Lupine Metaphor

 Poetry, Writing  Comments Off on Lupine Metaphor
Sep 221997
 

The following series of short poems is the progression
of a particular metaphor from initial, nebulous meaning
through vague intent, into clear association.

It is included on this site more
for education than for inspiration.

Ejecta

Color dry light, coal black of night, out again, no plan, try, bright letters unread, pretended distance, no, forced; thin ice doubt.

Answer this: when, how, why, try: listen to whispers -some are wise, some despise. How to sift them out, and who is right anyway?

Smile: interest or distance, threat.

Hug is not a kiss. No dress. Coffee cold from the morning -none brewing for breakfast.

When is the start finished; continue, begin? Becoming -the growth of that which is full bloomed. Is love a cycle, can the wheel wait? Spin up faster to a hold. Plateaus in the wide range. Climb unto the sun or slide down to the simmering sea.

First Pressing

Wide plain, not even being crossed.
Desert wild, walk around the waterholes.
Caught by the dry light, a dancing flow.
Carving gardens in the mountain knolls.

The skittish metaphor, eyes scattered to the shadows,
wanders by the washed slide.
The waters, tasted before, are chilled from the heights,
and salted by the threat beyond.

So, becoming, the climb is tried.
The stream a vague encouraging guide,
which shows the way to cool, clear source
while ever dodging the shortest course.

The growth and strength is set to forge.
The melting glacier -cool and hot; clear water runoff leads to no pool.
The glacial ocean and the skittish wolf.
The reaches of space and the icy comet.

The embrace of tomorrow for yesterday’s son.

A Metaphor Is Born

Skittish lupine pacing wide-flung range,
Pads dry, no tracks; and no trail to follow.
While never soaked by rain or river,
Is thus left never-cleansed and hollow.

He no more howls, or snuffles the pack;
He wearied of sport and chase and grins.
The muddied plain he minces ’round,
And counts by scores avoided sins.

Yet leaving grass and climbing hill,
Our cur struck mountain’s feet at a run;
His dry gaze caught by glittering promise,
He charged a gloried mirror of the sun.

How it shone, this sun; how it danced on the ridge!
His pace quickened, blurred, lowlands forgotten.
Light-dazzled eyes drip tears to dry tongue,
The glare’s blinding lances frighten not him.

And our cur’s charge found its crav-ed mark,
And the light promise rose to the fore.
And the glow fractured wide, scattered rainbows below,
And its source he could no more ignore.

For the sun’s mirror rose as a frozen wall,
A glacier’s edge on forced march to the sea.
And it painted moist ribbons on the valley floor,
Cool threat and oath of what should be.

This dry tarnished wolf stares to the ground
Testing the flow with his strongest paw
And doubts the sun over shoulder now
And its distant, sweet promise he saw.

So our fool does not know, for he won’t look for fear,
And he sips at the frigid melt.
He splits wide his mouth, turns fangs out of sight,
And plunges, and shudders, and gives up his pelt.

To wash in the sea and add tears’ salt to brine and hearts howl to the surf.

Final

The stomping ground beaten down,
the scampering wolf shies from chattering stream.
Night’s howl of might a dented crown;
aslant and dry color tarnishing the hazy dream.

By chance caught wandering,
so far from warm and hackneyed court;
no longer bent on blind-mind plundering
or fast and low-ranked sport.

A glittering cliff of ice and wind,
a cool wash dancing to the sun’s beat,
a whisper of relief, surprise friend,
by some chance the glacier is meet.

Oh, wind, don’t dry the stream to ice,
don’t wake the high dozing sun,
let the light catch its smile twice
and leave the wolf no more alone.

Yet, sipping at the shying trickles
left a tang of salt upon his tongue.
But surely no one traded tickles
for bailing, damming, one so young.

The springs wash down the ancient gorge,
and mark the dust with clean ribbons;
but does the new grass grow to range,
or cushion the fall of the risen?

Our fool can not know, for to look is to risk,
and no low cur leaves his tail in the rain.
Yet when the glacial sea flows home at last,
his claws will paddle and damned be the pain.

So for now he snuffles and grins at the crystal
and praises the sun that set free the flow.
And he paces the prairie and watches for sand,
for only into grainy earth will lost love go.

Future History Of The HSL

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on Future History Of The HSL
Jun 221997
 

Communiqué from
Juringen Helkarkennen, W-MR-ff2-2cf93d
Senior Supervisor, Core Border Region
Western Spiral Material Management Division

transcribed by David Artman

General Introduction

Welcome to the Human Stellar League!

Your star system has been approved for Standard Trade Status in the Human Stellar League (HSL) with all the rights and privileges that Status entails. Though your planet’s history does not record the seeding of your populace, we assure you that we have watched the progress of your colony for the past four thousand years and are now confident that you are ideologically and technologically advanced enough to resume membership in the galactic community.

Local History Adjustment Briefing

Your system’s current historical record holds the view that your race is evolved from a local fauna indigenous to the tropical latitudes of your home planet. This view is actually a confusion of the facts. Your system was originally seeded by Colony Slowboat W-373 “Ortomoshtik” which carried the template for your home planet’s entire ecosystem as well as 20,000 colonists from the Rigil System who had been genetically engineered to survive in your rather low gravity and oxygen rich atmosphere.

Unfortunately, those colonists were highly religious and were led by a traditionalist government that encouraged ‘natural’ living. The only allowed tools for written communications were inefficient data storage devices fabricated from local materials of rather less durability than the HSL-standard OptiCrystal. As a result, over the first thousand years of your colony’s expansion, historical and material management records were transcribed onto some form of plant fiber pulp using water and animal fat based inks. These records are lost today, since the colonists stopped annually uplinking through TessComm (q.v.) to report their status to the HSL. At the time, senior MMD personnel did not think much of this strange colony’s lack of communication and set a revisit by HSL officials as a very low priority. This was our error and for it we do apologize profusely.

It seems that during that first millennium, the colony divided on a number of religious points (no surprise) and splintered into isolated tribes. Within three hundred years, the Common tongue spoken throughout the HSL was lost to your ancestors as secret religious cants took primacy. When our agents finally made their rounds to your system, they found barbaric, warlike peoples scattered across the planet and nearly all of the HSL-standard technology destroyed (except, of course, your primary satellite, which is the CS Ortomoshtik). The people were in no state to be accepted into the HSL, even had they wanted to, for their oral history tradition had thoroughly corrupted the facts of Metaphysics into spiritual and god-like forces. The agents, with much regret, activated a Quarantine Beacon in far solar orbit and the HSL waited.

Most of your more recent history is correct after this period, once you sort through the pseudo-scientific theories of origin and look at the records only. Your current level of technology has sent you to your nearest in-system neighbors and you are, admirably, well on the way to finishing basic fusion tools. You have finally come full circle, reaching the intellectual point at which the Ortomoshtik’s crew first started. Your system will now be brought up to speed with the HSL Mean Technology Level and incorporated into the HSL’s political structure and material management procedures.

Your Rights as HSL Citizens

Just because you are a new system in the HSL does not mean that your local traditions are to be cast aside. In fact, the League encourages races and systems and regions to maintain their unique customs and practices. The only exceptions to these liberties are detailed later in the Political Structure and Legal System section of this communiqué; generally, these exceptions protect fellow Citizens and Unlinked Systems from exploitation and harm and will likely be no surprise to you, given your local mores as we understand them.

As a Linked System, your race is guaranteed System Representation in each of the three Executive Divisions of the HSL (q.v.). Further, each Citizen has the right of vote in Regional and System Appointments to these Divisions; every one of you will help to decide who will speak for your system in the Region and for your Region in the Executive Council.

Also, all HSL Linked Systems are provided with the plans and training necessary to attain Mean Technology Level and are given credit in the Material Management Division Bank to set up business relationships in good faith with the galaxy as a whole. As soon as your local computer networks are upgraded, your system will have full access rights to the HSL CompNet and general access to TessComm channels in your area. As with every newly Linked system, your local government has Full Right of Access to the Prime Pol for your star to use as your local government sees fit. All extra-system traffic will be barred from entering this frequency of TessSpace by the standard Prohibitions (q.v.); this barring is enforced by the League Navy in conjunction with the Watcher’s Guild. More on this will follow in later sections.

In closing, your people are considered by the Human Stellar League Executive Council to be fine examples of recovered colonists, stranded by the whims of your ancestors and left to struggle back to your original glory. Now that you have reawakened to your galactic heritage, we spread our limbs to you in offer of warmest embrace, as a father would a son thought lost to war. We welcome you and anxiously await your first contributions to The Diversity.

Mean Technology Level Briefing

Fundamentals of Metaphysics

Though your local scientists are admirably well-advanced, there are a few elements of Metaphysics which they have overlooked in their focus on material progress.

The first element is that of TessSpace or Tessaract Space, Essential Space, 3D, or “Soup”. This is basically the cohesive element of the universe, a force which binds every massive object in our dimension with every other. It generates the phenomena of gravity, light, strong & weak nuclear attraction , and the ‘phantom forces’ like centripetal force and momentum. Its composition at the third dimension is referred to as Pol—short for polarity gravity flux lines. These Pols are the noodles in the soup.

The second element is psychic force, which is the material tie to TessSpace, the link between time and space, the quasi-dimension between 4D and 3D. Certain sentient beings are capable of harnessing this force; they are called, not surprisingly, Psies.

These two elements combine to form the underpinning of our League. By using psychic force to shape and chart Essential Space, the Metaphysicians of the HSL are able to effect instantaneous travel of mass between any two massive bodies as well as communication between massive bodies. The monitoring of these channels, these Pols, between massive bodies is the responsibility of the Watcher’s Guild, an elite group of trusted Psies who also maintain communications between worlds using telepathic abilities.

Instantaneous travel is effected by TessDrives, tremendous gravity sails which pull a vessel to light speed and fire a particle cannon ahead of the ship. At that moment, the Drive Engineer will focus willpower to ‘tear’ space and drop the Drive and anything tethered behind it into TessSpace. Then, the Coordinator and Sailors join in, using their psychic abilities to both perceive the ‘progress’ of the craft and steer it along Pols between massive bodies. Psies must do this because any sentient with a lower than Level III Sensitivity can not perceive time in 3D. That is why it is called instantaneous travel. Unfortunately for those with Sen3, if one is riding Pols, one perceives time as if the distance were being covered at the speed of light. Thus, a ten light-year trip will seem to all Sen3s to take ten years, even though the Sen2 and Sen1 perceive it as being instantaneous.

Instantaneous communications uses the same technique, but with fixed solar orbit cannons and laser light communicators. It uses more power to tear and requires someone to be ready to receive on the other end with a light collector, but has the advantage of requiring only one Psi to open the link, and that Psi does not need to traverse the distance. All of CompNet is networked on the interstellar level by TessComm.

But do not let all of this lead you to believe that the HSL rests on the laurels of these two achievements. Bioengineering grants humans extraordinary abilities and immunities, cybernetics extend those abilities and can make a man invulnerable, for the right price. Further, the HSL can terraform an otherwise hostile environment to be more suited to humanity. If that is too expensive or can not be completely done, we alter humans to fit the environment, creating an ecosystem tailored to the environment of the planet to support them in their new life on the world. In fact, a combination of these techniques was done to your home world prior to sending the Ortomoshtik.

Thus, between the advancement of humanity in its day-to-day life and the transfer of data and material between the stars, the Human Stellar League Metaphysicians and Psies strive to weave a strong fabric of relations between all of humanity’s children.

Political Structure and Legal System

The Human Stellar League is divided into three political functions and three spatial sectors.

The three arms of the Executive Council are the Watcher’s Guild, the Materials Management Division, and the Metaphysicians. The Watcher’s Guild is composed of the galaxy’s most trusted Psies and is charged with enforcing the legal use of Pols and guarding against the most dangerous enemies to society. They are also charged with maintaining regulations for sanity laws and criminal reform as well as monitoring against the genetic crimes of False-Psying and Psi-Boosting. The Materials Management Division is an elected body responsible for the highest level distribution planning for the galaxy. They maintain the spacelanes as well as administer to the Navy and provide millennial planning for the course of human expansion. When there is a catastrophe, the MMD marshals resources to provide relief and/or defense for the blighted area. Finally, the Metaphysicians are the brain of the HSL. They coordinate galaxy-wide research efforts, Fringe exploration, CompNet standards, and the general advancement of human understanding and dissemination of information across the galaxy. The MPs are also in charge of the greatest of HSL endeavors: The Diversity. The Diversity is the grand museum of the galaxy, an entire region of space devoted to habitats, displays, and samples of every discovery made by mankind since the inception of the League over one billion years ago. It is for The Diversity that we live, it is our god, it is our goal, it is the raison d’étre.

The three Sectors of the HSL are as follows: Western Arm, Eastern Arm, and FrinCore. Each of these sections are, in turn, divided into scores of Regions each, and it is on the Regional level that a given stellar system of peoples is represented in the HSL. The Western and Eastern Arms are precisely what their names imply; FrinCore is a special Sector which represents the Fringe regions at the edge of the galaxy -cold and vast- and the Core regions near the Big Egg -fiery and crowded with novas. Most of the residents of the Regions in these sectors are fiercely independent -so much the better for The Diversity. Each Sector is further divided into Sub-Sectors and they into Regions. The Sub-Sectors Standard is used simply to provide a layer of representation in the HSL which addresses multi-Regional, but not necessarily Sectoral, concerns. The Sub-Sectors are, from Core to Fringe: Core Border, Wides, SpeckleVoid, and Fringe Border. The Regions are too numerous to mention here, but your home world is in the Gorht-Kythpall Region, SpeckleVoid, Western Arm.

Lastly, as a Citizen you are guaranteed certain rights and are required to respect the Prohibitions.

Over The Ocean

 Poetry, Writing  Comments Off on Over The Ocean
Aug 221995
 

But the ocean drowns in its embrace,
Each granted depth the more crushing.
You dive deep, under wave, into current,
Knowing you must breathe,
Holding out ’til desperate, choking.
Staying down because you love the flow.

But I saw you breathe,
saw you dance over the waves.
You smiled my way as you flew free,
Breaking the still swells, seeing me.
And you drifted near, tasted my air.
Kissing the wind that I stirred.

But the depths called, pulled, an undertow.
The ocean will not wait.
It must wash over your all.
Won’t wait.
Won’t accept your leaping over its claws.
Letting you never fly forever.

But I will follow.
I will attend.
A warm wind trailing your submerged shadow,
offering its soft touch, to fill your chest,
to cleanse your breath when you choke.
Open hand, its fingertips in green seas.

A Moment Of Culmination

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on A Moment Of Culmination
Nov 221993
 

In that moment of seizure, Hunter’s sturdy, powerful heart contracted and froze, drowned in chaos’ thick malaise.

Undaunted and chastised, Hunter Scales’s consciousness sunk penitently into that unwholesome mire, the past poised in suspension through the dissolution of his senses. ‘Curiously like the tales of life passing before one’s eyes….’ He—if enough remained of this ego to earn a gendered pronoun—marveled that introspection held any temporal sense now. Then his thoughts were drawn to wonder at the enormity of imaginative energy spent through all persons back into simian antiquity in each one’s final mind’s cinema. That he could pen but one long-pondered verse on this, his last moment’s lucidity.

That one phrase could have wrought more desecration on the charnel edifices of Modern Man than any long-fused dynamite stick he threw in his unfocussed youth.

The frames of his jumpy reel fluttered forward to jeer and accuse his unblinking, yet myopic, mind’s eye. They do not come like some burst of newsreel, captioned and accompanied by off-key, staccato ragtime trinklings. Rather, they were edited by the eternal, infernally pious director into a melodrama nearly as lampooning as the cartoon.


Like a jaunty and careless Bosco had young Scales strolled onto Yale campus; entering class of ’18, stress on ‘class.’ Gently cushioned from the suppurating carnage of Europe, while funded by his father’s arm sales to the same Five, he was at leisure to pursue what course he would—as long as it was Economics. Not to be daunted by the acquisition of a mere diploma, he had fallen ravenously to studies of the capitalist technique, keeping always an eye on industrial developments throughout the Eastern Seaboard: from noble Boston’s shipyards to flogged Charleston’s reconstruction.

 

In all though, the cruelly simple manipulations and machinations of the free market refinery interested him not one whit. Early in his education, he petitioned the Elders of the University to allow him, effectively, to ‘test out’ of his Economics degree, using the weight of his family, “so instrumental to the effort of our old friends” (as the Chancellor had remarked, referring either to the Unionists or Allies or both) and the logic that he was, after all, the third son of his father and would need little business skill to manage what inheritance would some day—”God forbid!”—be his to manage. This rational, so weak in his father’s glutted eye, washed over the Elders; he had enrolled, by semester’s end, in a hodgepodge course he dubbed “Metaphysical Studies.”


The whine of surging blood filled his senses; the Old One’s crushing vengeance had pulsed to his dissonant brain and was causing multiple strokes. To Hunter, there could be no more bitter scene than that last recollection: his vision quest for a grail beyond the bottomed Christian one—for now not the least tatter of that idyll remained to furl before his darkling sight.

 

There had been an instant, not an hour earlier, that the pure brilliance of his long-subsumed dream had pierced the leaden mantle of its perversion. Hunter had stood amid the clutter and piles of books in his sanctum, one book split open in his wide, smooth palm, and seen the text’s encryption for what it was: an ashamed misdirection, the self-conscious warning of a guilty malignance. Behind the coded Arabic lurked the greatest of dynamite, a powderkeg unconserved and riotously neglectful of spatial bounds. He glanced over its instruction fleetingly, never dwelling on a particular phrase or incantation lest the cognition loosen the forces so tautly bound in the phonics… and in himself. Yes, in that instant, he had felt again, at last, that profound disturbance with his impending intentions that had nearly frozen his arm in mid-throw a cloudy eleven years ago, outside of Tanner’s Pub, even as its hand held a sparking, pregnant stick.


Scales’s liberal but intent studies had pulled him from Yale’s polished austerity to Middlesex’s vibrant passion. There he found the right alloy of modernist angst and revolutionary fervor to fuel his first meritable works. He even shortly won a critics post on the magazine which first published his pastiche of Gothic and metaphysical poesy. His Americaness, it was hoped, would provide a needed injection of modern cosmopolitanism to the pulp. Yet Hunter fell quickly to Marxist disparagement of the very new order that he was, as Yale and entrepreneur, to propound. It was merely that, in contrast to the chance elitism of capital enterprise, the communal ideals of the enlivened radicals around the cafes struck a far more sonorous chord with his quest for universals; he more and more often was to be found in pub, cafe, or den, surrounded by like-impassioned youths and speaking with intensity of the ascendancy of the ubermenshen.

 

It was at one such congress that Scales first met Illya Regis. Their attraction followed the course of frank abandon that was so popular to the licentious energy of the subculture. Soon, however, the fine difference in their drives was to begin a corrupting effect on his Glorious Evolution; her particular deepest bent was for destruction, pure and simple, of the entire social edifice, “worn and weary in its ruts;” and as for what followed: the strongest would decide for the best. “Feudalist retro-evolution” (as was argued by one pedant of their circle) meant nothing to her overmen; they were strong through wisdom as well as daring in the face of flaming deconstruction. They would slaughter the weak out of compassion, not powerlust.

Slowly, insidiously, Illya’s twist on Neitzschean ‘progress’ burrowed into the crystalline core of Hunter’s vision of psychic evolution. His pure and disciplined method and myth of the Ancient Asians slowly was encumbered by Illya’s rarefied and dogmatic occultism. Not content to channel her spirit, she would vent it: one day in furious deliberation over some Cabalist tome, the next in delicate alchemy in the university labs where she labored to breed the perfect detonator: her own fanatic quest for a higher order of magnitude.

In time, he began to perceive more and more of the skulking dread entombed in the dead texts and was seduced closer to the aberrant rage that lurks in all who have seen the onslaught of the industrial age, that revolution of finance without conscience. Within months, it had taken little more than three pints and one rallying tirade from Scorsby—Illya’s mentor—to bring him swaggering and pregnant with bitter power to the entrance of the lawyers’ local, Tanner’s. His wind-chilled hands did not even tremble as he struck a spitting match and ignited his charge.

Yet, as he arched his back and channeled his frustration along his taunt arm, he had seen, even across the flurry-driven street, a relaxed and stately man leaning on the pub’s bar and laughing. That humanity-pervading signal of communion and peace, upstaged by his stick’s spluttering menace, called down to the so newly grown crystal of his dream’s core and froze him on the brink of infamy.


Cool waves of pain streaked down his limbs, convulsing them and forcing the surrender of their balance on the rocking sloop; Hunter began a slow-motion decent to the boat’s deck. The beast of entropy, which his focussed utterances had drawn up from the murky depths of the ocean, moved around the bow to study each twitch and flail of his dragging tumble to the deck. It sent forth tendrils of potential, tweaking his motion an inch this way, an inch that; now—this very slit second—the right foot freed from friction, lifting arduously away from the possession of gravity, the first fraction of a wind gust providing the last causal link to his impact on the salt-washed paneling. He finally lands, each ounce of his weight now transferring to his ill-positioned left arm. One of the series of gravid additions begins the fracture of both his radius and ulna; the point of searing pain is almost holy in its transcendence over the general agony of his apoplexy and subsequent strokes.

 

He felt, through the chorus and solo of his penance, a hollow, angry laughter flash from the dissolute entity as it lapped a splash of brine across the compound fracture’s torn flesh. The mirth, and Hunter’s drawn scream, cued a gel haze from which the memory of similar amusement and agony panned and resolved.


Illya had merely chuckled at Hunter’s vacant boggling over her revelation. “It’s how these times are, chuck!” she had dismissingly admonished him from across the lamp-lit table. The shadows of the pub closed around his vision, only his inspiration’s becalmed, patient expression swam amid the taunting recollections of shared ecstacy which wrestled for his chagrined attention. “How could I not ‘be’ with Scorsby? He embodies the nihilistic passions which must purge this tepid world.”

 

“And, ergo, I do not….”

“Embody…?” here one brow on her Hellenic front arched. “Not hardly. You love the middling good of the present too much.”

And she stood and strode boldly off to the last three weeks of her life.

For a long while after her death by a dropped vial, war raged in the conscience and consciousness of Scales. One faction marshaled argument from his tenacious reason while another pumped his softened soul for emotion. He had given an ever-swelling part of his five years at Middlesex to her arcane and violent quest. But he had always held back on the rage; she was right about his stubborn compassion. But he had gone along with her and Scorsby’s conspiracies, sabotages, and murders. Yet he had still wrote and published his concerned admonishment and behests to the yoked masses. Nevertheless, he had always found time to risk translation of those Middle Eastern texts which exceeded Illya and Scorsby’s linguistic abilities.

“Damn all that has past!” he had screamed, grimacing tear-streaked at the pub’s smoke-darkened rafters. No one stopped the man that rose from his seat to ask him about the black smoulder in his eyes; all knew at their innocent cores that the glow was but the last light of the soul interred behind those orbs.


Raindrops eased down from the moon-marbled sky to sculpt fluted red bowls from Hunter’s pooling blood, and the ancient impatient menace which even now absorbed his tattered essence assumed a diffident air. The agony of this frustrating man could be milked no more; the genetic blessing of shock, common to these frail beings, had enshrouded his sparking nervous system. There remained now only the last bilious second or so, that insignificant summation of the closing life, the denouement of derangement and obsession.

 

The fury of all evils reclined beside the slow-settling form of his severed puppet. It had shown promise of liberation, after centuries, millennia, aeons—no difference—for the envoy of jealous entropy. Wound deliberately into impetus, it had jerked admirably along the prophesied path, in the beast’s planned cadence. Such concentration of purpose had not been seen in nineteen centuries on this planet, and the destroyer had ensnared this one soundly, much to his Nemesis’ sadness. Though a few moments of awareness had slowed the tool’s forging, the final artful influence, in that drinking hall some several eternities ago, proved the last juncture for redemption.

But no, it actually had not, and the chaos meanly parceled out an extra second of quivering breath to the dying human; it raged anew and branded the gasping spirit with its last desperate years of degeneration.


No arcane tome remained unlocked before the voracious appetite in Hunter for vengeance and validation. His first essay was to complete the fatal experiment that had claimed Illya Regis; it done, he coolly, dispassionately, utilized the compound to blast one wing of the Asylum in London. The Nazi party, a perverted phoenix rising ill-smelted from the injured ashes of German nationalism, polished the buttons of the cloak of armageddon which he had donned. His once-caring verse dispelled his audience with a pained yet vitriolic ejaculation in what became his last published editorial. He folded in upon his cold contempt and let it fester, mulching it occasionally with the vision of exploded gentlepersons or bobbies shot dead with an expensive import he order from his brother.

 

His public identity was, unfortunately, never linked to the Bombardier, hated and erratic anarchist. He was nothing but a rapidly aging curiosity to those few who would listen in the seedier pubs of the East End as he ranted of final judgement, where all but the warrior-saint would drown in their own bile. Those lads who felt the thrill of his words quiver through the feminine back of their companion would cast the occasional copper his way as recompense for necessitating their cloistered consolation.

It was his hungry bending for these coins which would send him home, not exhausted and angst-ridden, but newly fired to his study and rage, the two of which would toss him to and fro until dawn. The compounded humiliation, frustration, and obsession of his graduation into Hell’s honor role set before him, finally, one task.

In a text which possesses no English equivalent for a name, he stumbled across a reference to a ritual which would, for the truly impatient, usher in the era of the Old One, an era which would last but an instant, if time is at all to be considered, but which would release, in a cascade, every imaginative kernel with a jangling note of despair and failure, a note which would sound until Time saw fit to bother with its release and decay. In the rank mire of his ambition, Scales saw this as the Grail for which he searched, an Unholy Grail that would not deign to ally itself with one febrile morality or another but would merely clear the way for the cleanest, most just, most bitterly expedient ethic that wrest hold of the whirling oblivion. The way would be utterly open for the wronged to wrong the slavers, and the masters to cull the inefficient. The quest for this promised procedure caked the last rot on the smeared gem of the once proud Hunter’s soul; it absorbed every waking hour and the last of his father’s bequeathment.

But he did not fail; he ripped the tome from the grappling clutch of a dying Shao Lin priest.

At ten-forty-three p.m., as the winter solstice swept tearfully across Britain’s dales, Hunter Scales sailed from a private pier, aboard a stolen sloop, a stolen apocalypse on his smooth palm. The rain was light enough that it did not soil the thick pages, sheets which little resembled linen stock, had more the texture of murdered hide. By now, the misleading text’s communication was well interpreted by Hunter; he had not parted with his intellect on the same evening which he had mislaid his sanity. Their message seethed with potential and foreboding.

He stood upon the pitching deck and let the wild night surround him, caress him imploringly, as if—rightly so—it had a stake in his eminent profanation. He heard its murmured pleas, felt them echo opposite words spoken by Illya from across white down, and cursed their futility. He was lost, and no weak example of the awful might of the vital world would stay his tongue and psyche. He began the incantation even as his pocket watch chimed the proper moment, Greenwich Mean Time.

The words staggered off his tongue, trying desperately to twist into discord and fling free from the dominance granted the reader in their proper utterance. Hunter held fast to the building power, all the while a bit put off by the lack of apparent effect in the surround nature; in shouting the culminating chant, he expected some herald of the coming purgation.

But Chaos waits on no ceremony.

In front of him, where before there was only white-crowned fluid peaks, an amorphous form resolved and advance deferentially forward. Hunter’s mind reeled as his eyes realized that the form, which had seemed only man-sized, appeared so by foreshortening; its obedient advance had covered over a mile and it now loomed taller than the sloop’s mast. The water from which it vaulted seemed to abhor touching the entity, preferring to cease existence in an annihilating whirlpool around it. As to its composition, it was nothing more than the reflection of a glimmer of wan light subsumed in an inky appetite. It exuded a baleful anxiety subtly tempered by the patience of an immortal. It radiated an interrogative; with that question—not to be?—it tuned all of its force into a silent cyclone of doom shrouded in its wide volume.

And Hunter knew finally what that request meant, really and ultimately, and the pure and persistent crystal that was ever at the throne of his mind and spirit shattered in righteous denial. The ascendancy of man could not, it decried, be on the laddered ribs of its starving obsolete. True ascendancy of the son does not come with the death of the father, but with pitied solace beside his deathbed. These again proud and passionate—not just furious—exhortations pummelled the waiting swarm of chaos; it reared and drew its warhorn from its swollen, cracked lips to let it sink back to the sea.

And the Ancient One, master of all save one force in the universes, reached out with a quivering claw to encompass Hunter’s freed heart and vengefully crushed it into a messy clod, even as the collapsing muscle shook loose the sole virtue it interred.

Blood rushed from Hunter’s seizing heart, causing multiple strokes which killed him in the space of three seconds.

Bernard Shaw’s Superman

 Criticism, Writing  Comments Off on Bernard Shaw’s Superman
Sep 271993
 

The Defining Servant of the Life Force and Its Evolution

The search for the ideal man is pervasive in literature, beginning with the epic hero in the Western tradition and descending through history under various names, with even more varied ideals. The Modern period in British literature was not divorced from this tradition any more than other periods of crisis in history. The Romantic ideal was struggling under the sooty wheel of industrialism, and English imperialism was in its decline as their righteous self-justification wavered. On the island itself, internal strife, swelling poverty, and an unstable world balance of power contributed to a weakened national identity for the British, and produced in its intelligencia a craving for evolution. Bernard Shaw, an Irishman and a Socialist, in his play Man and Superman takes up this theme and addresses the evolution of man as a whole as a means to the ideal man of legend; his egalitarian sentiments find mankind’s savior not in an individual, but in the individual. He borrows, for his model of the “New Man,” the idea of the ubermenshen from Nietzsche’s existential ‘philosophy.’ In the mouth of Jack Tanner, M.I.R.C., (and his parallel, Don Juan) Shaw expresses his own version of Nietzsche’s “superman,” defining, in the process, the Life Force which exerts its evolutionary will to this end. An understanding, however, of this process of evolution is best begun at its end; by first elucidating the superman, his role as servant of the Life Force can be better understood and its ‘motives’ better illustrated.

In many ways, Shaw explicates the nature of the superman in the persona of Jack Tanner; and what is not illustrated by the character of Tanner is put in his mouth. In his description in the stage direction, he is “carefully dressed… from a sense of the importance of everything he does.” (p.47) This “sense” is the first glimmerings of the awareness that is the hallmark of the superman. This attention to significance is the passion of “moral sense,” and it is “the birth of that passion that turns a child into a man.” (p.73) Now this is not to say that paying attention to the mores of fashionable dress is the mark of the superman; rather, the superman’s general attention to all of Man’s acts is the initial step in his evolution through awareness. In the late-Victorian era, such perception is bound to lead to iconoclasm, as it does in Man and Superman. When Tanner declares, “I didn’t choose to be cut to your measure. And I wont be cut to it,” he expresses the freedom of thought of the ubermenshen and its desire to be judged in its own right, by its own values, not those imposed upon it through some moral heritage. (p.76-77) Tanner expresses contempt for his contemporaries’ “silly superstitions about morality and propriety and so forth;” “honor, duty, justice, and the rest [are] the seven deadly virtues” in Don Juan’s eyes. (p.82, p.127) His disgust with these ‘respectable’ Victorian ideals comes from the gross travesties to which they lead. His principle example of these moral failures is marriage of the period; it is but a social edifice which is a “means of escape” from jealous aging parents, where a woman is sold “to the highest bidder” and becomes a “slave:” unpropertied property. (p.97, p.96) But even more heinous to Shaw than the “Trade Unionism” of marital servitude is the appeal to love that is its vindication. (p.156) This ideal, out of all of them, is the most wrongly defined and undeservingly exemplified for its role in cementing the union of man and woman. For Tanner (and, therefore, Shaw) bread-winning is all that is ‘loved’ of man in woman; and it is the inexorable attraction in men to the goal of reproduction that carries that romantic tag in them. Shaw is thus calling for a transvaluation of values for mankind. He is disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the Victorians and rejects their servility to shame. The New Man is a proud, self-defining man; “the philosophic man: he who seeks in contemplation to discover the inner will of the world, in invention to discover the means of fulfilling that will, and in action to do that will by the so-discovered means.” (p.151) This man does not ask his ancestors for the truth, his father for the means, nor his servant to do the job; he is empowered with purpose.

It is this purpose that is the first elucidation of the Life Force, “the inner will of the world.” Life is “the force that ever strives to attain greater power of contemplating itself.” (p.141) With this in mind, the superman then becomes one of Life’s “innumerable experiments in organizing itself:

“that the mammoth and the man, the mouse and the
megatherium, the flies and the fleas and the Fathers
of the Church, are all more or less successful
attempts to build up that raw force [Life] into
higher and higher individuals, the ideal individual
being omnipotent, omniscient, infallible, and
withal completely, unilludedly self-conscious: in
short, a god?” (p.149)

This ideal individual is a superman, one who has risen above the petty hypocrisies of mankind to a higher awareness of himself; and, by association with this, its vessel, the Life Force completes its own evolution. Note that this is no apocalypse, as the Devil would have one believe: a need “for a more efficient engine of destruction.” (p.144) Life instead is “evolving today a mind’s eye that shall see, not the physical world, but the purpose of Life, and thereby enable the individual to work for that purpose instead of thwarting and baffling it by setting up shortsighted personal aims as at present.” (p.151)

So the superman is forged by Life to serve its evolutionary ends, and yet there still remains the actions of the New Man to this purpose. How are we to begin our service to evolution? The answer Shaw provides is quite simple:

“the first duty of manhood and womanhood is a
Declaration of Independence: the man who pleads his
father’s authority is no man: the woman who pleads her
mother’s authority is unfit to bear citizens to a free
people.” (p.97)

This freedom from the worn past leaves, in turn, the superman free for correction of society, elevation of their fellows. Ultimately, though, the superman is also a tool of “the world’s will,” serving its ends through proliferation and self-consciousness. (p.203) The individual who is to serve well, then, must “break their chains” and “go their way according to their own conscience.” (p.97) Now, it could be said that the Victorians are doing just that, and after all, Shaw himself confesses that the will of the Life Force will have its way no matter what devastation or degradation should come to mankind. Nevertheless, there are actions and beliefs which are expressly counter-productive; their damnation has been explained above, yet it should again be emphasized that the great banes of Life are blind servility and hypocrisy, the former because it shuts the mind’s eye, the latter because it discourages inward reflection by the mind’s eye (who, after all, will contemplate their own weakness?). Awareness, first and last, is critical for the superman; in all other things he is but a tool of evolution and should spawn and rear and die.

In concluding, it could be further said that to be a superman is only to open your eyes to your own puppet strings; this is in fact the common argument leveled against existential worldviews. The very last scene of the play verifies, in effect, this argument; however, its final meaning, however, is quite contrary. Tanner is ensnared by Life’s webbing, fired from Ann, and “solemnly” says that he “is not a happy man.” (p.208) But he is prepared, planning, acting already on their union; he is no longer “talking.” (p.209) There is certainly a pun in the final stage direction of “[Universal laughter].” It should laugh; it just won. But it also must mean that all among the company laugh—unqualitatively no less, unlike so much of the active direction—thus affirming the joy in realizing Life’s purpose in one’s self.

March 21, 1993

“The Relic’s” Hopeful Imagery

 Criticism, Writing  Comments Off on “The Relic’s” Hopeful Imagery
Aug 271993
 

In “The Relic,” John Donne conducts a grand compliment to the woman he loves by way of holy and hopeful imagery. The poem is based upon the central image of a holy relic used to reference a simple lock of his loved-one’s hair, a lock which, “At the last busy day” of Final Judgment, will pull him and his love together, as their bodies re-assimilate upon holy disinterment. (ln.10) The piece goes on to present additional images, primarily religious, as in completes the concepts of reincarnation, profound love, and miracle.

The first stanza’s images are essential merely poetic devices of metaphor and metonymy. The “second guest” to be entertained by the grave “bed” which he once possessed are basically metaphors. (lns.2, 4) They suggest, however, that the stay in the grave is not indefinite; guests leave eventually, sleepers in beds wake up (even lovers leave beds eventually: a more fitting parallel because of the “women-head” polygamous suggestion). (ln.3) Thus already there is some suggestion of Christian mythology of reincarnation.

The second stanza is where the religious imagery congeals to set the holy tone for the entire work. Donne hopes, upon his digging-up, if this event occurs in a superstitious, idolatrous land, “where mis-devotion doth command,” that the digger will take his and his lover’s remains to “to the Bishop and the King” (thereby pegging Roman Catholicism, by association, as superstitious) to be made into “relics.” (lns.13, 15, 16) By this elevation of their base remains, they in turn are elevated (in the idolatrous society) to holy status—a status which Donne feels they deserve. They will then become “Mary Magdalen” and he “something else thereby.” (lns.17, 18) This religious allusion and his association “thereby” to it suggests perhaps that his lover is akin to a whore, though one forgiven, and that he is guilty as well and forgiven as well. (ln.18) It is tempting to suppose, at this point, that he and the women to whom he writes this poem had sexual relations, relations which her Roman Catholic upbringing has caused undue (in Donne’s opinion) guilt in her. The “harmless miracles” which the lovers “wrought” then could be an effort to both elevate this relationship of ‘sin’ as well as show its simple kernel. (ln.22)

Yet the third stanza opens with an enumeration of these miracles, and the foremost of them is chastity: “Difference of sex no more we knew,/ Than our guardian angels do.” (ln.25) They never, then, “touched those seals/ Which nature, injured by late law, sets free:” those of virginity or chastity. (lns.29-30) So the conciliatory tone of the poem is now nothing but celebratory or complimentary; there is no persuasion going on here; though Donne feels the freedom of sexual abandon to be injured by laws of chastity, he knows also that such resistance is miraculous and holy. The way is paved for the ‘Grand Compliment’ of the piece, where he expresses language and quantification’s inability to express “what a miracle she was.” (ln.33) He abandons the poem, almost anti-climatically, with a sense that this image of her miraculous nature must be expressed by not expressing it, by not ‘nailing it down’ in language or measure (meter).

Therefore, what begins as a poem suggestive of base and worldly matters, where sexuality is set up to be lauded in spite of Roman Catholic prudery, closes with a ‘double-cross’ of transcendence. The religious imagery of the piece, at first suggestive of Judgment, death, idolatry, forgiven sin, gives way to direct, non-imaginative language, where only the satisfying “meal” of a kiss intrudes its poetic device on the stanza. (ln.28) The holy transcends into the woman who is the subject, thereby making her, in effect, transcend the transcendent; though he could speak of death, Judgment, idolatry, and their actions on the earth with holy imagery, when the time comes to speak of “what a miracle she was,” no words, images, or verse will suffice. (ln.33) By not lauding, and explaining why, more praise than is possible is rained upon the lucky woman, Donne’s love.

May 5, 1993

By You The World

 Poetry, Writing  Comments Off on By You The World
May 051993
 

The elms of the lawn exist, surely, just for this moment;
roots, trunk, branches, grown over decades
only to dapple Ra’s gaze into golden fire in your hair,
only to orchestrate the light and soft shadow
which dances on your cheek, hips, neck.

You stride strong back into my mind,
and your recognizing smile
slays the stoic warden
which my feelings,
in fear,
had bound.

Our growing rift halts its time-devouring yawn
and cries for bridging:
a deluge of desire, hope, and inquiry
rinses lucid lines from my thought.

My dream returns,
impatient,
kindled by the gentle breath of your words,
reaching.

The wind blows, surely, just for this moment;
sun, air, brown shadows,
stirred by the wings of butterflies
only to carry the husky whisper of your scent,
only to halo your face in swirling locks
which leap to the freeing sky….

Union

 Criticism, Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on Union
Apr 221993
 

A Fictionalized Treatise On Modern Marriage

This is an essay comparing the treatment of marriage
in fiction by Virginia Wolfe, Bernard Shaw, and D.H.Lawrence
from within a fictional framing story in which the principle characters
of Mrs.Dalloway, Man and Superman, and Women In Love
meet at a dinner party hosted by the author’s alter ego.

“Everything must be exactly right, James, understand? These guests are very important people, all of them, and I will not have them disappointed by our hospitality.”

The man-servant nodded deferentially to his employer Carter Manart, commenting, “From what you’ve told me of them, Carter, I am certain that even our most lax attentions would be appreciated.”(1)

Manart considered this statement a moment, shrugging finally and saying, “True; the Tanners don’t really stand on ceremony much, and the Birkins are satisfied more by intellectual fare than pageantry. But the Dalloways… they are professional party-goers; and though never criticizing directly, laxness will be remembered by them.” He strode around the ancient oaken table, spot-checking its recent refinishing and shining the odd smudge in its polish.(2) James had just finished setting it with the simple, black edged crockery and smooth crystal glasses, and Carter could not help but admire the contrast between the placemats’ coarse and basic weave and the table’s solid ostentation.(3)

“How many years has this table been in our family, Jim?”(4)

“To be honest, Carter, I’ve no idea…. When my father taught me it’s maintenance,(5) he told me how it had been refurbished in his youth from a simpler style into these Victorian flourishes; see, this routing is newer as well as these corner pieces with the frills.”(6) The butler’s finger traced a chiseled flower from its pistole down to its swirling root at the table’s leg. “Kind of old-fashioned looking these days… especially with what you’ve done with this dining room.” He glanced about with one eyebrow arched, then fixed a wry look on Manart.

Carter was still staring at the table. “Yes,” he said, in regards to the its antiquity. “But I am afraid to do too much to it yet; it’s so old and… well, honorable, if you see my meaning, that I would not have it reworked when I refurbished it for fear of, I don’t know, denigrating it?”(7) He looked quizitively at James, to see if the older man understood his sense. The butler nodded knowingly and returned his attention to the rest of the room, inviting Carter, with teasing glances, to share in the observing.

“Yes, but I won’t hold back on more minor decoration; after all, the room can be bared without too much expense.”

They both surveyed the room’s decor, one admiringly, the other, amusedly.(8) The walls were a madman’s pastiche of Realist portraits of old men and women (not all necessarily old in the paintings themselves), Impressionistic luminary blurs and Surrealist distortions of landscapes. Manart’s prize side wall, across from the dining room’s wide, tall windows, caddie-cornered one of Rembrandt’s grotesques and Bruegel’s Dutch pastorals with Monet’s “Waterlillies”, Goya’s “The Third of May”, and young Salvador’s, “Persistence of Memory”.(9) Also adorning the walls were sconces modified into gas lamps around the turn of the century, then into electrics in 1920, seven years ago.(10) The room’s huge crystal chandelier had also been electrified, and was now glowing warmly, casting sparkling flashes on the walls through its yellowed rose crystal. The floor’s uneven, smooth mahogany panelling was covered in the center by an Oriental rug of, predominantly, grays and bright red, overshadowing blue and purple flourishes.(11) It was on this rug that the ancient table and its surrounding Indian rattan chairs stood.(12) The only other furnishings in the room were large downy pillows strewn before the windows and a brass bar of sorts, stocked with liquor — mostly gin and scotch — and sours; it also was a tea service on those occasions when Carter actually bothered with a formal tea, which was seldom.(13)

“And if my tastes should change next month, following the whimsy of this age,” he continued, “I am sure to keep most of the paintings, will profit on those I get rid of, and will always know Sergeant-Major Brighlington in the Colonies — he’s entrenched there, poor sod.” (14)

“Yes, well, I don’t know what your father would have thought–”

“Oh, he’d’ve hated it, of course; if only because I’d tossed out those dreadful trophies and beasts’ heads leering down and making one question the source of the dinner’s steaks.” They both laughed; Carter, more heartily. “But he was a kind enough old chap-” here Carter caught himself and glanced to see James’ still visage “-except to you, though…. Look, friend, I really am sor–“(15)

James’ mood lightened and he forced a grin. “No, Carter, don’t bother yourself, I’ve told you. It was the times….”

“Pathetic in so many ways, yes. I really am–”

“Enough. I must check on the hors-d’oeuvres and you’d better change; the guests are expected in an hour.”(16)

Carter watched James bow slightly, out of habit, and turn and walk out through the kitchen’s door, shutting it quietly behind him.

He turned and stepped toward the windows, his back to the table and prize wall, and stared out across the gardens.

The sun was dangling over the woods west of the house, about an inch away from hiding, casting a lurid orange haze on Manart’s young but wizenning face. He relished its glow and thought to himself how the sunset would thrill his sensitive guests an hour hence as it purpled the horizon and draped magic over the room. He would keep the electrics low until absolutely needed, set a close atmosphere for the night; for he wanted the truest confidence and advisement of these, his new friends. A few questions burned in him to be released from their spiraling, contentious gyres and he knew no better group to which to pose them.(17)

“So where exactly are these to be placed, Carter?” James held a small stack of cards, folded so that they would stand like little tents.

Manart snapped his right cufflink into place, shaking his wrist to get the loose jacket’s sleeve to lie. “Hell of a question, James; I’m not real certain of the etiquette of these things, or even if the guests will appreciate etiquette of this pigeon-holing sort.”(18) He took the cards from the black man’s pink palm. “I mean, there’s only the three couples, so if I put the couples side-by-side, then one couple must sit sort of at the periphery.”

“Does it really matter?”

“I don’t know; that’s why I’m so concerned about it. I would just seat them myself, but they’re all older than me, it would seem strange. And I don’t know if they would take to being seated by you — no offense, friend.”

“It would be their offense if they were so; relax, Carter.” He walked to stand beside the table, setting down a handful of flatware with a muted clatter. Pointing, he said, “Why don’t you have Mr. Tanner here,” indicating the right hand of the table’s head, “Mrs. Tanner here,” across from Jack Tanner’s seat, “then likewise boy-girl across from each other with the Birkins next down and the Dalloways furthest from the head. That way no couple is excluded, and age is the only hierarchy from the head –barring you, of course.”

Manart pondered this a moment, then said, “Fine, whatever; God I hate worrying over such niceties. I certainly hope they aren’t offended.”

James waved dismissively. “You said yourself that the Tanners were a relaxed crew; so too the Birkins. That should be a majority, so don’t worry about the Dalloways.”

Here Carter laughed aloud. “‘Don’t worry about the Dalloways’ he says! Richard’s ONLY an MP, for God’s sake…. Although, I don’t suspect he’d hold a grudge or anything of the sort. But it only takes a disapproving word to that meddlesome Bruton and she’ll have her ‘Cabinet’ dragging my shipyards through the mud in the press, no pun intended.”(19) He pulled out the flaring chair at the table’s foot and dropped heavily into it. “God I need a drink.” He turned to face James who had moved to stand near the kitchen door, behind and to the right of Carter. “Is it alright to serve a drink before the meal, James?”(20)

“Actually, one is supposed to do so; it’s called an ‘aperitif’.”

“Brilliant!” Carter exclaimed. “Be sure to; it should loosen our guests, and I know it will help me.”

Almost as if on cue, the men could hear the voice of the maid greeting someone rather loudly, probably to warn them. Manart dealt the placecards rapidly, like their gaming cousins, while James strode to the double doors to throw them wide with aplomb just as Jack Tanner and his wife Ann reached the threshold.

“Mister and Misses Jack Tanner, Mister Manart!” announced the maid to Carter, who now stood before the doors, legs planted wide (to forbear trembling) and arms spread in a gesture of welcome.

He visibly withered as Ann cursorily said, “Mister Jack Tanner and Misses Ann Whitefield-Tanner, actually, dear.”(21) There was a mischievous glimmer in her eye as she nodded to the maid, who had only the darkness of her skin to thank for hiding the flush of her embarrassment.

Carter recovered quickly, making his first mental note of the night.(22) “My apologies, madam; Margaret did not know the proper etiquette, for which I am solely to blame.” Her took her offered hand and lightly planted a kiss on its back, looking downward. “It is so good to see you again after our too-brief meeting in the Halls. You have honored the House of Manart by accepting my invitation to this informal dinner.” He bowed deeper, with flourish.

“Isn’t he cute, Jack?” Ann teased, turning to smile at her husband.(23)

Carter’s pale-skinned face did not mask his blush so well as had Margaret’s ebony.

“Oh, don’t let her addle you, Mister Manart!” Tanner heartily cried, clapping Carter on the shoulder and seizing his hand for a single, vigorous pump.(24)

“Please, feel free to call me Carter, Mister Tanner–”

“Not if you call me by my father’s name, I won’t! Jack, agreed?” His grin was infectious.

“And please call me Ann; my surname is a bit too unwieldy for friendly conversation.” Mrs. Whitefield-Tanner’s beauty struck Carter to his soul as her smile melted from wicked to confiding; her forties were treating her no worse than had her thirties or twenties.

Again Jack spoke: “And who is this” indicating James “an African! My, but you are an oddity here in the Dales; what’s your name, sir?” He extended his hand.(25)

“James, Mister Tanner,” the servant answered, clasping hands. “It is a pleasure to meet such an outspoken champion of human freedom.”

“An it is a pleasure to meet one of its inheritors,” Jack countered, beaming with a grand blend of honor and pride. “And call me Jack, alright?” He capered toward the door, leaning into the hall to holler, “Everybody call me Jack, do you hear?!” He traipsed back, his eyes laughing. “When is the aperitif served?”

“Hear, hear!” laughed Carter; and taking the Tanners one on each arm, he strolled into the room proper, gesturing for them to sit, his nervousness melted away in their warmth.

They sat side-by side on the right of the head before noticing the placards.

“Oh, apologies, good master Manart,” said Jack, holding up Ann’s (or, rather, Rupert Birkin’s) card, “we didn’t know this was formal.”

Carter blushed again, only slightly, and replied, “Well, it isn’t, really… I’m merely somewhat new to this sort of affair, and…. Oh, sit where you will!” he laughed, “I want friends here, and there are, after all, no Rolls at the podium, right?”

The Tanners laughed at the allusion to Parliament. “Good,” Jack said, “I would hate to break my long-held habits!” For he sat on the right, an odious rank for him, were this Commons.(26)

Just then there was heard footsteps in the hall, one set Margaret’s light quick tread, the other two sets mingling, but not exactly in unison.(27)

“Mister and Misses Birkin?” said the maid uncertainly, as she reached the open double doors. She stepped to one side and Ursula Birkin strode forward, side-by-side with her husband Rupert, who was looking somewhat quizzically at Margaret as he passed.(28)

Carter moved from Jack’s side, as he and Ann rose to greet the new arrivals, and with a sweep of his arm said, “Be welcome in the home of Manart,” trying his best to achieve oxymorous relaxed obeyance.(29)

“Why thank you, Mister Manart,” said Mrs. Birkin. Then, seeing the Tanners, said to Rupert, “look, dear, it’s the Tanners. Didn’t we meet in Ausberg?” This was to Ann in particular.

“Sure, we almost crashed into one another on the south slope of Mount Something-stein; I’ll never forget what you said: ‘Destiny forces all greats into conflict’, or something like that. It is good to see you again; what a shame it took our young lobbyist friend in Commons to bring us together here.” She moved to embrace Ursula, smiling warmly at Rupert in the process.

“We’re hardly ever in Britain,” spoke Rupert, finally entering the conversation, “Europe is so full of things to experience, each day offers fifty new lives to one who would take them.”(30) He stepped forward to shake hands with Carter and Jack.

“Well, I’m glad I ran into you two at The Boar and Board last week,” replied Carter. He turned to Jack, “We had the longest talk — the three of us- about your speech at Parliament, the one on women’s suffrage, and I said, ‘So I’ve invited the Tanners to a little dinner party with the Dalloways, sort of a meeting of the camps’ and they were so delighted by the prospect that I could not help but include them, much to Margaret’s dismay — she had everything planned already.” He was babbling, but the friendly air of this group of bright minds could only loosen his excitable tongue.(31)

“Glad you did, son,” said Jack heartily, then to Rupert, “and if I may ask, sir, where do you stand on the vote — though I suspect by your deference to this fair femme that I know?”

“Oh, of course women should have the vote; they have ever been the more practical of the species,” Rupert replied sincerely, his eyes flashing at the prospect of the night of intellectual communion to come.(32)

“But they have yet to develop the experience with national issues, affairs of state.” A new voice, clear, if a bit tremulous, rang in the room.(33)

“Mister and Misses Dalloway,” said Margaret, belatedly and a bit perfunctorily. “I’ll be getting the first course ready; dinner will be served in five minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am!” said Carter smartly, saluting the maid and glowing with mirth over her obvious consternation at having her role as announcer usurped. “Welcome, Mister and Misses Dalloway.” He had tensed, but only a wee bit, at the surprise arrival and curt entrance into the debate; now, he played the perfect host.(34) “I trust you know Ann Whitefield-Tanner and Jack Tanner….”

The Dalloways nodded politely to Richard’s latest political rivals, exchanging customary murmurrings.

“And these are the Birkins,” said Carter, gesturing to Ursula and Rupert, “recent friends of mine.” Then, before any contention could get underway, he sweepingly indicated the table. “Shall we all have a seat, the aperitif is hot on the heels of the Dalloways.”

“Excellent,” said Jack, as he and Ann resumed the seats they had first occupied.

The Birkins sat across from them, Rupert at the head, laughing that his name was now ‘Ann.’ Mrs. Dalloway hitched for but a moment, finally taking her seat where her card was, beside Ursula, smiling and looking closely at her as while daintily lighting on the rattan’s motley cushion.(35) Dalloway moved to sit on her left, then noticed there was no place set there and circled the table to sit by Mrs. Whitefield-Tanner. He nodded civilly to her in sitting.

“Should be a Hell of a lot of fun tonight, Cart!” said Jack, reaching behind Ann to jovially clap Richard Dalloway on his shoulder.

Dalloway laughed politically, shaking out his linen napkin and placing it on his lap.

The first courses were consumed heartily by all, the lateness of the supper and the day’s heat having bred fierce appetites in them all. While waiting for the first entree, Jack had casually opened the discussion of suffrage which was the overt intent of Carter’s invitations of them.

As expected, the debate was heated, while remaining civil and respectful.

The Tanners, being its strongest proponents, argued the most convincingly for the vote. Jack’s combination of endearing witticisms and searing observation left the conservative Richard frequently on the defensive, a position with which he was, at least, familiar.(36) On frequent occasion, Ann would let flash some anger with Dalloway’s stubborn doubt over women’s capacities, but each time Jack calmed her with a stroking palm or redirection of the point of discussion.(37)

Ursula Birkin was, primarily, a supporter of Jack and Ann’s view, offering anecdotes from her travels which would serve to reinforce some nicety of the debate. She did, however, feel that a certain training period for women voters might be in order, if only to smooth the transition into this near-universal suffrage.(38) Rupert, meanwhile, stayed on the margins of the debate, preferring, with Clarissa Dalloway, to absorb the room and its view’s scenery.(39) At one point, he had tried to steer the conversation to the natural sublime; but this attempt had been made while Jack was marshaling a refutation of Richard, seeking it in a stewed potato, and the interruption was swept politely aside.

During this half hour of conversation and consumption, Carter had remained fairly quiet, offering only his support for suffrage –universal suffrage, a point too unwieldy to gain much interest in the heat of the smaller debate– and then reclining to watch the play of his guests. He most wanted to be assured that they were enjoying themselves, staying on friendly terms, and otherwise merely being themselves, for it was in their interaction that his true end in throwing the party was served.

As the discussion reached the impasse which it had reached for months in Parliament, he took it as his cue to open the floor for his debate. He cleared his throat, dabbed a corner of his mouth, and leaned into the group.

“Well, I can see that there is some strong difference of opinion here on this, understandable in light of our essential differences. Jack and Ann are of the radical cast — Jack in particular –, the Birkins are seemingly a bit above the issue, and our friends the Dalloways are from an older tradition of propriety and custom: something which should not too lightly be trounced.” He cast a wry look at Jack, who could not suppress a snigger, in part at Carter’s audacity, in part at his veracity.

With the debate thus closed by coming full circle, Carter continued, “But there is one point in which all of you seem to concur, one with which, lately, I have become concerned.”

The group looked to one another, trying to guess at the subject they shared, so crypticly expressed by their host.

“Why, I speak of marriage; you all agree that the institution of marriage is appropriate.”

There was a general exhalation or snort and a clamor ensued, nearly all speaking at once.(40)

“Oh, lad, you know where to push the buttons,” exclaimed Jack.(41)

“Oh, no; here we go,” sighed Ann.(42)

“It’s interesting you should say that,” mused Rupert.(43)

“There you are, dearest,” laughed Ursula to Rupert.(44)

“But of course,” puffed the Dalloways, nearly in stereo.(45)

A brief silence descended like a thunderclap on the room, everyone realizing that they were speaking over one another. Then laughter rippled around the table, and Carter said, “The reason I ask is that I’ve been involved with a delightful actress for nearly a year now, and I feel as if marriage is the next step.(46) The only rub is that I am not certain what exactly that institution is anymore, and I wish to know your opinions, being my only acquaintances who, if I may so say, are entrenched in the convention.”

“Not only may you say that,” stated Jack with gusto, “but you are most accurate in your choice of verbs.” This exclamation elicited an elbow in the ribs from Ann; she was smiling, however.

Rupert leaned forward, a penetrating look in his eyes, and replied, “But marriage need never be an ‘entrenchment’. It is possible to maintain a balance between the individuals and the union of those individuals.” He faced Carter. “You should resist with all of your soul that horrible fusion in marriage which is traditional in our heritage; a fusion which leads to such terms as ‘wedlock’.”(47)

Jack was intrigued by Rupert’s proclamation and sought deeper explanation. “You don’t feel that something is surrendered in marriage, that the forces in nature, in Life itself, which compel union forbear separate identity? Though I would like to call myself free and separate, I know full well, and accept, that a great part of my identity is tied up in this thing here.”(48) He thumbed towards Ann humorously, and had a bruise added to the one forming on his ribs. “You see? Where else but in matrimony would I tolerate the violence done on my person in just the past few moments?”

“Oh, come along, now,” countered Ursula, “you would take just such a jab from Rupert were it as good-natured and affectionate.(49) As I have come to understand Rupert’s idea of individuals in equilibrium, we enter into marriage to fulfill the individual’s purpose in being, on the one hand procreation, yet even more so self-definition.” She took Rupert’s hand.

He continued where she left off. “Yes, and via this ‘star- equilibrium’, where the two are bright and whole and held in balance by their own gravid attraction to one another, the individual’s orbit is perturbed — not in the sense of disturbed, but in that it achieves the wobble, if you will, that it is meant to have.” He sat back a bit; then his brow furrowed a bit as he saw Jack perk and anchor to his diction.

“Wobble, son; yes, you’ve got that right.” Jack chuckled and took a sip of sherry. “Wobbling like a drunken sailor down the road, leaving the sight where he was waylaid!”(50)

At this point, Clarissa spoke for the first time in some time. “But Mister Tanner, there is something to be said for the compartmentalization of home building. A married couple is partners in life, each complementing the other and helping the other overcome hurdles which would thwart the lone voyager in the world.” She looked at Ursula, almost as if for approval. Ursula faintly smiled, depth of meaning in her eyes as they held contact.(51)

Rupert softly said, “That’s certainly another way to put it.”(52)

Clarissa continued, burgeoned by the Birkins’ support. “And further, Mister Tanner, you are, after all, married yourself, to a lovely wife. How can you be so cynical about marriage then?”

Jack, rocking back with a creak of rattan, replied, “I am at the whim of the Life Force. I must succumb to its purposes and wed and mate and contribute my share of sperm to the gene pool so that Mankind may, over the generations, become the gods they are intended to be.”

Clarissa flushed at Jack’s crude statement, and Richard took this as his cue to speak up, “Listen, Tanner, this is no place for such barbarity; surely you can make your point without reference to bodily fluids.” He glanced at Clarissa to note her reaction to his defense of the women’s honors.(53)

Jack and Ann both rumbled with mirth, and he deferred to her, letting her point out, “But, Richard, you just did so yourself. And in the company of ladies and their honors!”

Richard flushed at being so caught in his own words, and the rest of the group laughed good-naturedly. Carter, nevertheless, saw that the conversation was straying into the dead ground already trod by the suffrage debate and redirected the people’s attention by saying, “But suppose, friends, that she does not turn out to be the right one? How can I be certain?”

“You can’t, really,” Ursula answered. “You have to trust what your heart tells you. If it proclaims your love for this woman resoundingly enough, that must be your guide.”

“Plus, the Life Force will let you know,” Jack added calmly. “If it has decided, you really have no choice.”

“I dare say we agree on something,” said Clarissa, somewhat surprised, “though I don’t think I would put it so mechanisticly, so inexorably.”

“But that, good Clarissa, is precisely what it is, ultimately,” Jack returned, smiling kindly, almost condescendingly. “The ends of the Universe are far stronger than one man’s aspirations or beliefs. We merely decide whether or not to fight them, fruitlessly. I, for one, know I am to lose my battle against this dove.”(54) Here he beamed at Ann, and she at him. If he had more point, it was lost in their silent communion, and Richard took the floor.

“But that choice to fight is a freedom we have. If we love our intended, we will not choose; if we do not, the din of battle will drown out Life’s pleas and arguments.”

“And leave you a wandering, lost star, shining into the void and seeing no light to answer your song.” Rupert was aglow and tears glistened in his eyes. Ursula bowed her head, but reached over to lay her hand on his forearm.(55)

“Take it from me, that is the truth.” Everyone turned to face Clarissa who had said this distantly and with faint tears in her own eyes.(56) Richard reached past his treacle to clasp her hand and whisper something the others did not hearken to hear.

Night had completely descended and the room was suffused with the steady, yellow glow of the electrics. The table was clear and Carter was lost in thought over all that he had heard from his new friends. Marriage today, it seemed, was more a partnership than it had been in his father’s day of property and possession. His love for the actress was strong, he knew; else he honestly would not have taken his precious time to concern himself with their future. He understood the demands of the Life Force as expressed by Jack. Further, he welcomed the polarity and individuality of Rupert’s star equilibrium. The idea of another helping one define oneself, rather that defining one (as with the Dalloways, specifically Clarissa) spoke to his inner need to be his own man, while ameliorating his frightening craving for union with another, a woman, a lover. That there could still be significance in the marital relationship, without self-insignificance being a result, empowered him, spoke both to the traditions of love which formed his herital core and the urge for isolation in the soul’s core.

He looked slowly at each of his guests, marveling at their love for their spouses and, in all but Richard, their truth to their selves. The couples were silent and happy. The Tanners held hands and stared into each other’s eyes; the Birkins softly touched one another’s arms and were lost in private reveries; the Dalloways still held hands across the table, Clarissa staring at her nearly empty glass and Richard looking over her shoulder at a David on the wall.

Carter cleared his throat and, as everyone broke their meditations, said, “Well, friends, I thank you whole-heartedly for you advisement on this most important concern of mine.”

“Was it of any assistance?” asked Rupert, feelingly.

“Why, yes, Rupert,” answered Carter slowly, a soft, distant smile creeping onto his face. “Yes, it was; and I would like to take this opportunity to invite you all to my wedding”—a pleased murmur danced around the table—”which should be in the fall, if my love accepts.”

“We’ll be sure to be in the country,” said Ursula, as everyone else also stated their acceptance of the invitation.

The party broke up a while later; and as the Tanners donned their coats and passed out the front door, James came up behind Carter and commented, “It will be nice to have a lady in the house again; it always seemed sort of empty without a mistress.”

“And I will be sure she is no mistress, James,” Manart responded, turning to face his friend with a loving smile.

The butler nodded and began to move toward the dining room, to straighten it up.

“By the way, James,” added Carter, “tomorrow I would like you to help me move the dining room table into the library. Then we shall go out to purchase a round table that suits the room.”

“Very good, Carter.”


Annotations

1 ) James’s familiarity represents Modernistic rejection of class distinction and is suggestive of the relationship between Jack Tanner and Henry Straker in (A).

2 ) Throughout the work, this table will be symbolizing modern marriage, the thematic thrust of this Fictionalized essay. The refinishing and smudges in the polish represent the iconoclastic redefinitions of the institution of marriage attempted by the Modernists and their vagaries thus far. In particular, Shaw struggles with these new definitions in (B).

3 ) Basic setting symbolizes Modernist retreat from ceremony and pomp in marriage, placing emphasis instead on its practical character and ends.

4 ) The answer attempt to allude to antiquity, even Adam and Eve, for mating and marriage are as old as the humanity in homo sapien.

5 ) Suggestive of the patriarchal tradition of marriage prior to Modernism.

6 ) The Victorian refurbish is from the simple, natural Romantic past; specifically the constraint (“routing”) reintroduced by the Victorians.

7 ) Suggestive of Carter Manart’s uncertainty about the character of Modernism, specifically Modern marriage, the resolving of which is to be the frame story of this essay.

8 ) The room is symbolic of Modernism as a movement in general, encapsulating its past, influences, and character in its time.

9 ) The Rembrandt suggests Europe’s post-Renaissance; Bruegel, Romanticism’s pastoral ideals; Monet, Victorianism’s hazy, idyllic optimism; Goya, the dark side of revolution and change; and the anachronistic Dali, the quest to “make it new” and, as its title suggests, the persistent remnants of the past and tradition.

10) My ‘tip-o-the-hat’ to the Industrial Revolution’s positive achievements.

11) Grey represents the ambiguous moral posture of the Modern era, especially World War I, which is symbolized by the red. Purple and blue flourishes are symbolic of the old aristocracy, being overshadowed by the middle (gray) and working (red, for the Labor party and Communism) classes. Thus, the gray and red serve a doubly symbolic purpose.

12) Suggestive both of the fascination in the Modern period with the Orient and the fact that Britain’s society (the table, in part) rested on the backs of its Colonies, especially the non- white ones of China and India.

13) More iconoclasm; today, formal tea has become almost a joke throughout most of British society.

14) Like England was becoming complicated in the Indies.

15) James is black and old Mr. Manart was too like his Southern US counterparts.

16) James is older, and this, in keeping with Modernist semi- iconoclasm, commands respect over the employer-employee relationship. See Mrs. Dalloway and Ms. Kilman’s complex ‘bidirectional hierarchy’ in (H) for a parallel of this employer deference to employee.

17) Ha! I got you! I’m not spilling all of the frame story’s surprises at once. (Editor’s Note: please forgive such levity on Mr. Artman’s part; he is quite excited about this whole thing, you understand.)

18) The iconoclastic Carter has his reservations over which edifice to ignore: class, age, rank. One must implicitly be recognized due to the hierarchical nature of a long, square table.

19) By way of background, Manart is his own lobbyist in Commons, petitioning on behalf of his inherited shipping business. This, in effect, implies that the business is not doing very well, else he would have someone do this for him.

20) Like any busy youth in this pre-depression piece, he does not know all of the social mores and procedures. It will later be revealed that this is his first formal (though informal) dinner party.

21) At this point it should be explained that in characterizing each couple, I am trying to project their relationships into the future as would be most probable based on the thematic resolutions of their particular source authors. Subsequently, the couple’s will hold more and more similar views the longer they have been married. Thus, Ann Whitefield-Tanner is, in her choice of surname, asserting the power granted her in the relationship by the Life Force as well as her own individuality. Furthermore, she has developed more of the wry, playful humor that characterized Jack Tanner in (A) and has, it will become evident, lost her tendency to lie to cast a favorable light upon herself. This honesty only further emphasizes the fact that she has been victorious in Life’s eternal struggle between means and vessel of Its culmination.

22) This mental note is, simply, that Ann has an assertive character, even after marriage: she is the first of the Tanners to speak, and her first works are playful mockery of her host’s servant.

23) Ann has learned iconoclasm from her husband in their twenty-two years of marriage, and is amused by Carter’s bombastic formalities.

24) Marriage, for Jack, has still not come to mean deference to his wife’s whimsy.

25) Jack’s interest is far from racist, as should become evident.

26) He would, of course, sit on the left of Commons with Labor. I have had old Jack elected to Parliament, and this is, in fact, where he and Carter met on formal grounds; this party is the first informal meeting of their, thus the introductions.

27) The first allusion to star equilibrium is their nearly synchronized treads.

28) Not having been present for her previous introductory faux pas, Rupert wonders at the uncertainty Margaret evinces in their introduction.

29) As will soon be show, like the Tanners, the Birkins are recent acquaintances of Carter’s, and he is struggling to maintain a balance between the party’s informality and the reverence he feels is due to his seniors and unintimate friends.

30) The Birkin’s have remained true to their desire to break all connections with society and have been traveling in Europe the past seven years, since their union. Note also that Ursula asserts herself first. This is not an example of her sensual dominance, but rather merely indicates that she is not behind (in the sense of subservient) her husband. And unless they are to speak in unison, one of them must open his or her mouth first.

31) Here I should note that I do not, in this draft, intend to explore their opinions on women’s suffrage. Rather, this was the issue of the day and I feel it is the most appropriate one which would draw these diverse people together. It, thus, is a device more than a theme.

32) This echoes Rupert’s passion for the intellectual as portrayed in (E).

33) The only remotely respectable conservative argument.

34) This parallels Peter Walsh’s accusation of Clarissa Dalloway’s perfectionism in (H).

35) My crude, ignorant efforts at suggesting the homoerotic impulses to be found in Clarissa and which are emphasized by Jane Marcus in (L).

36) I am presuming that the obviously greater wit written into Jack’s character has proved quite difficult for Richard in Parliament.

37) This is not his dominance, but rather his matrimonial ability to sooth fruitless wrath, something I imagine he has had to do often when bringing her to Parliament’s highly formal halls.

38) In this dichotomy between the Dalloways and the Tanners, the Birkins are naturally assuming a middle ground, as would be appropriate for their rather distant association of late with Britain and its issues. Further, as the intellectuals of the group, they must seek the harmonious compromises, the balances which can satisfy both sides… much like their marriage arrangement.

39) Conversely, a middle ground can be found by leaving the field of battle all together….

40) What follows (while also being reminiscent of Churchill’s dialogging) is a succinct summary of the characters’ general attitudes towards the subject of marriage. While not exactly a thesis statement, the passage is a tone-setter.

41) Mating is Jack’s favorite subject in (A).

42) See the last lines of (A): “Talking!”

43) Ever the intellectual’s introductory statement.

44) An acknowledgment of Rupert’s ‘authority’ on this complex point. She has, I am assuming, come to his camp on the issue of star equilibrium while, in keeping with that idea, maintaining her individual self; later, she, too, will have her say on the subject, as is meet.

45) A good score for this stereo statement would be Fiddler on the Roof’s “Tradition.”

46) That actress is the first non-tonal hint at my Shavian leanings in the character of Carter, my analog.

47) A blending of nearly verbatim quotes from (E) and (G).

48) “Thing” is in part a jocular statement, and in part an expression of the embodiment of the female drive in woman, a drive which is the spawn of the Life Force.

49) Ursula is, now that they are married, no stranger to Rupert’s desire for a union with the other, a semi-homoerotic interaction with another man.

50) A jocular expression of the deterministic qualities of the Life Force’s press into mating.

51) I am really trying for homoerotic overtones here; be gentle in your mockery of their crudity. Woolf made Mrs. Dalloway into a woman with a bright memory of a past female love, and I am merely trying to show how an older woman can anchor this glimmer of the past in the present, giving it a new lease on life, if you will.

52) Birkin is not quite satisfied with this practical expression of his more idealistic belief in equilibrium, one which would not necessarily involve complementation, but more likely, reflection.

53) Note how it took an offense to draw Richard into this intellectual debate; he is no powerhouse of thought, but he will be riled by a affront to his conservative ideals of propriety and honor. The next sentence parallels his ‘love for effect’ which he practices in (H) with the surprise roses.

54) This note is here just because I had to toot my use of contrast between the metaphor of battle and the reference to dove of peace. Clever, eh? (Editor’s Note: Once again, I am force to make an apology for Mr. Artman’s levity….)

55) Suggestive of Rupert’s continuing pain over the loss of Gerald and also of Ursula acceptance of his need for the Other.

56) Clarissa shares Rupert’s sentiment for a lost other.


Bibliography

Bernard Shaw

  • Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman. 1903
  • “Preface to Getting Married”, 1908 (Ayot St. Lawrence Edition of The Collected Works of Bernard Shaw)
  • St. John Ervine, Bernard Shaw: His Life, Work and Friends. Morrow & Co.: New York, 1956.
  • Anthony S. Abbott, Shaw and Christianity. Seabury Press: New York, 1965

David Herbert Lawrence

  • D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love. 1920, 1922
  • David Cavitch, D.H. Lawrence and the New World. Oxford University Press: New York, 1969
  • Mark Spilka, The love ethic of D.H. Lawrence. Indiana University Press: Bloomington & London, 1955 (1966)

Virginia Woolf

  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway. 1925
  • Jean Guiguet (transl. Jean Stewart), Virginia Woolf and Her Works. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: New York & London, 1962
  • Hermione Lee, The Novels of Virginia Woolf. Holmes and Meier: New York, 1977
  • Jane Marcus, Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy. Indiana University Press: Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1987

Isolation Of The Builder

 Fiction, Writing  Comments Off on Isolation Of The Builder
Mar 221993
 

There are few men in the galaxy for whom life is an exhilarating surprise, a merciful relief.

One of these few was Technician Thrace Soleman (ID# Astro.A159FC6B) as his ship, the Willie Mays, reentered normal space. Though living all his life in space—tesseracting hither and yon, withstanding gravities from nil to seven times Sol.Earth norm—he had always held his breath right before breaching essential space due to an almost unconscious foreboding that, for some reason, this tess—out of all the hundreds occurring at the same moment throughout the Milky Way, out of all the millions having occurred in the past—would go wrong.

He was, put simply, glad that sense experience had resumed; and he exhaled noisily, a grin teasing one corner of his mouth.

Technically, from his perspective the trip had taken no time as he was not psychically sensitive; there was no real (i.e. four-dimensional) interruption in his life. Yet, the Willie Mays had just completed an 8700 lightyear journey away from the edge of the Milky Way. Reclined on his cot, Soleman was staring through one section of the ship’s hull which had been left transparent; it revealed nothing but a few specks of light to the “north” of the ship and a slight glow of the Milky Way bleeding from the down side. So where is the rock?

Thrace extended the foot-hand of a wiry leg towards the cot above him and, grabbing its sideboard, swung himself into an upright position. He, with a startled yell, kept swinging up, around and back down onto the upper bunk. Only his mercurial flexibility and reflexes anchored his other foot to the bunkframe, preventing him from rebounding off its netting and back around into his cot again. His green hair swirled about his face in mockery of Great Newton.

“Where’s spin, for Its sake!” he bellowed into the intercom. He was accustomed to three gravities of spin when in a holding pattern. Stupid of me, really. After all, the view outside is obviously standing still.

There had been no reply from the pilots.

“Hai, Coordinator!” he called to the ship’s supervisor, Illyana Melder (ID# Astro.A15933C4). “C’mon, Illie, we couldn’t’ve lost you, Vrandium-mind.” The tight shades of worry began creeping onto his square, lined face.

Coordinator Melder was reputed as having the strongest will of any ship coordinator in the Human Stellar League. She had logged over five hundred tesseracts and had lived at least seventeen thousand years of subjective time during those breaches. Admittedly, at times she seemed distant and cold to others; those among them who were pilots understood perfectly. Nevertheless, the cyber-media had sensationalized her achievements by nicknaming her after the hardest metal known to Third Epoch human science; a metal which reflects all warmth cast at it.

There was still no reply.

Oh, man, after all those years, to snap now! Of course, this is probably the most uninvolved tess she’d ever made. Sailing one gravitational curve would’ve gotten pretty damned boring, I bet. Wait a minute! I’m already thinking in past tense, give them a chance. And them it was, for no one had responded to his hail; not the coordinator, neither of the sailors, and not the engine manager. If none of them were responding then most likely something had gone very wrong in tess-space. They were all psychically linked, as well as linked cybernetically with psychic circuits to the tessdrive, prior to breaching; little problems could become quite big with this intimacy. But, no. Nothing could have taken them all out.

And yet, there was no reply at all.

Anxiously, Thrace thumbed open the iris door and floated into the corridor outside the crew’s quarters. The rounded, functionally decorated hallway ran “eastward” to the commissary and “westward” to the recreation facilities and gymnasium. Across from Soleman were the labs, but there would be no one in them as there were but five people, including himself, on the ship. A short way westward, half of the hall split into a laddered chute running vertically through the ship. Leaping up to grab a rung on the ceiling, he pulled himself, foot over hand, towards the chute, bounding and covering the thirty meters like a fleeing rabbit. He arced upward and yanked himself bridge-ward, travelling so quickly that the floor-iris into the room above barely got out of his way. He soared into the control room, bending and flipping to grab the ceiling and absorb his momentum in his legs.

The clash of opposites in the room numbed his senses; it was not for several seconds that he truly perceived the carnage.

The ceiling was mostly transparent, but let in only a milky glow, there being no stars above it within a few million light years; this haze blended soothingly with the bridge’s lighting. The room’s graceful symmetry and efficiency starkly contrasted with the obvious tragedy that, with the quiet, cruel air of broken assurances, had occurred here. The simple room’s metal walls held only dark panes of acrylic in various sizes: either scanners or viewing screens. Furnishings were sparse at the moment; there were only four couches extruding from the floor which hid a plethora of other possible furnishings. The coordinator’s couch was central, just north of the vertical axis of the ship. South of the axis was the couch from which the engine manager manipulated the delicately massive tesseract drive in its starts, millisecond bursts, decade-long calibrations, and soul-wrenching stops. Finally, to the east and west of the axis, close to the room’s walls, lay the two sailors’ couches. They were the most gruesome to behold.

Three quarters of a body was reclined on each of the plastic and foam couches. Where the remaining quarter, the heads and necks, should have been, there were only large, brown, viscous stains and white shards stuck into the chairs. The globular gel smoked slightly and the charcoal smell of burnt synthsteaks filled the room. The occupants of the other two couches seemed whole in the dim cyan light emitted by the phosphorescent tracklights on the walls. They were, however, sprawled like two discarded rag dolls and their eyes were wide and burnt black, their faces frozen in agonized caricatures of laughter.

A scream would have found its way out of Thrace’s mouth had his jaw not been reflexively clenched against the rising bile in his throat. Instead, only a strangled grunt echoed in the silent chamber. He stared, wide-eyed and unbelieving, instinctual fear and repulsion at the scene causing the pores of his skin to dilate (but not to sweat, that was engineered out of his race eons ago). Perversely, the only clear thought to come to his mind was Hope that doesn’t get into the steering circuits; I can’t fix psywires. A futile hope for someone incapable of piloting tess-space.

He was finally broken out of his shock by a soft pinging noise and a sharp pain in his right cheek. He grabbed at the spot and found a small bit of bone stuck there. Shit, there’s shards ricocheting all over this room. Better get some gravity going to settle it and clean up. He did not consider the irrationality of the idea of cleaning so soon after witnessing such horror; it was something he could do in a situation over which, he was beginning to realize, he had next to no control. He pushed off towards the south of the room and gripped a rung embedded there. The stickiness of it surprised him, and he fought hard not to consider the reason it was so. He pressed his hand to the acrylic pane set in the aluminum wall… and nothing happened. He used the arm of his jumper to wipe the pane clean and tried again.

Still nothing happened.

Panic hit. the systems burned im a dead man oh jenny oh it oh shit what am i gonna do no power no food nothing dead It went on for some time, waves of fear and loss, regrets, images in his mind, their contrast fuzzed by retrospection, forgotten intentions, and confused underpinings. His Youth and all of its freedom, irresponsibilities and passions. That older brunette who had shown him the sweet benefits of Maturation. The years he spent as Student, deciding on his lifework. The implant surgery to allow him to interface with ComputerSpace, the reflex wires that gave him control over peripheral devices. Years of study in cyber-school and space school. His spouse and her funny laugh and arousing accent. His boy, oh, his young Zephyr, just one standard year from Maturation and school. His friends among the Astros as well as landborns. He thought of all of these things and others in the few minutes he spent feverishly jamming his hand against the palmscanner. As he slid off the crest of emotion into a trough of numb despair, some reason returned to him and he looked at the tracklights in the room.

He giggled with relief; a suppressed laugh filled with gasps and breaks. The power was not gone. Rather, he was too excited for the security scanner. A little measure against hijacking: the scanner would not verify someone’s scan, even if they were in the “approved” register, unless his or her pulse rate was at a median level. This conditional kept severed hands, frightened hands, and manic hands from being of any use for gaining entry to the ship’s computer system.

Smiling shakily, Thrace intoned his mantra for a while until he could feel his muscles relax and his heartbeat soften and slow. He touched the pane again and was answered by a faint click as a section of wall slid away. In the alcove behind the panel, a coiled cord ending in a fiberoptic male connector hung on a hook much like a pay telephone cradle. Upon removing the cable from the cradle, a rounded chair inflated up from the floor behind him. He dropped into it, a faint whisper reminding him that it had a pinhole leak somewhere. He relaxed and inserted the cable’s plug into the jack behind his ear.

The stained, glowing wall before him faded to be replaced by a small city sprawled out below him. From his “aerial” vantage he could see that most of the ship’s systems were automatically functioning and doing so quite normally. He gave these systems—life support, reactor dampening, gene monitoring, biot growing—only the most cursory inspection. They were critical to his immediate survival, but not the most important functions of the Willie Mays from Soleman’s perspective. He soared above the towering sub-directory icons, across the mainframe, until he reached a cityblock-sized red icon, in the shape of an umbrella, vaulting an apparent kilometer above the “ground.” He landed at its base and touched it.

It ceased to be. In its place was a meter-high question mark: the universal iconic symbol for “System not present — Error.”

“Willie!” cried Thrace; “what happened to the tess-sail manual control system? I need spin and a tess-comm link to HSL.”

A computer-imaged persona of an android in a baseball uniform appeared before him, its hands behind its back.

“That system has been deemed useless. I was going to remove the icon, but security monitoring on the system delayed me. Someone with a hand like yours but not a temper like yours was repeatedly requesting access.”

Thrace’s head began to practice Forthanik’s Ballet for 0.5 g in D min. Somewhere above his right temple he could swear he heard a blood vessel pop, even though that would be impossible in Compspace. “Why was the control system deemed useless, Willie?” he asked in a trembling voice that seemed to want to hide in his mouth, not actually ask that too-important question.

“Because the drive no longer exists, Technician Soleman.”

The computer, of course, had absolutely no idea what had happened during the tess; it was not psychic either. There were, however, a number of cyberlectures on the subject of tesseract emergencies. In one of them, Soleman learned that several daring experiments had been conducted during the tessdrive’s conception in the Tenth Eon, First Epoch, which involved planned detonations of the drive during a breech and while tessing. Nothing was ever learned: the earlier tessdrives were not sailed, but shot “ballistically,” to their destinations; most of the scientists gave up searching the fifty lightyear test area after the first ten years of doing so. The most widely agreed upon theory was that there was a 84.78% chance that the whole ship would be destroyed with it, in spite of the 400 kilometers separating the drive from the ship, and a 13.46% chance that the ship would never again enter 4D space. In a way, then, Thrace was lucky to be alive. Great. Just fabulous for me, he had thought after learning that gem of information. Soleman also discovered a space opera simsense which depicted a group of colonists isolated by the unlikely loss of sanity by all the piloting psychics of their vessel. It was typically, if not subtly, thrilling and he could not resist making love to the (typically) stunning heroine, as consolation, during one of her more touching strophes of angst. He never bothered to figure out who he actually was trying to console; what did it matter? For that few hours, they had been the only reality, and they needed the closeness to hold back the hungry vacuum waiting patiently outside.

He realized halfway through the second week of travel under the Willie Mays’ fusion drive that he simply did not have ten thousand years to spare trying to get into the Milky Way’s shipping lanes. For the past sixteen days he had been idling about the recreation room, working out occasionally on the zero gee machines to keep fit WHY?, experimenting with the more esoteric selections on the ship’s meal synthesizer WHAT’S testicles???, scanning the documentary and technical files of the computer Why isn’t there a passage on Growing Tesseract Drives out of Matter Reclaimation Biots, or Genetically Breaching Essential Space?, and experiencing way too much simsense. On this second week, however, he awoke on Sixday with the dire paralysis of apathy. He felt cold, in spite of the life-support. He had been dreaming of his spouse and was hoping that the stark ship’s ceiling was the dream instead.

Jenny and he had been walking through the Yorkshire Dales on Sol.Earth, exploring Middleheim Castle. They climbed to the top of the southern tower and stared over the green, forested waves of the surrounding country, devoid of any other signs of man (Sol.Earth had been discovered as sentient and almost immediately declared a Refuge World). Holding each other against the chill wind, whispering insued: sweet sentiments he could not now recall, craved to recall because he wished they were true, prayed he had broken past his unpsychic genetics, had communed with his only love one last time.

He did not rise from his bunk for several hours, and then only to plug into the lavatory. His blood began flowing from this activity, and other activities began to seem appropriate. A wide grin and furrowed brow smeared his face into a cruel visage.

He had no reason to keep fit, so he threw the zero-gee trainer through the commissary, laughing loudly, echoingly; there were only twenty-one varieties of synthmeats from which to choose, so he jacked into the computer and launched a File Burn program at the synthesizer’s master program (it did the best job it could defending against its Prime Priority User’s wrath). There was no one to impress with his knowledge of Pre-Diaspora politics, so he set the technical files to teaching the simsense’s Drama sub-system how to do quadruple integrations, thereby generating fierce trinary debates throughout the ship’s Compnet. Finally, he had experience every It-damned simsense in the entire database and at least half of their plot variants and, quite literally, thought he was still in simsense half of the time he was doing something else on the ship. Earlier that week he had once tried to ‘stop program run’ while sitting in the commissary, throughly bored, in front of a bowl of some horrid concoction from the meal synth’s Traditional Menu called “grits.”

The next week he spent pacing the ship, staring through its now totally transparent hull. He had felt, at first, a dizzying sensation of shrinking when he had first cleared the hull to view his new domain. The Milky Way was SO far away; it looked like egg on the vast pan of the universe: an egg which he would never again taste thanks to some mysterious, capricious whim of fate. He felt minuscule… then realized that he was. The coffin-like atmosphere of an opaqued hull had been worse, however.

During these uneventful days he spoke to many people; only one, his wife, ever spoke back, and that was towards the end of the week. He raged first at Illyana for failing in her duty. She must’ve zoned during the tess and steered the sailors off the polarity-rhythm into some freaky wavelengths, the dumb bitch with her snotty ways and her too perfect lips and the way she insists on announcing every bloody minute for a half hour before tessing… Then, of course, it was the sailors, Uthor and something-with-a-P, who had zoned and failed to avoid some quirky perturbation Vrandium-mind had ordered evaded. Next, Manager Hurdles (ID# Astro.A1596115) had clearly failed to keep the drive in harmony and had fried them all in the backlash.

“And what about the fucking League with their half-assed regulations and shoddy inspection teams?” he inquired loudly of the first bowl of food he had synthed in four days, failing to recall the hassles that the Mays’ crew had gone through to con their way into this mission.

Fringe.BB20 was the first Grade G congealment to be spotted escaping Mother Milky’s possessive pull. Until then, only the occasional Sol.Mercury-sized mother lodes were intercepted in the really cold depths of space to be reclaimed by humanity. This body they had been going to intercept would have fetched them at least 20,000 stresshours apiece for only three months of crystal harvesting with the massive robotic drills and the microscopic biots. Then a small fusion-fission charge to send it back to the galaxy to be retrieved in a millennium or so, and the crew would have tessed back, retired, and done some pleasure touring of their workplace, the Milky Way. All that privilege: up in smoke. IT-DAMNED, BEAST-BRAINED…. Several long-haul teams had bid for the mission and the qualifying criteria had been intense. The Willie Mays Mining Cooperative was so very, damned lucky it was driving Thrace very, damned mad.

Then came the Solution. It took only a few feverish, ecstatic seconds to conceive and fifty-six days to effect. It was, after all, an ambitious project—if “ambitious” can describe the dreams of a doomed man.

The first thing Technician Thrace had to accomplish was to negotiate peace in Compspace between the Technosupremacists and the Aesthetics Liberation Faction, who had escalated the conflict he had initiated in his malicious, feeble vengeance a week earlier. The technical files had achieved the upper-hand with their knowledge of the Compnet’s systems, but the Dramatic files were passionately holding their own. He felt like a fool when he jacked in as a peace-keeping force. He spent several days untangling the various attack programs binding the two systems and disarming databombs. Fortunately, with peace declared, the two file systems were more than willing to provide what help they could in this task.

The next month was spent designing and building a robot which would automatically build and install additional memory to the computer. He also redesigned the food synthesizer. He cleared the majority of its database, leaving only the core formulas for synthesizing what he called the “Tree of Life Elixir,” a serum of fundamental proteins, enzymes, carbohydrates, and polyunsaturated fats. Then, Soleman modified the dispenser so that the bland syrup would be slowly and steadily drip-fed through a IV. Perfect! With the germ and biot banks to draw on, and their synthing capabilities, there should be about a hundred years of this stuff… more than enough, most likely.

The final two weeks were spent almost entirely in Compspace. He toured every alley and sewer, each database and slave node, wreaking nothingness on every inessential system. Lighting… Let there be NO light! That’s good. Fusion drive: slow burn; open all accesses to reserves. Should be a few thousand years of operation. Climate control: bridge only; seal remainder of ship. Laser distress beacon: ah, what the Hole, On. All this simsense shit: GET THEE BEHIND ME! Ooh, that’s very good. Auxiliary file systems: Good night, sweet prints. All except computer maintenance files for the robot.

Then, finally, it was finished, and with the end of frenetic activity returned morose passivity. Thrace sat on the bridge, reconsidering. There was a slim chance that the inevitable search team would stumble upon him before the ten year MIA period was over (tradition, from the early days of “spit-tessing”). 8700 lightyears is not all that much. Shit.

He spoke a soft prayer of farewell to whomever happened to be listening. The IV went into his arm with a slightly painful jab, and Thrace snickered over the irony that his last real sensation was one of pain. The eight weeks of isolation had inured him to stimuli, but somehow this faint prick seemed to wash swells of tension and melancholy up his arm and through his floating body. He thought once more of Jennifer and Zephyr and hoped they would have fun with his insurance/pension. Concluding with a particularly blurry-eyed sentiment of Love, he wished Homo Stellari a fruitful being. Then Technician Thrace Soleman jacked into Compspace.

It was dark, quiet, odorless, empty. The systems which were to be saved—life support, Tree of Life, the robotic chipper, fundamentals—hid themselves behind a masking program so sophisticated even its designer stood little chance of unveiling its secret wards. All extraneous systems were not. It was a Void… save for the One, Thrace. The One floated without buoyant support, perceived Nothing, felt the effluent of thirty-nine Standard Years of emotion swirling inside. The extensive memory crystals were limited (but growing) yet infinite, lacking a measure save the One. And cloistering, so crowded with nothing but the One. And piss-boring, lonesome. The One meditated a moment, reached out…

And It spoke a Word.

Let Them Eat Cake

 Poetry, Writing  Comments Off on Let Them Eat Cake
Feb 141993
 

Let them eat cake:
The common, coupling hordes;
We dine on honeyed bread:
Sweet and sustaining.

Let them babble of summer days,
and the latest vogue passion;
We commune through rain, sun, and fall,
Speaking of life, all.

Let them beg of their gods,
Cement their fragile union;
We are our lords and servants,
Self-blessed architects and masons of love.

Let the world of bitter weakness
Eat its tear-stained oaths;
We hold our quarrels straight
And find, through them, a stronger bond.

Let them write their perfect verse,
Measured and foot-weary as their love;
I show to you my heart undraped,
Its passions unfit for a mold.

Let them doubt with every stumble
The true peace of their dove;
You have stayed through all my doubt
And are my life, my dream, my love.