made of minarets, “have you seen how pretty the leaves on the trees are today? Have you lingered a while in their shade and looked at the way the spaces between them cast cross-stitches on the buildings besides them? Have you stopped and thought to yourself in your heart today ‘oh god, I live in the absolute nexus between what was and what shall be and the beauty is constantly beating upon me and my heart is a strained muscle and the blood is soaring within it until suddenly I must rupture and what better place to rupture than here?’? Because if you haven’t, there really is no place better to rupture than here as evidenced by the million million tears that have made up the spaces of the cobblestones in the square”.

As the light says all that and a heart softly beats in the square below, decoding the message the building is broadcasting, the man in blue gazes behind the silken curtains. The people of the city do not know what he thinks or how the world looks to his eyes but they believe, in that quiet place where believing emerges, that through the faint trails he leaves with his fingers in the spice stalls in the market, and through the leaves and the way they hiss softly in the wind, and by marking the paths that he takes through the fluid streets, shying away from this corner or that, that they can decipher what the world must be to him. And each one imagines something slightly different, a story that differs by a word or maybe two, variations on a theme that nonetheless manage to sync up in some fashion, creating the man in blue, casting him over and over again into the communal tableau, tenderly hammering his place in their stories into shape, make him communal, making him mean something to them. Even though, and perhaps especially because, he rarely leaves the house. Through all their stories, the different landscape renditions of what must mean a man’s mind and gestalt and tale, runs a single thin thread, a single idea etched over and over again like love upon encountering the new day. The man must be sad. Something inside must have broken, something unleashed an inky vial of fluid that has washed over his heart and blotched all his margins, something that makes him bleed a bit too much, makes him cry a bit too often, makes him shun the world and its ways almost every day of the year, makes him be gentle and curious and crucial and deft, adept, dextrous, present but gone, a faint efficiency, a slight beacon in a shifting world, a strangely anchored presence, chained to the places he knows and nothing more.

And they are right. To an extent. The man in the house is sad but the vial hasn’t broken. No margins are blotched at the center of his Heart, no words have been crossed out with red lines, no phrases forgotten, breaking the rhythm, no notes misplaced, breaking the key. On the contrary, his cup overfloweth and in overflowing it blazons, it bedazzles, it brings into sharp contrast the edges around him and the edges in himself and the trees in the square and the way the shade plays in the leaves and the wind softly dictates a verse on the lore of sitting. He cuts himself. He cuts himself on the ever changing streets, he cuts himself on the love he feels for the impossible infinity of places that a city can be, on the never-ending song that strangers can sing, he cuts himself on the life he feels when they look at him, on the notes he hears on the sweet wind when the morning is bright, he cuts himself on the moments before the sun has quite established itself, when the color of the day is deep, primary, initial. He is lacerated by the blue of a soft breeze blowing across the back of his neck as he walks between buildings, bringing sorrow tinged with wonder, bringing stories to his fingers, stories which ultimately bring him back to the surging start, the tidal wave of beginnings, the floodplains of love.

But, most of all, he cuts himself on the stars. He walks the halls of that house, peering between the silken curtains, across the wooden shutters. He runs his hand across that door and hums a song to make it humble. He fixes the gate when it needs the fixing, deploying the art that is never quite forgotten, of mending and making until the thing is itself. And he looks at the stars. Wherever he is, whether on the threshold of his home and the square, whether on the threshold of the window and the night air, whether on the threshold of himself and the world, he looks at the stars. He smiles at the leaves that softly beckon to sleep, as he names the ever changing streets, he looks to the stars. And he weeps.