Jewel (Part 1)
Here is a jewel, grown in the darkness.
There are five shapes that are perfect. One perfection is of the twelve-sided dodecahedron, which some Authorities claim mirrors the true form of the Universe: and the same Authors state that the Land is a hollow cave with the dead Sun at its centre; that for our salvation the Redoubt must be rebuilt with a fifth side to justly mirror the five Watchers, a labour of five millions of years; and that every family should properly be founded by five suitors, not one.
Yet other ancient writers say that the Pyramid must be refashioned into a tetrahedron, for that shape also is perfect and only by such perfection can our salvation be attained and a refuge from the Land achieved. They believe the Lesser Redoubt, that was so formed, was an attempt to escape by this route, and we must repeat and perfect the escape.
Truth is a jewel hard to find.
It is dim and quiet here. The borders of the vast echoing space are lost in shadow. Travelling cranes cling to rails that cross the roof, and everywhere on the floor there are mechanisms scattered between walls of interlocking adamantine blocks that look, somehow, like the forgotten toys of a gigantic child. Most of the apparatus that lie discarded here are thousands of years old. My own recent additions make a little island of metal and plastic among many other machines whose purpose has been long forgotten.
In the centre of it all is the Bottle, twelve-sided like a jewel and blacker than black. It is raised a little from the floor and surrounded by the white line of the proximity barrier. The aether around it vibrates with an intense and perpetual flux of the Earth-current, for each pentagonal segment of its rind is alive with screaming energy, and within the cyst of metal they make is a second core of force locally buffered so that if power is lost the discontinuity will make it shrink to nothing and wipe out all life it contains. I say "Life" after a certain meaning of the word, for it holds an Eater, a thing from the uttermost Outside. The essence of the Night is captured here within double and triple flasks of incandescence, at the centre of a secret Redoubt within the Redoubt, turned inside out, blacker than the Land, nigredo. This prison has been sealed for two hundred thousand years and more.
The watching guards are of untiring earth-lightning and keener-sighted even than their captive. There are armoured men to supplement their alertness, standing at the fringes of the room where it is safe, and they eye me and my party jealously; even after these months I can sense the curiosity in their minds as clear as if they were speaking aloud. And the great daemons darting through the cybernetic nets and touchpoints within the barrier watch us too, and radiate their own codes of alert and wariness through the aether. Man and machine want to know what my purpose is and why I have been allowed here, but there is little chance of man or machine discovering, because in truth I am hardly sure myself.
I am hardly sure myself, but I remember this place. I realised as soon as I came here again that this was the place. It was much more than a century ago that I came here first, I was a child then, and I did not know where I was or what was going to happen, and I had been blindfolded and my ears stopped up and the nerves of my dermis numbed by drugs, and I was faint with fasting. But when I came to this place again, after so long, I immediately remembered everything.
And now I have returned and I have been working here for months, planning and dreaming and building. Sometimes I believe I am an utter fool. Sometimes I am sure I have the key. It will be impossible to know until it is put to the test.
Hugin and the overChief talk and arrange small matters concerning our absence. I walk closer to the Bottle, passing the barrier and ignoring the alert it triggers, and mount to the observation locus one last time, climbing the grillwork stair slowly on stiff legs. A multiple-screen maps the contained pneumavore in three dimensions. It is a beautiful thing, complexity within complexity of skeins and filaments and pulsing nodes of light yielding to laminations and arrays and at the very lowest level to mechanism. Our bodies are machines whose single cogs are atoms, and this thing is not less finely structured and not less a machine in its deepest substrate of being, though it is not made of our type of matter. Overall it is most like a tree, but a tree whose branches are black darting filaments of lightning, whose size is infinitely variable, and whose mass is perhaps a few thousandths of an uncia . . . but that is one of those things it is very hard to measure, I understand: it can co-opt ordinary matter very swiftly and efficiently. If it was free and it could escape from this black cyst of fire perhaps it would expand through the Redoubt like an invisible mist of horror and destruction, or perhaps it would merely die. The Earth-current is healthy and salubrious for men but not good for the dark breed.
A host of instruments probe the captive, some mapping its pneumahydrodynamic structure, some tasting its radiations, some feeding it with streams of energy and computer-generated chaotic patterns and thin tenuous gas, and by these Operations upon it a treasure house of results have been obtained. We have nightsuits that will act like little Circles, shielding their wearers' souls as well as their bodies, patterns of photons that affect the Eaters as poison or heat affects a human, diskoi that will shear spirit as readily as flesh, and other more subtle things. It is as valuable as any jewel, unique, irreplaceable, its origin lost behind the ancient horizon of record. No clear explanation of its capture remains with us but only contradictory and incomplete legends.
I see it darting back and forth from wall to wall - dilating like an explosion, iterating its being like a mathematical equation and writhing like a whip within its trap, and then collapsing to a thin nub of being. And now it holds still. The field of the Bottle is driven hard and cuts off all possible telepathic communication. What does it think in there? Does it think? Does it suffer? Does it feel? Our human consciousness resides in our pneumasome which is in some ways structured not unlike the Eaters, though it is of the most divergent evolution imaginable. We are all flesh, with only the tiniest admixture of spirit arising from the flesh. This thing is all spirit, with only the tiniest wisps of matter harvested once from the wastes between the dead and forgotten stars... and now its brothers hold us here all captive, in a pyramidal prison not unlike the Bottle itself except for the trivial matters of shape and size. They imprison us in the Redoubt and the rest of the universe is theirs, whether shaped like a dodecahedral gem or a cave or an edgeless waste of emptiness or the skull of a dead God...and we are trapped in here.
The Monstruwacans have power but not the power to freely possess the treasures of the other Guilds. I have been allowed into some of the Black Libraries and I have seen many strange things but none so dangerous as this. Barrier within barrier of metal and fire and vacuum, of law and taboo and custom, seclude this hall, and yet the search which took me to so many strange places finally brought me back here before a thing whose existence, at least, has always been know to our Order. We have all come before it. Long long ago, I stood here, and now I remember that time as if from another life. But to return here and to prepare my experiments I had to request, bargain, persuade, and pay.
I have analyzed what I must do and I know the equipment I will require, and it has been granted me, up to a certain limit. The machines are ready, and the men who will order them will soon be at my command. Now I must leave. In a few more days I will return, and my experiment, when I perform it, if I can perform it, will be very simple.
Turn the jewel. Look again.
The stacks of the Black Library are very quiet. One matross stands guard with weapon at ease. His eye falls on us occasionally but his boredom tones the aether around him. And good Hugin stands beside my desk, alert to my need. His worry for me is touching, poor honest fool.
The desk sits in the middle of a shelving-pattern called the Infinite Sun. Such things are important, the Librarians say. There are vast ranks of stacks around us, and from time to time Hugin fetches me books or plaquettes of information from them, but it is the virtual pattern at the centre of which the desk is suspended that is the true Library. The cybernetic servants that search and return and search and return for me are sophisticated enough to know tedium and be deceived by it so the Library in information space is also shaped as a subtly aperiodic array, though of higher dimension than two. All is ordered yet the order conceals nothing in blind repetition, for it never repeats.
The books, virtual or real, are very old and their number is nearly infinite. Some of them refuse to interface with the desk and send it parsing through its collection of ancient formats, talking to other magazines until it can find some match, which it presents to me with a gentle chime, translating as best it can.
For example this, from the most ancient times:
"Respect for you, the Sun! King of two zones, samoproizvodja the Founder, Father and Mother, Father and the Son, the God and the Goddess, the Goddess and the God! " And their voices have been lost in flash of the tools seeming simultaneously to heat shouts of victims. Octachord sheminits, kajnnors which had ten chains, and nebals which had twelve, ter, whistled, and rattled. Huge <????> bags, oshchetinivajushchiesja with pipes, made shrill colliding noise; taboerines which beat with energy of all players, it was filled with heavy fast impacts; and, despite of fury of pipes, salsalim snapped as wings of grasshoppers.
Or this, from scarce a million years past:
At first she did not understand why periods of exploration of the Land, when the Heroes went Out, alternated with periods of near-total isolation. It was only when she thought to trace the plagues that periodically swept through the Dead cities, and coordinate it with the gene flows within the Redoubt, that she understood this rhythm. Every heroic era of exploration was bought to end by a time of plague. Folk deadly sick were exiled to the Dead cities, constrained by Honour, far more ruthless and effective than any mere physical force. The Dead cities blazed with fever. After long quarantine, the survivors would be rescued and adopted among the folk of the Bright cities, who praised themselves and each other for their pity and virtue. The broad reproductive success of these survivors in their new environment was high, and in subsequent eras the histocompatibility complexes on their cell surfaces would become the majority norm within the Bright cities, while the slow fall of the dishonoured rebuilt the Dead city populations.
Thus, plague never devastated the heartland of the Redoubt. The Heroes served as tasters, sensors, inserted into the Land to bring back enough, just enough, to inoculate Her flesh against what might have devastated it completely. This collective evolutionary strategy did not exist in any human mind and was not planned: it had sprung into being out of nothing, one result of the eternal mutual blind darwinnowing.
Idle browsing. I told myself there would be something else to discover but I am wasting my time. My real research is over unless I am utterly deceived. It will soon find its fruition not far from here in the great hall that holds the Bottle. Yet still I cannot cease from wondering. A man might spend a million lifetimes here and be unable to unpick truth from lie. But truth is some where.
By the rolling roads and traversers, up the lifts and stairs, with many a stop to breath deep and acclimatize, I return home: to debate how much we can spare to fill up a grandniece's dowry and whether we should dismiss that maid whom Mar so dislikes, to count the cost of paper for the household karrezinmand the replacement of battered furniture, to dispense fees for tutors and requests from relatives for help in this or that project, and to sigh with a weariness of little things. My family have their problems. Perus wants to be a writer, Nenne is trying the viol this month, and for our anniversary Mar requests a new and more beautiful panel for the House lamp, the finest product of the Voyact stonegrower pans. She had selected one, of course. I overruled her as gently as possible and picked something with taste: an austere filtered calcite with a wonderful deep branched pattern etched into it, a pattern only just visible with the brightest light behind it. She argued pointlessly, but at last she agreed.
At least I could be home for the display. We made the proper ceremony. Late in the sleep-time we doused the Lamp completely and gathered round it, all our family and the servants together, in the dark. When I had fitted the new panel to a petal, Mar stepped forward, touched the Lamp, prayed to it, unveiled her face, and then kissed it; and as it kindled the new light spread across her face and the House compound. We watched the light in the darkness, shining on her old face. It grew stronger as the delicately balanced translucences wavered and rotated round the central core of radiance, combining and overlaying each other at random, and the new panel and the old ones together were truly beautiful.
Dear Nenne and three more from her girl-band sung, the maids served and then joined us as we all ate and drank, my man Hugin and his woman toasting us from the foot of the table, all my household together. It became a not unhappy time and for once Mar smiled. She had forgiven me by then for overriding her choice of the pretty thing. Though the love between us frayed away to nothing decades ago we are sometimes friends. Many men of my age and rank seek diversion in younger women or in the malthakoi: I have only occasionally done so.
That night, I was visited by the mara for the first time.
I was far underground, far beneath the Land, as deep as the deepest Field. I had gone down by passageways and cracks and ancient yellow corridors and found the place. There was a Giant, naked on his back with his limbs gripped by the rock, and above him crouched another, a giant-woman. And there was a Beast, something whose presence I felt but whose shape I could not see, bent above us all. From its mouth dripped poison, and the giant-woman gathered it in her cupped hands to prevent it from falling on the face of the bound one. I could see how hard she pressed her fingers together and how she tried to stop even one drop falling through her fingers, the muscles of her arms trembling. The jaws in her terrible face yawned wide and the fangs showed as she cried grief and rage, like metal grinding and tearing: and I knew it was not the pain in her hands that made her scream but the fact that when she emptied her handsfull into the lake of poison on whose shore we knelt some of the stream that issued from the Beast must have time to drip into the eyes of her mate.
She turned in savage despair and saw me, and suddenly, as things happen in dreams, we were alone. She cried something and half-opened her arms to me, and though her face and limbs were hideous and dark she had a woman's breasts, the budding breasts of a girl. And she reached for me with hands vaster than the walls of the Redoubt. And I was tiny, tiny, among caverns and great echoing spaces far underground, utterly helpless in the grasp of something greater than human. And I awoke, crying.
The breathing of Mar my wife beside me was gentle and easy. I was in my own bed.
I rose. I went to the ceno and paced, in the half-dark, naked, thinking.
"Tell me the dream again."
The gothi casts an eye on me. He is a hard strong man, though even older than I and half a head shorter. Honest Hugin bought me here, to his hearth where they worship.
It is hard to tell. I begin in a stumbling manner, then before his unblinking eyes the words suddenly seem to be no longer absurd, and they come forth in a rush: the dark, the under-land, the glowing green sea, and the savage Ones who dwell there forever in torment. I straighten my back. "You know these giants? This place? Ser, this is but a dream."
"What do you fear worst?"
"The giant prisoned under the Land. Or what it symbolises in my mind. It is not dead, and the mara are surely its sendings and its daughters."
"Nothing from the Land can send dreams here."
"Hel rules the Land." He paces the room, bare adamantine marked with the ancient holy signs and slashed across with the black of sundeath. "You are of the Purple. You studied this as a man studies a children's game, while the mara Ate others. Now, you fear. But if this was a sending from the Land, how could it pass the Circle and come here? This is from places you cannot spy from your Tower".
"Do you dream?"
"I am visited by dreams". He whisper-breathes "Raidô" and under his voice his mind is quite crystalline and simply unafraid. There is no doubt, it is true.
I told him all. But when I had finished he only repeated: More dreams will come. He did not ask me to return.
After the first visit, they come again and again and again.
I was in the Land. I was in the midst of a great rout, a stampede of...metal beasts. Manshonyaggers, the daughters of the daughters of the machines that had been sent Out to tame the Land in the era of Ion Glass. They surrounded me in the dark. I thought they would rend me, but they seized me in their iron hooks, and I was held, bound, until one raised me up upon its carapace. They ran through the Night, holding me high, towards one that waited. The cold froze my blood, flashes of fire sprang from their feet, yet they ran on and on...I knew something would be demanded of me.
And at last I was there and they set me down on a wide open bare place, and I looked up to see far before me the slumped and bulging face of some great dead Thing. It loomed above us in ancient ruin. It lifted a great dark limb, hovering above me, and I knew it would speak, and I tried terribly hard to wake. I knew I must wake, for I could not bear to see it move, shifting its vast bulk as it tried to compose its ruined body to utter judgment, and I knew what would follow when it had cried its sentence upon me. I strove and strove to wake and I woke, gasping weak cries.
I could not move. My limbs were gripped in stone, clasped by iron claws, though I was in my bed: Mar was holding me close and trying to wake me. She prayed against the mara and she held me and at last the paralysis went leaving me deadly tired and sick. I flung her off angrily.
I am making ready to go back to the Barbican and the Libraries. Tired, and short of sleep. I am writing something, when Nenne comes in. She waits politely till I notice her, shuffling her feet and wondering if grandfather is ignoring her deliberately. After only a little time I turn to her.
"Opa." A sweet smile. "I need..."
"A big tub of chocolate and honey."
"No, grandpa, I..."
"No!" She knows I am teasing. "You know what I want, Opa! You know what everyone is thinking." Daring, she comes up to me and touches my cheek gently and briefly. But I don't know what everyone is thinking, only their vague emotional state, unless I concentrate very hard or have a mechanical amplifier. When I was young I believed I was just unusually sensitive to people's expressions and the tones of their voice: it was not until my semarch that I realised I needed neither to hear nor see people to know what they felt. But not unless I really strain hard. Or unless they touch me, like this. One thing I can do is make people touch me, touch my face: they think it is by their own will, but I make them do it, and when they do it I can see all their mind, for a while.
She is frightened. She is hiding something behind a facade of childish innocence, and she has dressed herself and she moves like a young child. She wishes to tell me now on the last night before I leave to force my hand. Clumsy. But I am proud of my granddaughter. However imperfectly, she has learned to lie to a Monstruwacan.
"Opa, a man comes to speak to me."
What? No...impossible. "You are too young".
"Grandfather, he has Rank, and wishes to make his address to me!" Pride, and anger, and scorn for the complacent old fool who can never have felt anything like this; and cousin Beurre is affianced already! None of it reaches her face. And then contact fades and her pneumasome becomes opaque as only the mind of one in love and focused on its loved one can close. She is no longer a child. Yet that was only a short time ago.
"His name is Bal." A private smile. "He is the master of a Current Cannon. He is a matross of the Seventy-third city." And such smug satisfaction, which I do not need to read her mind to see, the little madam. But it is not unjustified. Even for the granddaughter of a Monstruwacan this is a catch.
A minute while she says nothing, then she smiles again, sure of her managing of me with this great news.
"When you return to the lower Cities, you will talk to him, Respected Grandfather?"
Now, look again. It glitters.
I lie awake in the near darkness of sleep-time, remembering
For the most part the Eaters are invisible to fleshly eyes, though the pneumasome can detect them. So those who would be Seers are taken there, to that Hall, blindfolded. It is the simplest test and the first test for them. Do you see it? Do you fear it? Do you feel pain? The eternally reliable test.
I was a maybe-Seer once. I was bought before the imprisoned One, to find out if I had the deeper sight and hearing. It was so long ago the full memory was lost until I came to the place again, but as a very young child I stood there, not knowing where I was or how I had been bought to that place. With the unclosing eyes of my soul, though the eyes of my flesh were covered, I saw It.
I was found acceptable and taken to the brotherhood of the Monstruwacans. I served my apprenticeship and I survived. But I remember now what it was like to be a child and to listen to the Night at the bidding of my wise, good, elders. Like the very early childhood I had been ripped from it was a different life, with each day as long as a week is now, and in my old mind the memories of my apprenticeship are confused with the memory of earlier and truly childish things: of the pale faces I saw in my dreams peeping from behind the tables and chairs; of the way the shadows leapt so frighteningly in the sleep-time; and of the little whispers that seemed always, always, behind me. The dreadful fear I felt, together with my sister, when we played and made a little Redoubt with blankets and chairs under the kitchen table, is mixed with the times only a little later, when my soul was held in the very teeth of the Night and let go. Surely, the games of childhood are a good preparation for our adult tasks.
I am old, I have had a long life, but nothing was ever that hard again. We throw our children as sacrifices to the darkness and we say it is because we must: but the truth is we do it because we pray it will devour them, not us. As a child I faced horror, only aware that I must do this or suffer what would be even worse than being mouthed by the Night—the utter rejection of my peers and parents. Only a child is weak enough to be so compelled and so only a child is strong enough to so perform.
I thought I had forgotten it all but I remember now, and I know that if I had to go back I would perish, I would die, I would not have the strength to endure it again, because I would know the pain that was coming, as I did not know then. Youth can only be endured once.
But the mara have come to take me back.
There is an ancient legend that once a great traitor was given to It to sorb and that his mind still dwells inside It, partly alive still and remembering being human. Surely this is untrue.
And I must go to visit my future grandson-in-law, tomorrow, as I descend the Pyramid again to return to the Barbican. Curse it. I can not put it off.
We have had the greeting, the gifts; now we dance our way through the little dance of courtesies.
Respected Sir. The great honour of this meeting.
I first saw your granddaughter when. Without warning. Her honourable and fine bearing. Her face, as glorious as the dead Sun. Foremost among her peers. Chance conversation leading me to great hopes. Ancient lineage and wealth eclipsed by her beauty. Her modesty and purity. Her wit and noble strength. Beyond my dreams of such a union, yet I hope, as men may only hope.
For six months I have sought her acquaintance. With anxiety, have I sought the approval of the white-robed ones, and received it with joy. That scroll I tender to you now.
The approval of her mother and father given. Your approval of this betrothal as the head of the Family now very humbly requested. The last link in this chain. My happiness, her happiness, dependent on your word. I appeal to your hope of descendants and the strength of our united houses. Union and wealth.
And so it proceeds.
But what a handsome young man! Glorious in the full dress of a matross, the Wotanseye shining on his breast, tall for one of the lower Cities! All the little defensiveness of ordinary life seems to have passed him by, all the everyday defeats, the little spites and cautions. Happiness and pleasure radiate from him. He is aware I can see his thoughts but he does not really care. He knows this is a mummery, but he plays the game happily. Another man would be frightened, but he is confident, yet not arrogant: he has the manner of a man who has never been hurt by any thing, he is generous, and he is even a little off balance now I am visiting him here, in his Captain's official hall, with every thing turned upside down for my sole convenience. But he does not mind that. He presumes goodwill. There is no meanness in him.
But even so a Monstruwacan's granddaughter is a very fit match for the Smiting Eye. He must doubt and be humbled a little.
"How did you meet? You are not of our City."
This requires a real answer, and his gaze drops a span. Apparently Nenne and her sept met him when they visited the Cannon with their tutors. Ah. Well, these "educational" visits are little more than disguised marriage markets, meant to introduce suitable mates under a mask of decorum and strict prohibition. Keep young women away from young men except as a dream, so they will adore the first they are allowed to speak to: make sure that first one is a stranger from at least the broad class the Eugenicists have passed as suitable; and let them think they rebel, and so they fall into each others' arms. Sometimes, it works wonderfully. So who sent Nenne's sept there? Some wise arrangement, no doubt, an open secret like every thing else in the Redoubt. I must have words with her mother. I have been busy. But I am not too displeased. The white-robed ones have given me their approval and reinforced that ceremonial certificate with some real details, and if this man is a fool he does not seem malignant or brutal. If I am any judge he is genuinely in love, the idiot.
So let it happen. I can not be troubled to care much at this time. Only the forms of reluctance and bargaining remain, which we plunge into again now, but at a measured pace, and not unfriendly. I begin to like him, and at the end I permit myself a little frivolity.
"The Cannon? I have spent many years in the Tower. I have visited the Barbican. But do you know that I have never yet been in the hangar of a Cannon?"
And he explains, and with some touch of interest and real pride. Let a man talk about his work if you would be his friend.
"So. When I am returned, you shall show me." If I live.
Look here. Here it is black.
I was underground, far beneath the Land.
We fled endlessly down great yellow corridors, flooded with water. Filthy white things splashed and floundered away from us, and from behind us came the fall and drag of great hooves on wet stone as something vast overhauled us, and the sound of grunting.
We crowded and huddled into a hollow in the wall to escape, pressing and fighting to be the one furthest in. I looked into the rock before me and it was as if I looked at the solid wall and saw it crammed full of dying things that, every one, were calling out for healing. As if you spent a day digging one of the wounded things out, to find it broken beyond help, and have it whisper to you ...there...and point with some shattered limb to the sacs and hollows where the others lay, each more deeply wounded, their flesh mixed with filthy rock and wires and things like dead bone . .. mechanisms, hybrids of beast and metal but perhaps not only beast, compressed more and more tightly, one behind the other, one below the other, in and in and down and down.
Behind us, the Presence stopped. It moved to make its selection, which it would take.
This time I woke struggling and crying. The bedclothes choked me, and I flung them off. But I was not trammelled in Mar's arms. I lay alone within the barracks of the Black Librarians. My heart beat; I gasped with fear; but there was only the simple room, and the memory of the visit of the >mara, sinking into my soul.
Slowly my body became calm. Again I lay thinking.
The Circle shields the people of the Pyramid but not us who peer from the Tower.
Truth. A secret of the Monstruwacans I whisper to myself here in the half-dark of sleep-time. There are places in the Land where we dare not look. We could look but we dare not. Nothing is known about them except that attempts to investigate them from afar have led to madness and death. So we turn our eyes away.
Thus it was in the days of the Little War, one hundred years past now. An area of the Land was telepathically probed and that which was found, heard, whispered from the Night, compelled many people to go Out. They could not be stopped. They failed, but more and more went Out, going either in mind or body, each in turn trying to rescue the previous ones. This continued until the Censors stepped in and forbade the investigation, wiped the machine records, and fought the Little War with the Monstruwacans and the Tower guards. Those who held the knowledge were all slain, slain by men in full battle helms with their ears stopped up and their eyes masked against the siren-knowledge that could kill, striking at mechanical simulations of the men they fought in the burning corridors so that nothing spoken, nothing written, no infection of information, could be transmitted to them.
That part of the Tower was sealed until machines could burn it clean. Whatever knowledge was gained has been expunged from the records and from the memory of men.
So it has been, many times before. The Tower is gashed and scarred with the ancient Forbidden places where knowledge too true for the human mind has been so freely given to us by the Night. I have seen the strange rooms where no one goes, their walls warped like wax, moving and speaking walls. And the depths of the Libraries are also cut with such places, named veto, where no daemon or desk may probe: whole categories of knowledge that may be true but that terrible experience has found too dangerous to know.
Every thing that is has been known. Every thing is known somewhere, by some thing. The problem lies in knowing certain things and still remaining human. A balance between the mist of ignorance and the horror of transforming knowledge. You cannot argue with such knowledge. You cannot defeat it. You can only wipe it blank with a cybernetic command, consign it to nullity, close your eyes, stop up your ears, or if that fails don the Helm of battle that guards the mind; and if even that fails, gouge out your eye, or burn up your ears, or slay yourself. This has been so for millions of years.
But when we dream these dreams from the mara we are not in the Tower. And more and more catch the infection of dream.
In the morning I will learn some thing real at last. I wish I dared to sleep.
Turn the jewel.
Small figures dance and move round a swirl of darkness.
Hugin comes to me early. He is both fearful and proud. I clean my body, go to ease the animal nature, perhaps for the last time, dress.
The matrosses that escort us the long walk to the Bottle gaze in wonder, half-rumours flitting in and out of their minds. There has been some leakage of information, but nothing serious. I stare hard at them each in turn and they blanch inwardly, each consumed by doubts: can he really read my thoughts? But this game is not proper, and in any case I cannot spare the effort. I can spare very little energy or initiative now. All has been set in order, and there is nothing for me to do now except obey my own commands.
I have eaten nothing. I feel very weak, too weak to fear. I have spent a long life looking Out to the Land, and now for the first time in my life I will look In, I will search within, for the answers to our questions. It is good that I fast.
I am here again, where I was long ago as a maybe-Seer. Where I gazed enthralled by rediscovery. Where I worked and planned and studied. The search of seven years and the work of seven months is coming to fruition. I am not afraid. I walk calmly.
Here is the overChief, scarred, written upon, as hard as metal. He has been Out, and therefore I cannot read his mind in even the smallest detail, but we share something for those who will go Out must go before the hidden one as well, though it is only one trial among many for them. One truly Prepared must be as near as possible invisible to the Eaters, with his mind burned blank of any hint of the night-hearing, and to test them the Bottle is powered down to minimum and the aspirant left night-long in an unshielded nexus near the darting fractal flower and the Proctors watch to see if it can sense them. If it ignores them they may go. In the Land its greater cousins may perhaps share this blindness.
So he knows It too. I take some comfort from having him near.
The stairs have been moved, and the second Bottle is now attached to the first, fixed like a hand cupping the side of a head, suspended from the traveling crane. It is large enough to hold me and a few instruments and a pattern array, which will be used to sterilise the entire volume if the Eater penetrates it.
I mount by a ladder and enter the lock. A last word from the overChief is mere noise. I enter the chamber. There is faint smell of ozone and oil, but there is very little contained within: audio/video recorders, telepathic monitors tuned to my mind, and the array, as beautiful and vicious as a scorpion's sting. And a place between the machines where I can just stand upright. And in front of me the curved wall of the Bottle.
I speak, and we begin to check the instruments and recorders. It is as it was when I was a Seer, gazing Out, in the Tower. But there is no ceremony and no ritual here. I am alone.
What comes now is very simple. Before me is the transparent section of the Bottle, shuttered now with an iris valve, and when it opens I will behold the Eater directly, with the eyes of my body and the eyes of my soul, through a thin pane of glass and a double layer of pneumadynamic tension. I will look and listen and hier as the barrier between us is weakened, and weakened, and weakened, and the pinsets and touchpoints will transfer the information from my mind directly to the mechanical recorders.
I peer at the overlapping spirals locking the portal. A minute to wait.
Checks, and double checks, then a pause.
The slow count by twelves.
All light is doused. It is utterly dark, darker than the Land. There is no light here: but there is, as it were, darkness shed by a radiant of darkness, seen with the inward eye, burning through the portal before me. And as Darkness replaces the last memory of the very faint light that is every where within the Redoubt, and my physical eyes become utterly useless, I at last see clearly with the eyes of my soul only.
The iris opens.
The instruments clot on the rush of data entering them, relayed from my mind.
As a Seer looks Out to the Land, I look in to the Bottle.
Night, a universe of night, utter night. But it is not vast and empty. It is cramped, crowded, hot, full. Whatever is here is compressed intolerably, screaming with pain, every fibre of its being crushed in terrible compression, in a sac of dark fire.
Before me is the Eater. It resembles a molten network of flowing blood, a writhing of fibres, but most of all a tree, a dark tree with a flickering semistable stalk and whipping limbs. It it not darting from place to place. It stands still. It is just opposite me within the Bottle, in the terrible pinch of its prison. It is not an arm's length away.
It remembers me.
It moves towards me.
It reaches out, through the weakened and attenuated barrier, through the thin armourglass, and, Oh eternal Mother, it touches my face.