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.

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