Continuing an earlier experiment, here’s the current rev of chapter 3 from The Seven-Year Mirror.
The speaker in these intercalary passages is Tirra Shujaa, a native Talec man who is trying to grasp how and why he seems so different from his brother Treva, who is his genetic identical twin.
Tirra’s life crosses paths eventually with a few of the fanners we first met in No Wake. He’s there for a number of reasons; but as a narrative device he provides backstory, to some extent — as well as some needed perspective. I think that without his occasional, cooler metered tone, Seven-Year Mirror might otherwise collapse into yet another indecipherable post-Burgess word salad.
Even with Tirra, though, we regularly will end up delving into some bizarre constructions. The Fisherfolk in translation (transliteration, actually) can be hard to follow, and Cock’s hallucinatory episodes are occasionally very difficult to navigate, and not just from the point of view of being weird. They’re sometimes very painful as well.
From The Seven-Year Mirror by Warren Ockrassa, © 2007.
The Noumenon of Me
For an exobiologist, Castor and Pollux are as close to paradise as it is possible to attain in fleshly form.
The transit alone is capable of sustaining interest and speculation for decades and has done so. Whether a given form developed first on Castor and then was moved to Pollux across the transit, or vice-versa, can often be the subject of lively and occasionally acrimonious debate. That forms could even persist long enough to make it across the transit is itself still unproved, though there is argument to be found in support of violent removal, as with an asteroid strike, perhaps, or eruptions.
The planets’ biospheres are not advanced; and compared to worlds such as Ockzen or Rashomon, they are sterile, as lifeless as the spaces between the stars. But they are more fecund than my homeworld, and even if some of that life has been transferred here over the centuries by human colonization, much of it is still quite native.
Castoran stunfish, for instance, have been here longer than humans. They antedate even the Fisherfolk, they of the — oh, I shall have to wait before speaking of them. They could fill volumes and are not germane at the moment. And the jellyglobes, those filter-feeding inflated and needled bags of gas, have been there as long as the stunfish.
How do I know this? I am an exobiologist and it is my task and my passion to know. I have studied jellyglobes for years and written several monographs on them. My doctoral dissertation was on the subject of jellyglobe-stunfish interdependence. I have even delivered lectures and informal talks about the creatures and written a mediabook for children on them, and a more intricate one for educated laypeople.
And it all began when I was twelve.
I carded Treva with ease, flushing him out with a little flourish that I couldn’t help adding to the play. He sighed and pushed my booty — a small pile of seedcakes — across the table to me. “Every time,” he grumped, pubescence cracking his voice.
“Not every time,” I protested. “Sometimes you get me.” I wanted to encourage him so he would continue playing. This was the one thing I could do better than he. Looking back I suppose he knew that as well and indulged me out of a sense of fairness. He always did have a well-developed feel for sportsmanship.
My own voice was still clear and high and would remain so for two more birthdays, to the great concern of my parents. By then I was used to their fears. Everything about me seemed to worry my parents when I was measured against Treva. Like the sand amid my toes, he and I were a study in contrasts.
I had begun harboring a secret conceit. I was not the freak. He was. After all we were twins. Who was to say that I was the one maturing abnormally? Treva’s progress could just as easily have been strangely accelerated as mine retarded. Perhaps he was the damaged one, not I. Didn’t every geneticist, endocrinologist, pediatrician and quack all say exactly the same thing, every time? There’s no explanation for this. The boys are genetically identical. They should be developing in the same way at the same speed. Unless there’s an environmental difference…
At which suggestion my parents bristled. Years afterward I understood why, that they were perceiving an intimation of responsibility in the idea, and it was not wholly inappropriate for them to do so. They were the producers of our environment; therefore if my (or Treva’s) improper development was due to our surroundings, they were implicated as possible culprits or at least abettors. At the time I could not understand why Mother’s face would strain and tears threaten, or why Father’s ears would darken in flush. I wanted to pursue all possibilities. I wanted to explore every likely avenue and, exhausting those, every unlikely one.
But I was a boy, a child, and therefore my life was not my own. Subject to the decisions, and possibly the blindnesses, of my parents, I was left to wonder what could be different in me and, failing that, in my environment, left to explore without guidance.
I became obsessed with mechanical engineering for a time. I found that moving-parts systems such as engines required lubrication and coolant to continue operating or friction and waste heat would cause them to seize. I became a little driven for a while in my pursuit of natural lubricants in foods, such as butter and oils, insisting that I receive extra helpings of both with the idea in mind that they would make my muscles and bones more slippery, permitting them to operate fluidly under my skin like those of my brother. I also took cooling baths rather than warm ones, wishing to prevent overheating.
This ended after I made myself ill consuming too much langa-flower seed oil; I drank nearly half a liter directly from the bottle one day and it did have a demulcent effect after an hour or so, but not the kind I sought. Mother insisted that I clean the toilet myself. It was a lesson in the consequence of action that, sadly, I had to learn more than once.
After the scatological miracle of the oil (for I shat far more than I had consumed) I decided to look elsewhere for inspiration. I learned that flywheels are subject to imbalance, that if they spin at great speeds and there is an uneven distribution of weight it will become more prominent as the wheel accelerates. The effect can even lead to a flywheel explosion, wedges of the wheel breaking off and hurtling at projectile-weapon velocities through the air.
Equipped with that data I began trying to slow down, to move at a more measured, stately pace, hoping that by doing so I could stabilize, stop wobbling, perhaps fall into the easygoing course Treva seemed to occupy. By becoming more sedate, perhaps I would awaken one morning and be able to casually wrap my arms about a tree and scramble up the bark in the way Treva always did, making it look as easy as crawling along the ground.
That experiment came to a jarring close when I was eleven. I was crossing a street in my new, dilatory way, an unconcerned expression balanced over my face as though I had lifted it from Treva’s cheeks to try it on. The runner was silent as it coasted along and its driver almost didn’t see me in time enough to apply the dampers. I was hurled six meters in the air, bouncing off the slope of the nose and across the windscreen, and pushed up, launched, arriving at the maximum ballistic arc that Taliesin’s gravitational acceleration would permit. Moving much faster than I had in weeks, I devolved groundward and met the macadam at a velocity equal to that with which I took to the air.
In brief, splat.
At that speed bones, in awkward angles, are subject to fracturation, and my unexceptional arm was swollen with calcium viruses and stem carriers for days. It ached periodically for several years after that.
It could have been much worse. I knew. I had seen it just before the impact and had leapt off my feet, bringing my knees above the level of the runner’s front plate. In my vision that had not happened and I had been left with ruined joints that took years to fully mend.
My preternatural sight was still with me and, as ever, it was always almost too late.
More recently I had become interested in fixed-wing propelled aviation and learned about recovering from flat spins by dead-sticking.
Picture a flying craft of any configuration that involves some sort of immobile lifting surface and a form of propulsion. Forward thrust causes air to move over the airfoil’s surface, reducing pressure on the top and increasing it underneath, and the aircraft is thus able to gain lift and fly. (This astonishingly neolithic mode of conveyance was once a very common means of transportation on Earth, before repulser technology had been developed; it was not the reckless sport that it is today. It was actually deemed practical and relatively safe.)
In order to remain aloft these contrivances must keep a certain minimum velocity. If that forward rate falls too low, the aircraft might stall, or lose lift, and behave in a fashion somewhat similar to how my body had after being thrust into the sky by the windshield of the runner. Occasionally this led to a disastrous state called a flat spin, one wherein the craft would simply fall, but not nose-first in a dive; rather, it would drop with its lifting surfaces horizontal, air rushing up around the wings, not over them, and no longer creating lift, and begin to spiral as it dropped. (Safe. Safe!)
Pilots found this state dreadful. Turbulence made it difficult, if not impossible, to regain guidance control of the aircraft. There was no way to tilt the nose into the airstream, so there was no way to bring the control surfaces to bear. However the pilot fought, however he exercised his will on the controls, the aircraft would refuse to respond and continue spiraling, every moment losing more precious altitude, on course for a seemingly inevitable collision with the ground. In the early days of aviation most pilots chose to remove themselves from their falling aircraft, hoping for a more gentle landing by parachute (and sometimes even without one) than would be provided in the machine.
And many times the aircraft, once abandoned, would right itself, stop its flat spin and begin gliding, unguided, flying normally until it collided with something.
From this observation a vital recovery technique was learned, and pilots began applying it. Many even trained in the skill. They would deliberately induce a flat spin condition and then dead-stick, or relinquish the controls entirely. The aircraft, which was, after all, designed to move through the air in only one fashion, would eventually right itself of its own, the fluid dynamics of atmosphere all but forcing the outcome, and the pilot would then be able to recover the controls and escape doom.
It seemed almost magical to my young brain and I was wondering how I could apply a similar concept to my own life. Perhaps by struggling so hard to be like Treva, by trying to keep up with him in physical endurance, by setting my timer so I woke when he did and by turning in when he did, I was pushing myself into my own kind of flat spin. Perhaps my problem was exactly the opposite of an unbalanced flywheel. Perhaps by trying to bring everything into resolution I was only making matters worse, and all I really had to do was dead-stick my life, just let the vicissitudes of fate push me, pull me, sway me like fronds of weed in an ocean’s current.
But that might also mean that I would no longer be able to win at cards with him.
I was not cheating, not any more than Treva cheated when he ran faster than I did or climbed higher or swam farther. He was employing his natural abilities to best me. And in this game of chance, my ability to dimly perceive immediate futures was my natural talent and allowed me, perhaps eight times in eleven, to gain the advantage.
Looking at Treva, at the broadness of his chest (even at twelve he was showing the athletic stature for which he would ultimately be known; yes, he is that Treva), at his strength and certainty and confidence, I resolved I would trade that single advantage I had to be more like him if that was the bargain the universe wanted of me. Inner assurances aside, I understood that I was the one, not Treva, who had the problem.
I shared many of the seedcakes with my brother. It was not just generosity that inspired me. My appetite was not as his was, at least not in light foods. I seemed to crave heavy, protein-rich dishes, consuming tremendous amounts of the dense stuff, but not showing any outward evidence of my gorgings. This had led to another blind path; for a while I was tested in every way imaginable for protein deficiency, enzyme imbalance, hidden tumors (Father, as it turned out, needed that test more than I), and even parasites, which to me now is deliciously ironic. Of course nothing was detected and I continued to engulf tremendous quantities of fish, meat, fowl and legumes while remaining spindly and stick-figureish.
Mother tried to make it seem less ghastly than it was. “If we ever figure out your secret, Tir,” she told me, “we’ll have to market it. Millions would love to know how to eat all day and still be laser-thin.”
My chuckles became less appreciative as the years went on and the joke remained.
We put the cards away and settled in to watch a viscast with Father and Mother. Our parents had always believed that regular times for us to be a family were crucial to our general well-being, as a group and as individuals. Our excursions to the shore were one result of that belief, and they also took advantage of Taliesin’s artistic and education viscast bands while fulfilling the family objective. We gathered nightly, the four of us, to watch some description or other of the universe about us, the subjects variable but always intellectual, whether in the arts, drama, music or the sciences.
After the viscast had ended we would spend the rest of the evening in conversation. When philosophy was the subject Mother and Father would discuss the topic of the program with us, asking us whether we agreed or not with what had been transmitted and, more significantly, why; when the topic was expression through drama, writing, music or visual media we were asked if the expressions had piqued our interest and were encouraged to do our own explorations of those arts; when the subject was exobiology, human gene studies, physics or the other myriad pursuits of science we were given opportunity to perform research and experiments of our own and confirm the findings of the great minds that had gone before us.
I explored the life sciences with the most relish while Treva seemed particularly moved by musical impulses. Our futures were influenced strongly by those childhood sojourns and to this day we are both grateful to our parents for their gentle, but crucial, guidance.
Treva continued to munch his seedcakes while the viscast began, one of the packaged education broadcasts that Taliesin’s government produced for the benefit of the planet’s residents. It was a discussion of the aquatic fauna on Castor and, though it did not feature jellyglobes specifically, it was to be an axial point in my life, as crucial to me as that day four years earlier when I began to grasp the depth and immensity of my differences from Treva.
The general topic of discussion for that segment was the impact resorts were having on Castoran marine life. The conclusion was not much; there was so little available land on Castor that even if every square meter of non-tideprone ground were occupied the total human population would only be around two hundred million, essentially nothing for a planet. To have any appreciable effect, the population would have to rise into the multiple billions. Even the Barque districts that clustered around the Urbis regions increased the permanent residency, such as it was, by just under seventy percent.
(Thirty and a few years later that’s still roughly true, though there are considerably more Fisherfolk here than most people realize.)
Jellyglobes, in fact, got mentioned only incidentally by an exobiologist who said this of them in a dismissive tone:
“Most of the Barque-district residents here eat stunfish because they’re prolific and easy to catch, and their kids intoxicate themselves with jellyglobe darts so they can hallucinate that they see the future and past, but though stunfish eat jellyglobes there’s no evidence of the toxins affecting anyone who eats the fish.”
I recall the sentence verbatim after so long because it had an absolutely galvanic effect upon me. I recall everything from that moment. I remember the seedcake crumbs on my brother’s lips, glistening with butter and syrup, and how a few larger pieces had fallen across the light-wove cloth of his blouson. I recall the shine of oils on his nose and cheeks. I remember the offhand way Mother was attending her manicure, trimming and filing a rough edge to the pinky nail on her right hand. I recall how Father glanced over at us to see if we were paying attention, how his eyes settled on mine for a moment and he registered my interest, filing it away to bring up after the program.
My heart beat exactly seventeen times during the interval that the exobiologist was speaking, accelerating as he neared the end, and I breathed once, then suspended it as a current like electricity flowed through my body and surges of excited blood made my ears and cheeks feel swollen.
Hallucinate that they see the future.
I swallowed and the moment seemed to decrystallize, become more conventional, that astounding clarity fading back to normalcy, but from then forward I knew, with a totality that had nothing to do with my precognitive flashes, what track my life’s course would take.
I was not the only one. That was all that kept going through my mind for days after that single sentence reached my ears. I was not the only one who saw the future and that meant maybe, possibly there was a way to understand what was happening to me. Even at that young age I understood that for science to explore a thing, it must first be reproducible. As long as I was a singular entity that was not possible. But if jellyglobe darts could cause others to see things as I did, it was obvious to me that what was happening inside my head — and possibly even the other ways in which I was deficient relative to Treva — could be interrogated and understood.
From the beginning I had linked my moments of sight with my differences from my brother, believing the two things to be related, to have a single cause; it was intuitive and, as it happened, correct.
No related posts.
Related posts brought to you by Yet Another Related Posts Plugin.