Bristle-backed Aeiphanes crept on a thousand wheels
though the twilight of a million years. In the West, the whole
sky was heated to a rich red glow, and in the centre, its side touching
but not quite crossing the horizon was the coppery disc of the
sun. Snowflakes caught its light and became dancing splinters of
gold and ruby.
Io squinted and shaded her eyes. There, at the
very head of the
city, the sunlight flashed from the gilded carapace of the champion
hippochalkon, the Amphisbaena clan’s Extravagant,
and ranked almost
aside him, shone the scarlet enamelled shell of the house Gault’s Manticore.
For twelve orbits these mighty engines had earned
their lead, not faltering, not letting any other but themselves win the
Ranked behind the two contesting leaders were the second
engines: Exact, Ardent, Serene,
Phonax, Stentor and a dozen more in an
echelon a league broad. Trailing these there was a third rank,
and yet another, each hippochalkon bearing its clan pennant and a
boastful name. All strained in concert, the rumble of their
wheels and their engines combined in a sound so rich in its interwoven
layers that it was almost a quality of the air itself. Behind her
reflected light splashed off the lenses of the Heliomancers’
emplacements and the great mirrors that topped the public shafts,
making it seem as if the whole atmosphere had been transformed into one
great sea of illumination. It was such a beautiful vista.
The sun had been setting for an aeon now and the city
following it for almost as long and it would never, ever catch
up. Nor would it need to; following the great road, it was enough
to keep the sun in sight, and while this was a mighty effort, it did
not require a mighty speed. According to the most ancient
records, the rotation of the earth once matched the natural human
sleeping cycle but now it was more than three thousand times that, and
becoming slower second by second each year. The Heliomancers had
also measured a decline in the quantity and quality of radiance
emitted: at a certain point the sun would stand still in the sky and
the city would stop, but by then it would be black and cold and the
earth would be still colder.
Io shivered and pulled the collar of her jacket
forward there came the muted roar of a returning harvest convoys,
bringing back the produce of the seeds that had been sown over the
stern on the last circuit of the earth. The fleet of vehicles
went before the city and sowed the whole Western land before harvesting
their crops and, as night advanced, drew themselves back onto the great
road and into the fore ramps of the city. Even at this distance
and in the glare of the sunset, she could tell that not all were heaped
full of produce. The ration clocks would be counting thin slices
of sustenance for another year.
Speaking of clocks… she consulted her pocket
would be happening soon; would she stay to watch? After her
conditioning, she had less of a stomach for blood than most. She
drummed her fingers on her knee, took a sip from her flask. Where
else was there to go today?, she asked herself and hoped that it wasn’t
morbidity that kept her here.
On the foremost decks of the foremost cars, thousands
had gathered to
peer through smoked lenses at the eternal sunset before them.
Silhouetted against the faltering but still painful blaze and the
glittering backs of the tenscore hippochalkoi that pulled the city
through its unending orbit of the earth, the Judge-major of the Stress
Masters stood on an articulated platform extended from the prow of his
order’s first car. She could barely see that the Judge-major had
worn black over his uniform grey, indicating already the sentence that
he would pronounce.
At his feet, there was a bundle.
She did not like the hot mood that she felt, rising from
the mass of
people along with the foggy plumes of their breath. This hora,
she imagined, the Stress Masters were particularly stern, and the
drivers were particularly careful in their management of their engine’s
guidance mills. Although the Stress Masters’ algorithms ensured a
stable and constant effect of effort from the chained fleet, there was
an ongoing competition that would rise from time to time to acts of
As it had now.
There were dreadful penalties for such a thing, but
desperate soul would convince himself that in order to gain an
increment of advance for his clan, he would act to embarrass a rival,
and sometimes if he was a fool, he would be condemned for endangering
the advance of the whole city.
A shaft of golden light fell upon the Judge-major’s
platform, cast by a
mirror high up on the Heliomancer’s Palatine Tower. “Witness!” he
cried, his voice thin but penetrating. “Our deliberations were
concluded. I, in the name of my order, under the reflection of
the spire of our Navigators, make this declaration.
“One formerly known as Entomo of Kalche, now nameless,
that most low
traitor and saboteur, has brought shame upon his former house by
attempting to impede the progress of the engine, Excellent, pride of
the clan Aexo! Furthermore, he most vilely tried to attribute
sponsorship for his act to a third party, thus further compounding his
evil! It is for these crimes, these most uncivil crimes that
threaten to both stall the progress of the city of Aeiphanes in its
orbit and to sow discord amongst the driving houses, that he is to
executed on this hora! Bear witness all!”
A roar rose from the crowd and as it died, the
again. In the sky, the lammergeyers were gathering and their
human equivalents were already feeding on the anticipation of blood.
“Witness! The sponsoring house of Kalche is to be
handicapped! In making necessary the just punishment of the
decommissioning of their foremost hippochalkon, Illustrious, they are
to endure the opprobrium of all. Their dormitory and mercantile
cars are to be transferred to the rearmost position of the city.
Hated by all, their scions may contemplate the advancing darkness and
consider the fate that all of us fear! Bear witness all!”
Again, there was an angry roar from the throats of all
Io fancied that she felt through her feet the vibration of thousands
more who could not leave their posts screaming in rage from inside
Once more the Judge-major pronounced, but this time it
was to the
huddled, naked figure tied at his feet. “Witness, nameless one,
witness! In seeking to hobble the rivals of your former house,
you had shamed those who were your blood. There is no place for
the nameless and unhoused in this city and accordingly, in small and
inadequate recompense, the Master of House Kalche will enforce
justice. As you have lied, you shall be silenced by the splitting
of your tongue. As you have sought to break the limbs of
Aeiphanes, your limbs shall be broken. As you have sought to let
the darkness overtake her, your eyes shall be put out shall no longer
receive the divine light of the sun. You will be left still alive
on the road, unmoving and unseeing while the darkness advances and the
ice claws at you. You will lie blind and motionless in your own
filth while your own orphan blood freezes in your veins, and when
Aeiphanes comes upon your remains in the next orbit, they will be
crushed beneath her wheels unnoticed, for you are not and you never
were. Witness - and witness no more!”
It was then that the Master of Kalche in his dual
costume of lictor and
penitent stepped forward and performs the first of his duties.
The man’s screams become a horrible gargle, followed by a muffled thump
as he was dumped over the side. Squalling carrion birds begin to
contest for places in the feeding queue as they spiralled down.
Shading her eyes, Io was able to see an immense azhdarcho gliding from
the West, the sun shining through its membranous wings. The
lammergeyers, it seemed, would have to eat fast.
She did not remain to see the rest and went clambering
tangled superstructure of the city to find some less gruesome
spectacle. Soon enough she found a conjunction of supports with a
good view of the East and uncapped her flask and took measured sips of
spirits while she waited for the Stress Masters to get to work.
In the following horai when they unhitched and relocated the suburbs of
Kalche and the various components of Aeiphanes remade their map, she
tried not to think. On the verge of majority, she was only two
orbits old at this time, but already she understood all that had caused
this man’s desperation and the still greater desperation of his
executioners. She too was clanless and unattributed. Her
tag was Io, but that was half a name; Foundling Io was the entry that
was written in the census, meaning that she was no-one. Since the
obscure circumstance of her birth, she had never been adopted into any
clan, and so it was Io, plain strange Io, she remained. The
Monstruwacans took good care of her, put her to work as one of their
librarians. There was more treasure for her to savour in their
books than she ever thought that she would find as a scion of a major
house and usually, that was enough for her. Events such as this
execution reminded her though of just how precarious her existence
was. Majority was going to present a dilemma for her sponsors…
The girder on which she was perched shook under her, as
if a gust of
wind had caught it. There was no gust. It, the affliction,
was happening now.
The seizures were even more terrifying than
orgasms. It was the
absolute certainty that once the first intimations began, the sequence
could not be stopped and would only intensify and that she was
condemned to experience it in all its overwhelming power that enraged
her and made her sick and terrified at once. It started with the
scent of roses and a whispering somewhere behind her, then the
whispering became a tinny, wordless chant that became irritatingly
repetitious and more and more penetrating. Underlying that there
was an intense feeling that everything she was seeing, she had seen
before somewhere, though she could not tell where or when. In the
final stage of the beginning, when the fit swallowed her whole, the
world seemed at once to loose focus and to become too loud before
imploding upon itself. Her very knowledge of who she was would be
eroded away by the onslaught of strange sensations and inexplicable new
memories. Her guardians, if they were near, would find her
twitching and frothing and carry her back to be nursed back into her
normal self-awareness. Sometimes it took diphae, and in that time
she would thrash and sweat in her cot, cry out and soil herself to
finally come to, exhausted and chaffed with blood in her mouth and
aching where she had pulled muscles.
Always, every time, she would lie there, knowing too
well what she had
experienced. There would be almost nothing that she could
understand, except that she fought terrible battles with monsters she
could not describe. It was always it was the same and always it
was drenched with the same sick fear.
She called it the here-it-comes.
It was happening now, and she groaned through clenched
now! No! It was no use. Step by step it mounted,
blasting the pillars of her identity until her mind collapsed into
pure, uncomprehending terror, while the nonsensical chant became louder
and louder, like a sandstorm eroding the very contours of her
identity. The here-it-comes swept her away and threw her hard
against the wall of the Castle.
Dreams are the magical
tyrants of unconsciousness.
fanatical, within their span they will prescribe every acquiescent
thought. The dreamer will see a butterfly and know with utter
certainty that it is a terrible threat, or they will see the face of a
stranger and have known them for a lifetime. Event, knowledge and
belief are all mixed as one.
This is what the dreamer
believed: there was a man and
his duty was to
be the Sideromancer. He measured the stars and deduced facts from
their appearance, he listened to the voices that called from the
Here was his world: Ahead,
above, fore, a ring of stars
turned blue and
each was a precise, hard point. Behind, below, aft, a black sea
of infinite depth, the horizon edged with embers, far away.
Suspended between the two was his Castle, Lachesis, built in the shape
of a necklace and slowly turning like a clock. Set within the
centre of the necklace, made of magnetism and the thin winds of space,
was something vast and tall and strangely indistinct. It might
have been an attenuated flower, stretched so long and high that it was
merely a misty image of itself, but this frail-seeming stream was the
great propulsive reaction that had driven the Castle constantly for
Watching, measuring and
acting when he could, the
was that of a spider, to make a web, to tend it, to keep it strong and
integral. There was an empire, or hope of an empire as much as
there could be an empire of stars. There were a thousand suns
with planets inhabited by human beings. Once, long ago when
people lived on one world, kings built castles in their conquered
lands. Now the sky was too vast for castles that stood still, so
they flew from world to world, passing by each once every thousand
years to raise their flags and impose order. In return for
fealty, the castles traded assurance; paladins such as himself raised
their armaments over the subject worlds, but in honour of their
imperial law, they averted their aim from human beings and used them to
battle the common enemy of all, the Eaters of Light.
Let the daughter worlds of
earth lay down their burdens
let us take up their burdens of fear and of justice, the Sideromancers
And they were admired.
And they were losing.
Sorrowing, he stood on the
enclosed battlements of the
Castle and put
his eye to a weird sextant to measure the angle of the horizon.
It was not easy, because there was no distinct line between the
blackness of the sky and the blackness of the sea, merely a region were
the few stars there became too red and too dim to see.
Nonetheless, he made his measurements and compared them with readings
from other devices: a pendulum, a clock, a calculator mill. The
results gave him no comfort. He and his companions expected the
sky to draw itself into a tight halo about the misty rose, but the
rising blackness was not the sea and the stars ahead were not as bright
or as blue as a sky should be.
The Eaters of Light were
more, far more than had been
Io realised that she had come to herself again.
She was lying in
her familiar hospital cot, naked under felt blankets. Her tender
parts felt raw and she smelled soap, and underneath it, the faint hint
of stale sweat and urine. Her temples throbbed, there was the
taste of something horrible in her mouth and a leaden pain was pounding
at her wrist. It had been bad this time, wounding her body,
sapping her psyche and pneuma. She sighed and threw her arm
across her face and felt splinted bandages against her brow.
Wires trailed from them.
Eventually someone came, Medeis. He had brought
her old entekora
and he tossed it to her. She was too old for dolls, but the
familiarity of the toy was a consolation. She played with it
absentmindedly as they spoke, turning it inside-out over and over again
so that it showed first one face and then another.
“You fell,” he said. “If you hadn’t been caught,
you’d had fallen
off the car altogether.”
“I almost wish that I had,” she muttered.
The Monstruwacan physician put his finger to her
“Quiet. If your affliction got better or worse and if there was a
therefore a pattern, the cause could be divined and by interfering with
that cause, we might…”
She jerked her head to one side and stared pointedly at
black cylinder that occupied the other half of the room. This was
the sign of his most obvious failure: the hypothermic sarcophagus had
been rescued from the ruined Castle many years ago and through all the
years since, the pinpoint telltales that clustered the bundle of
conduits at its flanged crown had shone unchanging red and amber for a
chiliad. Despite the best efforts of various technicians and
doctors at revival, the passenger cradled within still hung in stasis
between death and sleep
The gibe saddened him, but did not dissuade him from his
own attempt at
persuasion. “There was a difference, Io. Despite your link
with… despite the suggestive coincidence of your fits beginning after
your first visit to the grounded Sky-Castle and declining
thereafter…” He paused, then recovered his thread: “And because
we now see a repeat of the pattern in your seizures that proves that
they are related to the specific location…”
“So they will get worse.”
He shrugged. “I brought you into this world,
Io. You were
all lurid hair and knees and elbows even then. Nobody thought
that you would live, nobody thought that my experiments with the earth
current would be beneficial. In the last orbit, when you were
still small, the seizures came and nobody thought that you would live
through them. It appears that nobody was right. Call me
“Nobody,” she acknowledged with a weary smile and
little. It was an old, familiar joke. It had never been
very funny, but they both knew that the point was the familiarity and
reassurance of a long bond, not wit. She would try to hurt him
sometimes, make him feel her pain, but he was the one person whom she
could never disappoint without feeling real shame.
The wrist healed quickly under the application of the
over the following diphae, but the dull pain was monotonous and worse,
it itched furiously under the bandage and she was unable to scratch
it. She shambled around with her arms folded and her hand tucked
protectively in her armpit. She surreptitiously rubbed at it, but
it was no use; while the healing was speeded, it could not yet be
In the meantime, every whiff of perfume, every stumble,
jerk on the edge of sleep in her bed seemed like the first touch of her
daemon possessor. Waiting for the attacks to come, she stayed
awake late into hesperophaos reading. As a librarian of the
Monstruwacans, she had some necessary privileges and some of what she
read was knowledge never to be shared and it served to distract
her. In the dim blue light of hesperophaos, with her bedding
wrapped like a cocoon about her and the heavy books propped on the
peaks of her bony knees, she ran her fingers down the pages, skipping
and pausing here and there on particularly elaborate rubrics.
For instance, according to one file marked with the
emblem of a fisher
spider, the Monstruwacans had let down superconducting cables from
spinnerets built into the belly of the city. With these they had
spent the long circuits of the earth mapping the currents flowing
through its crust. They had made the most elaborate charts and
maps of veins in the earth where currents run right and powerful, nodes
and concentrations. The pattern was as rich as a lavish carpet,
as rich and as alive as an ocean. They had also found what they
were sure were the signs of creatures that inhabited this sea of
energy. They darted back and forth, gathered themselves together
and followed the city itself with something like curiosity. Or so
it appeared; they might simply have been following the dictates of
Over the ages, with the perspectives that only the
been able to master, changes had been observed in the taxonomy and
morphology of these creatures. They might be evolving, readying
themselves for diversification that could involve emergence onto the
surface of the earth. Then again, it was probably too soon to
In any case, they marvelled at this world that was like
an ocean under
an ice crust and more pragmatically wondered if the stone of the
earth’s surface might be split to let loose this secret energy.
Perhaps it might be tapped; perhaps if they had this blue light
coursing through the mirrored shafts and conductive passages of the
city, they might stop their endless procession and live well without
the sun. This was of course heresy to the sun-scryers and
therefore one of the hermetic secrets of the Monstruwacan order.
Another document seemed much drier, being a compilation
of reports from
the archaeologists of the Salvage Corps. Still, it recalled the
glories of earth’s old empire and the wonders of thousands of
worlds. Io scratched her head, pursed her lips and made the
exaggerated frown that indicated her own interest. Reading as she
had read more times than she could count, she heard her earnest inner
voice telling her that there was a time when the castles of humanity
flew far across the stars, making great tours of the galaxy as the
cities now crept their mean way around the earth. They were
weavers, these castles; they knitted the empire with law and knowledge,
planting colonies, returning centuries later to trim them as needs
dictated, bringing back their splendid novelties. The scholars of
the Salvage Corps eventually founded the Monstruwacans, who became the
supreme analysts of alien cultures - and how alien some were! It
was hard to told if they were borne of human flesh adapted to new
environments or arose from separate geneses even further away.
Further or farther? The grammatical
appropriateness of one or the
other had never been quite clear to her. She brushed a strand of
hair from her face and tapped the corner of the book in an economical
gesture to brighten the luminous text so that she could read more
Under the emblem of a snowflake, she saw a drawing of a
four limbs that might once have been a man, though it had no visible
head and each limb divided in two, and then four and then eight and
sixteen until it did indeed look like a rosette of ice crystals.
The book told her that this being’s eyes were individually very simple,
mere slivers of calcite, but it had thousands spangled throughout its
body and its extremities so that sight and touch were virtually the
Then there were intelligences that existed entirely in
the medium of
language, humming in the cilia of tiny glow-worms that were themselves
unintelligent. Every silence was a death and yet they were
resurrected when the worms gathered and began to buzz and shine
again. In theory, they could be brought to life on earth through
programmed musical instruments that could iterate variations from basic
And there was another musical race, self-replicating
machines that flew
and communicated by song. They called themselves the
So-la-si. Explorers called them beautiful and wished that they
could be transformed into their kind.
And there were beings that had no eyes and communicated
scents and traces. They did not take seriously the idea that
anyone could be said to be absent when their smell remained.
Everything for them was constantly changing as new scent trails were
laid, but nothing was ever quite gone either…
No-one outside of the order knew of these files, for
knowledge of how much their circumstances were reduced might provoke
revolt among the masses. That was too much for Io to care about
herself just now; she read purely for pleasure. Secrets were
always thrilling and she forgot to worry for as long as she read.
The ten horai of hesperophaos passed beyond her awareness until she
woke with the book lying across her stomach and her arm hanging to the
floor. She rubbed her stiff neck, bathed and worked and returned
and read again.
The dipahe passed at their constant pace. Beyond
her cubby, time
and space were segmented as neatly as the horai on a clock dial as
Aeiphanes passed marker obelisks. The grey metal spires were for
the most part unmarked, saving their standard inscriptions of
longitude, but those numbers in themselves were as sinister as a
countdown to her, and some were capped with bright electrum now to
indicate the proximity of the festive field. If this was the
place that caused her fits, then the nearer she approached, the worse
they would become. It had been no exaggeration when she told
Medeis that she’d rather have fallen from the city altogether.
Inevitably, the clock began to strike more often as the
ended. Instead of tinkling bells, it rang the changes with the
smell of roses and the incoherent chanting that almost sounded like the
taunts of her childhood: “Copper hair! Copper hair!” Sometimes
the chant was different - “stick legs” or “green eyes” were also
recurring themes. She knew that the words of the chant were an
auditory illusion, but that hardly altered their cause or effect.
They were just an added reminder that she was too visibly different to
the other people of this city. And that difference was mattering
more than it did when she was a child.
As Medeis said, she needed to love more than nobody, but
how could that
happen? She was less able these diphae to say that she didn’t
need it and that was one more reason to hate her disease and by
Medeis had a line for that too: “Nobody loves you,
someone has to.”
That had become much less amusing to her for half an
To be out and about, as much as she could be, was
refreshing as it
always was after her periods of invalidism, though also the exposure
was frustrating. Her flesh was healed, but her flesh
wanted. Io lacked neither desire nor initiative, but there was
something missing. Was it something that had been forced out by
her seizures, as if her brain was a bookcase with limited room?
She hoped not. Though she had never been in love, it was
something she was sure she wanted to experience and she was sceptical
when her friends said that there was more said than done in its
realisation. She wasn’t even sure about synduazo, which was, as
far as she could gather, a combination of ambiguous proof of something
or other and a sort of score in an endless game. Reading between
the lines, she suspected that the former was truer, and needed to be
covered by the cynicism of the latter because of the vulnerability that
it entailed. A few fumbling approaches, baited with her own
novelty, had left her sore, disappointed and faintly greasy.
According to much of literature, synduazo was the ultimate, or was at
least the reflection of the ultimate as inexpertly practiced on
earth. Comparing her experience and the ideal, she was forced to
conclude there was something missing from her sensibility after all.
It did not help at all to discover after her sexual
she had gained a ‘reputation’. She understood then why the matter
of keeping score was such an important matter. One must either
refrain from playing altogether or aim for the extreme, which actually
incited her disgust. Fortunately memories were short and while
she was dismissed on the rounds of rumour as a loser for a while,
attention always gravitated towards the supposed winner and their rival
and she was thankfully left alone.
In the long run, seeing it as a game, she saw a few who
teetered on the
boundary between girl and woman and gambled far too much. Their
falls were spectacular and terrifying and their returns to the ‘game’
were as dreadful as the slow, inexorable crash of a city she had seen
once in a parallel enklima to the North.
To some degree then, she was thankful for her
solitude. This was
she realised, her natural inclination. Or at least, solitude was
not so much a desert as a safe harbour. This was a simile that
someone less well read than her might not appreciate.
Nonetheless, at the edges of hesperophaos, desire
Her nerves and glands constituted a system of triggers that she could
release at will as palliatives and the resulting explosions sufficed
until the next dimming of the lights. If it was a sort of warm
serenity she desired, then a comfortable aerie, a vista and a flask of
spirits would bring her to stability. All in all, these things
were controllable. She could not stand the awkwardness of love,
let alone the more severe wounds that she saw resulting from it.
Neither did she care much for her angular, attenuated
was better if no-one saw it and commented on it. Human beings
were such graceless things, and when quadruped, degraded as animals,
but without their accustomed poise.
Still… the questions came every time she stood at the
portals of sleep
and kept her back. The very fact that they came again and again
was too significant to dismiss with what the dictionary called
anaphlasma (nominative) or tribia, kataibata and any number of odd
similes. Obviously her fascination with dictionary definitions
for what was a very simple, private and somewhat messy action was
symptomatic also. The very fact that so many writers had devoted
so much energy to thinking of oblique names for it testified to their
own unease and compulsion as well. At least she was not alone in
The library’s store of information on love, which she
thought to be euphemy might after all have been a guide… but
ultimately, when it came to fulfilment, she came up against the same
walls, the same oafish fumbling and insensitivity. She dared not
invest and remained, ultimately, a watcher too well aware now of the
impossibility - it seemed - of fulfilment.
Self-pity then, a talent well practiced after her
provided a comfortable wallow.
Medeis of course observed her too, and understood from
his own years of
experience. “A man will destroy,” he told her. “A woman
will destroy… herself.”
Not long after that she took his advice too literally
and found herself
in front of a mirror, with a blade in one hand and a row of very neat,
shallow, parallel incisions down one forearm while skeins of blood
patterned her skin like wet lace and dripped with perfect regularity
from her hanging forefinger. She was astonished as much as
anything by the fact that it seemed so precise and methodical when she
was barely even conscious of doing it. Despite this paradox, the
pain somehow made perfect sense because she had willed it, however
The first time was not the last time, but she was
detached enough to observe the aesthetics of her predicament and
realise that, even though it was not an attempt at self-destruction as
such, there was something desperately wrong. Because of her
seizures she was never far from attention and the scars were
noticed. She went into the treatment room struggling, but when
she emerged from the last of her sessions of aversion therapy, she was
in fact relieved. If she was to wallow, and to play the part of
invalid, then the seizures were certainly adequate. Gradually,
she learned to fit them to the dark desire that had made her take up
the knife, acquiesced to her programme of reflex-conditioning and felt
thereby that if she did not have control, she did at least have the
consolation of ritual and regularity.
It was funny that if a cure was found, she might not
even want it…
The ruined Starport had been visible for heptahorai,
close enough to
see in detail for lesser horai, and was now imminently near. Io
had tucked her hair into a black cap for discretion as much as warmth
and made her way to one of the promenade decks of one of the starboard
cars. There, she was able to take advantage of her narrow size to
force her way to the fore of the crowd of thick-bundled spectators and
clamber to the extremity of a cantilevered gnomon. It was
slippery with ice and creaked under her slight weight, but still held.
Barely a league aft-starboard, a pod of landwhales and
their retinue of
noisy commensals were gathering and uttering their long, thrilling
songs of mating. Sounds seemed clearer in the clear cold air of
Just as she settled herself, the high voices of
machinery ascended the throats of Aeiphanes’ towers, attended by a deep
thrum in the deck plates; a mechanical contingency elaborated to make a
mournful choir. The city began its halt. Even though the
city moved more slowly than a walk, its inertia was huge and stopping
was a delicate procedure. As delicate as a landwhale’s
copulation, no doubt.
Despite the risk of the creeping dark and the fear that,
the city might not move again, a sort of happy excitement elevated the
crowd and they chattered and pointed towards the strewn complex.
Every hora they had counted down and they all cheered as a new festive
marker obelisk passed their vantage. Leaning just as much as she
could, a hand on a strut and a heel on an ornamental curlicue, Io could
almost touch their electrum caps as they passed at their slow pace.
And perhaps for the sake of risk, she tempted fate so
that she might
not had to deal with responsibility. Perhaps the
reflex-conditioning had not been enough. Perhaps this was another
form of cutting…
The odour wafted by. It might have been perfume,
it might have
been warning. She shook the struts supporting her, daring them to
break or her fit to come.
Not yet, its absence said, but soon…
Other spectators held up lorgnettes and read the
inscriptions on the
tall pyramid, noting the events and lives memorialised, the measurement
of the degrees from the meridian; statistics, facts, history.
Others pointed at the landwhales, joking vulgarly.
She scanned the crowd herself, finding more variety and
faces than markers. There might be someone she had seen before in
more private corners - but of course he would never acknowledge her
openly in public.
Still, if she caught his eye, she might savour a sign of
discomfort… but she could not even find him. No surprise, no
matter, she told herself. He was anyone and no-one, a mannequin
for her imagination and no more.
In sympathy perhaps, a bull landwhale began to mount a
female with slow
The barely repressed mood of celebration was infectious
and she inhaled
as if she drew it into her lungs like tobacco smoke and fantasised a
languorous synduazo with the little puppet figures of herself and the
nameless boy. It made her giggle at least.
This Anniversary festival was as special as any for a
long time: there
was to be an Adjustment and one more second was to be added to the
leaping hora that ended this orbit. The earth’s rotation was
slowing more quickly than had been calculated. Already children
grew almost to adulthood in one rotation and one ‘day’, as the old
languages had it, there would be no more days. The sun would set
for the last time over one half of the earth and never rise again -
while on the other side, it would never set.
It was customary during such times that Aeiphanes paused
awhile by the
sacred ruins of a starport and let the sun slip a little below the
horizon, to celebrate remembrance and to anticipate the coming eternal
night. In that period of misrule, Medeis and the other
Monstruwacans, those-who-see-the-omens-of-shadows, would stage their
own secret observances.
A snowflake caught in her eyelashes and began to melt
tear. She blinked and pulled her collar tighter, careful to keep
her balance as she moved to a safer position. The car was shaking
and suddenly the height was too much. Nonetheless, she still
leaned out and watched.
Now was the pause. When the wheels had stopped at
last, there was
a quiet somehow more thick and dense than noise. Even the
landwhales seemed muted. Suddenly, the silence was violently
split as the cooling stacks uttered their shrieks and the crowd let
forth its cheer.
That was the signal; officially, Aeiphanes had arrived
at its place of
pause. She stared across the plain; the Starport, so-called, was
a paved plain bisected by the Road. A league away to starboard,
like a strange fortification, lay the remains of the grounded Castle
that once flew spinning between the stars. Once there was an age
when earth was the nexus of an empire and maybe in a way it still
was. Time slowed at the speeds needed to span the sky, so she was
told without quite understanding how. Maybe more lost castles
might yet land and their passengers would wake in the belief that the
empire was still real. If they were real, then the empire would
be too. An empire was dominion, and dominion was knowledge and
knowledge was a thought and thoughts were fancies, so the litany went.
Many of the things that had been found in the Castle -
such as the
black sarcophagus - were kept as secrets between the allied factions of
the elite, but there were loose stories of an ancient battle in deep
space and a crew hidden in aestivation. Rumours made
constellations of small points of fact and Io was privileged to be an
astrologer of rumours. She knew half of what was true, she
thought, and ached to divine the rest.
Another snowflake fell, touching her on narrow strip of
between sleeve and mitten. A little point, ending a fall. A
pinprick of cold.
Clanless and unattributed, she was still unique.
Her own life was
like a rumour and that was why she was so eager to see, and so eager to
It came then. It rose like a wave and broke over
her, broke her.
The quivering of the struts intensified and she realised
that it was
her hand and not the metal that shook. This was it, now.
The here-it-comes. She gritted her teeth and her jaws
locked. What she felt was terror, but the imposition of terror
enraged her. If she had the control that had been snatched from
her, she would lash out, punch through glass windows with her fists,
break her knuckles against iron, but she could did none of these
things. Her tongue felt swollen, she heard the sounds she made:
whines and grunts, like a rutting animal in plain view of the crowd who
were now turning their collective stare towards her. Someone was
climbing out along the gnomon, his hand extended. She hated
herself. Then she fell.
The landing was hard for one who was now like a
her viewpoint skewed and then sharpened on another view. Once
again she was in the Castle.
21 Feb 2006
Back to Night
to Part 2 . .