Cloud Atlas (part two) Copyright © 2004 by David Mitchell

Old Georgie’s path an’ mine crossed more times’n I’m comfy mem’ryin’, an’ after I’m died,
no sayin’ what that fangy devil won’t try an’ do to me … so gimme some mutton an’ I’ll tell
you ’bout our first meetin’. A fat joocesome slice, nay, none o’ your burnt wafery off’rin’s …
Adam, my bro, an’ Pa’n’me was trekkin’ back from Honokaa Market on miry roads with a
busted cart axle in draggly clothesies. Evenin’ catched us up early, so we tented on the southly
bank o’ Sloosha’s Crossin’, ’cos Waipio River was furyin’ with days o’ hard rain an’ swollen
by a spring tide. Sloosha’s was friendsome ground tho’ marshy, no un lived in the Waipio
Valley ’cept for a mil’yun birds, that’s why we din’t camo our tent or pull cart or nothin’. Pa
sent me huntin’ for tinder’n’firewood while he’n’Adam tented up.
Now, I’d got diresome hole-spew that day ’cos I’d ate a gammy dog leg in Honokaa, an’ I was
squattin’ in a thicket o’ ironwood trees upgulch when sudd’nwise eyes on me, I felt ’em.
“Who’s there?” I called, an’ the mufflin’ ferny swallowed my voice.
Oh, a darky spot you’re in, boy, murmed the mufflin’ ferny
“Name y’self!” shouted I, tho’ not so loud. “I got my blade, I have!”
Right ’bove my head someun whisped, Name y’self, boy, is it Zachry the Brave or Zachry the
Cowardy? Up I looked an’ sure ’nuff there was Old Georgie cross-leggin’ on a rottin’
ironwood tree, a slywise grinnin’ in his hungry eyes.
“I ain’t ’fraid o’ you!” I telled him, tho’ tell-it-true my voice was jus’ a duck fart in a
hurrycane. Quakin’ inside I was when Old Georgie jumped off his branch an’ then what
happened? He dis’peared in a blurry flurryin’, yay b’hind me. Nothin’ there … ’cept for a
plump lardbird snufflyin’ for grubs, jus’ askin’ for a pluckin’n’a spit! Well, I reck’ned Zachry
the Brave’d faced down Old Georgie, yay, he’d gone off huntin’ cowardier vic’tries’n me. I
wanted to tell Pa’n’Adam ’bout my eerie adventurin’, but a yarnin’ is more delish with brokede-mouth grinds, so hushly-hushly up I hoicked my leggin’s an’ I crept up on that meatsome
feathery buggah … an’ I dived.
Mister Lardbird he slipped thru my fingers an’ skipped off, but I wasn’t givin’ up, nay, I
chased him upstream thru bumpy’n’thorny thickets, spring-heelin’ dead branches’n’all, thorns
scratched my face diresome, but see I’d got the chasin’ fever so I din’t notice the trees thinnin’
nor the Hiilawe Falls roarin’ nearer, not till I ran schnock into the pool clearin’ an’ giddied up a
bunch o’ horses. Nay, not wild horses, these was horses decked in studded leather armor an’
on the Big Isle that means one thing only, yay, the Kona.
Ten–twelve of them painted savages was ’ready risin’n’reachin’ for their whips’n’blades,
yellin’ war cries at me! Oh, now I legged it back downgulch the way I’d come, yay, the hunter
was the hunted. The nearest Kona was runnin’ after me, others was leapin’ on their horses an’
laughin’ with the sport. Now panickin’ wings your foot but it muddies your thinkin’ too, so I
rabbited back to Pa. I was only a niner so I jus’ followed my instinct without thinkin’ thru
what’d happen.
I never got back to our tentin’ tho’, or I’d not be sittin’ here yarnin’ to you. Over a ropy root—
Georgie’s foot maybe— I tripped’n’tumblied into a pit o’ dead leaves what hid me from the
Kona hoofs thunderin’ over me. I stayed there, hearin’ them jagged shouts goin’ by, jus’ yards away runnin’ thru them trees … straight t’ward Sloosha’s. To Pa’n’Adam.
I creeped slywise’n’speedy but late I was, yay, way too late. The Kona was circlin’ our camp,
their bullwhips crackin’. Pa he’d got his ax swingin’ an’ my bro’d got his spiker, but the Kona
was jus’ toyin’ with ’em. I stayed at the lip o’ the clearin’, see fear was pissin’ in my blood an’
I cudn’t go on. Crack! went a whip, an’ Pa’n’Adam was top-sied an’ lay wrigglyin’ like eels
on the sand. The Kona chief, one sharky buggah, he got off his horse an’ walked splishin’ thru
the shallows to Pa, smilin’ back at his painted bros, got out his blade an’ opened Pa’s throat ear
to ear.
Nothin’ so ruby as Pa’s ribbonin’ blood I ever seen. The chief licked Pa’s blood off the steel.
Adam’d got the dead shock, his spunk was drained off. A painted buggah binded his
heels’n’wrists an’ tossed my oldest bro over his saddle like a sack o’ taro, an’ others sivvied
our camp for ironware’n’all an’ busted what they din’t take. The chief got back on his horse
an’ turned’n’looked right at me … them eyes was Old Georgie’s eyes. Zachry the Cowardy,
they said, you was born to be mine, see, why even fight me?
Did I prove him wrong? Stay put an’ sink my blade into a Kona neck? Follow ’em back to
their camp an’ try’n’free Adam? Nay, Zachry the Brave Niner he snaky-snuck up a leafy
hideynick to snivel’n’pray to Sonmi he’d not be catched’n’slaved too. Yay that’s all I did. Oh,
if I’d been Sonmi list’nin’, I’d o’ shooked my head di-gustly an’ crushed me like a straw bug.
Pa was still lyin’n’bobbin’ in the salt shallows when I sneaked back after night’d fallen; see,
the river was calmin’ down now an’ the weather clearin’. Pa, who’d micked’n’biffed’n’loved
me. Slipp’ry as cave fish, heavy as a cow, cold as stones, ev’ry drop o’ blood sucked off by
the river. I cudn’t grief prop’ly yet nor nothin’, ev’rythin’ was jus’ too shock’n’horrorsome,
see. Now Sloosha’s was six–seven up’n’down miles from Bony Shore, so I built a mound for
Pa where he was. I cudn’t mem’ry the Abbess’s holy words ’cept Dear Sonmi, Who art
amongst us, return this beloved soul to a valley womb, we beseech thee. So I said ’em, forded
the Waipio, an’ trogged up the switchblade thru the night forest.
An elf owl screeched at me, Well fought, Zachry the Brave! I yelled at the bird to shut up, but it
screeched back, Or else? You’ll bust me like you bust them Kona? Oh, for the sake o my
chicky-chick-chicks do have mercy! Up in the Kohala Mountains, dingos was howlin’,
Cowardyyy-yy-y Zachryyy-yy-y Lastly the moon she raised her face, but that cold lady din’t say
nothin’ nay she din’t have to, I knowed what she thinked o’ me. Adam was lookin’ at that
same moon, only two–three–four miles away, but for all I could help him, that could o’ been
b’yonder Far Honolulu. I bust open an’ sobbed’n’sobbed’n’sobbed, yay like a wind-knotted
An uphill mile later I got to Abel’s Dwellin’ an’ I hollered ’em up. Abel’s eldest Isaak let me in
an’ I telled ’em what’d happened at Sloosha’s Crossin’, but … did I tell the hole true? Nay,
wrapped in Abel’s blankies, warmed by their fire’n’grinds, the boy Zachry lied. I din’t ’fess
how I’d leaded the Kona to Pa’s camp, see, I said I’d just gone huntin’ a lardbird into the
thicket, an’ when I got back … Pa was killed, Adam taken, an’ Kona hoofs in the mud
ev’rywhere. Cudn’t do nothin’, not then, not now. Ten Kona bruisers could o’ slayed Abel’s
kin jus’ as easy as slayin’ Pa.
Your faces are askin’ me. Why’d I lie?
In my new tellin’, see, I wasn’t Zachry the Stoopit nor Zachry the Cowardy I was jus’ Zachry
the Unlucky’n’Lucky Lies are Old Georgie’s vultures what circle on high lookin’ down for a
runty’n’weedy soul to plummet’n’sink their talons in, an’ that night at Abel’s Dwellin’, that
runty’n’weedy soul, yay, it was me.
Now you people’re lookin’ at a wrinkly buggah, mukelung’s nibblin’ my breath away, an’ I
won’t be seein’ many more winters out, nay, nay, I know it. I’m shoutin’ back more’n forty
long years at myself, yay, at Zachry the Niner, Oy, list’n! Times are you’re weak gainst the world! Times are you can’t do nothin! That ain’t your fault, it’s this busted world’s fault is all!
But no matter how loud I shout, Boy Zachry, he don’t hear me nor never will.
Goat tongue is a gift, you got it from the day you’re borned or you ain’t got it. If you got it,
goats’ll heed your say-so, if you ain’t, they’ll jus’ trample you muddy an’ stand there scornin’.
Ev’ry dawnin’ I’d milk the nannies an’ most days take the hole herd up the throat o’ Elepaio
Valley, thru Vert’bry Pass to pasturin’ in the Kohala Peaks. I herded Aunt Bees’s goats too,
theyd got fifteen–twenty goats, so all-telled I’d got fifty–sixty to mind’n’help their birthin’ an’
watch for sick uns. I loved them dumb beasts more’n I loved myself When rain thundered I’d
get soaked pluckin’ off their leeches, when sun burnt I’d crispen’n’brown, an’ if we was high
up in the Kohalas times was I’d not go back down for three–four nights run-nin’, nay. You’d
got to keep your eyes beetlin’. Dingos scavved in the mountains an’ they’d try to pick off a
wibbly newborn if you wasn’t mindin’ with your spiker. When my pa was a boy, savages
from Mookini’d wander up from Leeward an’ rustler away a goat or two, but then the Kona
slaved the Mookini all southly an’ their old dwellin’s in Hawi went to moss’n’ants. We goaters
we knowed the Kohala Mountains like no un else, the crannies’n’streams’n’haunted places,
steel trees what the old-time scavvers’d missed, an’ one-two–three Old Un buildin’s what no
un knowed but us.
I planted my first babbit up Jayjo from Cutter Foot Dwellin’ under a lemon tree one a-sunny
day. Leastways hers was the first what I knowed. Girls get so slywise ’bout
who’n’when’n’all. I was twelve, Jayjo’d got a firm’n’eager body an’ laughed, twirly an’ crazy
with love we both was, yay jus’ like you two sittin’ here, so when Jayjo plummed up ripe we
was talkin’ ’bout marryin’ so she’d come’n’live at Bailey’s Dwellin’. We’d got a lot o’ empty
rooms, see. But then Jayjo’s waters busted moons too soon an’ Banjo fetched me to Cutter
Foot, where she was laborin’. The babbit came out jus’ a few beats after I’d got there.
This ain’t a smilesome yarnie, but you asked ’bout my life on Big Island, an’ these is the
mem’ries what are minnowin’ out. The babbit’d got no mouth, nay, no nose-holes neither, so it
cudn’t breathe an’ was dyin’ from when Jayjo’s ma skissored the cord, poor little buggah. Its
eyes never opened, it just felt the warm of its pa’s hands on its back, turned bad colors, stopped
kickin’ an’ died.
Jayjo she was clammy’n’tallow an’ looked like dyin’ too. The women telled me to clear out an’
make space for the herb’list.
I took the died babbit wrapped in a woolsack to the Bony Shore. So lornsome I was, wond’rin’
if Jayjo’s seed was rotted or my seed was rotted or jus’ my luck was rotted. Slack mornin’ it
was under the bloodflower bushes, waves lurched up the beach like sickly cows an’ fell over.
Buildin’ the babbit’s mound din’t take as long as Pa’s. Bony Shore had the air o’ kelp an’
flesh’n’rottin’, old bones was lyin’ ’mongst the pebbles, an’ you din’t hang ’bout longer’n you
needed to, ’cept you was borned a fly or a raven.
Jayjo she din’t die, nay, but she never laughed twirly like b’fore an’ we din’t marry, nay, you
got to know your seeds’ll grow a pure-birth or sumthin’ close, yay? Or who’ll scrape the moss
off your roof an’ oil your icon ’gainst termites when you’re gone? So if I met Jayjo at a
gath’rin’ or bart’rin’ she’d say, Rainy mornin ain’t it? an’ I’d answer, Yay, rain till nightfall it
will I reck’n, an’ we’d pass by. She married a leather maker from Kane Valley three years after,
but I din’t go to their marryin’ feast.
It was a boy Our died no-name babbit. A boyValleysmen only had one god an’ her name it was Sonmi. Savages on Big I norm’ly had more
gods’n you could wave a spiker at. Down in Hilo they prayed to Sonmi if they’d the moodin’
but they’d got other gods too, shark gods, volcano gods, corn gods, sneeze gods, hairy-wart
gods, oh, you name it, the Hilo’d birth a god for it. The Kona’d got a hole tribe o’ war gods an’
horse gods’n’all. But for Valleysmen savage gods weren’t worth knowin’, nay, only Sonmi
was real.
She lived ’mongst us, minderin’ the Nine Folded Valleys. Most times we cudn’t see her, times
was she was seen, an old crone with a stick, tho’ I sumtimes seen her as a shimm’rin’ girl.
Sonmi helped sick uns, fixed busted luck, an’ when a truesome’n’civ’lized Val-leysman died
she’d take his soul an’ lead it back into a womb somewhere in the Valleys. Time was we
mem’ried our gone lifes, times was we cudn’t, times was Sonmi telled Abbess who was who
in a dreamin’, times was she din’t … but we knew we’d always be re-borned as Valleysmen,
an’ so death weren’t so scarysome for us, nay
Unless Old Georgie got your soul, that is. See, if you b’haved savage-like an’ selfy an’
spurned the Civ’lize, or if Georgie tempted you into barb’rism an’ all, then your soul got
heavy’n’jagged an’ weighed with stones. Sonmi cudn’t fit you into no womb then. Such
crookit selfy people was called “stoned” an’ no fate was more dreadsome for a Valleysman.
The Icon’ry was the only buildin’ on Bony Shore ’tween Kane Valley an’ Honokaa Valley.
There was no say-so ’bout keepin’ out, but no un went in idlesome ’cos it’d rot your luck if
you din’t have no good reason to ’sturb that roofed night. Our icons, what we
carved’n’polished’n’wrote words on durin’ our lifes, was stored there after we died.
Thousands of ’em there was shelfed in my time, yay each un a Valleysman like me
borned’n’lived’n’reborned since the Flotilla what bringed our ancestors got to Big I to ’scape
the Fall.
First time I went inside the Icon’ry was with Pa’n’Adam’n’Jonas when I was a sevener. Ma’d
got a leakin’ malady birthin’ Catkin, an’ Pa took us to pray to Sonmi to fix her, ’cos the Icon’ry
was a spesh holy place an’ Sonmi was norm’ly list’nin’ there. Watery dark it was inside.
Wax’n’teak-oil’n’time was its smell. The icons lived in shelfs from floor to roof, how many
there was I cudn’t tell, nay, you don’t go countin’ ’em like goats, but the gone-lifes outnumber
the now-lifes like leafs outnumber trees. Pa’s voice spoke in the shadows, fam’liar it was but
eerie too, askin’ Sonmi to halt Ma’s dyin’ an’ let her soul stay in that body for longer, an’ in
my head I prayed the same, tho’ I knowed I been marked by Old Georgie at Sloosha’s
Crossin’. An’ then we heard a sort o’ roaring underneath the silence, made o’ mil’yuns o’
whisp’rin’s like the ocean, only it wasn’t the ocean, nay, it was the icons, an’ we knew Sonmi
was in there list’nin’ to us.
Ma din’t die. Sonmi’s got mercy, see.
My second time in the Icon’ry was Dreamin’ Night. When fourteen notches on our icons said
we was a growed Valleysman, we’d sleep ’lone in the Icon’ry an’ Sonmi’d give us a spesh
dreamin’. Some girls seen who they’d marry, some boys seen a way o’ livin’, other times we’d
see stuff what we’d take to Abbess for an augurin’. When we left the Icon’ry in the mornin’
we’d be men an’ women.
So gone sunset I lay under my pa’s blanky in the Icon’ry with my own uncarved icon as a
pillow. Outside Bony Shore was rattlin’n’clackin’ an’ breakers was churnin’n’boilin’ an’ a
whippoor-will I heard. But it weren’t no whippoorwill, nay it was a trapdoor openin’ right by
me, an’ a rope swingin’ down into the underworld sky. Climb down, Sonmi telled me, so I did,
but the rope was made o’ human fingers’n’wrists weaved together. I looked up an’ seen fire
comin’ down from the Icon’ry floor. Cut the rope, said a crookit man, but I was scared to ’cos I’d o’ fallen, yay?
Next dream, I was holdin’ my freakbirth babbit boy in Jayjo’s room. He was
kickin’n’wrigglyin’ like he’d done that day Quick, Zachry, said the man, cut your babbit a
mouth so he can breathe! I’d got my blade in my hand so I carved my boy a smily slit, like
cuttin’ cheese it was. Words frothed out, Why’d you kill me, Pa?
My last dream had me walkin’ ’long Waipio River. On the far side I seen Adam, fishin’
happ’ly! I waved but he din’t see me, so I ran to a bridge what ain’t there in wakin’ life, nay, a
gold’n’bronze bridge. When fin’ly I got to Adam’s side tho’, I sobbed griefsome ’cos nothin’
was left but mold’rin’ bones an’ a little silver eel flippy-flappin’ in the dust.
The eel was dawnlight crackin’ under the Icon’ry door. I mem’ried the three dreams an’ walked
thru the drizzly surf to Abbess without meetin’ not a body. Abbess was feedin’ her chicklin’s
b’hind the school’ry. She list’ned close to my dreamin’s, then telled me they was slywise
augurin’s an’ say-soed me to wait inside the school’ry while she prayed to Sonmi for their true
The school’ry room was touched with the holy myst’ry o’ the Civ’lize Days. Ev’ry book in the
Valleys sat on them shelfs, saggy’n’wormy they was gettin’ but, yay, they was books an’
words o’ knowin’! A ball o’ the world there was too. If Hole World is a giant big ball, I din’t
und’stand why people don’t fall off it an’ I still don’t. See, I’d not much smart in school’ry
learnin’, not like Catkin, who could o’ been the next Abbess if all things happened diff’rent.
School’ry windows was glass still unbusted since the Fall. The greatest of ’mazements tho’
was the clock, yay, the only workin’ clock in the Valleys an’ in hole Big I, hole Ha-Why, far as
I know When I was a schooler I was ’fraid of that tick-tockin’ spider watchin’n’judgin’ us.
Abbessd teached us Clock Tongue but I’d forgot it, ’cept for O’Clock an’ Half Past. I mem’ry
Abbess sayin’, Civ’lize needs time, an if we let this clock die, time’ll die too, an then how can
we bring back the Civ’lize Days as it was b’fore the Fall?
I watched the clock’s tickers that mornin’ too till Abbess came back from her augurin’ an’ sat
’cross from me. She telled me Old Georgie was hungerin’ for my soul, so he’d put a cuss on
my dreamin’s to fog their meanin’. But Sonmi’d spoke her what the true augurin’s was. An’
you too you got to mem’ry these augurin’s well ’cos they’ll change the path o’ this yarnin’
more’n once.
One: Hands are burnin, let that rope be not cut.
Two: Enemy’s sleeping, let his throat be not slit.
Three: Bronze is burnin, let that bridge be not crossed.
I ’fessed I din’t und’stand. Abbess said she din’t und’stand neither, but I’d und’stand when the
true beat come, an’ she made me nail her augurin’s to my mem’ry. Then she gave me a hen’s
egg for brekker, still spitty’n’warm from the bird, an’ showed me how to suck its yolk thru a
So you want to hear about the Great Ship o’ the Prescients?
Nay, the Ship ain’t no mythy yarnin’, it was real as I am an’ you are. These here very eyes they
seen it ooh, twenty times or more. The Ship’d call at Flotilla Bay twice a year, near the spring
an’ autumn half’n’halfs when night’n’day got the same long. Notice it never called at no savage
town, not Honokaa, not Hilo, not Lee-ward. An’ why? ’Cos only us Valleysmen got ’nuff
Civ’lize for the Prescients, yay. They din’t want no barter with no barb’rians what thinked the
Ship was a mighty white bird god! The Ship was the sky’s color so you cudn’t see it till it was
jus’ offshore. It’d got no oars, nay, no sails, it din’t need wind nor currents neither, ’cos it was
driven by the Smart o’ Old Uns. Long as a big islet was the Ship, high as a low hill, it carried
two–three–four hundred people, a mil’yun maybe.How did it move? Whered its journeyin’s take it? Howd it s’vived all the flashbangin’ an’ the
Fall? Well, I never knowed many o’ the answers, an’ unlike those o’ most storymen, Zachry’s
yarns ain’t made up. The tribe what lived on the Ship was called Pre-scients, an’ they came
from an isle named Prescience I. Prescience was bigger’n Maui, smaller’n Big I, an’ far-far in
the northly blue, more’n that I ain’t knowin’ or ain’t sayin’.
So the Ship’d anchor ’bout ten throws off School’ry Head an’ a pair o’ littler hornety boats’d
come out the Ship’s prow an’ fly over the surf to the beach. Each’d got six–eight
men’n’women. Oh, ev’rythin’ ’bout ’em was wondersome. Shipwomen too was man-some,
see, their hair was sheared, not braided like Valleyswomen, an’ they was wirier’n’strong. Their
skins was healthy’n’smooth without a speck o’ the scabbin’, but brewy-brown’n’black they
was all of ’em, an’ they looked more alike’n other people what you see on Big I. An’
Prescients din’t speak much, nay. Two guards stayed by the shored boats an’ if we asked ’em,
What’s your name, sir? or Where you headed, miss? they’d just shake their heads, like sayin’,
I won’t answer nothin, nay, so don’t ask no more. A myst’rous Smart stopped us goin’ close
up. The air got thicker till you cudn’t go no nearer. A dizzyin’ pain it gave you too so you din’t
donkey ’bout with it, nay
The barterin’ took place in the Commons. Prescients spoke in a strange way, not lazy’n’spotty
like the Hilo but salted’n’coldsome. By the time they’d landed, the yibber’d been busy an’ most
dwellin’s was ’ready rushin’ baskets o’ fruits’n’veggies’n’meats’n’all to the Commons. Also
the Prescients filled spesh casks with fresh water from the stream. In return, Prescients bartered
ironware what was better’n any made on Big I. They bartered fair an’ never spoke knuckly like
savages at Honokaa, but politesome speakin’ it draws a line b’tween you what says, I respect
you well ’nuff but you an I ain’t kin, so don’t you step over this line, yay?
Yay the Prescients’d whoah strict rules ’bout barterin’ with us. They’d not barter gear
Smarter’n anythin’ ’ready on Big I. For ’zample, after Pa was killed, a gath’rin’ agreed to build
a garrison by Abel’s Dwellin’ to protect the Muliwai Trail what was our main track from
Sloosha’s Crossin’ into our Nine Valleys. Abbess asked the Prescients for spesh weapons to
defend us from Kona. The Prescients said nay. Abbess begged ’em, more-less. They still said
nay an’ that was that.
’Nother rule was not to tell us nothin’ ’bout what lay b’yonder the ocean, not even Prescience
Isle, ’cept for its name. Napes of In-ouye Dwellin’ asked to earn passage on the Ship, an’ that
was nearest I seen the Prescients all laugh. Their chief said nay an’ no un was s’prised. We
never pushed these rules to bendin’ point, ’cos we reck’ned they did our Civ’lize an honor by
barterin’ with us. Abbess’d always invite ’em to stay for a feastin’, but the chief’d always
naysay politesome. Back to their boats they’d lug their bartered gear. An hour later the Ship’d
be gone, eastly in spring, northly in fall.
So the visits was, ev’ry year, since anyun could mem’ry Until my sixteenth year, when a
Prescient woman called Meronym visited my dwellin’ for a spell, an’ nothin’d be the same, not
in my life, not in the Valleys, nay, not never.
Way back up b’hind Vert’bry Pass was a ridge called Moon’s Nest what’d got the best view o’
Windward from the Kohala pastures. One glitt’ry spring aft’noon I was herdin’ up on Moon’s
Nest when I spied the Ship ’proachin’ Flotilla Bay an’ a whoah beautsome sight she was too,
blue same as the ocean an’ if you wasn’t lookin’ right at her you’d not see her, nay. Now I
knowed I should o’ gone quicksharp to the barterin’ but, see, I’d the goats to minder’n’all an’
by the time I got to the Commons the Prescients’d prob’ly be leavin’ anyhow, so I stayed put
an’ lolled, gazin’ on that wonder-some Ship o’ Smart what came’n’went with the wild gooses
an’ whales.Well, that’s my reason for stayin’, what I telled myself, tho’ the true reason was a girl called
Roses, who’d been gatherin’ palila leafs for her ma’s med’sun-makin’. We’d got a feverish
hornyin’ for each other, see, an’ in that druggy skylarkin’ aft’noon I was slurpyin’ her
lustsome mangoes an’ moistly fig an’ the true is I din’t want to go nowhere else, an’ Roses
din’t gather many palila leafs that day neither, nay. Oh, you’re laughin’ you blushin’ young
uns, but time was, yay I was jus’ as you are now
Come evenin’ when I herded my goats home, Ma was flappin’ n’anxin’ like a one-wing gander
an’ cussin’ me so crazy it was Sussy what I got the hole yibber off. After barterin’ at the
Commons, the Prescient chief asked to speak to Abbess in private. After a long beat, Abbess’d
come out o’ the meet an’ called a gath’rin’. Valleys-men from the nearby dwellin’s was there,
’cept Bailey’s, our dwellin’. See Ma’d not gone to the Commons neither. So the gath’rin’
kicked off there’n’then. The Prescient chief wants to make a spesh bart’rin this year, said
Abbess. One Shipwoman wishes to live’n’work in a dwellin for half a year, to learn our ways
an und’stand us Valleysmen. In return, the chief ll pay us double ev’rythin we bartered today
Nets, pots, pans, ironware, ev’rythin double. Now think what an honor this is, an think o what
we can get for all the gear at the next Honokaa Barter. Well, it din’t take long for one great
Yay! to gather speed round the gath’rin’, an’ Abbess had to shout her next question over the
rowdy. Who’s to host our Prescient guest? Oh, that Yay! stopped cold. Folks sudd’nwise had
hole bags o’ ’scuses. We ain’t got ’nuff space. We got two babbits comin, our guest cudn’t
sleep well. The mozzies round our dwellin’d bite her to shreds. Rusty Volvo that greasy
buggah it was who first speaked it. What ’bout Bailey’s Dwellin? See, Ma nor me wasn’t there
to coldwater the plan, an’ it fired hot pretty quick. Yay, they got empty rooms since Pa Bailey
was killed! Baileys taked more out o Com-mons’n they put in last harvest, yay, it’s their duty!
Yay, they got need o workin hands at Bailey’s, Ma Bailey’ll be glad o the help! An’ so the
gath’rin’s say-so was settled.
Well, the one-wing gander now it was me, yay What do Pre-scients eat’n’drink? Do they sleep
in straw? Do they sleep? Six moons! Ma was cussin’ me for not goin’ to the Ship Barter, an’
even tho’, yay, Ma was the real chief o’ Bailey’s, I was the oldest man o’ the dwellin’ so I
should o’ gone fair cop. I said, Look I’ll go to Abbess an tell her we can’t host no Prescient
here … when knock, knock, knock, said our door.
Yay, it was Abbess bringin’ the Prescient to move in, with Mylo the school’ry ’sistant. We all
knowed we was lumbered with the Valleys’ guest then, like it or not like it, we cudn’t say Get
lost now, yay? Itd bring shame to our roof an’ shame to our icons. The Ship-woman she’d got
that vin’gary stink o’ Smart an’ she spoke first, ’cos me’n’Ma was both tongue-knotted so.
Good evenin, she said, I’m Meronym, an I’m thankin you kindly for hostin my stay in the
Valleys. Mylo was grinnin’ mocksome’n’toady at my anxin’, I could o’ killed him.
Sussy mem’ried her hostin’ manners first, an’ she settled our guests an’ sent Jonas to fetch
brew’n’grinds’n’all. Meronym speaked, My people got a custom to give small presents to their
hosts at the beginnin of a visit, so I hope you won’t mind … She reached into a bag what she’d
bringed an’ gived us presents. Ma got a fine pot what’d cost five–six bales o’ wool at
Honokaa, an’ she was left breathy sayin’ she cudn’t accept such a presh gift ’cos welcomin’
strangers was Sonmi’s way, yay, welcomin’ should be free or not at all, but the Prescient
woman answered these gifts wasn’t payments, nay, they was jus’ thanks b’fore kindnesses,
an’ Ma din’t refuse the pot a second time, nay Sussy’n’Catkin got neck-lesses what twinked
starry, bug-eyed’n’joysome they was, an’ Jonas got a hole square mirror what fass’nated him,
brighter’n any busted shard what you still see now’n’again.
Mylo wasn’t grinnin’ so toadsome now, but I din’t like this giftin’ not a bit, nay, see this
offlander was buyin’ my kin sure ’nuff an’ I wasn’t havin’ it. So I jus’ said the Shipwoman
could stay in our dwellin’ but I din’t want her gift an’ that was that.I said it ruder’n I meant, an’ Ma looked spikers at me, but Meronym jus’ said, Sure I
und’stand, like I’d speaked ord’nary’n’norm’ly
Now a herd o’ visitors bleated to our dwellin’ that night an’ some nights after, from up’n’down
the Nine Valleys, kin’n’bros’n’lastlife fam’ly’n’half-strangers what we only met at bart’rin’s,
yay, ev’ryun from Mauka to Mormon came knockin’ to see if Old Ma Yibber spoke it true,
that a real’n’livin’ Prescient was stayin’ at Baileys. We’d got to invite ev’ry last visitor inside
o’ course an’ they gaped in wonderment like Sonmi herself was sittin’ in our kitchen, tho’ their
’mazement weren’t so great they cudn’t chomp our grinds an’ down our brew no worries, an’
as they drank years o’ questions ’bout Prescience an’ their whoahsome Ship came pourin’
But the wyrd thing was this. Meronym seemed to answer the questions, but her answers didn’t
quench your curio none, nay, not a flea. So my cuz Spensa o’ Cluny Dwellin’ asked, What
makes your Ship move? The Prescient answered, Fusion engines. Ev’ryun nodded wise as
Sonmi, Oh, fusion engines it is, yay, no un asked what “fusion engine” was ’cos they din’t
want to look barb’ric or stoopit in front o’ the gath’rin’. Abbess asked Meronym to show us
Prescience Isle on a map o’ the world, but Meronym jus’ pointed to a spot an’ said, Here.
Where? we asked. See, there weren’t nothin’ but blue sea an’ I for one thinked she was
mickin’ us mocksome.
Prescience I weren’t on any map made jus’ b’fore the Fall, Meronym said, ’cos Prescience’s
founders kept it secret. It was on older maps, yay, but not the Abbess’s.
I’d got a bit o’ the brave by now an’ I asked our visitor why Pre-scients with all their high
Smart’n’all want to learn ’bout us Val-leysmen? What could we poss’bly teach her what she
din’t know? The learnin mind is the livin’ mind, Meronym said, an any sort o Smart is
truesome Smart, old Smart or new, high Smart or low. No un but me seen the arrows o’
flatt’ry them words fired, or how this crafty spyer was usin’ our ign’rance to fog her true
’tentions, so I follered my first question with this pokerer: But you Prescients got more
greatsome’nmighty Smart’n this Hole World, yay? Oh, so slywise she picked her words! We
got more’n the tribes o Ha-Why, less’n Old Uns b’fore the Fall. See? Don’t say a hole lot does
it, nay?
I mem’ry jus’ three honest answers she gived us. Ruby o’ Potter’s asked why Prescients’d all
got dark skins like cokeynuts, nay, we’d never seen a pale un or pink un come off of their
Ship. Meronym said her ancestors b’fore the Fall changed their seeds to make dark-skinned
babbits to give ’em protection ’gainst the red-scab sickness, an’ so them babbits’ babbits also
got it, like father like son, yay, like rabbits’n’cukes.
Napes o’ Inouye Dwellin’ asked, was she married, ’cos he was single an’ had a macadnut
orchard an’ fig’n’lemon plantation all his own. Ev’ryun laughed, even Meronym smiled. She
said she’d been married once, yay, an’ had a son named Anafi livin’ on Prescience I, but her
husband’d been killed by savages years ago. She sorried losin’ the chance o’ them
lemons’n’figs but she was too old for the husband market, an’ Napes shaked his head in
dis’pointment an’ said, Oh Shipwoman, you breaked my heart yay you do.
Last up, my cuz Kobbery asked, So how old are you? Yay, that was what we was all
wond’rin’. No un was ready for her answer tho’. Fifty Yay, that’s what she said an’ we was
’mazed as you are now. Fifty The air in our kitchen changed like the cold wind suddenwise
comin’. Livin’ to fifty ain’t wondersome, nay, livin’ to fifty is eerie an’ ain’t nat’ral, yay? How
old do Prescients live, then? asked Melvil o’ Black Ox. Meronym shrugged. Sixty, seventy …
Oh, we all got the gaspin’ shock! Norm’ly by forty we’re prayin’ Sonmi to put us out o’
misery an’ reborn us quick in a new body, like bladin’ a dog’s throat what you loved what was sick’n’agonyin’. The only Valleysman who’d ever lived to fifty an’ weren’t flakin’ with
redscab or dyin’ of mukelung was Truman Third, an’ ev’ryun knowed how he’d done a deal
with Old Georgie one hurrycanin’ night, yay, that fool’d sold his soul for some extra years.
Well, the yarnin’ was busted prop’ly after that, an’ folks left in gaggles to yibber what’d been
said an’ answered, ev’ryun whispin’, Thank Sonmi she’s not stoppin in our dwellin.
I was pleased our dammit crookit guest’d teached ev’ryun to step slywise an’ not trust her, nay,
not a flea, but I din’t sleep none that night, ’cos o’ the mozzies an’ nightbirds an’ toads ringin’
an’ a myst’rous someun what was hushly clatt’rin’ thru our dwellin’ pickin’ up stuff here an’
puttin’ it down there an’ the name o’ this myst’rous someun was Change.
First, second, third days the Prescient woman was wormyin’ into my dwellin’. Got to ’fess she
din’t b’have like no queeny-bee, nay, she never lazed a beat. She helped Sussy with dairyin’
an’ Ma with twinin’n’spinnin’ an’ Jonas took her bird-eggin’ an’ she list’ned to Catkin’s
yippin’ ’bout school’ry an’ she fetched water’n’chopped wood an’ she was a quicksome
learner. Course the yibber was keepin’ a close eye on her an’ visitors kept callin’ to see the
won-dersome fifty-year-old woman what jus’ looked twenty-five years. Folks what s’pected
her to be doin’ tricks’n’whizzies was dis’pointed very soon ’cos she din’t, nay. Ma she lost her
anxin’ ’bout the Ship-woman in a day or two, yay she started gettin’ friendsome with her an’
crowy too. Our visitor Meronym this an’ Our visitor Meronym that, it was cockadoodlydooin’
morn till night, an’ Sussy was ten times badder. Meronym she jus’ got on with her work, tho’
at night she’d sit at our table an’ write on spesh paper, oh so finer’n ours. A whoah fast writer
she was, but she din’t write in our tongue, nay, she wrote in some other speakin’. See, there
was other tongues spoken in the Old Countries, not just ours. What you writin ’bout, Aunt
Meronym? asked Catkin, but the Prescient jus’ answered, My days, pretty one, I’m writin ’bout
my days.
I hated her pretty one stuff in my fam’ly an’ I din’t like the way old folks came creepin’ up
askin’ her for lowdown on how to live long. But her writin’ ’bout the Valleys what no
Valleysman could read, that anxed me most. Was it Smart or was it spyin’ or was it the touch
o’ Old Georgie?
One steamin’ dawn I’d done the milkin’ when our guest asked to come herdin’ the goats with
me. Ma said yay, o’ course. I din’t say yay, I said, coolsome’n’stony Grazin goats ain’t
int’restin for folks with so much Smart as you. Meronym said politesome, Ev’rythin
Valleysmen do is int’restin’ for me, Host Zachry, but course if you jus’ don’t want me to watch
your work, that’s fine, jus’ come out an say-so. See? Her words was slipp’ry wrestlers, they
jus’ flipped your nay into a yay. Ma was hawkeyein’ me so, Sure, fine, yay, come, I’d got to
Herdin’ my goats up Elepaio Track, I din’t say nothin’ else. Past Cluny’s Dwellin’ a bro o’
mine, Gubboh Hogboy shouted, Howzit, Zachry! for a discussin’, but when he seen Meronym
he awked an’ jus’ said, Go careful, Zachry. Oh, I wished I could shruck that woman off my
back, so I say-soed Stop draggin, you slugger-buggahs, to my goats an’ hiked harder, hopin’
to wear her out, see, upstream thru Vert’bry Pass we went but she din’t quit, nay, not even on
the rocky trail to Moon’s Nest. Prescient tuff it’s a match for goater tuff, I learnt it then. I
reck’ned she knowed my thinkin’ an’ was laughin’ at me, inward, so I din’t speak nothin’ more to her.
What did she do when we reached Moon’s Nest? She sat on Thumb Rock an’ got out a writin’
book an’ sketched that whoah-some view. Oh, Meronym’d got whoahsome drawin’-Smart I
got to ’fess. On that paper the Nine Folded Valleys appeared an’ the coast’n’headlands, an’
highlands’n’lowgrounds, jus’ as real as the real uns. I din’t want to give her no int’rest, but I
cudn’t stop me. I named ev’rythin’ she’d marked, an’ she wrote the names until it was halfpicturin’ half-writin’, I said. ’Zactly so, said Meronym, it’s a map we done here.
Now. I heard a twig snappin’ in a fringe o’ firs b’hind us. Not the fluky wind it weren’t, nay, it
was a leg done it sure ’nuff but a foot or hoof or claw I cudn’t tell. Kona up the Windward
Kohalas weren’t knowed but so weren’t Kona at Sloosha’s Crossin’, nay, so into that thicket I
went for a look-see. Meronym wanted to come with me but I telled her to stay put. Could it be
Old Georgie come back to stone my soul some more? Or jus’ a hermity Mookini wand’rin’ for
grinds? I’d got my spiker an’ I crept nearer the firs, nearer the firs …
Roses sat straddlin’ a mossy fat stump. See you got fresh comp’ny, she said politesome, but
there was a furyin’ dingo bitch in her eyes.
Her? I pointed back at Meronym, who sat watchin’ us talk. Ain’t yibber telled you, the
Shipwoman’s older’n my granny was when Sonmi reborned her! Don’t be jealous o her! She
ain’t like you, Roses. She’s got so much Smart in her head she’s got a busted neck
Roses weren’t politesome now. So I ain’t got no Smart?
Women, oh, women! They’ll find the baddest meanin’ in your words an’ hold it up, sayin’,
Look what you attacked me with! Lust-bonered hothead what I was, a bit o’ knuckly talkin’d
cure Roses’s senses, so I reck’ned. You know that ain’t what I’m sayin you dumb vamoosin
I din’t finish speakin’ my cure ’cos Roses schnockoed my face so hard the ground dived
forward an’ I crashed on my jaxy So shocked I was I jus’ sat there like a dropped babbit, I
dabbed my nose an’ my fingers was red. Oh, said Roses, then Ha! then, You can bitchmouth
your nanny goats all you wants, herder, but not me, so Old Georgie stone your soul! Our
lovin’n’throbbin’ was smashed to a mil’yun ittybitties an’ off Roses went then, swingin’ her
Mis’ry’n’barrassment are hungersome for blame, an’ what I blamed for losin’ Roses was the
dammit Prescient. That mornin’ on Moon’s Nest I got up an’ hollered my goats an’ droved ’em
to Thumb Pasture without even sayin’ good-bye to Meronym. She’d got ’nuff Smart to leave
me be, mem’ry she’d got a son o’ her own back on Prescience I.
When I got home that evenin’, Ma’n’Sussy’n’Jonas was sittin’ round. They seen my nose an’
looked slywise at each other. What happened to your conker there, bro? Jonas asked, all la-dida. This? Oh, I slipped’n’schnockoed it on Moon’s Nest, I telled him quicksharp.
Sussy sort o’ snigged. You don’t mean you schnockoed it on Roses’s Nest there, bro Zachry?
an’ all three of ’em cackled like a danglin’ o’ screech bats an’ I redded diresome’n’steamin’.
Sissy telled me she’d got the yibber off Roses’s cuz Wolt, what’d telled Bejesus, what’d met
Sissy, but I wasn’t really list’nin’, nay, I was cussin’ Meronym to Old Georgie, an’ I din’t
stop, an’ it’s a bless she weren’t at Bailey’s that night, nay, she was learnin’ loomin’ at Aunt
So down I went to the ocean an’ watched Lady Moon to cool my fiery mis’ry. A greenbill
came draggin’ itself up the beach to lay eggs I mem’ry, an’ I nearly spikered the turtle
there’n’then out o’ spite, see, if my life weren’t fair why should an animal’s be? But I seen its
eyes, so ancient was its eyes they seen the future, yay an’ I let the turtle go.
Gubboh’n’Kobbery came troopin’ with their boards an’ started surfin’ in the starry water, a whoah beautsome surfer was Kobbery an’ they called me to join ’em but I weren’t in no
surfin’ mood, nay, I’d got more soberin’ bis’ness to push at with Abbess at the school’ry So
there I went an’ spoke my worryin’s for a long beat.
Abbess she list’ned, but she din’t b’lief me none, nay, she thinked I was jus’ wrigglyin’ out o’
hostin’ Meronym. You seen the Ship, an you seen their ironware, an you seen the bit o the
Smart they’ll show us. If Prescients was plannin on invadin Nine Valleys, d’you truesome
reck’n we’d be sittin here discussin it? Bring me ev’dence Meronym’s plannin to murder us all
in our beds, I’ll summon a gath’rin. If you ain’t got ev’dence, well, hold your counsel. Makin
’cusations gainst a spesh guest, it jus ain’t politesome, Zachry, an’ your pa’d not o been
Our Abbess never stamped her say-sos on no un, but you knew when the discussin’ was over.
That was it, then, I was on my own, yay Zachry ’gainst the Prescients.
Days rose’n’fell an’ summer hotted up green’n’foamy I watched Meronym wormy her way
round all the Valleys, meetin’ folk an’ learnin’ how we lived, what we owned, how many of us
could fight, an’ mappin’ passes into the Valleys thru the Kohalas. One or two o’ the
older’n’cunninger men, I tried to suss out if they’d got any doubts or anxin’s ’bout the
Prescient, but when I said invade or attack they looked shocked’n’s’prised spikers at me’n’my
accusin’s so I got shamed an’ I shut up, see, I din’t want yibber smearin’ me. I should fake a
bit o’ manners to Meronym so she may get lazy an’ let her friendsome mask slip a littl’ an’
show me her true plannin’s b’hind that mask, yay, give me some ev’dence I could show to
Abbess an’ summon a gath’rin’.
I din’t have no choice to wait’n’see. Meronym was truesome pop’lar. Women ’fessed stuff to
her ’cos she was an outsider an’ she’d not tell Old Ma Yibber no secrets. Abbess asked our
guest to teach numbers at the school’ry an’ Meronym said yay Catkin said she was a good
teacher but din’t teach ’em nothin’ b’yonder Abbess’s own Smart tho’ Catkin knowed she
could o’ done if shed o’ wanted. Some schoolers even started inkin’ their faces blacker to look
like a Prescient, but Meronym telled ’em to clean up or she’d not teach ’em nothin’, ’cos
Smart’n’Civ’lize ain’t nothin’ to do with the color o’ the skin, nay
Now one evenin’ on our v’randa, Meronym was questionin’ ’bout icons. Is icons a home for
the soul? Or a common mem’ry o’ faces n’kin’n’age’n’all? Or a prayer to Sonmi? Or a
tombstone wrote in this-life with messages for next-life? See it was always whys’n’whats with
Prescients, it weren’t never ’nuff sumthin’ just was an’ leave it be. Duophysite was the same
here on Maui, nay? Unc’ Bees was tryin’ to answer but foggin’ out, he ’fessed he knowed
’zactly what icons is until the beat he’d to explain ’em. The Icon’ry Aunt Bees said, held
Valleysmen’s past an’ present all t’gether. Now it didn’t often happ’n I could read anyun’s
thinkin’s, but that beat I seen the Shipwoman wond’rin’, Oho, then this Icon’ry I got to go visit
it, yay. Nay, I din’t say nothin’, but the f’llowin’ sunup I strolled down to Bony Shore an’ hid
up on Soo-side Rock. See, I reck’ned if I could catch the offlander bein’ dis-’spectful to our
icons or better still cockaroachin’ one, I could pit the older Valleysmen ’gainst her, an’ so wise
up my people’n’kin to the Prescient’s truesome plannin’s’n’all.
So I sat’n’waited on Sooside Rock, thinkin’ o’ the folks Georgie’d pushed off o’ there into the
gnashin’ foamin’ b’low. Windy mornin’ it was, yay I mem’ry well, sand’n’dune grass
whippin’ an’ blood-flower bushes threshin’ an’ surf flyin’ off scuddin’ breakers. I ate some
fungusdo’ what I’d bringed for brekker, but b’fore I’d finished who do I spy trompin’ ’long to
the Icon’ry but Meronym, yay, an Napes of Inouye. Clusterin’n’talkin’ thick as thiefs! Oh, my
thinkin’ giddyupped now! Was Napes settin’ himself up as the offlander’s right arm? S’pose
he was plannin’ on replacin’ Abbess as chief o’ Nine Valleys once the Prescients’d run us all over the Kohalas an’ into the sea with their snaky judasin’ Smart?
Now Napes’d got the charm he had, yay, ev’ryun loved him, his jokey yarnin’s’n’smile’n’all.
If I got the goat tongue, well, Napes’d sort o’ got the people tongue. You can’t go trustin’ folks
what lassoop words so skillsome as him. Into the Icon’ry Napes’n’Meronym went, bold as a
pair o’ cockadoodlies. The dog Py waited outside where Meronym told him.
Quiet as breezes I crept in after ’em. Napesd ’ready jammed the door open for seein’-light an’
so it din’t squeak none when I tip-pied in b’hind ’em. From the dim’n’shadowy shelfs what the
oldest icons was kept on I heard Napes murmin’. Plans’n’conspiries, I jus’ knowed it! I crept
nearer to hear what I’d hear.
But Napes was braggin’ ’bout his gran’pa’s pa named Truman, yay the self-same Truman
Third what still walks thru stories on Big I an’ here on Maui too. Well, if you young uns don’t
know the story o’ Truman Napes time you did, so sit still, be patient an’ pass me the dammit
Truman Napes was a scavver back when Old-Un gear was still junkifyin’ in craters
here’n’there. One mornin’ an idea rooted in his mind what said the Old Uns may o’ stashed
presh gear up on Mauna Kea for safekeepin’. This idea growed’n’growed till by evenin’
Truman’d settled to climb that scaresome mountain an’ see what he’d see, yay, an’ leave the
very next day. His wife telled him, You’re crazy, there ain’t nothin on Mauna Kea but Old
Georgie an his temples hid in his ’closure walls. He’ll not let you in unless you’re ready died
an your soul is his. Truman jus’ said, Go to sleep, you crazy old bint, there ain’t no truth in
them crookit supe’stitions, so he sleeps’n’wakes an’ thru the crack o’ dawn up Waipio Valley
off he stomps.
Brave Truman trekked’n’climbed for three solid days an’ had varyin’ adventurin’s what I ain’t
time to tell you now, but he s’vived ’em all till he was up that feary’n’ghostsome summit in the
clouds what you can see from anywhere on Big I an’ so high up he cudn’t see the world b’low.
Ashy it was, yay, no speck o’ green an’ a mil’yun winds tore here’n’there like rabies’ dingos.
Now Truman’s steps was stopped by a wondersome ironstone wall, higher’n redwoods, what
circled the hole peak for miles’n’miles. Truman walked daylong round it searchin’ for a breach,
’cos there wasn’t no scalin’ it nor diggin’ under, but guess what he finded in the hour b’fore
dark? A man o’ Hawi, yay, hooded tight ’gainst the wind, cross-leggin’ behind a rock an’
smokin’ a pipe. The Hawi was a scavver too up on Mauna Kea for the selfsame reason o’
Truman, can you b’lieve it? So lornsome was that place, Truman an’ the man o’ Hawi settled to
team-up’n’divvy any gear what they finded t’gether, fifty-fifty
Well, Truman’s luck changed the very next beat, yay. Them thick’nin’ clouds got watery’n’thin
an’ that archin’ steely gate in the ’closure wall shook free an’ groaned thundersome an’ budged
open all o’ itself. Thru that gate, Smart or magic Truman din’t know, our hero spied a cluster o’
eeriesome temples, jus’ like the old yarns say there was, but Truman din’t get feary nay, he got
joocey thinkin’ ’bout all the presh Old-Un gear’n’makin’s what must be inside ’em. He
slapped the Hawi Man’s back, sayin’, Yo ho ho, we’re richer’n kings’n’senators b’fore the
Fall, Bro Hawi! Tho’ if Truman Napes was like his great-gran’son, he was prob’ly plottin’
how to keep that scavved loot all for himself.
But that Hawi Man weren’t smilesome, nay, he speaked grim from under his hood. Bro
Valleysman, my sleepin hour is come at last.
Truman Napes din’t und’stand. It ain’t sundown yet, what’s your meanin? I ain’t so sleepy so
why are you now?
But thru that mournsome gate the Hawi Man treaded. Truman was puzzlin’ now, an’ called out,
It ain’t no time for sleepin, Bro Hawi! It’s time for scavvin whoah presh gear o the Old Uns!Into that silent ’closure Truman followed his partner-scavver. Black’n’twisted rocks was lyin’
ev’rywhere an’ the sky it was black’n’busted. The Hawi Man sank to his knees, prayin’.
Truman’s heart was struck chillsome, see, a cold hand o’ wind unhooded that kneelin’ Hawi
Man. Truman seen his partner was a long-died corpse, half skellyton’n’half maggoty meat, an’
that cold hand o’ wind was Old Georgie’s hand, yay, the devil what was standin’ there wavin’
a crookit spoon. Wasn’t you achin’n lornsome outside, my presh, speaked that king o’ devils
to the man o’ Hawi, wand’rin the lands o the livin with a stony soul an ’ready died? Why din’t
you obey my summ’nin sooner, you foolsome man? Then Old Georgie sunk his crookit spoon
thru the Hawi Man’s sockets, yay, an’ dug out the soul, drippin’ in smeary brain, an’ crunched
it, yay, it cracked ’tween his horsey teeth. The man o’ Hawi folded over an’ was suddenwise
jus’ one more black’n’twisted rock litt’rin’ the ’closure.
Old Georgie swallered the Hawi Man’s soul, wiped his mouth, ass-belched, an’ started hickin’.
Bar’b’rians’ souls, delish an fine, that devil rhymed, dancin’ up to Truman, walnuts pickled,
sourest wine. Truman cudn’t move one limb, nay, so scarysome was that sight, see. But
Valleys’ souls are pure’n’strong, an melt like honey on my tongue. The devil’s breath stunk
fishy’n’farty Fifty-fifty your deal, it said. Old Georgie licked his own crookit’n’warty spoon. D
you want your half now, or when you’re dead, Truman Napes Third o Mormon Valley?
Well, now, Truman got his limbs back an’ rabbited’n’ran’n’fell out o’ the mournsome gate, an’
slid down that screesome mountain for his life never lookin’ b’hind him not once. When he got
back to the Valleys, ev’ryun stared in ’mazement even b’fore he voiced his ’ventures.
Truman’s hair’d been black as crows b’fore, but now it was whiter’n surf. Ev’ry single hair.
You’ll mem’ry I, Zachry was curled in my hideynick in the Icon’ry list’nin’ to Napes tellin’
that mildewy yarn to my unwelcome dwellin’-guest an’ showin’ Meronym his fam’ly icons o’
dead-lifes. He teached her their meanin’s an’ usin’s for a fair few beats, then Napes said he’d
got to go fix nets, an’ off he went, leavin’ Meronym ’lone. Now he’d not been gone hardly any
time b’fore the Prescient called out in the dark, So what d’you reck’n ’bout Truman, Zachry?
Oh, I’d got the shock, I din’t dream she knowed I was there eavesdroppin’! But she faked her
voice like weren’t her plan to ’barrass nor shame me, nay, she faked her voice like we’d both
gone into the Icon’ry t’gether. D’you reck’n Truman’s jus’ an old woman’s stoopit yarner?
Or d’you reck’n it’s got some true in it?
No point me fakin’ I weren’t there neither, nay, ’cos she knowed I was there, no frettin’. Up I
stood an’ walked thru the shelfs to where the Prescient sat sketchin’ the icon. My eyes’d got
owlier in the dim, an’ I could see Meronym’s face prop’ly now. This place it’s got the holy o
holies, I telled her. This is Sonmi’s dwellin you’re in. My voiced got my strongest say-so, tho’
my eavesdroppin’ made it weaker. No offlander’s got no bis’ness trespyin thru our icons.
Meronym was politesome as I weren’t. I asked Abbess’s p’mission to enter. She say-soed I
could. I ain’t touchin no icon but Napes’s fam’ly’s. He say-soed I could. Please s’plain why
you’re frettin so, Zachry I want to und’stand but I can’t.
See? That dammit Prescient thinked o’ your attacks b’fore you thinked of ’em yourself! You
may be stoopitin our Abbess, I telled her, coolsome’n’mean now, an you may be stoopitin
Ma’n’my fam’ly an the hole dammit Nine Valleys, but you ain’t stoopitin me nay not for one
beat! I know it you ain’t sayin the hole true! Now I’d s’prised her for once, an’ a pleasin’
feelin’ it was to stop my skulkin’ an’ show my thinkin’s to the open day
Meronym sort o’ frowned. I ain’t sayin the hole true ’bout what? Yay I’d got Queen Smart
cornered proper.
’Bout why you’re here sussin our lands! Sussin our ways! Sussin us!
Meronym sighed an’ put Napes’s icon back in its shelf. What matters here ain’t part true or hole true, Zachry, but harm or not harmin, yay. What she said next was a spiker thru my guts.
Ain’t you yourself got a secret what you’re hidin this “hole true” to ev’ryun, Zachry?
My thinkin’ went blurry. How could she know ’bout Sloosha’s Crossin’? That was years ago!
Was Prescients workin’ with the Kona? Did they have some Smart what dug deep’n’dark
lookin’ for buried shames in minds? I din’t say nothin’.
I swear it, Zachry, she said, I vow on Sonmi—
Oh, I shouted at her, offlanders’n’savages don’t even b’lief in Sonmi, so she’d got no bis’ness
dirtyin’ Sonmi’s name with her tongue!
Meronym speaked calm’n’quietsome like always. I was way wrong, she said, she b’liefed in
Sonmi, yay, even more’n I did, but if I pr’ferred it she’d lay her vowin’ on her son, Anafi. On
his luck’n’life, she vowed, no Prescient planned no harm to any Valleysman, nor ever, an’
Prescients r’spected my tribe way way way more’n I knowed. She vowed when she could tell
me the hole true she’d do it.
An’ she left, takin’ her vic’try with her.
I stayed a whiles an’ visited Pa’s icon, an’ seein’ his face carved in the grain I seen his face
lyin’ in Waipio River. Oh, hot tears o’ shame’n’sorryin’ brimmed out. Head o’ Bailey’s
Dwellin’ I was s’posed to be, but I’d got no stronger say-so’n a frighty lambkin an’ no
springier wit’n a coney in a trap.
Bring me ev’dence, Valleysman, Abbess’d said, or hold your counsel, so now I thinked ev’ry
moment how to get my ev’dence, an’ if I cudn’t get grasp of it honor’bly well, so-be-it, I’d
have to sneak my ev’dence. A bunch o’ days later my fam’ly was over at Aunt Bees’s, with
Meronym, ’cos she was learnin’ honeyin’. I came back from herdin’ early, yay with the sun
still ’bove the Kohalas, an’ I crept into our vis’tor’s room an’ searched for her gearbag. Din’t
take long, the Shipwoman’d stowed it under the plankin’. Inside was littl’ gifts like what she’d
gived us when she first come, but some Smart gear too. Sev’ral boxes what din’t rattley but’d
got no lid neither so I cudn’t open ’em, an eerie tool what I din’t know shaped’n’smooth as a
goat’s shinbone but gray’n’heavy like lava-stone, two pairs o’ well-crafted boots, three–four
books o’ sketchin’s’n’writin’s in secret Prescient tongue. I don’t know where them sketchin’s
was drawn, but it weren’t on Big Isle, nay, there was plants’n’birds what I’d not even seen in
dreamin’s, nay Last was most wondersome.
One big silv’ry egg it was, sized a babbit’s head, with dents’n’markin’s on it what fingers
rested in. Its fat weight was eerie an’ it wouldn’t roll. I know that don’t sound senseful, but
yarns ’bout Old-Un Smart an’ flyin’ dwellin’s an’ growin’ babbits in bottles an’ pictures
zoomin’ cross the Hole World ain’t senseful neither but that’s how it was, so storymen an’ old
books tell it. So I cupped that silv’ry egg in my own hands, an’ it started purrin’ an’ glowin’
some, yay, like it was livin’. Quicksharp I let go the egg, an’ it died dull. Was my hands’
warmness makin’ it stir?
So hungrysome was my curio, I held it again, an’ the egg vibed warm till a ghost-girl
flickered’n’appeared there! Yay, a ghost-girl, right ’bove the egg, as truesome as I’m sittin’
here, her head’n’neck was jus’ floatin’ there, like ’flection in moon-water, an’ she was talkin’!
Now I got scared an’ took my hands off the sil’vry egg, but the ghost-girl stayed, yay
What did she do? Nothin’ but talk’n’talk, like I am to you. But not a norm’ly storyman she
weren’t, nay, she was talkin’ in Old-Un tongue, an’ not p’formin’ none, jus’ answerin’
questions what a man’s hushly voice asked, tho’ he never showed his face. For ev’ry word I
und’standed ’bout five–six followed what I din’t. The ghost-girl’s lips was fixed in a bitter
smile, but her creamy eyes was sad so sad but proud’n’strong too. When I got ’nuff spunk I
speaked up, I murmed, Sis, are you a lost soul? Ignored me she did, so I asked, Sis, can you see me? Fin’ly I cogged the ghost-girl weren’t talkin’ to me an’ cudn’t see me.
I tried strokin’ her cloudy skin’n’bristly hair but, I vow it, my fingers passed right thru, yay,
jus’ like a water ’flection. Papery moths blowed thru her shimm’rin’ eyes’n’mouth too,
to’n’fro, yay, to’n’fro.
Oh, eerie’n’so beautsome’n’blue she was, my soul was achin’.
Suddenwise the ghost-girl vanished back into that egg an’ a man took her place. A ghostPrescient he was, this un could see me an’ fiercesome he speaked at me. Who are you, boy, an
where is Meronym?
The Prescient leant nearer an’ his face growed. Growly’n’fangy his voice was. I asked you two
questions, boy, answer em now or I’ll cuss your fam’ly so diresome no babbit’ll live past one
moon old now nor never!
I sweated’n’gulped dry. Zachry, sir, I said, an Meronym’s howzittin fine, yay, she’s at Aunt
Bees’s learnin honeyin.
The Prescient shootered my soul with his eyes, yay, settlin’ whether or nay to b’lief me. An
does Meronym know her host sivvies his guest’s gear when she’s out? Answer truesome now
’cos I can tell a liar.
I was flinchin’ for pain as I shaked my head.
List’n close. That man had as much say-so as any Abbess. You’ll put this orison, this “egg”
you’re holdin now, back where you finded it. You’ll tell no un but no un ’bout it. Or else d’you
know what I’ll do?
Yay, answered I. Cuss my fam’ly so diresome no babbit’ll ever live.
Yay, you cogged it, answered that thund’ry man. I’ll be watchin, Zachry o Bailey’s Dwellin,
that ghost-Prescient speaked, see he even knowed my dwellin’ like Old Georgie. He vanished,
an’ the silv’ry egg simmered quiet then died. Quicksharp I packed Meronym’s b’longin’s in
her gearbag an’ stowed it back under the plankin’, wishin’ I’d never gone nosyin’. See, what
I’d found weren’t ev’dence for my doubtin’s to show Abbess, nay, what I’d finded was a
Smart cuss on my stoned luck an’, I ’fessed it to me myself, a grimy smear on my honor as a
But I cudn’t forget that ghost-girl neither, nay, she haunted my dreams wakin’n’sleepin’. So
many feelin’s I’d got I din’t have room ’nuff for ’em. Oh, bein’ young ain’t easy ’cos
ev’rythin’ you’re puzzlin’n’anxin’ you’re puzzlin’n’anxin’ it for the first time.
Lady Moon growed fat, Lady Moon growed thin, an’ suddenwise three o’ the six moons
b’fore the Prescient Ship was due back for Meronym’d ’ready gone by. A sort o’ truce was
laid b’tween me’n’our guest now. I din’t trust the Shipwoman but I tol’rated her ’round my
dwellin’ politesome ’nuff so I could spy her better. Then one squally aft’noon the first o’
sev’ral happ’nin’s fell, yay happ’nin’s what changed that truce into sumthin’ where her
fate’n’mine was binded t’gether like twines o’ vine-cord.
One rainy mornin’ Bro Munro’s littlest F’kugly came screein’ upgulch to find me huddlin’
’neath ’brella leaves on Ranch Rise, fetchin’ direst news to me he was. My sis Catkin’d been
line-fishin’ on Dog Rock Shore an’d trod on a scorpion fish an’ now she was dyin’ o’
shakes’n’heats at Munro’s Dwellin’. The herb’list, Wimoway yay, Roses’s ma, was tendin’
her, an’ Leary the Hilo healer was doin’ his inchanties too, but Catkin’s life was fadin’, yay
Strappin’ mus-clers don’t usually s’vive a scorpion fish, nay, an’ poor littl’ Catkin was
dyin’n’d got two hours maybe three.
F’kugly mindered the goats an’ I slid down thru the dogwood trees to Munro’s Dwellin’ an’,
yay, there it was jus’ like F’kugly’d said it. Catkin was burnin’ an’ breathin’ chokely an’ she
din’t know no un’s face. Wimoway’d tweezed out the poison fins an’ bathed the stingin’ in noni pulp an’ Sussy was pressin’ cool sops to calm her head. Jonas was gone prayin’ to Sonmi
at the Icon’ry. Beardy Leary was mumblin’ his Hilo spells an’ shakin’ his magic tufty spikers
to drive off evil spirits. Din’t seem Leary was helpin’ much, nay Catkin was dyin’, the air
smelled of it, but Ma wanted Leary there, see you’ll b’lief in a mil’yun diff’rent b’liefin’s if you
reck’n jus’ one of ’em may aid you. So what could I do, ’cept sit there an’ hold b’loved
Catkin’s burnin’ hands an’ mem’ry my stock-still useless self watchin’ Kona
bullwhippin’n’circlin’ Pa’n’Adam? Now maybe the voice was Pa’s or maybe Sonmi’s or
maybe no un’s but mine, but a hushly voice popped a bubble jus’ inside my ear: Meronym, it
Yibber telled me Meronym was up Gusjaw’s Gulch, so there I ran an’, yay there she was
fillin’ littl’ Smart jars o’ water up Gusjaw’s Gulch in the steamin’ rain, see Wolt’d passed by
her earlier’n telled the yibber. The Prescient’d got her spesh gearbag with her an’ I thanked
Sonmi for that. Good aft’noon, called the Shipwoman when she seen me splashin’ upstream.
No, it ain’t, I shouted back. Catkin’s dyin! Meronym list’ned grief-some ’nuff as I telled her
’bout the scorpion fish, but she sorried, nay, she din’t have no healin’ Smart an’ anyway
Wimoway’s her-b’lin’s an’ Leary’s ’cantations was Big Isle healin’ an’ that was best for Big
Isle sick folks, wasn’t it, nay?
Dingo shit, said I.
She shaked her head so sadsome.
Slywise I speaked now, Catkin calls you Auntie an she b’liefs you’re kin. You surefire b’have
in our dwellin like you’re kin. Is that jus’ nother fake for you to study us some more? ’Nother
part o your “not the hole true”?
Meronym flinched. No, Zachry, it ain’t.
Well, then, I gambled some luck, I say you got spesh Smart what’ll help your kin.
Meronym threw a spiker in her words. Why don’t you sivvy thru my gear again an thief my
spesh Prescient Smart yourself?
Yay, she knowed ’bout me’n’the silv’ry egg. She’d been fakin’ she din’t but she knowed. No
point naysayin’, so I din’t. My sis is dyin while we’re standin here knucklyin.
So much rivers’n’rain in the world it flowed by us. Fin’ly Meronym said yay, she’d
come’n’see Catkin, but scorpion fish poison was quick’n’thick an’ she prob’ly cudn’t do
nothin’ to save my littl’ sis an’ I’d best und’stand that truth now. I din’t say yay nor nay I jus’
leaded her quicksharp down to Munro’s Dwellin’. When the Prescient walked in, Wimoway
’splained what she’d done tho’ Beardy Leary said, Ooo … a devil’s drawn near … ooo, I
sense her with my spesh powers …
Catkin’d gone under now, yay, she lay still’n’stiff as an icon, jus’ a whispin’-breathin’
scratched in her throat. Meronym’s griefsome face jus’ said, Nay, she’s too far gone I can’t do
nothin, an’ she kissed my sis’s forehead g’bye, walked back sadsome into the rain. Oh, see the
Prescient, Leary crowed, their Smart can move magicky ships o steel but only the Holy Chant
o Angel Laz’rus can tempt back the girl’s soul from them despairin marshes b’tween
life’n’death. Despair I felt, my sis was dyin’, rain was drummin’, but that same voice din’t shut
up in my ear. Meronym.
I din’t know why but I followed her out. Shelt’rin’ in Munro’s pott’ry doorway she was
starin’ at the rods o’ rain. I ain’t got no right to ask you for favors, I ain’t been a good host,
nay I been a pisspoor bad un, but … I’d ran out o’ words.
The Prescient din’t move nor look at me, nay. The life o’ your tribe’s got a nat’ral order.
Catkin’d o treaded on that scorpion fish if I’d been here or not.
Rainbirds spilt their galoshin’-galishin’ song. I’m jus’ a stoopit goat herder, but I reck’n jus by
bein here you’re bustin this nat’ral order. I reck’n you’re killin Catkin by not actin. An I reck’n
if it was your son, Anafi, lyin there with scorpion fish poison meltin his heart’n’lungs, this nat’ral order d not be so important to you, yay?
She din’t answer, but I knowed she was list’nin’.
Why’s a Prescient’s life worth more’n Valleysman’s?
She lost her calm. I ain’t here to play Lady Sonmi ev’ry time sumthin bad happ’ns an click my
fingers’n make it right! I’m jus’ human, Zachry, like you, like anyun!
I promised, It won’t be ev’ry time sumthin bad happens, it’s jus’ now.
Tears was in her eyes. That ain’t no promise you can keep or break.
Sudd’nwise I finded myself tellin’ her ev’ry flea o’ true ’bout Sloosha’s Crossin’, yay,
ev’rythin’. How I’d leaded the Kona to kill Pa an’ slave Adam an’d never ’fessed to no un till
that very beat. I din’t know why I was spillin’ this corked secret to my enemy not till the very
end, when I cogged its meanin’ an’ telled her too. What I jus’ teached you ’bout me’n’my soul
is a spiker gainst my throat an a gag over my mouth. You can tell Old Ma Yibber what I telled
you, an ruin me, any time you want. She’ll b’lief you an so she should ’cos it’s true ev’ry word
an’ folks’ll b’lief you ’cos they sense my soul is stoned. Now if you got any Smart, yay,
anythin’ what may help Catkin now, give it me, tell it me, do it. No un’ll ever, ever know, nay, I
vow it, jus’ you an me.
Meronym placed her hands on her head like it boomed up with woe an’ she mumbed to herself
sumthin’ like If my pres’dent ever finded out, my hole faculty’d be disbandied, yay times was
she used hole flocks o’ words what I din’t know. From a lidless jar in her gearbag she got out
a tiny small-as-an-ant-egg turquoise stone an’ telled me to sneak it into Catkin’s mouth so
slywise no un seen, nay, nor even thinked they seen. An for Sonmi’s sake, Meronym warned
me, if Catkin lives, an I ain’t promisin she will, make sure the herb’list gets the hooray-hooray
for healin her, not that voodoo snake-oilster from Hilo, yay?
So I took that turquoise med’sun an’ thanked her jus’ once. Meronym said, Don’t mention no
words, not now an never while I’m livin, an’ that promise I kept tight. Into my presh sis’s
mouth I dropped it as I changed her sop-cloth, like Meronym’d telled me, so no un saw
nothin’. An’ what happ’ned?
Three days later Catkin was back learnin’ in the school’ry yay
Three days! Well, I stopped lookin’ for ev’dence that Prescients was spyin’ to slave us. Leary
from Hilo crowed to the toads on the roads an’ the hole wide world, no healer was greater’n
he, not even the Prescients, tho’ folks mostly b’liefed Wimoway’d done it, yay, not him.
Coneys’n’roasted taro we was eatin’ one supper ’bout a moon after Catkin’s sick when
Meronym made a s’prisin’ ’nouncement. She meant to climb up Mauna Kea b’fore the Ship
returned, she said, for to see what she’d see. Ma speaked first, ’ready worrysome. What for,
Sis Meronym? Ain’t nothin’ up Mauna Kea but never-endin winter an a big heap o rocks.
Now Ma’d not said what we was all thinkin’ ’cos she din’t want to look barb’ric’n’savage, but
Sussy din’t hold back none. Aunt Mero, if you go up there Old Georgie’ll freeze you an dig out
your soul with a cruel n’crookit spoony an eat it so you’ll never even be reborned an your
body’ll be turned into a frostbited boulder. You want to stay here in the Valleys, where it’s
Meronym din’t mick Sussy none, she jus’ said Prescients’d got Smart what’d ward Old
Georgie away. Climbin’ Mauna Kea was ne’ssary to map Windward, she said, an’ anyhow,
Valleysmen needed more lowdown on Kona movements over Leeward’n’Waimea Town. Now
time was, such words’d o’ roused my s’picions buzzin’, but I din’t think that now, nay, tho’ I
was diresome worried for our guest. Well, the yibber was busy for days when this news
jumped out. The Shipwoman’s climbin Mauna Kea! Folks dropped by warnin’ Meronym not
to go pokin’ her nose into OG’s ’closure or she’d never come back down. Even Napes visited, sayin’ climbin’ Mauna Kea in a story was one thing, doin’ it for real was cracked’n’crazed.
Abbess said Meronym could come’n’go where she pleased, but she’d not say-so no un to
guide Meronym up, jus’ too unknowed’n’risky that summit was, three days up’n’three more
down, an’ dingos’n’Kona’n’Sonmi knows what on the way, an’ anyhow prep’ration for the
Honokaa barterin’ was needin’ all hands in the dwellin’s.
Now I s’prised ev’ryun, yay me too, when I settled to go with her. I weren’t known as the
bravest-balled bullock in the barn. So why’d I done it? Simple ’nuff. One, I owed Meronym
for Catkin. Two, my soul was ’ready half stoned, yay, surefire I’d not get re-birthed, so what’d
I got to lose? Better if Old Georgie ate my soul’n someun else’s who’d get rebirthed else, yay?
That ain’t brave, nay it’s jus’ sense. Ma din’t act pleased, a busy ’nuff time in the Valleys ’cos
o’ harvest comin’n’all, but come the dawn Meronym’n’me set off she gived me journey-grinds
what she’d smoked’n’brined an’ said Pa’d o’ prouded to see me so growed’n’gutsy Jonas
gived me a spesh sharp’n’fine rockfish spiker, an’ Sussy gived amulets o’ pearl-shell to
dazzle’n’blind Georgie’s eye if he chased us. Kobbery my cuz was over to minder my goats,
he gived a bag o’ raisins from his fam’ly’s vines. Catkin was last, she gived me a kiss an’
Meronym too, an’ made us both promise we’d be back in six days.
Eastly o’ Sloosha’s we din’t climb the Kuikuihaele Track, nay, we trekked inland southly up
Waiulili Stream, an’ I cogged the clearin’ by Hiilawe Falls where I’d s’prised the Kona what
killed Pa five–six years b’fore. Overgrown now it was, jus’ traces o’ bygone campfires
scorchin’ the middle. In Hiilawe Pool’s shallows I spikered a couple o’ rockfish with Jonas’s
gift, to last out our grinds. Rain fell so the Waiulili Stream gushed too fierce for footin’, so we
bushwhacked up thru sugarcane, yay a hard half day’s goin’ it was till we cleared the Kohala
Ridge; the windy open made us gasp an’ thru riftin’ clouds we seen Mauna Kea higher’n the
sky, yay Now I seen Mauna Kea from Honokaa b’fore, o’ course, but a mountain you’re
plannin’ on climbin’ ain’t the same as the one you ain’t. It ain’t so pretty nay Hush ’nuff an’
you’ll hear it. The cane thinned to tind’ry pines an’ we got to Old Uns’ Waimea Way Sev’ral
miles ’long this ancient’n’cracked road we clopped till we met a fur trapper an’ his laughin’
doggy restin’ by a slopin’ pond. Old Yanagi was his name an’ he’d got mukelung so bad
by’n’by Young Yanagi’d be takin’ over the fam’ly bis’ness, I thinked. We said we was
herb’lists sivvyin’ for presh plants an’ maybe Yanagi b’liefed us an’ maybe he din’t, but he
bartered us fungusdo’ for rockfish an’ warned us Waimea Town weren’t so friendsome as it’d
been once, nay, Kona say-soed’n’knucklied ficklewise an’ you cudn’t guess their b’havin’s.
A mile or so eastly o’ Waimea Town we heard shod hoofs clop-pin’ an’ we dived off the track
in the nick b’fore three Kona fighters on black stal’yons an’ their horse boy on a pony galloped
by Hate’n’fear quaked me an’ I wanted to kill ’em like prawns on a skewer, but slower’n that.
The boy I thought may o’ been Adam, but I always thinked that ’bout young Kona, they was
wearin’ helms so I cudn’t see too sure, nay. We din’t speak much from then ’cos speakin’ can
be heard by spyers what you can’t spy. Southly thru shrubby heath we tromped now till we got
to wideway. Wideway I’d heard o’ from storymen an’ here it was, an open, long, flat o’
roadstone. Saplin’s’n’bush was musclin’ up, but wondersome’n’wild was that windy space.
Meronym said it was named Air Port in Old Uns’ tongue, where their flyin’ boatsd anchor
down, yay like wild geese on the Pololu Marshes. We din’t cross wideway, nay, we skirted it,
there wasn’t no cover see.
By sundown we tented up in a cactusy hollow, an’ when it was dark ’nuff I lit us a fire.
Lornsome I felt to be away from my Valleys’n’kin, but in that no-man’s-land Meronym’s
mask was slip-pin’ an’ I was seein’ her more clear’n I’d ever done b’fore. I asked her straight,
What’s it like, the Hole World, the offlands over the ocean?Her mask’d not slipped right off tho’. What d’you reck’n?
So I telled her my ’maginin’s o’ places from old books’n’pics in the school’ry. Lands where
the Fall’d never falled, towns bigger’n all o’ Big I, an’ towers o’ stars’n’suns blazin’ higher’n
Mauna Kea, bays of not jus’ one Prescient Ship but a mil’yun, Smart boxes what make delish
grinds more’n anyun can eat, Smart pipes what gush more brew’n anyun can drink, places
where it’s always spring an’ no sick, no knucklyin’ an’ no slavin’. Places where ev’ryun’s a
beaut-some purebirth who lives to be one hun’erd’n’fifty years.
Meronym pulled her blanky tighter. My parents an their gen’ration b’liefed, somewhere, hole
cities o Old Uns s’vived the Fall b’yonder the oceans, jus’ like you, Zachry Old-time names
haunted their maginin’s … Melbun, Orkland, Jo’burg, Buenas Yerbs, Mumbay, Sing’pore.
The Shipwoman was teachin’ me what no Valleysman’d ever heard, an’ I list’ned
tight’n’wordless. Fin’ly five decades after my people’s landin at Prescience, we relaunched the
Ship what bringed us there. Dingos howled in the far-far ’bout folks soon to die, I prayed
Sonmi it weren’t us. They finded the cities where the old maps promised, dead-rubble cities,
jungle-choked cities, plague-rotted cities, but never a sign o them livin cities o their yearnin’s.
We Prescients din’t b’lief our weak flame o Civ’lize was now the brightest in the Hole World,
an further an further we sailed year by year, but we din’t find no flame brighter. So lornsome
we felt. Such a presh burden for two thousand pairs o hands! I vow it, there ain’t more’n
sev’ral places in Hole World what got the Smart o the Nine Valleys.
Anxin’n’proudful at one time hearin’ them words made me, like a pa, an’ like she an’ me
weren’t so diff ’rent as a god an’ a worshiper, nay
Second day fluffsome clouds rabbited westly an’ that snaky leeward sun was hissin’
loud’n’hot. We drank like whales from icy’n’sooty brooks. Higher to cooler air we climbed till
no mozzie pricked us no more. Stunty’n’dry woods was crossed by swathes o’ black’n’ra-zory
lava spitted’n’spewed by Mauna Kea. Snailysome goin’ was them rockfields, yay jus’ brush
that rock light an’ your fingers’d bleed fast’n’wetly so I binded my boots’n’hands in strips o’
hide-bark an’ did the same for Meronym. Blisters scabbed her foots, her soles’d not got my
goat tuff see, but that woman weren’t no moaner, nay, whatever else she was. We tented up in
a forest o’ needles’n’thorns an’ a waxy mist hid our campfire but it hid any sneaker-uppers too
an’ I got nervy Our bodies was busted by tiredness but our minds wasn’t sleepy yet so we
talked some while eatin’. You really ain’t feary, said I, jerkin’ my thumb upwards, o meetin
Georgie when we get to the summit, like Truman Napes did?
Meronym said the weather was way more scaresome to her.
I spoke my mind: You don’t b’lief he’s real, do you?
Meronym said Old Georgie weren’t real for her, nay, but he could still be real for me.
Then who, asked I, tripped the Fall if it weren’t Old Georgie?
Eerie birds I din’t knowed yibbered news in the dark for a beat or two. The Prescient
answered, Old Uns tripped their own Fall.
Oh, her words was a rope o’ smoke. But Old Uns’d got the Smart!
I mem’ry she answered, Yay, Old Uns’ Smart mastered sicks, miles, seeds an made miracles
ord’nary, but it din’t master one thing, nay, a hunger in the hearts o humans, yay, a hunger
for more.
More what? I asked. Old Uns’d got ev’rythin.
Oh, more gear, more food, faster speeds, longer lifes, easier lifes, more power, yay. Now the
Hole World is big, but it weren’t big nuff for that hunger what made Old Uns rip out the skies
an boil up the seas an poison soil with crazed atoms an donkey ’bout with rotted seeds so new
plagues was borned an babbits was freakbirthed. Fin’ly, bit’ly, then quicksharp, states busted into bar’bric tribes an the Civ’lize Days ended, ’cept for a few folds’n’pockets here’n’there,
where its last embers glimmer.
I asked why Meronym’d never spoke this yarnin’ in the Valleys.
Valleysmen’d not want to hear, she answered, that human hunger birthed the Civ’lize, but
human hunger killed it too. I know it from other tribes offland what I stayed with. Times are
you say a person’s b’liefs ain’t true, they think you’re sayin their lifes ain’t true an their truth
ain’t true.
Yay she was prob’ly right.
Third day out was clear’n’blue, but Meronym’s legs was jellyfishin’ so I lugged ev’rythin’ on
my back ’cept for her gearbag. Wed trekked over the mountain’s shoulder to the southly face,
where the scars of an Old-Un track zigzaggered summitwards. Around noon Meronym rested
while I gathered ’nuff firewood for two faggots ’cos we was in the last trees now. Lookin’
down t’ward Mauna Loa, we squinted a troop o’ horses on Saddle Road, their Kona metal
spicklin’ in sunlight. So high up we was, their horses was jus’ termite-size. I wished I could o’
crushed them savages b’tween my finger’n’thumb an’ wiped the slime off on my pants. I
prayed Sonmi no Kona ever turned up this Summit Track ’cos fine places there was for an’
ambushin’ an’ Meronym’n’me cudn’t knuckly hard nor long I reck’ned. I din’t see no
hoofprints nor tentin’ marks anyhow.
The trees ended an’ the wind got musclier’n’angrier, bringin’ not a sniff o’ smoke, no farmin’,
no dung, no nothin’ ’cept fine, fine dust. Birds was rarer too in them sheer’n’scrubby slopes,
jus’ buzzards surfin’ high. By evenin’ we got to a cluster of Old-Un buildings what Meronym
said’d been a village for ’stron’mers what was priests o’ the Smart what read the stars. This
village’d not been lived in since the Fall an’ no more des’late place I’d ever seen. No water nor
soil an’ the night fell, oh, fangy’n’cold, so we dressed thick an’ lit a fire in an empty dwellin’.
Flamelights danced with shadows round them unloved walls. I was anxin’ ’bout the summit
next day, so in part to blind my mind, I asked Meronym if Abbess spoke true when she said
the Hole World flies round the sun, or if the Men o’ Hilo was true sayin’ the sun flies round
the Hole World.
Abbess is quite correct, answered Meronym.
Then the true true is diff’rent to the seemin true? said I.
Yay, an it usually is, I mem’ry Meronym sayin’, an that’s why true true is presher’n’rarer’n
diamonds. By’n’by sleep hooded her, but my thinkin’s kept me awake till a silent woman came
an’ sat by the fire, sneez-in’n’shiv’rin’ hushly Her neckless o’ cowrie shells said she was a
Honomu fisher, an’ if she’d o’ been living she’d o’ been joocesome no frettin’. Into the fire the
woman uncurled her fingers, into the prettiest bronze’n’ruby petals, but she jus’ sighed
lornsomer’n a bird in a box in a well, see, them flames cudn’t heat her up none. She’d got
pebbles ’stead o’ eyeballs an’ I wondered if she was climbin’ Mauna Kea to let Old Georgie
fin’ly put her soul to stony sleep. Dead folk hear livin’s thinkin’s, an’ that drowned fisher
gazed at me with them pebbles, noddin’ yay an’ she took out a pipe for comfort but I din’t ask
for no skank Long beats later I waked, the fire was dyin’ an’ the stoned Honomu’d taked her
leave. No tracks that un left in the dust, but I smelt the smoke from her pipe for a beat or two.
See, I thinked, Meronym knows a lot ’bout Smart an life but Val-leysmen know more ’bout
Fourth dawn was a wind not o’ this world, nay, it warped that brutal’n’ringin’ light an’ hooped
the horizon an’ ripped words out o’ your mouth an’ your body’s warmness thru your
tarp’n’furs. Summit trail from the ’stron’mers’ village was busted’n’roded diresome, yay, great mouthfuls landslipped away an’ no leafs nor roots nor mosses even jus’ dry’n’freezed
dust’n’grit what scratched our eyes like a crazed woman. Our Valleys boots was shredded by
now, so Meronym gived us both a pair o’ Smart Prescient boots made o’ I din’t know what but
whoah warm’n’soft’n’tuff they was so we could go on. Four–five miles later the ground flatted
out so you din’t feel you was on a mountain no more, nay, more like an ant on a table, jus’ a
flatness hangin’ in nothin’ b’tween worlds. Fin’ly near noon we rounded a bend an’ I gasped
shocksome ’cos here was the ’closure, jus’ like Truman’d said it, tho’ its walls wasn’t as tall as
a redwood, nay, more a spruce high. The track leaded straight to the steely gate, yay but its
unbusted walls weren’t so endless long, nay you could o’ walked round it in a quarter of a
mornin’. Now inside the ’closure on rising ground was the bowls o’ temples, yay, the eeriest
Old-Un buildings in Ha-Why or Hole World, who knows? How could we get to ’em tho’?
Meronym stroked that awesome gate an’ muttered, We’d need a dammit diresome flashbang to
get these off their hinges, yay. Out o’ her gearbag tho’ she got not a flashbang, nay, but a Smart
rope, like the Prescients bartered sumtimes, fine’n’light. Two stumps stuck up ’bove the steely
gate, an’ she tried to lassoop one. The wind was craftier’n her aim, but I tried next an’
lassooped it first time, an’ up Old Georgie’s ’closure we scaled hand by hand by hand.
Inside that dreadsome place at the world’s top, yay, the wind hushed like a hurrycane’s clear
eye. The sun was deaf’nin’ so high up, yay, it roared an’ time streamed from it. No paths there
wasn’t inside the ’closure just a mil’yun boulders like in Truman Napes’s yarn, the bodies o’
the stoned’n’unsouled they was, an’ I wondered if Meronym or me or both’d be boulders by
nightfall. Ten–twelve temples waited here’n’there, white’n’silv’ry an’ gold’n’bronze with squat
bodies’n’round crowns an’ mostly windowless. The nearest un was jus’ a hun’erd paces away,
an’ we set off for it first. I asked if this was where Old Uns worshiped their Smart.
Meronym spoke, marv’lin’ as much as me, they wasn’t temples, nay, but observ’trees what
Old Uns used to study the planets’n’ moon’n’stars, an’ the space b’tween, to und’stand where
ev’rythin’ begins an’ where ev’rythin’ ends. We stepped caref’ly b’tween them twisted rocks.
Round one I seen crushed cowrie shells from Hon-omu way, an’ I knowed it was my visitor
the night b’fore. The wind bringed my gran’pa’s voice whispin’ from the far-far … Judas.
Eerie, yay, but shockin’, nay, ’cos ev’rythin’ in that place was eerie … Judas. I din’t tell
How she got that observ’tree door open, I ain’t knowin’ so don’t mozzie me. A sort of
umb’licky cord b’tween the door’s dusted ’n’rusty niche an’ her orison-egg worked in a beat
or two. Now I was busy guardin’ us from the dwellers o’ that ’closure. My gran’pa’s
whispin’s was now cussin’ half faces what dis’peared when you stared straight. A sharp hiss
as the observ’tree door cracked open. Air guffed out stale’n’sour like it was breathed b’fore the
Fall an’, yay so it prob’ly was. In we stepped an’ what did we find?
Describin’ such Smart ain’t easy Gear there was what we ain’t mem’ried on Ha-Why so its
names ain’t mem’ried neither, yay, almost nothin’ in there could I cogg. Shimm’rin’ floors,
white walls ’n’roofs, one great chamber, round’n’sunk, filled by a mighty tube wider’n a man
an’ longer’n five what Meronym named a radyo tel’scope what was, she said, the furthestseein’ eye Old Uns ever made. Ev’rythin’ white’n’pure as Sonmi’s robes, yay, not one flea o’
dirt ’cept what we tromped in. Tables’n’chairs sat round waitin’ for sitters on balconies made o’ steel so our foots gonged. Even the Ship-woman was smacked wondersome by all this
perfect Smart. She showed her orison ev’rythin’ we seed. The orison glowed’n’purred an’
windows came’n’went. It’s mem’ryin the place, ’splained Meronym, tho’ I din’t und’stand so
good an’ I asked what that Smart egg was true-be-telled.
Meronym rested a beat an’ drank a mouth o’ brew from her flask. An orison is a brain an a
window an it’s a mem’ry. Its brain lets you do things like unlock observ’tree doors what you
jus’ seen. Its window lets you speak to other orisons in the far-far Its mem’ry lets you see what
orisons in the past seen’n heard, an keep what my orison sees’n hears safe from fgettin.
Shamed to mem’ry Meronym o’ my sivvyin’ I was, yay, but if I din’t ask then I may not o’ got
the chance ever, so I asked it, The shimm’rin’n’beautsome girl what I seen in this … orison
b’fore … was she a mem’ry or a window?
Meronym hes’tated. Mem’ry.
I asked if the girl was livin’ still.
Nay, answered Meronym.
I asked, was she a Prescient?
She hes’tated, an’ said she wanted to tell me a hole true now, but that other Valleysmend not be
ready for its hearin’. I vowed on Pa’s icon to say nothin’, nay, to no un. Very well. She was
Sonmi, Zachry. Sonmi the freakbirthed human what your ancestors b’liefed was your god.
Sonmi was a human like you’n’me? I’d never thinked so nor’d Abbess ever speaked such
loonsomeness, nay. Sonmi’d been birthed by a god o’ Smart named Darwin, that’s what we
b’liefed. Did Meronym b’lief this Sonmi’d lived on Prescience I or on Big I?
She was borned’n’died hun’erds o years ago ’cross the ocean west-nor’westly, so Meronym
speaked, on a pen’sula all deadlanded now but its old-time name was Nea So Copros an its
ancient one Korea. A short’njudased life Sonmi had, an only after she’d died did she find sayso over purebloods’nfreakbirths’ thinkin’s.
All this shockin’ newness buzzed’n’busted my brain an’ I din’t know what to b’lief. I asked
what Sonmi’s mem’ry was doin’ in Meronym’s orison hun’erds o’ years after.
Now I seen Meronym was sorryin’ she’d beginned, yay Sonmi was killed by Old-Un chiefs
what feared her, but b’fore she died she spoke to an orison ’bout her acts’n’deedin’s. I’d got
her mem’ry in my orison ’cos I was studyin her brief life, to und’stand you Valleysmen better.
That’s why that girl’d haunted me so. I seen a sort o’ Smart ghost?
Meronym yayed. Zachry, we got many buildin’s to visit b’fore nigh fall.
Now as we were crossin’ the ’closure to the second observ’tree, the boulders began speakin’.
Oh, you was right ’bout the dammit Prescients first time, Bro Zachry! She’s fuggin your
b’liefs’n’all up’n’down’n’in’n’out! I clamped my ears, but yay, them voices went thru these
hands. This woman only saved Catkin’s life to cloudy your thinkin with debt’n’honor!
Crampsome was them stones’ shapes’n’words. I clamped my jaw shut to stop me an-swerin’.
She’s scavvin’n’sivvyin Big Isle Smart what truesome b’longs to Valleys-men! Grit devils got
under my eyelids. Your pa’d not let no lyin offlander worm into his trust, bro, nor use him as
a pack mule! Them words was so true I cudn’t argue back none, an’ I stumbled painsome.
Meronym steadied me. I din’t ’fess the boulders was yibberstinkin’ her, but she seen sumthin’
weren’t right. The air up here is thin’n’watery, she speaked, an your brain’ll get diresome
hungry an make this wyrd place wyrdsomer.
We got to the second buildin’ an’ I slumped droozy while the Prescient worked the door open.
Oh, that hollerin’ sun hollowed my head. She’s a sly un, no frettin, Zachry! Truman Napes
Third was perched on his boulder. Meronym’d not even heard him. You b’lief her or your own
kin? he called me, mournsome. Are your truths jus’ “thin’n’watery air”? Am I? Oh, I was reliefed the next beat when the observ’tree door open. Them ghosts’n’their spikery truths
cudn’t follow us inside, see, I s’pose the Smart kept ’em out.
So it went all aft’noon long, yay Most o’ the observ trees was much like the first. The Prescient
opened up, ’splored the place with her orison, an’ mostly forgot I was there. Me, I just sat an’
breathed that Smart air till she was done. But stompin’ b’tween buildin’s, twisted boulders
chorused me, Judas! an’ Pack mule! an’ Ship slave! Ghosts o’ Valleysmen pleaded me thru
unpartin’ frostbited lips, yay, She ain’t your tribe! Ain’t even your color! an’ then’n’there, oh,
frightsome sense they made, I ’fess it here’n’now
S’picion rotted me.
No Prescient’d ever been straight with no Valleysman, an’ that day I knowed Meronym was
no diff’rent. The boulders’d changed the blue sky to anxin’n’flinty gray by the last buildin’.
Meronym teached me it weren’t no observ’tree but a gen’rator what made a Smart magic
named ’lectric what worked the hole place like a heart works the body. She was whoahin’ at
the machines’n’all, but I was jus’ feelin’ stoopit’n’judased for bein’ blinded by the Shipwoman
since she’d come elbowin’ into my dwellin’. I din’t know what to do nor how to stop her
plans, but Georgie’d got his plans, cuss him.
This gen’rator’s innards was diff’rent from other buildin’s. The Prescient woman glowed with
fass’nation as we stepped into the echoey chambers, but I din’t. See, I knowed we wasn’t alone
in there. Shipwoman din’t b’lief me, o’ course, but in the biggest space where a mighty iron
heart stood silent was a sort o’ throne s’rounded by tables o’ littl’ windows an’ numbers’n’all,
an’ on this throne was a died Old-Un priest slumpin’ under an arched window. The Prescient
swallowed hard an’ peered close. A chief stron’mer, I reck’n, she spoke hushly he must o
soosided here when the Fall came, an the sealed air’s saved his body from rottin. A priest-king
not a chief, I reck’ned, in such a wondersome palace. She got to work mem’ryin’ ev’ry inch o’
that doomin’ place on her orison while I ’proached nearer that priest-king from the world o’
perfect Civ’lize. His hair straggled an’ his nails was hooky an’ the years’d shrunk’n’sagged his
face some sure, but his Smart sky clothes was spiff’n’fine, sapphires pierced his ear, an’ he
mem’ried me of Unc’ Bees, same hoggy nose, yay
List’n to me, Valleysman, the soosided priest-king spoke, yay, list’n. We Old Uns was sick
with Smart an the Fall was our cure. The Prescient don’t know she’s sick, but, oh, real sick
she is. Thru that arch o’ glass waves o’ snow was tossin’n’turnin’ an’ drownin’ the sun. Put
her to sleep, Zachry, or she’n’her kind’ll bring all their offland sick to your beautsome
Valleys. I’ll minder her soul well in this place, never fear. The Shipwoman was movin’ ’bout
with her orison, hummin’ a Prescient babbybie what she’d teached Catkin’n’Sussy Ticktockin’ was my thinkin’. Wasn’t killin’ her barb’ric’n’savage?
Ain’t no right or wrong, the ’stron’mer king teached me, jus’ protectin your tribe or judasin
your tribe, yay, jus’ a strong will or a weak un. Kill her, bro. She ain’t no god, she’s only
I said I cudn’t, the yibber’d tag me murderer an’ Abbess’d call a gath’rin’ what’d exile me
from the Valleys.
Oh, think, Zachry, the king micked me. Think! How’ll the yibber know? Yibber’ll say, “That
knowed-all offlander ignored our yarns’n’ways an went tre-spyin up Mauna Kea an brave
Zachry went ’long to try’n’minder her, but it turned out she weren’t so Smart what she
Beats passed. All right, I answered fin’ly’n’grim, I’ll spiker her when we step outside. The
priest-king smiled, pleased, an’ din’t speak no more. Fin’ly my victim howzitted me. Fine, said
I, tho’ I were nervy, see, the biggest thing I ever killed was goats an’ now I’d vowed to kill a
Prescient human. She said we should set off ’cos she din’t want to get stranded in no blizzard
up here an’ leaded us back out the gen’rator.Outside, the boulders’d falled silent in the ankle-snow. One snowstorm’d gone but another,
bigger un was comin’ so I reck’ned.
We walked t’ward the steely gate, her in front, me grippin’ Jonas’s spiker an’ testin’ its sharp
on my thumb.
Do it now! say-soed ev’ry murd’rous stone on Mauna Kea.
Nothin’ to be gained by dillyin’, nay. Hushly I aimed at the top o’ the Prescient’s neck, an’
Sonmi have mercy on my soul, I thrust that sharky point home as hard as I could.
Nay, I din’t murder her, see in a split-beat b’tween aimin’ an’ thrustin’, Sonmi had mercy on
my soul, yay she changed my aim an’ that spiker went flyin’ high over that steely gate.
Meronym din’t even cogg she’d nearly had her skull skewered, but I cogged sure ’nuff I’d
been magicked by the devil o’ Mauna Kea, yay, we all know his name, cuss him.
You see sumthin up there? asked Meronym, after my spiker.
Yay, I lied, but it weren’t no un, nay, it was jus’ the tricks o this place.
We’re leavin’, she said, we’re leavin’ now.
Old Georgie was outwitted, see, there weren’t no means I could kill her quicksharp without my
spiker, but he’d not jus’ lay down an’ watch my vic’try nay, I knowed that slywise buggah of
As I climbed up the rope with the gearbag, Mauna Kea took a lungsome breath an’ howled
giddyin’ snow so I cudn’t see the ground clearly an’ ten winds tore our faces an’ my fingers
was stiff with cold an’ halfway up I slid halfway down an’ that rope burned my hands but
fin’ly I hauled myself up top an’ bringed up the gearbag with my painful stingin’n’raw palms.
Meronym weren’t so fast, but she weren’t far from the top o’ the wall when suddenwise time
Time stopped, yay, you heard right. For Hole World ’cept me an’ a certain cunnin’ devil, yay,
you know which un came swagg’rin’ along the wall, time was jus’ … stopped.
Snowflakes hanged specklin’ the air. Old Georgie swished ’em aside. I tried reas’nin with you,
Zachry, you stubbornsome boy, now I got to use warnin’s an augurin’s an say-so. Get out
your blade an cut this rope thru. His foot touched the rope what was holdin’ time-freezed
Meronym. Worn face screwed ’gainst the blizzard it was, an’ her muscles strainin’ to climb that
rope. Twenty feet o’ nothin’ below. Her fall may not kill her when I let time flow again, Old
Georgie seen my thinkin’, but them rocks b’low’ll bust her spine’n’legs an she’ll not s’vive the
night. I’ll let her consider her follyin’s.
I asked him why he din’t jus’ kill Meronym himself.
Why-why-why? Old Georgie micked. I want you to do it, an here’s why-why-why See, if you
don’t cut that rope, inside o three moons your dearsome fam’ly be dead, I vow it! I vow it. So
you got a choosin. On one side you got Brave Ma, Strong Sussy, Bright Jonas, Sweet Catkin,
all dead. Cowardy Zachry’ll live on an regret’ll flay him till his dyin day. On th’ other side you
got jus’ one dead offlander no un’ll miss. Four you love ’gainst one you don’t. I may even
magick Adam back from Kona.
No bolt-hole out o’ this. Meronym had to die.
Yay, no bolt-hole, boy. I’m countin to five …
I got my blade. A seed sprouted thru the crust o’ my mem’ry an’ that seed was a word
Georgie’d speaked jus’ then, augurin.
Quicksharp I chucked my blade down after my spiker an’ looked that devil in his terrorsome
eyes. He’d got the s’prised curio, an’ his dyin’ smile’d got a bucket o’ dark meanin’s. I spat at
him, but my spit boom’ranged back on me. Why? Was I crazed’n’loonin’?
Old Georgie’d made a diresome mistake, see, he’d mem’ried me o’ my augurin’s from my Dreamin’ Night. Hands are burnin, let that rope be not cut. My decidin’ was settled, see, my
hands was burnin’, so this was that rope Sonmi’d say-soed me not to cut.
My blade chimed on the ground an’ time started an’ the mil’yun hands’n’screams o’ that
devil’s blizzard tore’n’pummeled me but cudn’t hurl me off the ’closure wall, nay, somehow I
pulled up Meronym an’ got us down the other side too with no bones busted. We leaned
’gainst the furyin’ white’n’dark snowstorm back to the ’stron’mers’ village, we
staggered’n’tripped an’ got back more freezin’n livin’, but a dry faggot was waitin’ by Sonmi’s
grace an’ I somehow got a fire cracklin’ an’ I vow that fire saved our lifes all over again. We
boiled ice to water an’ unfroze our bones an’ dried our furs best we could. We din’t speak
none, we was too icy’n’drained. Did I regret spurnin’ Old Georgie?
Nay not then, not now. Whatever Meronym’s cause was for scalin’ this cussed mountain, I
din’t b’lief she’d ever judas no Val-leysman, nay, not in my heart, an’ the Kona’d o’ done to
the Valleys what happened sooner or later anyhow. That was in the future that first night from
the summit. My friend gived us both med’sun pills after grinds an’ we sleeped the no-dream
sleep o’ the ’stron’mer king.
Now, gettin’ back to the Valleys weren’t no summery stroll neither, nay, but tonight ain’t the
time to yarn them ’ventures. Meronym’n’me din’t talk much goin’ down, a sort o’ trust’n’und’standin’ tied us now. Mauna Kea’d done its cussed best to kill us but we’d s’vived it
t’gether. I cogged she was far-far from her own fam’ly’n’kin, an’ my heart ached for her
lornsomeness. Abel welcomed us in his garrison dwellin’ three evenin’s later an’ sent word to
Bailey’s we’d come back. Ev’ryun’d got jus’ one question, What did you see up there? It was
lornsome’n’hushly I telled ’em, with temples o’ lost Smart’n’bones. But I din’t breathe a word
’bout the ’stron’mer king nor what Meronym’d telled me ’bout the Fall an’ speshly not my
knuckly with Old Georgie, nay, not till years’d come’n’gone.
I und’standed why Meronym’d not said the hole true ’bout Prescience Isle an’ her tribe too.
People b’lief the world is built so an’ tellin ’em it ain’t so caves the roofs on their
heads’n’maybe yours.
Old Ma Yibber spread the news that the Zachry what came down off Mauna Kea weren’t the
same Zachry what’d gone up, an’ true ’nuff I s’pose, there ain’t no journey what don’t change
you some. My cuz Kobbery ’fessed that mas’n’pas thru the Nine Valleys was warnin’ their
daughters ’gainst frolickin’ with Zachry o’ Bailey’s ’cos they reck’ned I must o’ bis’nessed
with Old Georgie to ’scape that shrieky place with my soul still in my skull, an’ tho’ that
weren’t the hole true, it weren’t the hole wrong. Jonas’n’Sussy din’t mick with me like they
once did. But Ma got weepy to see us home an’ hugged me—My little Zachaman—an’ my
goats was gladsome an’ Catkin din’t change none. She’n’her bros at the school’ry’d made a
new game, Zachry’n’Meronym on Mauna Kea, but Abbess say-soed ’em not to ’cos times are
pretendin’ can bend bein’. A whoah game it was, said Catkin, but I din’t want to know its rules
nor endin’.
By’n’by Meronym’s last moon in Nine Valleys swelled up, an’ time it was for the Honokaa
Barter, the biggest gath’rin’ o’ Windward peoples, jus’ once a year it comed round under the
harvest moon, so for many days we was hard at work loomin’ goatwool blankies what was our
dwellin’s bestest bart’rin’. Now, since my pa’s killin’ we’d trekked to Honokaa in groups o’
ten or more, but that year there was twice that number ’cos o’ the spesh Prescient loot we’d
got, thanks to us hostin’ Meronym. There was handcarts an’ pack mules for all the dried
meat’n’leather’n’cheese’n’wool. Wimoway’n’Roses was goin’ to trade herbs what din’t grow
near the Valleys, tho’ Roses’n’Kobbery was spoonyin’ by then an’ that was fine by me. I wished my cuz luck ’cos luck he’d need an’ a whip’n’iron back’n’all.
Crossin’ Sloosha’s Crossin’ I’d to bear watchin’ journeyers put fresh stones on Pa’s mound,
so our custom was my pa’d got a bucket o’ friends’n’bros what loved him truesome. Up on
Mauna Kea that devil was sharp’nin’ his nails on a whetstone to feast on this cow-ardy liar,
yay After Sloosha’s came the zigzag up to Kuikuihaele. One handcart busted’n’tipped so
slow’n’thirstsome goin’ it was, yay, noon was long gone b’fore we reached the scraggy hamlet
sit-tin’ up the far side. Us young uns shimmed the cokeynut trees for grinds, an’ ev’ryun
welcomed that milk, no frettin’. Trampin’ southly the buckin’ Old-Un way t’ward Honokaa
Town, the ocean breeze turned freshly an’ our spirits was mended so we telled yarnies to
shrink the miles, with the yarner sittin’ backwards on the leadin’ ass so ev’ryun could hear.
Rod’rick yarned the Tale o’ Rudolf the Red-Rnged Goat Thief an’ Iron Billy’s Hideous Spiker,
an’ Wolt sang a spoony song, “O Sally o’ the Valleys-o,” tho’ we pelted him with sticks ’cos
his singin’ busted that liltsome tune. Then Unc’ Bees asked Meronym to teach us a Prescient
yarnie. She hes’tated a beat or two an’ said Prescience tales was drippin’ with regret’n’loss an’
not good augurin’ for a sunny aft’noon b’fore Barter Day but she could tell us a yarn what
she’d heard from a burntlander in a far-far spot named Panama. We all yaysayed, so up she sat
on the lead ass an’ a short’n’sweet yarn she spoke what I’ll tell you now so all you shut up, sit
still an’ someun fetch me a fresh cup o’ spirit-brew, my throat’s gluey’n’parched.
Back when the Fall was fallin’, humans f’got the makin’ o’ fire. Oh, diresome bad things was
gettin’, yay Come night, folks cudn’t see nothin’, come winter they cudn’t warm nothin’, come
mornin’ they cudn’t roast nothin’. So the tribe went to Wise Man an’ asked, Wise Man, help
us, see we f’got the makin o’ fire, an, oh, woe is us an all.
So Wise Man summ’ned Crow an’ say-soed him these words: Fly across the crazed’n’jiffyin
ocean to the Mighty Volcano, an on its foresty slopes, find a long stick. Pick up that stick in
your beak an fly into that Mighty Volcano’s mouth an dip it in the lake o’ flames what
bubble’n’spit in that fiery place. Then bring the burnin stick back here to Panama so
humans’ll mem’ry fire once more an mem’ry back its makin.
Crow obeyed the Wise Man’s say-so, an’ flew over this crazed’n’jiffyin’ ocean until he saw
the Mighty Volcano smokin’ in the near-far. He spiraled down onto its foresty slopes, nibbed
some gooseb’ries, gulped of a chilly spring, rested his tired wings a beat, then sivvied round
for a long stick o’ pine. A one, a two, a three an’ up Crow flew, stick in his beak, an’ plop
down the sulf’ry mouth o’ the Mighty Volcano that gutsy bird dropped, yay, swoopin’ out of
his dive at the last beat, draggin’ that stick o’ pine thru the melty fire, whooo-ooo-ooosh, it
flamed! Up’n’out o’ that Crow flew from the scorchin’ mouth, now flew with that burnin’
stick in his mouth, yay, toward home he headed, wings poundin’, stick burnin’, days passin’,
hail slingin’, clouds black’nin’, oh, fire lickin’ up that stick, eyes smokin’, feathers crispin’,
beak burnin’ … It hurts! Crow crawed. It hurts! Now, did he drop that stick or din’t he? Do
we mem’ry the makin’ o’ fire or don’t we?
See now, said Meronym, riding backwards on that lead ass, it ain’t ’bout Crows or fire, it’s
’bout how we humans got our spirit.
I don’t say that yarn’s got a hole sack o’ sense, but I always mem’ried it, an’ times are less
sense is more sense. Anyhow, the day was dyin’ in soddy clouds an’ we was still some miles
shy o’ Hono-kaa, so we tented up for the night an’ throwed dice for watch, see, times was bad
an’ we din’t want to risk no ambush. I got a six’n’six so maybe my luck was healin’, so I
thinked, fool o’ fate what I am, yay what we all are.
Honokaa was the bustlin’est town o’ noreast Windward, see, Old Uns’d builded it high ’nuff to s’vive the risin’ ocean, not like half o’ Hilo nor Kona neither, what was flooded most
moons. Honokaa men was traders’n’makers mostly, oh they worshiped Sonmi but they
divvied their chances slywise an’ worshiped Hilo gods too so we Valleysmen reck’ned ’em
half savages. Their chief was called Senator, he’d got more power’n our Abbess, yay, he’d got
an army o’ ten–fifteen knuckly men with whoah spikers whose job was to force Senator’s sayso, an’ no un chose Senator, nay, it was a barb’ric pa-to-son bis’ness. Honokaa was a fair
midway for Hilo’n’Honomu folks, an’ Valleysmen’n’Mookini b’fore they was slaved, an’ the
hill tribes upcountry The town’s Old-Un walls was rebuilded fresh an’ blown-off roofs
mended over’n’over, but you could still strolly round its narrow’n’windy streets an’ ’magin’
flyin’ kayaks an’ no-horse carts wheelyin’ here’n’there. Last there was the bart’rin’ hall, a
whoah spacy buildin’ what Abbess said was once named church where an ancient god was
worshiped, but the knowin’ of that god was lost in the Fall. Church’d got strong walls an’
beautsome colored glass an’ sat in a lushly green space with lots o’ stone slabs for pennin’
sheep’n’goats’n’pigs’n’all. Durin’ the barter, Senator’s guards manned the town gates an’
storehouses an’ they’d got a lockup too with iron bars. No armyman never knucklied no trader
tho’, not unless he thiefed or busted peace or law. Honokaa’d got more law’n anyplace else on
Big Isle ’cept the Nine Folded Valleys I s pose, tho’ law an’ Civ’lize ain’t always the same,
nay, see Kona got Kona law but they ain’t got one flea o’ Civ’lize.
That bart’rin’, we Valleysmen did a whoah good trade for ourselves an’ the Commons. Twenty
sacks o’ rice from the hill tribes we got for the Prescient tarps, yay an’ cows’n’hides from
Parker’s Ranch for the metalwork. We telled no un ’bout Meronym bein’ an’ offlander, nay,
we named her Ottery o’ Hermit Dwellin’ from upgulch Pololu Valley, Ottery was a herb’list
an’ a lucky freakbirth, we said, to ’splain her black skin an’ white tooths. The Prescients’ gear
we said was new salvage we’d finded in a stashed hideynick, tho’ no un ever asks So where’d
you get this gear? an’ s’pects to hear a truesome answer. Old Ma Yibber keeps her slurryful
mouth corked outside Nine Valleys, so when a storyman named Lyons asked me if I was the
same Zachry o’ Elepaio Valley what’d climbed Mauna Kea last moon, I was diresome s’prised.
Yay, said I, I’m Zachry o’ that Valley, but I don’t hate this life so much I’d go anywhere near
the roof o that mountain, nay. I said I’d gone huntin’ presh leafs’n’roots with my last-life Aunt
Ottery, but we din’t go no higher’n where the trees stopped, nay, an’ if he’d heard diff’rent,
well, I were here tellin’ him he’d heard wrong. Lyons’s words was friendsome ’nuff but when
my bro Harrit telled me he’d seen Lyons’n’Beardy Leary mutt’rin’ down a smoky dead end I
reck’ned I’d tell-tale him to Abbess when we got home an’ see what she thinked. A rat’s ass
tang I’d always smelled comin’ off Leary, an’ I’d be findin’ in jus’ a bunch o’ hours how, oh,
how right I was.
Meronym’n’me bartered off our goatwool spinnin’s’n’blankies’n’all pretty soon on, yay, I got
a sack o’ fine Manuka coffee, some plastic pipin’ in fine nick, fat oats an’ bags o’ raisins from
a dark Kolekole girl, an’ more gear too what I don’t mem’ry now. Kolekole folk ain’t so
savage I reck’n tho’ they bury their dead uns b’neath them same longhouses where the livin’
dwell ’cos they b’lief they’ll be less lonesome there. Then I helped with our Commons barter
for a beat or two then strolled here’n’there, howzittin’ with some traders from round’bouts,
savages ain’t always bad folks, nay I learned the Mackenzymen’d dreamed up a shark god an’
was sac’ficin’ bladed ’n’footless sheeps into their bay. Usual tales I heard too ’bout Kona
rowdy-in’s eastly o’ their normal huntin’ grounds what shadowed all our hearts’n’minds. A
crowd o’ watchers I finded gatherin’ round someun, nustlied nearer an’ seen Meronym, or
Ottery sit-tin’ on a stool an’ sketchin’ people’s faces, yay! She bartered her sketchin’s for
trinklety doodahs or a bite o’ grinds, an’ folks was gleesomer’n anythin’, watchin’ with
’mazement as their faces ’ppeared from nowhere onto paper, an’ more folks clustered sayin’,
Do me next! Do me next! Folks asked her where she’d got that learnin’ an’ her answer was always It ain’t learnin, bro, jus’ practice is all. Uglies she gived more beautsome’n their
faces’d got, but artists’d done so all down hist’ry so Ottery the Sketchin’ Herb’list said. Yay,
when it came to faces, pretty lies was better’n scabbin’ true.
Night fell an’ we tromped back to our stores an’ drawed lots for sentryin’, then partyin’ began
in spesh dwellin’s named bars. I did my sentryin’ early on, then showed Meronym some
places with Wolt an’ Unc’ Bees b’fore the musickers drawed us back to Church. A
squeezywheezy an’ banjos an’ catfish fiddlers an’ a presh rare steel guitar there was, an’
barrels o’ liquor what each tribe bringed to show their richness an’ sacks o’ blissweed ’cos
where there’s Hilo, oh, there’s blissweed. I skanked deep on Wolt’s pipe an’ four days’ march
from our free Windward to Kona Leeward seemed like four mil’yun, yay, babbybies o’
blissweed cradled me that night, then the drummin’ started up, see ev’ry tribe had its own
drums. Foday o’ Lotus Pond Dwellin’ an’ two–three Valleysmen played goatskin’n’pingwood
tom-toms, an’ Hilo beardies thumped their flumfy-flumfy drums an’ a Honokaa fam’ly beat
their sash-krrangers an’ Honomu folk got their shell-shakers an’ this whoah feastin’ o’ drums
twanged the young uns’ joystrings an’ mine too, yay, an’ blissweed’ll lead you b’tween the
whack-crack an’ boom-doom an’ pan-pin-pon till we dancers was hoofs thuddin’ an’ blood
pumpin’ an’ years passin’ an’ ev’ry drumbeat one more life shedded off of me, yay, I glimpsed
all the lifes my soul ever was till far-far back b’fore the Fall, yay, glimpsed from a gallopin’
horse in a hurrycane, but I cudn’t describe ’em ’cos there ain’t the words no more but well I
mem’ry that dark Kolekole girl with her tribe’s tattoo, yay, she was a saplin’ bendin’ an’ I was
that hurrycane, I blowed her she bent, I blowed harder she bent harder an’ closer, then I was
Crow’s wings beatin’ an’ she was the flames lickin’ an’ when the Kolekole saplin’ wrapped
her willowy fingers around my neck, her eyes was quartzin’ and she murmed in my ear, Yay, I
will, again, an yay, we will, again.
Get up now, boy, my pa biffed me anxsome, this ain’t no mornin’ for slug-gybeddin, cuss you.
That bubbly dream popped an’ I waked proper under itchy Kolekole blankies. The dark
girl’n’me was twined, yay, like a pair o’ oily lizards swallowin’ each other. She smelled o’
vines’n’lava ash an’ her olive breasts rose’n’fell an’ watchin’ her I got the tenderlies like she
was my own babbit slumb’rin’ by me. Bliss-weed was foggin’ me still, an’ I heard near-far
shouts o’ wild partyin’ tho’ a misty dawn was ’ready up, yay, it happens so at harvest barterin’s, times are. So I yawned’n’stretched, yay, achin’n’feelin’ all good’n’scooped, y’know
how it is when you shoot up a beautsome girl. Smoky brekkers was bein’ cooked nearby, so I
put on my pants’n’jacket’n’all an’ the Kolekole girl’s eyes opened fawny an’ she murmed,
Mornin, goatman, an’ I laughed an’ said, I’ll be back with grinds, an’ she din’t b’lief me so I
settled I’d prove her wrong an’ see her smile when I bringed her brekker. Outside the Kolekole
storehouse was a cobbly track runnin’ by the Town Wall, but northly or southly I din’t cogg,
so I was puzzlin’ my path there when a Hono-kaa guard dropped from the rampart an’ missed
killin’ me by inches.
My guts shot half up an’ half down.
A crossbolt shaft stuck out his nose an’ its point thru the back o’ his head. Its iron point jolted
that mornin’ an’ ev’rythin’ into, oh, its horrorsome place.
That near-far wild partyin’ were battlin’n’fightin’, yay! That smokin’ brekker was thatch
burnin’, yay! Now my first thinkin’ was my people, so I backrabbited t’ward the Valleysmen’s
store in the town hub shoutin’, Kona! Kona! Yay, the dark wings o’ that dreadsome word beat
furyin’ thru Honokaa an’ I heard a thund’ry splin-t’rin’ an’ a diresome shout kicked up an’ I
cogged the town gate was busted down. Now I got to the square, but whackaboom panickin’
blocked my way an’ fear, yay fear an’ its hot stink turned me back. I roundybouted the narrow roads, but nearer’n’nearer Kona roars an’ horses an’ bullwhips came, fillin’ them
misty’n’burnin’ alleys like a tsunami an’ I din’t know what way I’d come nor was goin’ an’
ker-bam! I got shoved into the gutter by a milk-eyed old ma clubbin’ thin air with a roller pin
bansheein’, You’ll never lay your filthsome hands on me, but when I got up again she was
still’n’pale, see, she’d got a crossbolt blossomin’ her bosom an’ suddenwise whoah a whip
binded my legs t’gether an’ whoah up I flew an’ whoah down my head dropped an’ aieee the
pavestones smashed my skull, yay, fiercer’n a chop from a cold dammit chisel.
When I waked next my young body was an old bucket o’ pain, yay, my knees was busted an’
one elbow stiff’n’bruised an’ my ribs chipped an’ two teeth gone an’ my jaws din’t fit no more
an’ that lump on my head was like a second head. I was hooded like a goat b’fore slaught’rin’
an’ my hands’n’feet binded cruelsome an’ laid flat on’n’under other sorrysome bodies, yay, I
hurt like I’d never knowed b’fore nor since, nay! Cartwheels was groanin’ an’ iron shoes clipcloppin’ an’ with each sway pain sloshed round my skull.
Well, there weren’t no myst’ry. We was bein’ slaved an’ carted back to Kona jus’ like my lost
bro Adam. I weren’t speshly gladsome at livin’ still, I weren’t nothin’ jus’ achin’ an’ helpless
as a strung-up lardbird bein’ bled from a hook. A squirmin’ foot squashed my balls, so I
murmed, Anyun else awake here? See, I thinked I may yet manage to rabbit out o’ that hole, but
a rook-raw Kona voice yelled jus’ inches away, Shut your mouths, my strappin lads, or I vow
on my blade I’ll slit the tongues from ev’ry last dingoshat one o you! A warm wet quilted my
arm, as someun lyin’ on me pissed, what cooled to a chill wet as beats went by. I counted five
Kona speakin’, three horses, an’ a cage o’ chicklin’s. Our slavers was discussin’ the girls what
they’d torn open’n’shooted up durin’ the Honokaa raid, so I knowed I’d been hooded half the
day or more. I din’t have no hungry but, oh, I was thirsty as hot ash. One o’ the Kona voices I
cogged but I din’t see how. Ev’ry long beatd bring a thund’rin’ o’ war hoofs ’long the road an’
there’d be a Howzit, Captain! an’ a Yay, sir an’ The battlin goes well! an’ so I learned the
Kona’d not made jus’ a reccyin’ raid on Honokaa but was seizin’ the hole o’ northly Big I,
yay, an’ that meant the Valleys. My Nine Folded Valleys. Sonmi, I prayed, Mer-cysome
Sonmi, minder my fam’ly’n’kin.
Fin’ly sleep dragged me off an’ I dreamed o’ the Kolekole girl, but her breasts’n’flank was
made o’ snow’n’lava rock, an’ when I waked in that cart again I found a died slave under me
was suckin’ all the warmness out o’ me. I shouted, Hey, Kona, you got a died un here an
maybe your cart horsed thank you to lose some draggin heavy. A boy on top o’ me yelped as
the Kona driver whipflicked him to reward him for my oh-so-kindly consid’ration, he was the
pisser maybe. I knowed by the birds’ lilts evenin’ was near, yay, an’ all day we’d been carted.
A long beat later we stopped an’ off that cart I was hauled an’ pricked by a spiker. I yelled an’
wrigglied, heard a Kona say, This un’s still livin anyhow, an’ was lifted off’n’leaned ’gainst a
hut-size rock, an’ after a beat my hood was taken off. I sat up an’ squinted in the mournsome
dim. We was on the drizzly Waimea Track, an’ I cogged ’zactly where, yay, see it was by the
slopin’ pond an’ that hut-size rock we was leaned against was the selfsame rock where
Meronym’n’me’d meeted Old Yanagi jus’ a moon ago.
Now I watched the Kona sling away three died slaves for the dingos’n’ravens, an’ I knowed
why I’d cogged a fam’liar voice b’fore, see one of our capturers was Lyons the storyman bro
o’ Leary Storyman an’ spyer, may Old Georgie cuss his bones. There was no Valleysmen
’cept me in the s’vivin’ ten, nay, mostly Honomu’n’ Hawi I reck’ned. I prayed one o’ the
slinged three wasn’t Kobbery my cuz. All of us was young men, yay, so they’d killed the older
uns back in Honokaa, I s’posed, Meronym too, I reck’ned, ’cos I knowed she cudn’t s’vive
nor ’scape such a furyin’ attack. One o’ the Kona poured a slug o’ pond water on our faces, we opened our mouths for ev’ry brackish drop but it weren’t ’nuff to damp our parchin’. The chief
say-soed their horse boy to tent up an’ then spoke to his trembly catches. Since this mornin’,
said the painted bug-gah, your lifes, yay, your bodies are Kona b’longin’s, an the sooner you
accept this, the likelier you’ll s’vive as a slave o the true inheritors o Big I an one day Hole
Ha-Why Chief telled us our new lifes’d got new rules, but luck’ly the rules was easy learnin’.
First rule is, slaves do your Kona masters’ say-so, quicksharp an no but-whyin. Bust this rule
an your master’ll bust you a bit, or a lot, d’pends on his will, till you learn better obeyin.
Second rule is, slaves don’t speak ’cept when your master asks em. Bust this rule an your
master’ll slit your tongue an I will too. Third rule is, you don’t waste no time plottin scapes.
When you’re sold next moon you’ll be branded on your cheeks with your master’s mark.
You’ll never pass for pureblood Kona ’cos you ain’t, true-be-telled all Windwards are
freakbirthed shits. Bust this rule an I vow it, when you’re catched your master’ll blade off your
hands an feet, blade off your cock to gag your mouth, an leave you by the wayside for the
flies’n’rats feastin. Sounds like a quick death you may think, but I done it sev’ral times an
s’prisin slowsome it is, b’lief me. Chief said all good masters kill a bad or idlin’ slave
now’n’then to mem’ry the others what happens to slackers. Last, he asked if there was any
No complainers there weren’t, nay Us peacesome Windward men was busted in body by
wounds’n’thirst’n’hunger an’ busted in spirit by the killin’ we’d seen an’ the slaved future we
seen b’fore us. No fam’ly no freeness, no nothin’ but work an’ pain’ an’ work an’ pain till we
died, an’ where’d our souls be rebirthed then? I wondered if I may meet Adam or if he was
died ’ready or what. An elfy Hawi boy started blubbin’ some, but he was jus’ a niner or a
tenner so no un hissed him to shuttup, in fact he shedded tears for all of us, yay Jonas’d be
slaved most prob’ly an’ Sussy’n’Catkin too, but they was grim thinkin’s, see, both was pretty
’nuff girls. Ma was an agin’ woman, tho’ … What use’d the Kona find for her? I din’t want to
think ’bout the roller pin woman in Honokaa who’d whocked me into the ditch, but I cudn’t
stop myself. Lyons came over, said Boo! to the elfy boy so he blubbed badder, an’ Lyons
laughed, then yanked off my Prescient boots. He admired ’em on his own feet. No more
scavvin’ up Mauna Kea for Zachry Goatboy, that ju-daser speaked, so he won’t be needin
these no more, nay.
I din’t say nothin’, but Lyons din’t like the way I din’t say nothin’ so he kicked my
head’n’groin with my own boots. I weren’t sure but I reck’n he was second in charge after
chief leastways no un challenged him for my boots.
Night dripped an’ the Kona roasted chicklin’s over the fire an’ any of us’d o’ bartered our
souls for a drip o’ that chicklin’ grease on our tongues. We was gettin’ chill now, an’ tho’ the
Kona din’t want us too busted b’fore the slave market, they wanted us kept puny’n’frail ’cos
we was ten but they was only five. They opened a cask o’ liquor an’ drank an’ drank some
more an’ tore them delish-smellin’ chicklin’s an’ drank some more. They murmed a bit an’
looked at us, then a Kona was sent over to us with a torchin’ stick. He held it by each of us
while his tribesmen crowed Yay! or Nay! Fin’ly he un-binded the elfy Hawi’s feet an’ s’ported
him hobblin’ over to the campfire. There they warmed him an’ fed him some chicklin’ an’
liquor. Us f’gotten slaves was bein’ drained by hunger’n’pain an’ the mozzies from the slopin’
pond now an’ we was envyin’ that Hawi boy diresome, till at a nod from Lyons they ripped
down Elfy’s pants an’ held him an’ busted that boy’s ring, oilin’ his hole up with lardbird fat
b’tween turns.
Lyons was porkerin’ the sorrysome child when I heard a kssssss noise an’ he jus’ keeled over.
The other four bust laughin’, see they b’lieved Lyons was bladdered with liquor but then ksssksss an’ two red spots grew b’tween another Kona’s eyes an’ he dropped stone dead too. A
helmeted’n’caped Kona strided into the clearin’ holdin’ a sort o’ shinbone what he pointed at our last three catchers. Another kssss an’ the boy Kona was felled. Now the chief grabbed his
spiker an’ hurled it at the helmeted killer, who dived’n’sort o’ rolled cross the clearin’ so the
spiker tore his cloak but missed his body. A ksssSSSsss tore a slopin’ gash cross the chief’s
torso an’ he sort o’ slid into two halfs. Hope creeped up on my shock but crack! The last
Kona’s bullwhip wrapped round that lethal killin’ shinbone an’ crack! That shooter
quicksharped out o’ the rescuer’s hands an’ into our catcher’s hands like a magicky. Now the
last Kona swivvied the weapon at our rescuer an’ ’proached close so he cudn’t miss an’ I seen
his hands squeeze its trigger an’ KSSSS! The last Kona’s head was missin’ an’ the breadfruit
tree what’d stood b’hind him was a whooosh o’ cindery flamin’s cracklin’n’steamin’ in the
His body stood lonesome for a beat like a babbit learnin’ to walk, then … dumm-fff! See, he’d
errored the shooter’s mouth for its ass and flashbanged his own head off. Our myst’ry Kona
rescuer sat up, rubbin’ elbows tendersome, plucked off his helmet, an’ stared mis’rably at the
five died uns.
I’m too old for this, Meronym said, grim’n’frownin’.
We unbinded the other slaves an’ let ’em have the Kona’s grinds, Meronym’d got ’nuff for us
in her horse’s saddlebags an’ them un-slaved buggahs needed all the help they could get. All
we took from the died five was my boots back off Lyons’s foots. In war, Meronym teached
me, first you anx ’bout your boots, only second you anx ’bout grinds’n’all. My rescuer gived
me her full yarn a long beat later in this Old-Un ruin in trackless bush on the Leeward Kohalas
what we found an’ lit a small fire.
It ain’t long in the yarnin’, nay. Meronym weren’t in the Val-leysmen’s store when the Kona
attacked Honokaa, nay, she was up on the town walls sketchin’ the sea till a torchin’ crossbolt
kicked that sketchbook out o’ her hands. She got back to the Valleysmen’s store b’fore the
town gate was down, but Unc’ Bees shouted her I was missin’, so she went off lookin’ an’
that was the last she seen o’ my kin. Her horse’n’helmet she’d got from a Kona chief who’d
charged down an alley an’ din’t charge out no more. In Kona gear an’ riotsome annacky
Meronym bluffed a way out o’ the blood-shot’n’torchin’ town. There weren’t no battlin’, nay,
it was jus’ more a roundup, see, the Senator’s army s’rendered faster’n anyun. Meronym first
rided northly Valleywards, but Kona was gath’rin’ thick round Kuikuihaele for their swarm
into the Valleys so she’d turned inland ’long the Waimea Track, but that road was thickly
sentried an’ she cudn’t pass for Kona if stopped. Meronym turned southly reck’nin’ to reach
Hilo an’ see if it was still in freesome hands. But Sonmi stayed her for long ’nuff to glance a
cart trundlin’ by an’ stickin’ out o’ that cart was two feet, an’ on those two feet was Prescient
boots, an’ only one Windwardsman she knowed what weared Prescient boots. She daren’t try
to rescue me in daylight, an’ one time she lost the cart ’cos she’d roundybouted a platoon o’
horses, an’ if it weren’t for the Kona’s bladdery chorusin’ as they gewgawed the Hawi boy she
might’ve missed us in the dark an’ ridden by. Oh, the risk she’d taked to rescue me! Why dint
you hide an save your skin proper? asked I.
She made a stoopit question face.
Yay but what’d we do? My thinkin’ was stormin’n’fearin’. The Valleys is raided’n’burnin,
prob’ly … an if Hilo ain’t fallen yet, it’ll fall soon …
My friend jus’ tended my wounds’n’hurtin’s with bandagin’s’n’ stuff, then raised a
cup’n’med’sun stone to my lips. This’ll help fix your busted body, Zachry Shut up your
yibberin an sleep now.
A murmin’ man woked me in a leaky Old-Un shelter with leafs bustin’ thru the window holes. I was achin’ in a dozen places but not painin’ so sharply. Mornin’ was brisk’n’leewardsmellin’, but I mem’ried the desp’rate new age what was shadowin’ Windward an’, oh, in my
head I groaned to be wakin’. ’Cross the room Meronym was speakin’ thru her orison to that
sternsome Prescient what’d catched me sivvyin’ thru Meronym’s gear that first time. I gazed
on for a beat, marv’lin’ once more, see, colors are spicier’n’brighter in orison windows. Soon
he seen me risin’ an’ cogged me with a raise o’ his head. Meronym turned too an’ howzitted.
Better’n yesterday. I stepped over to see that spesh Smart. My joints’n’bones groaned some.
Meronym said I’d ’ready met this Prescient what she said was named Duophysite, an’ I said
I’d not f ’gotten ’cos he’d been so scarysome. The windowed Prescient was list’nin’ to us, an’
his skel’tony face soft’ned jus’ one shade. Oh, I wish we wasn’t meetin in such dark times,
Zachry, said Duophysite, but I’m askin you to guide Meronym on one last trek, to Ikat’s
Finger. You know it?
Yay, I knowed it, northly from the Last Valley over Pololu Bridge, a long spit o’ land what
pointed nor’eastly Was the Ship an-chorin’ for Meronym at Ikat’s Finger?
The two Prescients bartered a glance, an’ Duophysite spoked after a beat. We got bad news of
our own to teach you, sorrysome to say. The orisons on Prescience an the Ship ain’t answered
no transmission for days’n’days.
What’s a transmission? I asked.
A message, said Meronym, a window, an orison gath’rin like we was dis-cussin with
Duophysite now.
I asked, Are the orisons busted?
Way worser it may be, speaked the windowed un, see in recent moons a plague’s neared
Prescience Isle, westly from Ank’ridge, yay, a terrorsome sick what our Smart can’t cure. Jus’
one in two hundred what catch this plague s’vive it, yay. Us Prescients on Ha-Why we got to
act like we’re on our own now ’cos the Ship prob’ly ain’t comin.
But what ’bout Anafi, Meronym’s son? Meronym’s face made me wish I’d bit my tongue off
b’fore I’d asked.
I got to live with not knowin, said my friend, so bleaksome I could o’ blubbed. I ain’t the first
un who lived so, an I ain’t the last neither.
Well, that yibber busted a hope in me what I’d not cogged I’d got. I asked Duophysite how
many Prescients was there on Hole Ha-Why
Five, answered the man.
Five hun’erd? I asked.
Duophysite seen my dismay an’ knowed it too. Nay jus’ five. One on each main I o the chain.
Our hole true is simply telled, an it’s time now you knowed it. We anxed this plagued reach
Prescience an snuff out Civ’lize’s last bright light. We was searchin for good earth to plant
more Civ’lize in Ha-Why, an we dint want to scare you islandsmen by big numbers of
So you see, spoked Meronym now, your fears ’bout my true aims’n’all wasn’t total wrong.
I din’t care ’bout that no more. I said, if Prescients was like Meronym, yay, five thousand of
’em’d o’ been welcomed in the Valleys.
Duophysite darked, thinkin’ how few Prescients might be livin’ now. The boss o my tribe here
on Maui where I’m speakin to you from is a friend-some leader same as your Abbess. He’s
say-soed two war kayaks to cross the Maui Straits what’ll be at Ikat’s Finger come noon the
day after morrow.
I vowed him I’d get Meronym safe there by then.
Then I can thank you for helpin her in person. Duophysite plussed thered be space on them
kayaks if I wanted to ’scape off Big I with her.
That settled my mind. Thank you, I telled the stranded Prescient, but I got to stay an’ find my fam’ly
We stayed hid in that ruin one more night for my muscles to knit’n’my bruisin’ to heal.
Heartbuggahin’ it was not rushin’ back to the Valleys for battlin’ or reccyin’, but Meronym
seen the Kona horses’n’crossbowmen pourin’ t’ward the Valleys via Kuikuihaele an’ she
’ssured me, there’d not o’ been no dragged battlin’ for Nine Valleys yay it’d all o’ been over in
hours not days, nay
Bleaksome’n’haunted day it was. Meronym teached me how to use that spesh shinboney
shooter. We practiced on pineapples then giant burrs then acorns till my aim was sharp. I
sentried while Meronym sleeped, then she sentried while I sleeped some more. Soon our fire
was dirtyin’ twilight mist again an’ we dined on Kona rations o’ salt mutton’n’seaweed an’
lilikoi fruits what growed in that ruin. I filled the horse’s oat bag an’ petted him an’ named him
Wolt ’cos he was ugly as my cuz, then gloomed hurtsome, wond’rin’ who o’ my kin was still
livin’. True-be-telled, not knowin’ the worst is badder’n knowin’ it.
A flutterby-thinkin’ touched me, an’ I asked Meronym why a Shipwoman rode horses as good
as any Kona. She ’fessed most Pre-scients cudn’t ride no animal, but she’d lived with a tribe
called the Swannekke what lived way past Ank’ridge an’ way past Far Couver. The
Swannekke bred horses like Valleysmen bred goats, yay, an’ their littl’ uns could ride b’fore
they could walk, an’ she’d learnt durin’ her seasons with them. Meronym teached me lots ’bout
the tribes she’d lived ’mongst, but I ain’t got time for those yarns now, nay, it’s gettin’ late. We
speaked ’bout the ’morrow’s route to Ikat’s Finger, see, one way was to follow the Kohalas’
razorback over Nine Valleys, but ’nother way was to follow Waipio River down to Abel’s
Garrison first an’ spy what we’d spy. We din’t know see if the Kona’d slashed’n’burned then
emptied the Valleys like they’d done the Mookini or if they was aimin’ to conquer’n’settle our
dwellin’s an’ slave us in our own lands. Now I’d vowed to get Meronym to Ikat’s Finger
safe’n’sound an’ reccyin’ ’bout Kona horsemen weren’t safe nor sound, but Meronym saysoed we’d spy the Valleys first an’ so the ’morrow’s way was settled.
Dawn fogged waxy’n’silty It weren’t easy gettin’ the horse over the Kohala Ridge’n’thickets
to Waipio Spring, not knowin’ if a Kona platoon was waitin’ thru the walls o’ cane we was
noisesomely hackin’. Mostly we’d to walk’n’lead the beast, but we reached the spring fin’ly by
noon an’ tethered him in a hollow upgulch an’ creeped the mile to Abel’s ’long the spruce spur.
Fog turned ev’ry tree stump into a huddled Kona sentry, but still I was thanksome to Sonmi for
the camo. We spied over the peerin’ lip an’ looked down on the garrison. Grim viewin’, yay
Only Abel’s gates stood shut, see, the walls’n’outbuildin’s was all charred’n’busted. A naked
man was hanged off the gate bar, yay, by his ankles in the Kona way, maybe it were Abel an’
maybe it weren’t, but crows was ’ready minin’ his guts an’ a pair o’ ballsy dingos scavvin’
dropped slops.
Now as we watched, a thirty–forty-head roundup o’ slaved Val-leysmen was bein’ shunted out
to Kuikuihaele. I’ll mem’ry that sight till my dyin’ day an’ longer. Some was mulin’ carts o’
loot’n’gear. Kona shouts’n’say-soes ruckused an’ whips crackled. The fog was too swampy
for me to make out my tribesmen’s faces, but, oh, sorrysome was their figures dragglin’ out
t’ward Sloosha’s Crossin’. Ghosts. Livin’ ghosts. Watch the fate o the last Civ’lized tribe o the
Big I, thinked I, yay, the result of our school’ry’n’Icon’ry, jus’ slaved for Kona fields an
dwellin’s an stables an beds an holes in Leeward ground.
What could I do? Rush ’em? Some twenty Kona horsemen was convoyin’ ’em off the
Leeward. Even with Meronym’s shooter I could maybe take out five o’ the twenty sentries,
maybe more if I got lucky but then what? The Kona’d spiker ev’ry Valleysman to death at the first whisp o’ knucklyin’. This weren’t Zachry the Cowardy knuck-lyin’ Zachry the Brave,
nay, it was Zachry the Soosider knucklyin’ Zachry the S’viver, an’ I ain’t got no shame to say
which Zachry vic’tried. To Meronym I signaled we was retreatin’ back to the horse tho’ tears
was in my eyes.
Short-ass, get me a roasted taro. Mem’ryin’ that despair is hollowin’ me out.
Now backtrackin’ up to the Kohala grazin’ pastures, the mist slid b’low us an’ southly rose
Mauna Kea from that ocean o’ cloud, clear’n’close ’nuff to spit at so it seemed, so I did, yay I
spitted hard. My soul may be stoned an’ my luck may be rotted but I can still cuss a cuss. From
each o’ the Nine Folded Valleys black cobras o’ smoke was risin’ an’ ev’ry carrion
winger’n’legger on Big I was crawk-in’n’feastin’ in our Valleys that mornin’ I reck’ned. Up in
the pastures we finded goats scattered, some o’ mine, some from Kaima, but we din’t see not
one goatherd, nay. I milked some, an’ we drank the last free Valleysman’s goat milk. Thru
Vert’bry Pass we downed t’ward Thumb Rock, where Meronym’d sketched her map five
moons b’fore, yay, over the heathery turf what’d cupped Roses under me six moons b’fore.
Sun steamed the mist’n’dew away, an’ thru a fine-weaved rainbow I seen the school’ry was
razed, yay, jus’ a black shell now, the last books an’ the last clock. Down we rode to Elepaio
Stream, where I got off an’ Meronym helmeted up an’ loosely roped my hands so if we was
spied it’d look like she’d slaved a ’scaped run’way an’ maybe win us a lethal beat. Down the
track we walked this way to Cluny’s, what was the highest dwellin’ upgulch. Meronym
dismounted an’ gripped her shooter as we creeped hushly as mouses thru the buildin’s, but my
heart weren’t hushly nay. A big knuckly’d happened there an’ gear was crashed’n’busted, but
no bodies was lyin’ round, nay. We taked some fresh grinds for the journey ahead, I knowed
Clunyd not o’ minded. Leavin’ Cluny’s front gate I spied a cokeynut spikered on a stained pole
with flies buzzin’ what was wyrd’n’unnat’ral, so we peered closer an’ it weren’t no cokeynut,
nay, it was Macca Cluny’s head, yay with his pipe still poked in his mouth.
Such barb’ric buggahs are them painted Kona, bros. You trust one once you’re a dead man,
b’lief me. Macca’s head gived me furyin’ nervies as we trekked further down to Bailey’s
A pail o’ curdlin’ goat milk stood in the milk’ry an’ I cudn’t stop ’maginin’ Sussy bein’
dragged away from that upbusted milkin’ stool an’ what’d been done to her, oh, my
poor’n’sweet’n’dear sis. A possy o’ hoofs stamped the yard mud. Goats was all shooed away,
our chicklin’s thiefed. So hush. No loom clackin’, no Catkin singin’, no Jonas makin’ nothin’.
The stream an’ a laughin’ thrush in the eaves an’ nothin’ else. No horrorsome sight on the
gatepost, I thanked Sonmi for that much. Inside, eggs’n’apricocks was spilled from the
upturned table. Ev’ry room I was dreadin’ what I’d find but, nay, by the grace o’ Sonmi it
seemed my fam’ly’d not been slayed yet …
Guilt an’ sorrow whacked me.
Guilt ’cos I always s’vived an’ ’scaped despite my dirtsome’n’stony soul. Sorrow ’cos the
ruins o’ my busted old life was strewed here ’n’there’n’ev’rywhere. Jonas’s toys what Pa’d
whittled years ago. Ma’s loomwork hangin’ in the doorways, swayin’ in the last o’ summer’s
soft breathin’. Burnt fish an’ blissweed hanged in the air. Catkin’s writin’ work for school’ry
still lied on the table where she was workin’. Din’t know what to think or say or what. What
do I do? I asked my friend as I asked me. What do I do?
Meronym sat on a wood box Jonas’d made, what Ma’d called his first masterwork. A
bleaksome’n’dark choice to settle, Zachry, she replied. Stay in the Valleys till you’re slaved.
’Scape to Hilo an stay till the Kona attack an be killed or slaved. Live in backwilds as a hermit bandit till you’re catched. Cross the straits to Maui with me an’ prob’ly never return to Big I
no more. Yay, that was my all choices, no frettin’, but I cudn’t settle one, all I knowed was that
I din’t want to run away from Big I without vengeancin’ whatd happened here.
This ain’t the safest place to sit’n’think, Zachry, said Meronym, so ten-dersome that fin’ly my
tears oozed out.
Mountin’ the horse to leave back upgulch, I mem’ried my fam’ly’s icons in our shrine. Now, if
I left ’em there to be axed by n’by for firewood thered be nothin’ to proof the Baileys Dwellin’
kind ever existed. So back I ran alone to get ’em. Comin’ back down the passage, I heard
crock’ry fall off the pantry shelf. I freezed.
Slowsome I turned an’ looked.
A fat rat strutted there, stink-eyein’ me an’ twitchin’ its whisk’ry nose. Bet you’re sorryin you
din’t jus’ cut that rope on the wall o my ’closure now, Zachry, yay? All this woe’n’grief you
could o voided.
I din’t list’n to that liar’s liar. The Kona’d o’ attacked anyhow, yay it weren’t nothin’ to do with
me defyin’ that Dev’lish Buggah. I picked up a pot to hurl at Old Georgie, but when I taked
aim the fat rat’d dis’peared, yay, an’ from the empty room to my left came a breezy sighin’
from the bed where I din’t see b’fore. I should o’ jus’ rabbited, yay, I knowed it but I din’t, I
tippytoed in an’ seen a Kona sentry lyin’ there in a soft nest o’ blankies an’ skankin’ deep on
Mormon Valley blissweed. See, he’d been so sure us Valleysmen was all rolled over’n’slaved
that he’d blissed out, on duty
So here was the fearsome en’my. Nineteen–twenty maybe he was. A vein pulsed in his
Adam’s apple what was left white b’tween two lizardy tattoos. You found me, yay, so slit me,
whisped that throat. Blade me.
My second augurin’, you’ll be mem’ryin’ an’, yay, so was I. Enemy’s sleeping, let his throat
be not slit. This was the beat that augurin’d foreseen, no frettin’. I say-soed my hand’n’arm to
do it, but they was locked’n’springed somehow. I’d been in knucklies ’nuff who ain’t? but I’d
never killed no un b’fore. See, murderin’ was forbid-ded by Valleysmen law, yay, if you stole
another’s life no un’d barter nothin’ with you nor see you nor nothin’ ’cos your soul was so
poisoned you may give ’em a sickness. Anyhow I stood there, by my own bed, my blade
inches from that soft, pale throat.
That laughin’ thrush was yarnin’ fast’n’loud. Bird lilts sound like blades bein’ sharp’ned, I
cogged for the first time there’n’then. I knowed why I shudn’t kill this Kona. Itd not give the
Valleys back to the Valleysmen. Itd stony my cussed soul. If I’d been rebirthed a Kona in this
life, he could be me an’ I’d be killin’ myself. If Adam’d been, say, adopted an’ made Kona,
this’d be my brother I was killin’. Old Georgie wanted me to kill him. Weren’t these reasons
’nuff jus’ to leave him be an’ hushly creep away?
Nay, I answered my en’my an’ I stroked my blade thru his throat. Magicky ruby
welled’n’pumped an’ frothed on the fleece an’ puddled on the stone floor. I wiped my blade
clean on the dead un’s shirt. I knowed I’d be payin’ for it by’n’by but like I said a while back,
in our busted world the right thing ain’t always possible.
Goin’ out I bumped Meronym rushin’ in. Kona! she hissed. There weren’t no time to ’splain
what I’d done in there an’ why Hurryin’, I stuffed my fam’ly’s icons in the saddlebags, an’ she
hoicked me on the horse. Comin’ up the track from Aunt Bees’s was three–four horses
cloppin’. Oh, we speeded out o’ Bailey’s for the final time like Old Georgie was bitin’ our
asses. I heard men’s voices b’hind an’ glanced back an’ even saw their armor glintin’ thru the
fig orchards, but by Mercysome Sonmi, they din’t see us vanishin’. One beat later we heard a shrill conchin’s echo up the Valley, yay three blasts it was, an’ I knowed the Kona must o’
found that sentry I’d slayed an’ was sendin’ an alarm out, Valleysmen ain’t all slaved or
mass’kered. I knowed I’d be payin’ for ignorin’ the second augurin’ sooner’n I’d gambled,
yay an’ Meronym too.
But our luck din’t yet wilt. Other conchin’s answered the first, yay, but they was downgulch
an’ we galloped back thru Vert’bry Pass anxin’ but we wasn’t ambushed. One whoah narrow
escape it was, yay, one more beat at my dwellin’ an’ them Kona horsemen’d o’ seen an’ chased
us. Avoidin’ the open Kohala Ridge’n’pastures, we skirted the forest for camo, an’ only then
did I ’fess to Meronym what I’d done back to that sleepin’ sentry. I don’t know why it is, but
secrets jus’ rot you like teeth if you don’t yank ’em out. She just list’ned, yay an’ she din’t
judge me none.
I knowed a hid cave by Mauka Waterfall, an’ to here it was I took us for what’d be Meronym’s
final night on Big Isle if ev’rythin’ worked as planned. I’d hoped Wolt or Kobbery or ’nother
goatherd may o’ ’scaped an’ be hidin’ there but, nay, it was empty, jus’ some blankies what we
goatherds stashed for sleepin’. The trade wind was giddyuppin’, an’ I feared for the kayakers
who’d be settin’ out from Maui at dawn, but it weren’t so chillsome so I din’t risk no fire, not
so near the en’my, nay I bathed my wounds in the pool an’ Meronyn bathed an’ we ate the
grinds I’d got from Cluny’s an’ fig loaf what I grabbed from my own dwellin’ when I’d gone
back for the icons.
I cudn’t stop mem’ryin’n’yarnin’ while we ate, nay, ’bout my fam’ly an’ Pa’n’Adam too, it
was like if they lived in words they cudn’t die in body. I knowed I’d miss Meronym diresome
when she was gone, see I din’t have no other bro on Big I who weren’t ’ready slaved. Lady
Moon rose an’ gazed o’er my busted’n’beautsome Valleys with silv’ry’n’sorryin’ eyes, an’ the
dingos mourned for the died uns. I wondered where’d my tribesmen’s souls be reborned now
Valleyswomen’d not be bearin’ babbits here. I wished Abbess was there to teach me, ’cos I
cudn’t say an’ nor could Meronym. We Pre-scients, she answered, after a beat, b’lief when you
die you die an there ain’t no comin back.
But what ’bout your soul? I asked.
Prescients don’t b’lief souls exist.
But ain’t dyin’ terrorsome cold if there ain’t nothin’ after?
Yay—she sort o’ laughed but not smilin’, nay—our truth is terror-some cold.
Jus’ that once I sorried for her. Souls cross the skies o’ time, Abbess’d say, like clouds
crossin’ skies o’ the world. Sonmi’s the east’n’west, Sonmi’s the map an’ the edges o’ the map
an’ b’yonder the edges. The stars was lit, an’ I sentried first, but I knowed Meronym weren’t
sleepin’, nay, she was thinkin’n’tossin’ under her blanky till she gived up an’ sat by me
watchin’ the moonlighted waterfall. Questions was mozziein’ me plaguesome. The fires o’
Valleysmen an’ Prescients both are snuffed tonight, I speaked, so don’t that proof savages are
stronger’n Civ’lized people?
It ain’t savages what are stronger’n Civ’lizeds, Meronym reck’ned, it’s big numbers what’re
stronger’n small numbers. Smart gived us a plus for many years, like my shooter gived me a
plus back at Slopin Pond, but with nuff hands’n’minds that plus’ll be zeroed one day.
So is it better to be savage’n to be Civ’lized?
What’s the naked meanin b’hind them two words?
Savages ain’t got no laws, I said, but Civ’lizeds got laws.
Deeper’n that it’s this. The savage sat’fies his needs now. He’s hungry, he’ll eat. He’s angry,
he’ll knuckly He’s swellin, he’ll shoot up a woman. His master is his will, an if his will saysoes “Kill” he’ll kill. Like fangy animals.Yay that was the Kona.
Now the Civ’lized got the same needs too, but he sees further. He’ll eat half his food now, yay,
but plant half so he won’t go hungry morrow. He’s angry, he’ll stop’n think why so he won’t
get angry next time. He’s swellin, well, he’s got sisses an daughters what need respectin so
he’ll respect his bros sisses an daughters. His will is his slave, an if his will say-soes,
“Don’t!” he won’t, nay.
So, I asked ’gain, is it better to be savage’n to be Civ’lized?
List’n, savages an Civ’lizeds ain’t divvied by tribes or b’liefs or mountain ranges, nay, ev’ry
human is both, yay. Old Uns’d got the Smart o gods but the savagery o jackals an that’s what
tripped the Fall. Some savages what I knowed got a beautsome Civ’lized heart beatin in their
ribs. Maybe some Kona. Not nuff to say-so their hole tribe, but who knows one day? One day.
“One day” was only a flea o’ hope for us.
Yay, I mem’ry Meronym sayin’, but fleas ain’t easy to rid.
Lady Moon lit a whoahsome wyrd birthmark jus’ b’low my friend’s shoulder blade as she
sleeped fin’ly. A sort o’ tiny hand mark it were, yay, a head o’ six streaks strandin’ off, pale
’gainst her dark skin, an’ I curioed why I’d never seen it b’fore. I covered it over with the
blanky so she din’t catch cold.
Now Mauka Stream falled snaky n’goshin’ down dark Mauka Valley, yay it watered only
five–six dwellin’s in the hole valley ’cos it weren’t no friendsome’n’summery place, nay No
Mauka dwellin’ did goatin’, so the track was strangled by creepers’n’thornbushes what’d
whelk your eye out if you din’t watch close, an’ hard goin’ it was for the horse. I got clawed
fierce after a quart’ mile even shelt’rin’ b’hind Meronym. The last dwellin’ upvalley an’ the
first we comed to was Saint-Sonmi’s Dwellin’, whose chief was a one-eye named Silvestri
who farmed taro’n’oats. The yibber reck’ned Silvestri was too fond o’ his many daughters’n
was nat’ral an’ skank-mouthed him for not payin’ no fairshare to Commons. Laundry was
scattered round the yard an’ the daughters’d been taken, but Silvestri’d not gone nowhere, his
bladed head was up on the pole watchin’ us as we rided up. Some time he’d been there, see,
he’d gotten maggoty an’ a fat rat’d scamped up the pole an’d eaten thru one eyeball as we rided
up. Yay, the whiskery devil twitched his sharp nose at me. Howzit, Zachry, don’t you reck’n
Silvestri looks handsomer now’n b’fore? But I din’t pay him no mind. A cocklydoo ’rupted
from the chimney pot an’ nearly shocked me off the horse, see, I thinked it was an ambush yell.
Now we’d a choice o’ sorts, to farewell the horse an’ spider up the crumbly ridge over to
Pololu Valley, or to follow the Mauka Trail down to the shore an’ risk runnin’ into stray Kona
moppin’ up their attackin’. Dwindlin’ time choosed for us to stay on the horse, see, we’d to get
to Ikat’s Finger by noon what was still ten miles far from Silvestri’s. We missed Blue Cole
Dwellin’ an’ Last Trout too, see, we wasn’t reccyin’ no more. A tide o’ rain skirted us
downval-ley from the Kohalas, but we got to the shore without no ambush tho’ we seen fresh
Kona prints b’neath the knife-finger palms. The ocean was no pond that day, nay, but nor so
hilly a craft’ly oared kayak’d overtoss. A Kona conch churned in the near-far an’ vibed me
uneasy. I heard my name in its churnin’. The air was drummed tight, an’ I’d ignored my
second augurin’, I’d knowed I’d be payin’ for that life I taked what weren’t ne’ssary to take.
Where the rucky beach rocked up into Medusa Cliffs we had to wind inland thru banana
groves to the Pololu Track, what leaded out o’ the northliest valley into No Un’s Land an’
fin’ly Ikat’s Finger. The track squeezed thru two fat black rocks, an’ we heard a whistlin’ what was more human’n bird. Meronym reached in her cloak, but b’fore she’d got the shinboney
two sharky Kona sentries’d leapt down both sides on both rocks. That was four cock’n’primed
crossbows aimed right at our heads from inches. Thru rubbery trees I spied a hole dammit
Kona platoon! A dozen horsemen or more was sittin’ round a tentment, an’ I knowed we was
finished so near the end an’ all.
Pass code, horseman? barked one sentry
What’s this, soldier, an why? Another jiggered his crossbow at my nips. A Valleysboy’s ass
smearin a good Kona horse? Who’s your gen’ral, horseman?
I was fearin’ diresome, an’ I knowed I looked it.
Meronym did an eerie’n’angry yarlin’ growl an’ looked thru her helmet at the four, then
’rupted a shout out so blastsome, birds skimmed off krawlin’ an’ her tongue-slant was buried
A desp’rate an’ freakbirthed plan, yay
Meronym’s bluff vic’tried jus’ one beat, an’ one beat was nearly ’nuff Two sentries paled an’
lowered their crossbows an’ jumped down in our path. Two more dis’peared the back way.
Ksss! Ksss! Them two Kona b’fore us din’t get up no more, Meronym sudden-wise heeldigged, an’ our horse whinnied’n’reared’n’bolted’n’my balance was busted. Sonmi’s hand
stayed me on the saddle, yay, ’cos if hers din’t whose did? Shouts an’ Stops! an’ conches
ruckused b’hind us, an’ the horse galloped an’ a fisssssssss-kwanggggggggg as the first
crossbolt bedded into a bough I ducked under, then a crackle o’ pain flamed in my left calf jus’
here an’ I got that sick’n’calm shock you get when your body knows sumthin’s way too
busted for an easy mendin’. Look, I’ll roll my trousers an’ you can see the scar where the
crossbolt tip bedded … yay it hurt as much as it looks it hurt an’ more.
We was gallopin’ down Pololu Track now over knotty’n’rooty ground, faster’n surfin’ inside a
roller an’ as hard to stay balanced, an’ there was nothin’ I could do ’bout that seizin’ agonyin’
’cept grip Meronym’s waist tighter’n’tighter an’ try’n ride the horse’s rhythmin’ with my right
leg or I’d be tossed right off, yay, an’ there’d not be no time to mount me on again b’fore the
Kona an’ their bone-drillin’ crossbolts catched us up.
The track leaded thru the scalp-brushin’ tunnel o’ trees to the Old Uns’ bridge over the Pololu
River’s sea mouth, what marked the Valley’s northly bound’ry. Now we was jus’ a hun’erd
paces shy o’ this bridge when the sun unclouded an’ I looked ahead an’ its worn plankin’
burned bright’n’gold, an’ its rusted struts was shaded bronze. My pain shaked loose a mem’ry
yay, my third augurin’: Bronze is burnin, let that bridge be not crossed. I cudn’t ’splain to
Meronym on a gallopin’ horse, so I jus’ yelled in her ear, I’m hit!
She pulled up the horse a yard shy o’ the bridge. Where?
My left calf, I telled her.
Meronym looked back anxin’ diresome. Weren’t no sign of our chasers yet, so she swung
down to the ground an’ peered at the pain. She touched my wound an’ I groaned. Right now
the shaft’s plug-gin the wound, yay, we got to get to friendsome ground first then I’ll—
Drummin’ o’ vengesome hoofs was nearin’ up Pololu Track.
I telled her then, we cudn’t cross that bridge. What? She twisted to fix my eyes. Zachry, are
you sayin that bridge ain’t safe?
Now so far’s I knowed the bridge was strong ’nuff see, I often taked Jonas gull-eggin’ northly
when he was littler, an’ McAulyff o’ Last Trout went seal-huntin’ over it with his handcart most moons, but an’ Icon’ry dreamin’ din’t lie, nay, not never, an’ Abbess’d made me mem’ry
my augurin’s for a spesh day an’ that day was now. I’m sayin, I said, Sonmi telled me not
cross to it.
Fear made Meronym sarky see, she was jus’ human like you’n’me. An did Sonmi know we got
a furyin swarm o Kona on our tail?
Pololu River is wide at its sea mouth, I teached her, so it ain’t whooshin’ deep nor its current
so sinewy. The track forked b’fore the bridge right where we was, yay an’ it leaded down jus’
a stretch away where we could ford the river. The hoofs drummed closer’n’closer, an’ soon the
Kona’d be seein’ us.
Well, Meronym b’liefed my loonsome say-so, I cudn’t say why but she did, an’ soon the
bright’n’cold Pololu was up numbin’ my wound but the horse was slippin’ diresome on the
shingly riverbed. Padddooom padddooom, three Kona galloped onto the bridge an’ seen us,
an’ the air round us quavered’n’slit with one crossbolt, two, the third hit the water an’ sprayed
us. Three new Kona catched up the first three an’ din’t stop to shoot, nay, they was
padddooomin’ ’cross Pololu Bridge to cut us off on the far bank. Desp’rate I was, cussin’
myself, Yay, we’re died lardbirds no frettin, I was thinkin’.
Now you know when you adze down a tree for lumber? The noise after the last stroke, o’
fibers shriekin’ an’ the hole trunk groanin’ slowsome as it falls? That’s what I heard. See one
or two Valleysmen crossin’ hushly with a handcart was one thing, but a gallopin’ horse was
another, an’ six–seven–eight gallopin’ Kona armored warhorses was too much. That bridge
busted like it was made o’ spit’n’straw, yay, struts snapped an’ plankin’ split an’ worn cables
It weren’t no little drop, nay It was fifteen men high or more was Pololu Bridge. Down fell the
horses, spinnin’ belly-up, the riders catched in their stirrups an’ all, an’ like I said the Pololu
River weren’t a safe deep pool what’d catch ’em an’ buoy ’em up, nay, it was a crowded river
o’ fat tabley’n’pointy rocks what busted their falls bad, diresome bad. None o’ the Kona got
up, nay jus’ two–three sorrysome horses lay writhin’n’kickin’, but it weren’t no time for
animal doctorin’, nay
Well, my yarn’s nearly done’n’telled now. Meronym’n’me forded the far side, an’ I prayed my
thanks to Sonmi tho’ there weren’t no Valleys Civ’lize to save no more, she’d saved my skin
one last time. I s’pose the rest o’ the Kona platoon was too busy with their died’n’drowned to
come trackin’ us two, yay We crossed the Lorn-some Dunes an’ fin’ly reached Ikat’s Finger
with no ax’dents. No kayaks was waitin’ yet, but we dismounted an’ Meronym used her Smart
on that crossbolt-mauled calf o’ mine. When she pulled the bolt out, the pain traveled up my
body an’ hooded my senses so true-be-telled I din’t see the Maui kayaks arrivin’ with
Duophysite. Now my friend had a choice to settle, yay, see, either she loaded me in that kayak
or left me on Big Isle not able to walk nor nothin’ jus’ a short ride off from Kona ground.
Well, here I am yarnin’ to you, so you know what Meronym settled, an’ times are I regret her
choosin’, yay, an’ times are I don’t. The chanty o’ my new tribe’s rowers waked me halfway
’cross the Straits. Meronym was changin’ my bleeded bindin’, she’d used some Smart
med’sun to numb its pain a hole lot.
I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o’ that kayak. Souls cross ages like clouds cross
skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ’morrow? Only Sonmi
the east an’ the west an’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.
Duophysite saw my eyes was open an’ pointed me Big Isle, purple in the sou’eastly blue, an’
Mauna Kea hidin’ its head like a shy bride.
Yay, my Hole World an’ hole life was shrinked ’nuff to fit in the O o’ my finger’n’thumb.
Zachry my old pa was a wyrd buggah, I won’t naysay it now he’s died. Oh, most o’ Pa’s
yarnin’s was jus’ musey duck fartin’ an’ in his loonsome old age he even b’liefed Meronym
the Prescient was his presh b’loved Sonmi, yay he ’sisted it, he said he knowed it all by
birthmarks an’ comets’n’all.
Do I b’lief his yarn ’bout the Kona an’ his fleein’ from Big I? Most yarnin’s got a bit o’ true,
some yarnin’s got some true, an’ a few yarnin’s got a lot o’ true. The stuff ’bout Meronym the
Prescient was mostly true, I reck’n. See, after Pa died my sis’n’me sivvied his gear, an’ I
finded his silv’ry egg what he named orison in his yarns. Like Pa yarned, if you warm the egg
in your hands, a beautsome ghost-girl appears in the air an’ speaks in an Old-Un tongue what
no un alive und’stands nor never will, nay It ain’t Smart you can use ’cos it don’t kill Kona
pirates nor fill empty guts, but some dusks my kin’n’bros’ll wake up the ghost-girl jus’ to
watch her hov’rin’n’shimm’rin’. She’s beautsome, and she ’mazes the littl’ uns an’ her
murmin’s babbybie our babbits.
Sit down a beat or two.
Hold out your hands.
Then who was Hae-Joo Im, if he was not xactly who he said he was?
I surprised myself by answering that question: Union.
Hae-Joo said, “That honor is mine to bear, yes.”
Xi-Li, the student, was xtremely agitated.
Hae-Joo told me I could trust him or be dead in a matter of minutes.
I nodded assent: I would trust him.But he had already lied to you about his ID—why believe him this time? How did you know for
sure he wasn’t abducting you?
I did not know: I was not sure. My decision was based on character. I could only hope time
would prove it well founded. We abandoned the ancient Cavendish to his fate and fled to our
own: down corridors, thru fire doors, avoiding lites and people where possible. Hae-Joo
carried me down flites of stairs: we could not wait for me to navigate them unaided.
In a subbasement Mr. Chang waited in a plain ford. There was no time for greetings. The
vehicle screamed into life and accelerated thru tunnels and empty ford parks. Mr. Chang
glanced at his sony reporting that the slipway still appeared to be accessible. Hae-Joo ordered
him to proceed there, then got a flickknife from his pouch and sliced off the tip of his left index,
gouged, and xtracted a tiny metallic egg. He threw it out of the window and ordered me to
discard my Soulring similarly. Xi-Li also xtracted his Soul.
Unionmen really cut out their own eternal Souls? I always thought it was an urban myth …
How else can a resistance movement elude Unanimity? They would risk detection whenever
they passed a traffic lite otherwise. The ford rounded a ramp when a blizzard of phosphate fire
shot in the windows; glass filled the air, metal panels groaned; the ford scraped along walls,
jarring to an abrupt stop.
From my crouch I heard coltfire.
The ford wailed and sped into motion. A body thumped off the vehicle.
A human wailing, of unendurable pain, rose from the front seat: Hae-Joo held a handcolt
against Xi-Li’s head and fired.
What? His own man? Why?
Unanimity dumdums combine kalodoxalyn and stimulin. Kalo-doxalyn is a poison that fries
the victim in agony, so his screams give his position away; stimulin prevents him from losing
consciousness. Xi-Li slumped over into a fetal position. Hae-Joo Im the cheerful postgrad I
had known was gone, so thoroly that I wondered now if he had ever really been there. Rain
and wind blew in. Mr. Chang drove at hi speed down a garbage alley barely wider than the
ford, ripping out drainpipes. He slowed as he joined the campus perimeter road. Ahead were
red-and-blue flashes at the campus gates. A hovering aero thrashed the trees, sweeping the
traffic with a searchlite; loudspeakers gave incoherent orders to who knew whom. Mr. Chang
warned us to brace, killed the engine, and swerved off the road. The ford bucked; its roof
whacked my head; somehow Hae-Joo wedged me under him. The ford gathered speed, weight,
and weightlessness. The final drop shook free an earlier memory of blackness, inertia, gravity
of being trapped in another ford. Where was it? Who was it?
Bamboo splintered, metal tore, my ribs slammed the floor.
Silence, finally. The ford was dead. Next, I heard insect songs, rain on leaves, followed by
urgent whispers drawing near. I was crushed under Hae-Joo; he stirred, groaning. I was
bruised but unbroken. Needlelite hurt my eyes. An outside voice hissed, “Commander Im?”
Mr. Chang responded first: “Get this door open.” Hands lifted us out. Xi-Li’s body was left
where it lay. I glimpsed a succession of anxious faces, resolute faces, faces that rarely slept: a
company of Unionmen. I was carried into a concrete shack and lowered down a manhole.
“Don’t worry,” Hae-Joo told me, “I’m right here.” My hands gripped rusty rungs; my knees
scraped along a short tunnel. More arms lifted me into a mechanic’s shop, then lowered me into
a smart two-seater xec ford. I heard more orders issued, then Hae-Joo swung in and started the
engine. Mr. Chang had disappeared once again. Ahead, garage doors jerked open. Next, I
remember gentle rain, suburb back-lanes, then a jammed thruway The fords around us held
lonely commuters, couples on dates, small families, some placid, some rowdy. When Hae-Joo spoke, finally, his voice was cold. “If a dumdum ever scratches me, euthanaze me as quickly as
I did Xi-Li.” I had no response. “You must have a hundred questions, Sonmi. I beg your
patience a little longer—if we are captured now, believe me, the less you know the better. We
have a busy nite ahead of us. First, we’re paying a visit to Huamdonggil.” Do you know that
zone of the conurb, Archivist?
My ministry would xpel me if I were ever Eyed in that untermensch slum. But please describe it
for my orison.
Huamdonggil is a noxious maze of low, crooked ramshacks, flophouses, pawnshops, drug
bars, and comfort hives, covering perhaps five square miles southeast of Old Seoul Transit
Station. Its streets are too narrow for fords to enter; its alleys reek of waste and sewage.
ShitCorp goes nowhere near that quarter. Hae-Joo left the ford in a lockup and warned me to
keep my head hooded: fabricants stolen here end up in brothels, made serviceable after clumsy
surgery. Purebloods slumped in doorways, skin enflamed by prolonged xposure to the city’s
scalding rain. One boy lapped water from a puddle on his hands and knees. “Migrants with
enceph or leadlung,” Hae-Joo told me. “Hospitals drain their Souls until they’ve got only
enough dollars for a euthanasia jab— or a ride to Huamdonggil. These poor bastards made the
wrong choice.”
I could not understand why migrants fled Production Zones for such a squalid fate. Hae-Joo
listed malaria, flooding, drought, rogue crop genomes, parasites, encroaching deadlands, and a
natural desire to better the lives of their children. Papa Song Corp, he assured me, seems
humane if compared to factories these migrants ran away from. Traffickers promise it rains
dollars in the Twelve Cities, and migrants yearn to believe it; the truth never filters back, for
traffickers operate only one way. Hae-Joo steered me away from a meowing two-headed rat.
“They bite.”
I asked why the Juche tolerates this in its second capital.
Every conurb, my guide answered, has a chemical toilet where the city’s unwanted human
waste disintegrates quietly, but not quite invisibly. It motivates the downstrata: “Work, spend,
work,” say slums like Huamdonggil, “or you, too, will end your life here.” Moreover,
entrepreneurs take advantage of the legal vaccuum to erect ghoulish pleasurezones for upstrata
bored with more respectable quarters. Huamdonggil can thus pay its way in taxes and bribes.
MediCorp opens a weekly clinic for dying untermensch to xchange any healthy body parts they
may have for a sac of eu-thanaze. OrganiCorp has a lucrative contract with the city to send in a
daily platoon of immune-genomed fabricants, similar to disas-termen, to mop up the dead
before the flies hatch. Hae-Joo then told me to stay silent; we had reached our destination.
Which was where xactly?
Xactly I cannot say: Huamdonggil is not gridnumbered or charted. It was an overhanging mahjongg house with a high lintel to keep the drainwater out, but I doubt I could identify the
building again. Hae-Joo knocked on a reinforced door; an eyehole blinked, bolts unclacked,
and a doorman opened up. The doorman’s bodyarmor was stained dark and his iron bar lethal
looking; he grunted at us to wait for Ma Arak Na. I wondered if he wore a fabricant’s collar
under his neckplate.
A smoky corridor bent out of view, walled with paper screens. I heard mah-jongg tiles, smelled
feet, watched xotically clad pure-blood servers carry trays of drinks. Their hassled xpressions
morphed to girly delite every time they slid open a paper screen. I copied Hae-Joo’s xample
and removed my nikes, dirtied by the Huamdonggil alleyways.
“Well, you wouldn’t be here if the news wasn’t bad.” The speaker addressed us from the ceiling hatch; whether her webbed lips, crescent eyes, and thorny voice were the results of
genoming or mutation, I could not guess. Her gem-warted fingers gripped the hatch ridge.
Hae-Joo addressed Ma Arak Na as Madam. A cell had turned cancerous, he updated her,
Mephi was under arrest, Xi-Li was dumdummed and killed, so yes, the news could hardly be
Ma Arak Na’s double tongue uncurled and curled once or twice; she asked how far the cancer
had spread. The Unionman replied he was here to answer that very question. The madam of the
establishment told us to proceed to the parlor without delay
The parlor?
A gaproom behind a roaring kitchen and a false wall, lit by a weak solar. A cup of ruby lime
waited on the rim of a cast-iron brazier that surely predated the building if not the city We sat
on well-worn floor cushions. Hae-Joo sipped the drink and told me to un-hood. The planked
ceiling thumped and creaked, a hatch flipped open, and Ma Arak Na’s face appeared. She
xpressed no surprise at seeing me, a Sonmi. Next, the ancient brazier hummed with xtremely
modern circuitry. A sphere of dark sheen and refracted silence xpanded until it filled the parlor,
aquifying the kitchen noises. Lastly, a piebald light above the brazier morphed into a carp.
A carp?
A carp, as in the fish. A numinous, pearl-and-tangerine, fungus-blotted, mandarin-whiskered,
half-meter-long carp. One lazy slap of its tail propelled the fish toward me. Roots of water lilies
parted as it moved. Its ancient eyes read mine; its lateral fins rippled. The carp sank a few
centimeters to read my collar, and I heard my name spoken by an old man. Hae-Joo was barely
visible through the murky underwater air.
“I am sorely thankful to see you alive”—the 3-D’s transceived voice was cultured but muffled
and splintered—“and truly honored to meet you. I am An-Kor Apis of Union.” The fish
apologized for the visual dramatics; camouflage was necessary since Unanimity was combing
all transmissions.
I responded that I understood.
An-Kor Apis promised I should understand much more very soon and swung toward HaeJoo. “Commander Im.”
Hae-Joo bowed, reporting that he had euthanazed Xi-Li.
The senior Unionman said he already knew, that no anesthetic xisted for Hae-Joo’s pain; but
that Unanimity had killed Xi-Li, and Hae-Joo had merely spared his brother an ignoble death in
a prison cube. Apis then xhorted Hae-Joo to ensure Xi-Li’s sacrifice was not in vain. A short
briefing followed: six cells had been compromised and twelve more firebreaked. The “good
news” was that Boardman Mephi had managed to suicide before neuro-torture could began.
An-Kor Apis then ordered my companion to xit me from Seoul thru West Gate One, to
proceed to the northern camp in a convoy, and to reflect well upon what had been advised.
The carp circled, vanishing into the parlor wall before reappearing thru my chest. “You have
chosen your friends wisely, Sonmi. Together, we may change corpocratic civilization out of all
recognition.” He promised we would meet again soon. The sphere then shrank back into the
brazier as the parlor restored itself. The carp became a streak of lite, a dot, finally, nothing at all.
How was Hae-Joo planning to pass thru a city xit without Souls?
The Soul implanter was ushered in just minutes later. A slite, anonymous-looking man, he
xamined Hae-Joo’s torn finger with professional disdain. He tweezered the tiny egg from his
gelpack, bedded it into fresh tissue, and sprayed cutane over the top. That such an insignificantlooking dot can confer all the rights of con-sumerdom on its bearers yet condemn the rest of
corpocracy to servitude seemed, and seems still, a bizarre obscenity to me. “Your name is Ok-Kyun Pyo,” the implanter told Hae-Joo, adding that any sony would download his fictional
The implanter turned to me and produced a pair of laser pliers. They would cut steel but not
even scratch living tissue, he assured me. First he removed my collar: I heard a click, felt a
tickling as it pulled away, then it was in my hands. That felt odd: as if you were to hold your
own umbilical cord, Archivist. “Now for the subcutaneous bar code.” He swabbed anesthetic
over my throat, warning me this would hurt, but his tool’s damper would stop the bar code
from xploding on contact with air.
“Ingenious.” Hae-Joo peered.
“Of course it’s ingenious,” retorted the implanter. “I designed it myself. Sickening thing is, I
can’t patent it.” He had Hae-Joo stand ready with a cloth; a jagged pain tore my throat. As HaeJoo stanched the bleeding, the implanter showed me the old identity of Sonmi~451, a microchip
in a pair of tweezers. He would dispose of it himself, he promised, carefully. He sprayed
healant over my wound and applied a skin-tone dressing. “And now,” he continued, “a crime
so novel it doesn’t even have a name. The Souling of a fab-ricant. How is my genius
rewarded? A fanfare? A nobel and a university sinecure?”
“A paragraph in the history of the struggle against corpocracy,” said Hae-Joo.
“Wow, thanks, brother,” replied the implanter. “A whole paragraph.” This surgery was swift
also. The man laid my right palm on a cloth, sprayed coag and anesthetic onto my index
fingerpad, made an incision less than a centimeter, inserted a Soul, and applied cu-tane. This
time his cynicism betrayed a core of sincerity “May your Soul bring you fortune in your
promised land, Sister Yun-Ah Yoo.” I thanked him. I had all but forgotten Ma Arak Na
watching from her ceiling hatch, but now she spoke. “Sister Yoo best get a new face for her
new Soul, or some awkward questions’ll crop up between here and the promised land.”
So I suppose your next destination was the facescaper?
It was. The doorman escorted us as far as Toegyero Street, Huam-donggil’s boundary with its
nearest semirespectable neighborhood. We metroed to a once fashionable galleria in Shinch’on
and escala-tored up thru chiming chandeliers. They took us to a warrenlike precinct on canopy
level, frequented only by consumers quite sure of their destination. Twists and turns were lined
with discreet entrances and cryptic nameplates; down a dead end, a tiger lily bloomed in a niche
by a plain door. “Don’t speak,” Hae-Joo warned me, “this woman’s prickles need cosseting.”
He rang the bell.
The tiger lily striped brite; it asked us what we wanted.
Hae-Joo said we had an appointment with Madam Ovid.
The flower flexed to peer at us and told us to wait.
The door slid open. “I am Madam Ovid,” announced a bone-white pureblood. Dewdrugs had
frozen her harsh beauty in its mid-twenties, long ago; her voice was a buzz saw. “You have no
appointment, whoever you are. This is an upstrata establishment. My biocosmeticians accept
only recommendations. Try a ‘maskgrafter’ on one of the lower floors.”
The door shut in our faces.
Hae-Joo cleared his throat and spoke into the tiger lily “Kindly inform the estimable Madam
Ovid that Lady Heem-Young sends her earnest, cordial regards.”
A pause ensued. The tiger lily blushed and asked if we had traveled far.
Hae-Joo completed the code. “Travel far enough, you meet yourself.”
The door opened, but Madam Ovid’s disdain remained. “Who can argue with Lady HeemYoung?” She ordered us to follow, no dawdling. After a minute of curtained corridors tiled
with lite-and-sound absorbers, a silent male assistant joined us from thin air, and a door opened into a briter studio. Our voices returned. Tools of the facescaper’s trade gleamed in the sterile
solar. Madam Ovid asked me to unhood. Like Madam Ma Arak Na, she did not evince
surprise; I doubt a lady of her stratum had ever set foot in a Papa Song dinery Madam Ovid
asked how long the treatment was to last. When Hae-Joo told her we had to leave in ninety
minutes, our hostess lost her needle-sharp sangfroid. “Why not do the job yourself with gum
and lipstick? Does Lady Heem-Young take Tiger Lily for a discount troweler’s with beforeand-after kodaks in the window?”
Hae-Joo hastened to xplain we were not xpecting the full morph, only cosmetic adapts to fool
an Eye or a casual glance. He admitted ninety minutes was a ludicrously short time, hence Lady
Heem-Young needed the best of the best. The proud facescaper saw his flattery but was not
immune. “It is true,” she boasted, “that nobody, nobody, sees the face within the face as I do.”
Madam Ovid angled my jaw, saying she could alter my skin, color, hair, lids, and brows.
“Eyes we must dye a pureblood color.” Dimples could be punched in, and my cheekbones
muted. She promised to make the best of our eighty-nine precious minutes.
So what happened to Madam Ovid’s artistry? You look like a Sonmi fresh from the wombtank.
Unanimity refaced me for my peaktime courtroom appearances. A star actress must look the
part. But I assure you, when I xited the Tiger Lily, buzzing with face-ache, not even Seer Rhee
would have known me. My ivory irises were hazeled, my eyes lengthened, my follicles
ebonized. Consult the kodaks taken at my arrest if you are curious.
Madam Ovid did not say good-bye. Outside, a golden boy with a red balloon waited by the
escalator. We followed him to a busy ford park below the galleria. The boy had disappeared,
but the balloon was strung on the wiper of a cross-country vehicle. This we drove down
Thruway One for the East Gate One.
East Gate One? The Union leader—Apis—had ordered you west.
Yes, but the leader had also suffixed his orders with “reflect well upon what had been
advised,” meaning “invert these orders.” Thus, west meant east, north meant south, “travel in a
convoy” meant “travel alone.”
That’s a dangerously simple crypto, it seems to me.
Meticulous brains will overlook the simple. As we sped along the thruway, I asked my
companion if Hae-Joo Im was a real name or false. The Unionman responded that no names
were real for individuals of his calling. The xitway downcurved to the tollgates, and we slowed
to a crawl; ahead, each driver in line reached thru the ford window to Eye his Soul. Enforcers
were stopping fords for random questioning, worryingly for us. “One in thirty approx,” HaeJoo muttered, “pretty long odds.” Our turn at the scanner came. Hae-Joo placed his index on
the Eye; a shrill alarm sounded, and the barrier shot down. Fords around us prevented any
hope of escape. Hae-Joo hissed at me: “Keep smiling, act vapid!”
An enforcer strode up, jerking his thumb. “Out.”
Hae-Joo obeyed, grinning boyishly.
The enforcer demanded a name and destination.
“Oh, uh, Ok-Kyun Pyo.” Even Hae-Joo’s voice had changed. “Officer. We’re, uh, driving to a
motel in an outer conurb.” Hae-Joo glanced around and did a hand gesture whose lewd
meaning I had learned from Boom-Sook and his friends. How far was this motel, the enforcer
demanded. Didn’t he know it was already past hour twenty-three?
“Motel BangBangYou’reDead, in Yoju.” Hae-Joo adopted an idiotic, conspiratorial tone. “Snug place, reasonable rates, they’d probably let an enforcer sample the facilities gratis. Only
thirty minutes in the fast lane, eastbound xit ten.” He promised we could be there before curfew
with time to spare.
“What happened to your index finger?”
“Oh, is that why the Eye blinked?” Hae-Joo did a stage groan and rambled; he had cut it
destoning a natural avocado at his aunt’s house; blood everywhere, only stoneless avocados for
him from now on, nature was more trouble than it was worth.
The enforcer peered into the ford and ordered me to unhood.
I hoped my fear would come over as coyness.
He asked if my boyfriend talked this much all the time.
I nodded, shyly
Was that why I never spoke?
“Yes, sir,” I said, sure he would recognize me as a Sonmi, “yes, Officer.”
The enforcer told Hae-Joo girls are obedient and demure until they have you married, then they
start yacking and never shut up. “Get going,” he said.
Where did you really curfew that nite? Not a seedy motel?
No. We xited the overway at xit two, then forked onto an unlit country lane. A dike of thorned
pines hid an industrial field of a hundred-plus units. So close to curfew, our ford was the only
vehicle in motion. We parked and crossed a windy forecourt to a concrete bloc signed HYDRA
NURSERY CORP. Hae-Joo’s Soul blinked the rollerdoor open.
Inside was not a horticulture unit but a redlit ark, roofing giant tanks. The air was
uncomfortably warm and moist. The tangled, stringy broth I saw through the tanks’ viewing
windows concealed their contents, for a moment. Then individual limbs and hands came into
focus, nascent, identical faces.
Yes. We were in a genomics unit. I watched the clusters of embryo fabricants suspended in
uterine gel; I was witnessing my own origin, remember. Some slept, some sucked thumbs,
some scurried a hand or foot as if digging or running. I asked Hae-Joo, had I been cultivated in
that place? Hae-Joo said no, Papa Song’s nursery in Kwangju is five times bigger. The
embryos I was looking at had been designed to labor in uranium tunnels under the Yellow Sea.
Their saucerlike eyes were genomed for darkness. In fact, they go insane if xposed to brite
unfiltered daylite.
The heat soon had Hae-Joo shiny with sweat. “You must need Soap, Sonmi. Our penthouse is
this way”
A penthouse? In a fabricant nursery?
The Unionman was fond of irony. Our “penthouse” was a nite-man’s sparse room, a concretewalled space containing only a water shower, a single cot, a desk, a stack of chairs, a choked
aircon, and a broken ping-pong table. Fat pipes throbbed hot across the ceiling. A sonypanel
monitored the wombtanks, and a window overlooked the nursery. Hae-Joo suggested I take a
shower now as he could not guarantee one tomorrow nite. He strung up a tarp for privacy and
built a bed from chairs for himself while I washed my body. A sac of Soap was waiting on the
cot with a set of new clothes.You didn’t feel vulnerable, sleeping in the middle of nowhere without even knowing Hae-Joo
Im’s true name?
I was too toxed. Fabricants stay awake for over twenty hours thanks to Soap, then we drop.
When I woke a few hours later, Hae-Joo was snoring on his cloak. I studied a scab of clotted
blood on his cheek, scratched as we fled Taemosan. Pureblood skin is so delicate compared to
ours. His eyeballs gyred behind their lids; nothing else in the room moved. He may have said
Xi-Li’s name, or perhaps it was just noise. I wondered which “I” he was when he dreamed.
Then I blinked my Soul on Hae-Joo’s handsony to learn about my own alias, Yun-Ah Yoo. I
was a student genomicist, born Secondmonth 30th in Naju during the Year of the Horse.
Father was a Papa Song’s aide; Mother a housewife; no siblings … the data onscrolled for tens
of pages, hundreds. The curfew faded away. Hae-Joo woke, massaging his temples. “OkKyun Pyo would love a strong cup of starbuck.”
I decided the time had come to ask the question that had seized me in the disneyarium. Why had
Union paid such a crippling price to protect one xperimental fabricant?
“Ah.” Hae-Joo mumbled and picked sleep from his eyes. “Long answer, long journey”
More evasion?
No. He answered as we drove deeper into the country. I shall pré-cis it for your orison,
Archivist. Nea So Copros is poisoning itself to death. Its soil is polluted, its rivers lifeless, its
air toxloaded, its food supplies riddled with rogue genes. The downstrata cannot buy drugs to
counter these privations. Melanoma and malaria belts advance northward at forty kilometers per
year. Those Production Zones of Africa and Indonesia that supply Consumer Zones are now
60-plus percent uninhabitable. Corpocracy’s legitimacy, its wealth, is drying up. The Juche’s
rounds of new Enrichment Statutes are sticking band-aids on hemorrhages and amputations.
Corpocracy’s only strategy is that long favored by bankrupt ideologies: denial. Downstrata
purebloods fall into untermensch sinks. Xecs merely watch, parroting Catechism Seven: “A
Soul’s value is the dollars therein.”
But what would be the logic in allowing downstrata purebloods to … end in places like
Huamdonggil? As a class? What could replace their labor?
Us. Fabricants. We cost almost nothing to manufacture and have no awkward hankerings for a
better, freer life. We conveniently xpire after forty-eight hours without a specialized Soap and
so cannot run away We are perfect organic machinery. Do you still maintain there are no slaves
in Nea So Copros?
And how did Union aim to xtract these … alleged “ills” of our state?
But as the Boardman’s anthem says, Nea So Copros is the world’s only rising sun! PreSkirmish East Asia was the same chaos of sickly democracies, democidal autocracies, and
rampant deadlands that the rest of the world still is! If the Juche had not unified and
cordonized the region, we would have backslid to barbarism with the rest of the globe! How
can any rational organization embrace a creed that opposes corpocracy? Not only is it
terrorism but it would be suicide. All rising suns set, Archivist. Our corpocracy now smells of
senility.Well, you seem to have embraced Union propaganda wholeheartedly, Sonmi~451.
And I might observe that you have embraced corpocracy propaganda wholeheartedly Archivist.
Did your new friends mention xactly how Union plans to overthrow a state witha standing
pureblood army of 2 million backed by a further 2 million fabricanttroops?
Yes. By engineering the simultaneous ascension of 6 million fabricants.
Fantasy. Lunacy.
All revolutions are, until they happen, then they are historical inevitabilities.
How could Union possibly achieve this “simultaneous ascension”?
The battlefield, you see, is neuromolecular. A few hundred Union-men in wombtank and Soap
plants could trigger these vast numbers of ascensions by adding Suleiman’s catalyst into key
What damage could even 10 million—say—ascended fabricants inflict on the most stable state
pyramid in the history of civilization?
Who would work factory lines? Process sewage? Feed fish farms? Xtract oil and coal? Stoke
reactors? Construct buildings? Serve in dineries? Xtinguish fires? Man the cordon? Fill exxon
tanks? Lift, dig, pull, push? Sow, harvest? Now do you begin to see? Purebloods no longer
possess these core skills upon which our corpocracy, or any society rests. The real question is,
what damage could 6 million ascensions not inflict, in combination with cordonlanders and
downstrata purebloods such as those in Huamdonggil with nothing to lose?
Unanimity would maintain order. Enforcers aren’t all Union agents.
Even Yoona~939 chose death over slavery.
And your role in this … proposed rebellion?
My first role was to provide proof that Suleiman’s ascension catalyst worked. This I had done,
and still do, simply by not degenerating. The requisite neurochemicals were being synthesized
in underground factories thruout the Twelve Cities.
“Your second role,” Hae-Joo informed me that morning, “would be ambassadorial.” General
Apis wished me to act as an interlocutor between Union and the ascending fabricants. To help
mobilize them as revolutionaries.
How did you feel about being a figurehead for terrorists?
Trepidation: I was not genomed to alter history, I told my fellow fugitive. Hae-Joo countered
that no revolutionary ever was. All Union was asking for now, he urged, was that I did not
reject Apis’s proposal out of hand.
Weren’t you curious about Unions blueprint for the briter tomorrow? How could you know
the new order would not give birth to a tyranny worse than the one it xpired? Think of the
Bolshevik and Saudi Arabian Revolutions. Think of the disastrous Pentecostalist Coup of
North America. Surely a program of incremental reforms, of cautious steps, is the wisest way to proceed?
You show xtraordinary erudition for an eighth-stratum, Archivist. I wonder if you encountered
this dictum first spoken by a twentieth-century statesman: “An abyss cannot be crossed in two
We’re circling a contentious core, Sonmi. Let’s return to your journey.
We reached Suanbo Plain around hour eleven, via minor routes.Cropdusters strewed clouds of
saffron fertilizer, blanking the horizons Xposure to EyeSats worried Hae-Joo, so we took a
Timber-Corp plantation track. It had rained during the nite, so pools bogged the dirt track and
progress was slow, but we saw no other vehicle. The Norfolk pine–rubberwood hybrids were
planted in rank and file and created the illusion that trees were marching past our ford in a
billion-strong regiment. I got out only once, when Hae-Joo refilled the exxon tank from a can.
The plain had been brite, but inside the plantation even noon was dank, hushed dusk. The sole
sound was a sterile wind swishing blunted needles. The trees were genomed to repel bugs and
birds, so the stagnant air stunk of insecticide.
The forest left as abruptly as it had arrived, and the topography grew hillier. We traveled east,
the Woraksan Range to our south and Ch’ungju Lake spreading north. The lake water stunk of
effluent from its salmon net ponds. Crosswater hills displayed mighty corp logos. A malachite
statue of Prophet Malthus surveyed a dust bowl. Our track underpassed the Ch’ungju-TaeguPusan xpress-way Hae-Joo said we could be in Pusan within two hours if he dared join it, but
a slow crawl thru backcountry was safer. Our pot-holed but Eyeless road switchbacked up into
the Sobaeksan Mountains.
Hae-Joo Im wasn’t trying to get to Pusan in one day?
No. At approx hour seventeen, he hid the ford in an abandoned lumberyard, and we struck out
on foot. My first mountain hike fascinated me as much as my first drive thru Seoul. Limestone
bulges oozed lichen; fir saplings and mountain ash grew from clefts; clouds scrolled; the breeze
was fragrant with natural pollen; once genomed moths spun around our heads, electronlike.
Their wings’ logos had mutated over generations into a chance syllabary: a small victory of
nature over corpocracy On an xposed rock shelf, Hae-Joo pointed across a gulf. “See him?”
Who? I saw only a rock face.
Keep looking, he said, and from the mountainside emerged the carved features of a crosslegged giant. One slender hand was raised in a gesture of grace. Weaponry and elements had
strafed, ravaged, and cracked his features, but his outline was discernible if you knew where to
look. I said the giant reminded me of Timothy Cavendish, making Hae-Joo Im smile for the
first time in a long while. He said the giant was a deity that offered salvation from a
meaningless cycle of birth and rebirth, and perhaps the cracked stonework still possessed a
lingering divinity Only the inanimate can be so alive. I suppose QuarryCorp will destroy him
when they get around to processing those mountains.
Why did Im take you on this field trip to the middle of nowhere?
Every nowhere is somewhere, Archivist. Past the cross-legged giant and over the ridge we
came upon a modest grain bed in a clearing, clothes drying on bushes, vegetable plots, a crude
irrigation system of bamboo, a cemetery. A thirsty cataract. Hae-Joo led me thru a narrow cleft
into a courtyard, walled by ornate buildings unlike any I ever saw. A very recent xplosion had
cratered the flagstones, blown away timbers, and collapsed a tiled roof. One pagoda had
succumbed to a typhoon and fallen on its twin. Ivy more than joinery kept the latter upright. This was to be our lodging for the nite, Hae-Joo told me. An abbey had stood there for fifteen
centuries, until corpocracy dissolved the pre-consumer religions after the Skirmishes. Now the
site serves to shelter dispossessed purebloods who prefer scraping a life from the mountainside
to downstrata conurb life.
So Union hid its interlocutor, its … messiah, in a colony of recidivists?
Messiah: what a grandiose title for a Papa Song server. Behind us, a creased, sun-scorched
peasant woman, as visibly aged as a senior from Cavendish’s time, limped into the courtyard,
leaning on an enceph-scarred boy. The boy, a mute, smiled shyly at Hae-Joo, and the woman
hugged Hae-Joo affectionately as a mother. I was introduced to the Abbess as Ms. Yoo. One
eye was milk-blind, her other brite and watchful. She clasped my hands in hers in a charming
gesture. “You are welcome here,” she told me, “most welcome.”
Hae-Joo asked about the bomb crater.
The Abbess replied that a local Unanimity regiment was using them for teething. An aero
appeared last month and launched a shell without warning. One man died, and several colonists
were badly injured. An act of malice, the Abbess speculated sadly, or a bored pilot, or perhaps
a developer had seen potential in the site as a healthspa hotel for xecs and wanted the site
My companion promised to find out.
Who were these “colonists” xactly? Squatters? Terrorists? Union?
Each colonist had a different story. I was introduced to Uyghur dissidents, dust-bowled
farmers from Ho Chi Minh Delta, once respectable conurb dwellers who had fallen foul of
corp politics, unemployable deviants, those undollared by mental illness. Of the seventy-five
colonists, the youngest was nine weeks old; the oldest, the Abbess, was sixty-eight, though if
she had claimed to be three hundred years of age I would still have believed her, such gravitas
she had.
But … how could people there survive without franchises and gallerias? What did they eat?
Drink? How about electricity? Entertainment? What about enforcers and order? How did they
impose hierarchy?
Go visit them, Archivist. You can tell the Abbess I sent you. No? Well, their food came from
the forest and gardens, water from the cataract. Scavenge trips to landfills yielded plastics and
metals for tools. Their “school” sony was powered by a water turbine. Solar nitelamps
recharged during daylite hours. Their entertainment was themselves; consumers cannot xist
without 3-D and AdV, but humans once did and still can. Enforcement? Problems arose, no
doubt, even crises from time to time. But no crisis is insuperable if people cooperate.
What about the mountain winters?
They survived as fifteen centuries of nuns had before them: by planning, thrift, and fortitude.
The monastery was built over a cave, xtended by bandits during the Japanese annexation.
These tunnels gave sufficient shelter from winter and Unanimity aeros. Oh, such a life is no
bucolic Utopia. Yes, winters are severe; rainy seasons are relentless; crops fall prey to disease;
their medicine is sorely limited. Few colonists live as long as upstrata consumers. They bicker,
blame, and grieve as people will, but at least they do it in a community and companionship is a
fine medicine in itself. Nea So Copros has no communities now, only mutually suspicious substrata. I slept soundly that nite against a backdrop of gossip, music, complaints, and
laughter, feeling safe for the first time since my dormroom in Papa Song’s.
So what was Union’s interest in the colony?
Simple: Union provides hardware, such as their solars; in return, the colony provides a safe
house, kilometers from the nearest Eye. I woke in my dorm tunnel just before dawn and crept
to the temple mouth. The guard was a middle-aged woman nursing a colt and a stimulin brew;
she lifted the mosquito net for me but warned me about coyotes scavenging below the
monastery walls. I promised to stay in earshot, skirted the courtyard, and squeezed between the
narrow rocks to the balcony of blacks and grays.
The mountain dropped away; an updraft rose from the valley, carrying animal cries, calls,
growls, and snuffles. I could not identify even one; for all my knowledge of censored arcana, I
felt impoverished. And such a sky of stars! Ah, mountain stars are not these apologetic
pinpricks over conurb skies; hanging plump they drip lite. A boulder stirred, just a meter away.
“Ah, Ms. Yoo,” said the Abbess, “an early riser.”
I wished her a good morning.
The younger colonists, the old woman confided, worry about her wandering around before
sunup, in case she fell off the edge. She produced a pipe from her sleeve, stuffed its bowl, and
lit it. A raw local leaf, she admitted, but she had lost the taste for refined marlboros years ago.
The smoke smelled of aromatic leather and dried dung.
I asked about the stone figure in the escarpment across the gulf.
Siddhartha had other names, she told me, mostly lost now. Her predecessors knew all the
stories and sermons, but the old Abbess and senior nuns were sentenced to the Litehouse when
non-consumer religions were criminalized. The present Abbess had been a novice back then, so
Unanimity judged her young enough for reorientation. She was raised in an orphans’ bloc in
Pearl City Conurb, but she said, she had never left her abbey spiritually. She returned years
later and founded the present colony in the wreckage.
I asked if Siddhartha was indeed a god.
Many called him so, the Abbess agreed, but Siddhartha does not influence fortune or weather
or perform many of a divinity’s traditional functions. Rather, Siddhartha is a dead man and a
living ideal. The man taught about overcoming pain, and influencing one’s future
reincarnations. “But I pray to the ideal.” She indicated the meditating giant. “Early, so he knows
I’m serious.”
I said I hoped that Siddhartha would reincarnate me in her colony.
Lite from the coming day defined the world more clearly now. The Abbess asked why I hoped
It took a little time to form my answer. I said how all pure-bloods have a hunger, a
dissatisfaction in their eyes, xcept for the colonists I had met.
The Abbess nodded. If consumers found fulfillment at any meaningful level, she xtemporized,
corpocracy would be finished. Thus, Media is keen to scorn colonies such as hers, comparing
them to tapeworms; accusing them of stealing rainwater from Wa-terCorp, royalties from
VegCorp patent holders, oxygen from Air-Corp. The Abbess feared that, should the day ever
come when the Board decided they were a viable alternative to corpocratic ideology, “the
‘tapeworms’ will be renamed ‘terrorists,’ smart bombs will rain, and our tunnels flood with
I suggested the colony must prosper invisibly, in obscurity
“Xactly” Her voice hushed. “A balancing act as demanding as impersonating a pureblood, I
imagine.”She knew you weren’t pureblood all along? How?
It seemed tactless to ask. Maybe a spyhole in our quarters had captured me imbibing Soap. My
host informed me that xperience had taught the colonists to keep a friendly eye on their guests,
even Unionmen. The Abbess herself disliked such a violation of the old abbeys hospitality
codes, but the younger colonists were adamant that close surveillance be maintained. She
revealed her intelligence only to bid me luck in my future enterprises, for of all corpocracy’s
crimes against the downstrata, the Abbess stated, “nothing is more heinous than the
enslavement of your tribe.”
I presume she meant fabricants? But was she speaking in specific terms—servers in dineries
—or general terms—every fabricant in Nea So Copros?
I did not know, and did not learn that until the following nite in Pusan. But by now breakfast
pans were banging in the courtyard. The Abbess looked at the cleft to the courtyard and
changed her tone. “And who might this young coyote be?”
The mute boy padded over and sat by the Abbess’s feet. Sunlite bent around the world, lending
fragile color to wildflowers.
So day two as a fugitive got under way.
Yes. Hae-Joo breakfasted on potato cakes and fig honey; unlike the previous nite, no one
pressed me to eat the pureblood food. As we said our farewells, two or three of the teenage
girls, tearful to see Hae-Joo depart, shot me hateful glances, much to my guide’s amusement.
Hae-Joo had to behave like a hard-bitten revolutionary, but he was still a boy in some respects.
As she embraced me, the Abbess whispered in my ear, “I shall ask Siddhartha to grant your
wish.” Under his gaze we left that rarefied height and hiked down through the noisy forest,
where we found our ford, untouched.
Progress toward Yongju was fair. We passed upbound timber rigs driven by burly same-stem
fabricants. But the rice plain north of Andongho Lake is laced with xposed timber tracks, so we
stayed inside the ford most of the day, hidden from EyeSats until hour fifteen or so.
Crossing an old suspension bridge above Chuwangsan River, we got out to stretch our legs.
Hae-Joo apologized for his pure-blood bladder and pissed into the trees two hundred meters
below. Over the other side, I studied the monochrome parrots who roost there on guanostained chasm ledges; their flapping and honking reminded me of Boom-Sook Kim and his xec
friends. A ravine wound upstream; downstream, the Chuwangsan River was channeled thru
leveled hills before disappearing under Ulsong’s canopy for sewage duty. Aeros clustered over
the conurb: black-and-silver dots.
The bridge cables groaned under the strain of a gleaming xec ford, without warning. It was an
xpensive auto to encounter on such a rustic road, suspiciously so. Hae-Joo reached into our
ford for his colt. He returned to me, hand in his jacket pocket, murmuring, “Let me do any
talking, and get ready to dive down.”
Sure enough, the xec ford slowed to a stop. A stocky man with a facescaped sheen swiveled
out from the driver’s seat with a friendly nod. “Beautiful afternoon.”
Hae-Joo nodded back, observing it was not too sultry.
A pureblood woman unfolded her legs from the passenger door. Her thick wraparounds
revealed only a pixie nose and sensual lips. She leaned on the opposite railing, with her back to
us, and lit a marlboro. The driver opened the ford trunk and lifted out an air-box, one suitable
for transporting a medium-size dog. He unlocked its clickers and lifted out a striking, perfectly
formed, but tiny female form, about thirty centimeters in height; she mewled, terrified, and tried to wriggle free. When she caught sight of us her miniature, wordless scream became imploring.
Before we could do or say anything, the man swung her off the bridge, by her hair, and
watched her fall. He made a plopping noise with his tongue when she hit the rocks below and
chuckled. “Cheap riddance”—he grinned at us—“to very xpensive trash.”
I forced myself to remain silent. Sensing the effort this cost, Hae-Joo touched my arm. One
scene from the Cavendish Disney when a pureblood gets thrown off a balcony by a criminal,
replayed itself in my head.
I presume he had discarded a fabricant living doll.
Yes. The xec was keen to tell us all about it. “The Zizzi Hikaru Doll was the must-have the
Sextet before last. My daughter didn’t give me a moment’s rest. Of course, my official wife”—
he nodded at the woman on the other side of the bridge—“put her all in, morning, noon, and
nite. ‘How am I supposed to look our neighbors in their faces if our daughter is the only girl in
our carousel to not have a Zizzi?’ You got to admire the marketers of these things. One junky
toy fabricant, but genome it like some glitzy antique idol and up goes its price by fifty thousand;
that’s before you shell out for designer-ware, dollhouse, accessories. So what did I do? I paid
for the damn thing, just to shut the women up! Four months later, what happens? Teencool
surfs on and Marilyn Monroe dethrones poor, passé Zizzi.” He told us, digustedly that a
registered fabricant xpirer cost three thousand dollars, but—the man jerked a thumb over the
railing—an accidental plunge comes free. So why chuck good dollars after bad? “Pity”—he
winked at Hae-Joo—“divorces aren’t as hitchless, eh?”
“I heard that, Fat-Ass!” His wife still did not deign to face us. “You should have taken the doll
back to the franchise and had your Soul redollared. Our Zizzi was defective. It couldn’t even
sing. The damn thing bit me.”
Fat-Ass replied, sweetly, “Can’t imagine why that didn’t kill it, darlingest.” His wife muttered
a casual obscenity while her husband ran his eyes over my body and asked Hae-Joo if we were
vacationing near that remote spot or passing thru on business.
“Ok-Kyun Pyo, sir, at your service.” Hae-Joo gave a slite bow and introduced himself as a
fifth-stratum aide in Eagle Accountancy Franchise, a minor corp division.
The xec’s curiosity died. “That so? I manage the Golf Coast between P’yonghae and Yongdok.
You are a golfer, Pyo? No? No? Golf isn’t just a game y know, golf is a career advantage!”
The Paegam course, he promised, has an all-weather fifty-four holer, lickable greens, lake
features like the Beloved Chairman’s famous water gardens. “We outbid the local downstrata
for the aquifer. Normally you can’t get membership for love nor money unless you’re a seer,
but I like you, Pyo, so just mention my name to our membership people: Seer Kwon.”
Ok-Kyun Pyo gushed gratitude.
Pleased, Seer Kwon began telling his xec life story, but his wife tossed her marlboro after the
Zizzi Hikaru, climbed into the ford, and kept her hand on the horn for ten seconds. Zebrafeathered parrots cannonaded skyward. The xec gave Hae-Joo a rueful grin and advised him to
pay the xtra dollars to conceive a son when he gets married. As he drove off I wished for his
ford to plunge off the bridge.
You considered him a murderer?
Of course. One so shallow, moreover, he did not even know it.
But hate men like Seer Kwon, and you hate the whole world.
Not the whole world, Archivist, only the corpocratic pyramid that permits fabricants to be killed so wantonly, casually.
When did you finally reach Pusan?
Nitefall. Hae-Joo pointed at exxon clouds from Pusan refinery, turning melon pink to anthracite
gray, and told me we had arrived. We entered Pusan’s northern rim on an unEyed farmtrack.
Hae-Joo deposited the ford at a lockup in Somyon suburb, and we took the metro to Ch’oryang
Square. It was smaller than Chongmyo Plaza but as busy, and strange after the silent emptiness
of the mountains. Fabricant nannies scooted after their xec charges; swan-ning couples
assessed couples swanning; corp-sponsored 3-Ds competed to outdazzle all the others. In a
tatty back-galleria an old-style festival was taking place where hawkers sold palm-size curios,
“friends for life”: toothless crocs, monkey chicklets, jonahwhales in jars. Hae-Joo told me these
pets are an old cheapjack’s ruse; they die forty-eight hours after you get them home, invariably
A circus-man was touting for business through a megaphone: “Marvel at the Two-Headed
Schizoid Man! Gaze upon Madame Matryoshka and Her Pregnant Embryo! Gasp in Horror at
the Real, Live Merican— but don’t poke your fingers into his cage!” Pureblood sailors from all
over Nea So Copros sat in frontless bars, flirting with topless comforters, under the scrutiny of
PimpCorp men: leathery Hi-malayans, Han Chinese, pale-hued hairy Baikalese, bearded
Uzbeks, wiry Aleutians, coppery Viets and Thais. Comfort houses’ AdVs promised
satisfaction for every peccadillo a hungry pure-blood could imagine. “If Seoul is a Boardman’s
faithful spouse,” said Hae-Joo, “Pusan is his no-pantied mistress.”
Backstreets grew narrower. A funneled wind bowled bottles and cans along, and hooded
figures hurried by. Hae-Joo led me through a surreptitious doorway, up a glimlit tunnel to a
port-cullised entrance. KUKJE MANSIONS was inscribed over a side window. Hae-Joo
pressed a buzzer. Dogs barked, the blind upzipped, and a pair of identical saber-tooths slavered
at the glass. An unshaven woman hauled them aside and peered at us. Her gemwarted face lit
with recognition at Hae-Joo and xclaimed: “Nun-Hel Han! It’s been nearly twelve months!
Little wonder, if the rumors about your brawls were even half true! How were the
Hae-Joo’s voice had changed again. I checked, involuntarily, so hard-scoured was his accent
now; it was still him at my side. “Sinking, Mrs. Lim, sinking fast. You haven’t gone subletting
my room, now, have you?”
“Oh, I keep a reliable house, don’t worry about that!” She faked offense but warned she would
need a fresh blip of dollars if his next voyage lasted as long as his last. The portcullis rose, and
she glanced at me. “Say, Nun-Hel, if your fluffball stays over a week, single apartments get
charged as doubles. House rules. Like it or lump it. All the same to me.”
Nun-Hel Han the sailor said I would stay for only a nite or two.
“In every port”—the landlady leered—“it’s true, then.”
Was she Union?
No. Flophouse landladies judas their own mothers for a dollar; ju-dasing a Unionman would
fetch a far higher price. But, as Hae-Joo told me, they also discourage the idly inquisitive.
Inside, a pocked stairwell echoed with arguments and 3-Ds. I was, at last, getting used to stairs.
On the ninth floor a woodworm corridor led us to a scraped door. Hae-Joo retrieved a preplaced match stump from its hinge, noting the management had succumbed to a nasty rash of
Nun-Hel’s floproom had a sour mattress, a tidy kitchenette, a closet of clothes for varying
climates, a blurred foto of naked Caucasian prostitutes straddling a group of sailors, souvenirs
from the Twelve Conurbs and minor ports, and of course, a framed kodak of the Beloved
Chairman. A lipsticked marlboro was left teetered on a beer can. The window was shuttered.Hae-Joo showered and changed. He told me he had to attend a Union cell meeting and warned
me to keep the window shutter down and not to answer the door or fone unless it was him or
Apis with this crypto: he wrote the words “These are the tears of things” on a scrap of paper,
which he then burned in the ashtray. He put a small supply of Soap in the fridge, and promised
to return in the morning, soon after curfew.
Surely, such a distinguished defector as yourself deserved a rather grander reception?
Grand receptions draw attention. I passed some hours studying Pusan’s geography on the sony
before showering and imbibing my Soap. I woke late, I think, after hour six. Hae-Joo returned
xhausted, holding a bag of pungent ttōkbukgi. I made him a cup of starbuck, which he drank
gratefully, then ate his breakfast. “Okay, Sonmi—stand by the window and cover your eyes.”
I obeyed. The rusty shutter uprolled. Hae-Joo commanded, “Don’t look … don’t look … now,
open your eyes.”
A swarm of roofs, thruways, commuter hives, AdVs, concrete … and there, in the
background, the brite spring sky’s sediment had sunk to a dark band of blue. Ah, it
mesmerized me … like the snow had done. All the woe of the words “I am” seemed dissolved
there, painlessly, peacefully
Hae-Joo announced, “The ocean.”
You’d never seen it before?
Only on Papa Song’s 3-Ds of life in Xultation. Never the real thing with my own eyes. I
yearned to go and touch it and walk by it, but Hae-Joo thought it safest to stay hidden during
daylite until we were requartered somewhere more remote. Then he lay on the mattress and
within a minute began snoring.
Hours passed; in ocean slots between buildings, I watched freighters and naval vessels.
Downstrata housewives aired worn linen on nearby rooftops. Later the weather grew overcast,
and armored aeros rumbled thru low clouds. I studied. It rained. Hae-Joo, still asleep, rolled
over, slurred “No, only a friend of a friend,” and fell silent again. Drool slid from his mouth,
wetting his pillow. I thought about Professor Mephi. In our last seminar he had spoken of his
estrangement from his family and confessed he spent more time educating me than teaching his
own daughter. Now he was dead, because of his belief in Union. I felt gratitude, guilt, and
other emotions too.
Hae-Joo woke midafternoon, showered, and brewed ginseng tea. How I envy purebloods your
rainbow cuisine, Archivist. Before my ascension, Soap seemed the most delicious substance
imaginable, but now it tastes bland and gray. I suffer nausea if I so much as taste pureblood
food, however, and vomiting later. Hae-Joo downshuttered the window. “Time to liaise,” he
told me. Then he unhooked the Beloved Chairman’s kodak and placed it facedown on the low
table. Hae-Joo inplugged his sony to a socket concealed in the blemished frame.
An illegal transceiver? Hidden in a kodak of Nea’s architect?
The sacred is a fine hiding place for the profane. A 3-D of an old man clarified britely; he
looked like an inxpensively healed burn victim. His lips out of sync with his words, he
congratulated me on my safe arrival in Pusan and asked who had the prettier face, him or the
I replied honestly: the carp.
An-Kor Apis’s laugh became a cough. “This is my true face, whatever that means these days.”
His sickly appearance suited him well, he said, because casual enforcers worried that he might be contagious. He asked if I had enjoyed my journey across our beloved motherland.
Hae-Joo Im had looked after me well, I answered.
General Apis asked if I understood the role Union wished me to assume in their struggle to
ascend fabricants into citizens. Yes, I began, but I did not have the chance to declare my
indecision. “We want to xpose you to a … sight, a formative xperience, here in Pusan, before
you decide, Sonmi.” He warned it would not be pleasant but was imperative. “To allow for an
informed decision regarding your future. If you agree, Hae-Joo can take you now.”
I said I would go, certainly.
“Then we’ll speak again, very soon,” promised Apis, disconnecting his imager. Hae-Joo
produced a pair of technic uniforms and semi-visors from his closet. We dressed in these, then
over-cloaked for the landlady’s benefit. Outside was cold, and I was grateful for the double
layers. We rode the metro to the port terminal and took a conveyor down to the waterfront
berths, passing the vast oceangoing vessels. The nite sea was oily black and the ships similarly
austere, but one brite vessel pulsed golden arches and resembled an undersea palace. I had seen
it before, in a previous life. “Papa Song’s Golden Ark,” I xclaimed, telling Hae-Joo what he
already knew, that it conveyed the Twelvestarred east across the ocean to Xultation.
Hae-Joo confirmed Papa’s Golden Ark was our destination.
Security on the gangway was minimal: a bleary-eyed pureblood with his feet on the desk,
watching fabricant gladiators slay each other in the Shanghai Colosseum on 3-D. “And you
Hae-Joo blinked his Soul on his Eye. “Fifth-stratum technic man—Shik Gang.” He checked
his handsony and reported we had been sent to recalibrate busted thermostats on deck seven.
“Seven?” The guard smirked. “Hope you haven’t just eaten.” Then he looked at me. I looked at
the floor. “Who’s this verbal marathonette, Technic Gang?”
“My new aide. Technic Aide Yoo.”
“That so? Is tonite your maiden visit to our pleasuredome?”
I nodded yes, it was.
The guard said there was no time like the first time. He waved us by with a lazy twitch of his
Gaining access to a corp ship was so simple?
Papa Song’s Golden Ark is not xactly a magnet for illegal boarders, Archivist. Crew, aides,
and various technics bustled in the main gangways, too intent on their own business to notice
us. The service side shafts were empty so we descended to the Ark’s underbelly unmet. Our
nikes clanged on the metal stairs. A giant motor drummed. I thought I heard singing but told
myself my ears must be mistaken. Hae-Joo consulted his deck plan, unlatched an access hatch,
and I remember him pausing, as if to tell me something. But he changed his mind, clambered
in, helped me thru, then locked the hatch behind us.
I found myself on all fours on a cramped hangway suspended from the roof of a sizable
holding chamber. The hangway’s far end was concealed by flaps, but thru its gridded floor I
could see some two hundred Twelvestarred Papa Song servers, lining up in a paddock of
turnstiles whose single direction was onward. Yoonas, Hwa-Soons, Ma-Leu-Das, Sonmis,
and some stem-types unused in Chongmyo Plaza Dinery all in the familiar gold-and-scarlet
uniform. How dreamlike to see my x-sisters, outside the context of a Papa Song dome. They
sang Papa Song’s Psalm, over and over; background hydraulics underbassed that sickening
melody. But how jubilant they sounded! Their Investment was paid off. The voyage to Hawaii
was under way, and their new life on Xultation would shortly begin.
You sound as if you still envy them.Watching them from the hangway, I envied their certainty about the future. After about a
minute, an aide at the head of the line ushered the next server through golden arches and the
sisters clapped. The lucky Twelvestarred waved back at her friends, then passed thru the arch
to be shown to her luxury cabin we had all seen on 3-D. The turnstiles rotated the fabricants
one space forward. After watching this process several times, Hae-Joo tapped my foot and
signaled for me to crawl along the hangway, thru the flap, into the next chamber.
Weren’t you in danger of being seen?
No. Brite droplites underswung our hangway, so from the noisy holding pen floor, several
meters below, we were invisible. Anyway, we were not intruders but technics conducting
maintenance work. The next chamber was in fact a small room, no bigger than this prison cube.
The singing and din was damped out; its quiet was eerie. A plastic chair stood on a dais; above
this chair, suspended from a ceiling monorail, hung a bulky helmet mechanism. Three smiling
aides dressed in Papa Song scarlet guided the server onto the chair. One aide xplained that the
helmet would remove her collar, as promised by Papa Song in Matins over the years. “Thank
you, Aide,” burbled the xcited server. “Oh, thank you!”
The helmet was fitted over the Sonmi’s head and neck. It was at this moment I noticed the odd
number of doors into the cell.
“Odd” in what way?
There was only one door: the entrance from the holding pen. How had all the previous servers
left? A sharp “clack” from the helmet refocused my attention on the dais below. The server’s
head slumped unnaturally I could see her eyeballs roll back and the cabled spine connecting the
helmet mechanism to the monorail stiffen. To my horror, the helmet rose, the server sat upright,
then was lifted off her feet into the air. Her corpse seemed to dance a little; her smile of
anticipation frozen in death tautened as her facial skin took some of the load. Below,
meanwhile, one worker hoovered bloodloss from the plastic chair and another wiped it clean.
The monorailed helmet conveyored its cargo parallel to our hangway, through a flap, and
disappeared into the next chamber. A new helmet lowered itself over the plastic stool, where
the three aides were already seating the next xcited server.
Hae-Joo whispered in my ear. “Those ones you can’t save, Sonmi. They were doomed when
they boarded.” In fact, I thought, they were doomed from their wombtanks.
Another helmet clacked its bolt home. This server was a Yoona.
You understand, I have no words for my emotions at that time.
Finally, I managed to obey Hae-Joo and crawl along the hang-way thru a soundlock into the
next chamber. Here, the helmets conveyed the cadavers into a vast violet-lit vault; the space
must have accounted for a quarter of Papa Song’s Ark’s volume. As we entered, the celsius
fell sharply and a roar of machines burst our ears. A slaughterhouse production line lay below
us, manned by figures wielding scissors, sword saws, and various tools of cutting, stripping,
and grinding. The workers were bloodsoaked, from head to toe. I should properly call those
workers butchers: they snipped off collars, stripped clothes, shaved follicles, peeled skin,
offcut hands and legs, sliced off meat, spooned organs … drains hoovered the blood … The
noise, you can imagine, Archivist, was deafening.
But … why would— What would the purpose be of such … carnage?
The economics of corpocracy The genomics industry demands huge quantities of liquefied
biomatter, for wombtanks, but most of all, for Soap. What cheaper way to supply this protein than by recycling fabricants who have reached the end of their working lives? Additionally,
leftover “reclaimed proteins” are used to produce Papa Song food products, eaten by
consumers in the corp’s dineries all over Nea So Copros. It is a perfect food cycle.
What you describe is beyond the … conceivable, Sonmi~451. Murdering fabricants to supply
dineries with food and Soap … no. The charge is preposterous, no, it’s unconscionable, no,
it’s blasphemy! As an Archivist I can’t deny that you saw what you believe you saw, but as a
consumer of the corpocracy, I am impelled to say, what you saw must, must have been a
Union … set, created for your benefit. No such … “slaughtership” could possibly be
permitted to xist. The Beloved Chairman would never permit it! The Juche would ionize Papa
Song’s entire xec strata in the Lite-house! If fabricants weren’t paid for their labor in
retirement communities, the whole pyramid would be … the foulest perfidy. Business is
You’ve described not “business” but … industrialized evil!
You underestimate humanity’s ability to bring such evil into being. Consider. You have seen
the 3-Ds, but have you visited a fabricant retirement village, personally? I shall take your
silence as a no. Do you know anyone who has visited one, personally? Again, no. Then where
do fabricants go after retirement? Not just servers, the hundreds of thousands of fabricants who
end their serviceable lives every year. There should be cities full of them by now. But where
are these cities?
No crime of such magnitude could take root in Nea So Copros. Even fabricants have carefully
defined rights, guaranteed by the Chairman!
Rights are susceptible to subversion, as even granite is susceptible to erosion. My fifth
Declaration posits how, in a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear;
fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the
only “rights,” the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful. In corpocracy, this
means the Juche. What is willed by the Juche is the tidy xtermination of a fabricant underclass.
But what about the 3-Ds of Xultation and such? You saw them in the Papa Song’s at
Chongmyo Plaza yourself There’s your proof
Xultation is a sony-generated simulacrum dijied in Neo Edo. It does not xist in the real Hawaii,
or anywhere. Indeed, during my final weeks at Papa Song’s, it seemed that scenes of Xultation
repeated themselves. The same Hwa-Soon ran down the same sandy path to the same rock
pool. My unascended sisters did not notice, and I doubted myself at the time, but now I had my
Your Testimony must stand as you speak it, despite my protests. I—we must progress…. How
long did you watch this slaughter?
I cannot recall, accurately Perhaps ten minutes, perhaps an hour. I remember Hae-Joo leading
me thru the dining area, numbly Pure-bloods played cards, ate noodles, smoked, worked at
sonys, joked, engaged in ordinary life. How could they know what happened in the underbelly
and just … sit there, indifferent? As if it were not living fabricants being processed but pickled
sardines? Why did their consciences not scream for this obscenity to end? The bearded security
guard winked, saying, “Come back soon, honeysuckle.”In the metro back to the flophouse, as the commuters swayed, I “saw” cadavers on the
monorail. Ascending the stairwell, I “saw” them hoisted aloft the xecution room. In his room,
Hae-Joo did not switch on the solar; he just raised the shutter a few centimeters to let the lites
of Pusan dilute the darkness and poured himself a glass of soju. Not a word had passed
between us.
I alone, of all my sisters, had seen the true Xultation and lived.
Our sex was joyless, graceless, and necessarily improvised, but it was an act of the living.
Stars of sweat on Hae-Joo’s back were his gift to me, and I harvested them on my tongue.
After, the young man smoked a nervy marlboro in silence and studied my birthmark, curiously.
He fell asleep on my arm, squashing it. I did not wake him; the pain turned to numbness, the
numbness to pins and needles, then I squirmed out from under him. I spread a blanket over
Hae-Joo; purebloods catch rogue colds in all weathers. The city readied itself for curfew. Its
smeary glow dimmed as AdVs and lites switched off. The final server of the final line would
be dead by now. The processing line would be cleaned and silent. The slaughtermen, if they
were fabricants, would be in their dorm-rooms, if purebloods, at home with their families. The
Golden Ark would sail away tomorrow to a new port, where the reclamation would begin
At hour zero I imbibed my Soap and joined Hae-Joo under the blanket, warmed by his body.
Weren’t you angry with Union for xposing you to the Golden Ark without adequately
preparing you?
What words could Apis or Hae-Joo have used?
Morning brought a sweaty haze. Hae-Joo showered, then devoured a huge bowl of rice,
pickled cabbage, eggs, and seaweed soup. I washed up. My pureblood lover sat across the
table from me. I spoke for the first time since we entered that protein-xtraction line. “That ship
must be destroyed. Every slaughtership in Nea So Copros like it must be sunk.”
Hae-Joo said yes.
“The shipyards that build them must be demolished. The systems that facilitated them must be
dismantled. The laws that permitted the systems must be torn down and reconstructed.”
Hae-Joo said yes.
“Every consumer, xec, and Juche Boardman in Nea So Copros must understand that fabricants
are purebloods, be they grown in a wombtank or a womb. If persuasion does not work,
ascended fabricants must fight with Union to achieve this end, using whatever force is
Hae-Joo said yes.
“Ascended fabricants need a Catechism, to define their ideals, to harness their anger, to channel
their energies. I am the one to compose this declaration of rights. Will—can—Union seedbed
such a Catechism?”
Hae-Joo said, “This is what we’re waiting for.”
Many xpert witnesses at your trial denied Declarations could be the work of a fabricant,
ascended or otherwise, and maintained it was ghosted by Union or a pureblood Abolitionist.
How lazily “xperts” dismiss what they fail to understand!
I, only I, wrote Declarations over three weeks at Ulsukdo Ceo, outside Pusan, in an isolated
xec villa overlooking the Nakdong Estuary. During its composition I consulted a judge, a
genomicist, a syntaxist, and General An-Kor Apis, but the Ascended Catechisms of
Declarations, their logic and ethics, denounced at my trial as “the ugliest wickedness in the
annals of deviancy,” were the fruits of my mind, Archivist, fed by the xperiences I have narrated to you this morning. No one else has lived this life. My Declarations were germinated
when Yoona~939 was xecuted, nurtured by Boom-Sook and Fang, strengthened by the
tutelage of Mephi and the Abbess, birthed in Papa Song’s slaughtership.
And your capture came shortly after completing your text?
The same afternoon. Once my function was fulfilled, there was no reason for Unanimity to let
me run free. My arrest was dramatized for Media. I handed my Declarations on sony to HaeJoo. We looked at each other for the last time; nothing is as eloquent as nothing. I knew we
would never meet again, and maybe he knew that I knew.
At the edge of the property a small colony of wild ducks survive the pollution. Rogue genomes
give them a resilience lacking in their pureblood ancestors. I suppose I felt a kinship with them.
I fed them bread, watched water walkers dimple the chrome-brite surface, then returned to the
house to watch the show from inside. Unanimity did not make me wait long.
Six aeros sharked over the water, one landing on the flower garden. Enforcers jumped out,
priming their colts, and belly-snaked toward my window with much hand signing and fearless
bravado. I had left the doors and windows open for them, but my captors contrived a
spectacular siege with snipers, megaphones, and an xplod-ing wall.
You are implying that you xpected the raid, Sonmi?
Once I had finished my manifesto, the next stage could only be my arrest.
What do you mean? What “next stage” of what?
Of the theatrical production, set up while I was still a server in Papa Song’s.
Wait, wait, wait. What about … everything? Are you saying your whole confession is
composed of … scripted events?
Its key events, yes. Some actors were unwitting, Boom-Sook and the Abbess, for xample, but
the major players were all provocateurs. Hae-Joo Im and Boardman Mephi certainly were. Did
you not detect the hairline cracks in the plot?
Such as?
Wing~027 was as stable an ascendant as I: was I really so unique? You yourself suggested,
would Union truly risk their secret weapon on a dash across Korea? Did Seer Kwon’s murder
of the Zizzi Hikaru fabricant on the suspension bridge not underline pure-blood brutality a little
too neatly? Was its timing not a little too pat?
But what about Xi-Li, the young pureblood killed on the nite of your fite from Tae-mosan? His
blood was not … tomato ketchup!
Indeed not. That poor idealist was an xpendable xtra in Unanimity’s disney
But … Union? Are you saying even Union was fictioned for your script?
No. Union prexists me, but its raisons-d’être are not to foment revolution. Firstly, it attracts
social malcontents like Xi-Li and keeps them where Unanimity can watch them. Secondly, it
provides Nea So Copros with the enemy required by any hierarchical state for social cohesion.I still can’t understand why Unanimity would go to the xpense and trouble of staging this fake
… adventure story.
To generate the show trial of the decade. To make every last pure-blood in Nea So Copros
mistrustful of every last fabricant. To manufacture downstrata consent for the Juche’s new
Fabricant Xpiry Act. To discredit Abolitionism. You can see, the whole conspiracy has been a
resounding success.
But if you knew about this … conspiracy, why did you cooperate with it? Why did you allow
Hae-Joo Im to get so close to you?
Why does any martyr cooperate with his judases?
Tell me.
We see a game beyond the endgame. I refer to my Declarations, Archivist. Media has flooded
Nea So Copros with my Catechisms. Every schoolchild in corpocracy knows my twelve
“blasphemies” now. My guards tell me there is even talk of a statewide “Vigilance Day”
against fabricants who show signs of the Declarations. My ideas have been reproduced a
But to what end? Some … future revolution? It can never succeed.
As Seneca warned Nero: No matter how many of us you kill, you will never kill your
successor. Now, my narrative is over. Switch off your silver orison. In two hours enforcers
will escort me into the Litehouse. I claim my last request.
… name it.
Your sony and access codes.
What do you wish to download?
A certain disney I once began, one nite long ago in another age.
“Mr. Cavendish? Are we awake?” A licorice snake on a field of cream wriggles into focus. The
number five. November 5. Why does my old John Thomas hurt so? A prank? My God, I have
a tube stuck up my willy! I fight to free myself but my muscles ignore me. A bottle up there
feeds a tube. The tube feeds a needle in my arm. The needle feeds me. A woman’s stiff face
framed with a pageboy haircut. “Tut tut. Lucky you were here when you fell over, Mr.
Cavendish. Very lucky indeed. If we had let you go wandering over heaths, youd be dead in a
ditch by now!”
Cavendish, a familiar name, Cavendish, who is this “Cavendish”? Where am I? I try to ask her,
but I can only squeal, like Peter Rabbit tossed off Salisbury Cathedral’s spire. Blackness embraces me. Thank God.
A number six. November 6. I’ve woken here before. A picture of a thatched cottage. Text in
Cornish or Druidic. The willy tube is gone. Something stinks. Of what? My calves are raised
and my arse is wiped with a brisk, cold, wet cloth. Excrement, feces, cloying, clogging,
smearing … poo. Did I sit on a tube of the stuff? Oh. No. How did I come to this? I try to fight
the cloth away, but my body only trembles. A sullen automaton looks into my eyes. A
discarded lover? I’m afraid she is going to kiss me. She suffers from vitamin deficiencies. She
should eat more fruit and veg, her breath stinks. But at least she controls her motor functions.
At least she can use a lavatory. Sleep, sleep, sleep, come free me.
Speak, Memory. No, not a word. My neck moves. Hallelujah. Timothy Langland Cavendish
can command his neck and his name has come home. November 7. I recall a yesterday and see
a tomorrow. Time, no arrow, no boomerang, but a concertina. Bedsores. How many days have
I lain here? Pass. How old is Tim Cavendish? Fifty? Seventy? A hundred? How can you forget
your age?
“Mr. Cavendish?” A face rises to the muddy surface.
The woman peers in. “Was Ursula your lady wife, Mr. Cavendish?” Don’t trust her. “No, I’m
Mrs. Judd. You’ve had a stroke, Mr. Cavendish. Do you understand? A teeny-weeny stroke.”
When did it happen? I tried to say. “Airn-dit-hpn” came out.
She crooned. “That’s why everything’s so topsy-turvy. But don’t worry, Dr. Upward says
we’re making super progress. No horrid hospital for us!” A stroke? Two-stroker? Stroke me?
Margo Roker had a stroke. Margo Roker?
Who are all you people? Memory, you old sod.
I offer that trio of vignettes for the benefit of lucky readers whose psyches have never been
razed to rubble by capillaries rupturing in their brains. Putting Timothy Cavendish together
again was a Tolstoyan editing job, even for the man who once condensed the nine-volume
Story of Oral Hygiene on the Isle of Wight to a mere seven hundred pages. Memories refused
to fit, or fitted but came unglued. Even months later, how would I know if some major tranche
of myself remained lost?
My stroke was relatively light, true, but the month that followed was the most mortifying of my
life. I spoke like a spastic. My arms were dead. I couldn’t wipe my own arse. My mind
shambled in fog yet was aware of my witlessness, and ashamed. I couldn’t bring myself to ask
the doctor or Sister Noakes or Mrs. Judd, “Who are you?” “Have we met before?” “Where do I
go when I leave here?” I kept asking for Mrs. Latham.
Basta! A Cavendish is down but never out. When The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish is
turned into a film, I advise thee, Director dearest, whom I picture as an intense, turtlenecked
Swede named Lars, to render that November as a boxer-in-training-for-the-big-fight montage.
True Grit Cavendish takes his injections without a quiver. Curious Cavendish rediscovers
language. Feral Cavendish redomesticated by Dr. Upward and Nurse Noakes. John Wayne
Cavendish on a walker (I graduated to a stick, which I still use. Veronica said it lends me a
Lloyd George air). Cavendish à la Carl Sagan, caged in a Dandelion Clock. As long as
Cavendish was anesthetized by amnesia, you could say he was content enough.
Then, Lars, strike a chord sinister.
The Six O’Clock News on the first day of December (Advent calendars were on show) had just
begun. I had fed myself mashed banana with evaporated milk without tipping it down my bib.
Nurse Noakes passed by, and my fellow inmates fell silent, like songbirds under the shadow of a hawk.
All at once, my memory’s chastity belt was unlocked and removed.
I rather wished it hadn’t been. My “friends” at Aurora House were senile boors who cheated at
Scrabble with stunning ineptitude and who were nice to me solely because in the Kingdom of
the Dying the most Enfeebled is the common Maginot Line against the Unconquerable Führer.
I had been imprisoned a whole month by my vengeful brother, so plainly no nationwide
manhunt was under way. I would have to effect my own escape, but how to outrun that mutant
groundsman, Withers, when a fifty-yard dash took a quarter of an hour? How to outwit the
Noakes from the Black Lagoon when I couldn’t even remember my post code?
Oh, the horror, the horror. My mashed banana clagged my throat.
My senses rethroned, I observed the Decembral rituals of man, nature, and beast. The pond
iced over in the first week of December, and disgusted ducks skated. Aurora House froze in
the mornings and boiled in the evenings. The asexual care worker, whose name was Deirdre,
unsurprisingly, strung tinsel from the light fittings and failed to electrocute herself. A plastic
tree appeared in a bucket wrapped in crepe paper. Gwendolin Bendincks organized paper-chain
drives to which the Undead flocked, both parties oblivious to the irony of the image. The
Undead clamored to be the Advent calendar’s window opener, a privilege bestowed by
Bendincks like the Queen awarding Maundy money: “Mrs. Birkin has found a cheeky
snowman, everyone, isn’t that fabulous?” Being Nurse Noakes’s sheepdog was her and
Warlock-Williams’s survival niche. I thought of Primo Levi’s Drowned and the Saved.
Dr. Upward was one of those Academy Award–winning Asses of Arrogance you find in
educational administration, law, or medicine. He visited Aurora House twice a week, and if, at
age fifty-five or so, his career was not living up to the destiny his name foretold, it was down
to us damnable obstacles in the way of all Emissars of Healing, sick people. I dismissed him as
a possible ally the moment I clapped eyes on him. Nor were the part-time botty wipers, bath
scrubbers, and gunk cookers about to jeopardize their lofty positions in society by springing
one of their charges.
No, I was stuck in Aurora House all right. A clock with no hands. “Freedom!” is the fatuous
jingle of our civilization, but only those deprived of it have the barest inkling re: what the stuff
actually is.
A few days before our Savior’s Birthday, a minibusload of private-school brats came to sing
carols. The Undead sang along with wrong verses and death rattles, and the racket drove me
out, it wasn’t even funny. I limped around Aurora House in search of my lost vigor, needing
the lavvy every thirty minutes. (The Organs of Venus are well known to all but, Brothers, the
Organ of Saturn is the Bladder.) Hooded doubts dogged my heels. Why was Den-holme
paying my captors his last precious kopecks to infantilize me? Had Georgette, incontinent with
senility told my brother about our brief diversion from the highway of fidelity so many years
ago? Was this trap a cuckold’s revenge?
Mother used to say escape is never further than the nearest book. Well, Mumsy no, not really
Your beloved large-print sagas of rags, riches, and heartbreak were no camouflage against the
miseries trained on you by the tennis ball launcher of life, were they? But, yes, Mum, there
again, you have a point. Books don’t offer real escape, but they can stop a mind scratching itself raw. God knows, I had bog all else to do at Aurora House except read. The day after my
miracle recovery I picked up Half-Lives and, ye gods, began wondering if Hilary V Hush
might not have written a publishable thriller after all. I had a vision of The First Luisa Rey
Mystery in stylish black-and-bronze selling at Tesco checkouts; then a Second Mystery, then the
Third. Queen Gwen(dolin Bendincks) exchanged a sharp 2B pencil for a blunt blandishment
(missionaries are so malleable if you kid them you’re a possible convert), and I set about giving
the thing a top-to-bottom edit. One or two things will have to go: the insinuation that Luisa Rey
is this Robert Frobisher chap reincarnated, for example. Far too hippie-druggy–new age. (I,
too, have a birthmark, below my left armpit, but no lover ever compared it to a comet.
Georgette nicknamed it Timbo’s Turd.) But, overall, I concluded the young-hack-versuscorporate-corruption thriller had potential. (The Ghost of Sir Felix Finch whines, “But it’s been
done a hundred times before!”—as if there could be anything not done a hundred thousand
times between Aristophanes and Andrew Void-Webber! As if Art is the What, not the How!)
My editing work on Half-Lives hit a natural obstacle when Luisa Rey was driven off a bridge
and the ruddy manuscript ran out of pages. I tore my hair and beat my breast. Did part two
even exist? Was it stuffed in a shoe box in Hilary V’s Manhattan apartment? Still abed in her
creative uterus? For the twentieth time I searched the secret recesses of my briefcase for the
covering letter, but I had left it in my Haymarket office suite.
Other literary pickings were lean. Warlock-Williams told me Aurora House had once boasted a
little library, now mothballed. (“The Jellyvision’s so much more Real for ordinary people,
that’s what it boils down to.”) I needed a miner’s helmet and a ruddy pick to locate this
“library.” It was down a dead end blocked off by stacked-up Great War memorial plaques
headed “Lest We Forget.” The dust was deep and crisp and even. One shelf of back editions of
a magazine called This England, a dozen Zane Grey westerns (in large print), a cookbook
entitled No Meat for Me Please! That left All Quiet on the Western Front (in whose page
corners a creative schoolboy had long ago drawn frames of a cartoon stick man masturbating
with his own nose—where are they now?) and Jaguars of the Skies, a yarn of everyday
helicopter pilots by “America’s Foremost Military Suspense Writer” (but, I happen to know,
ghostwritten at his “Command Center”—I shall name no names for fear of legal reprisals), and,
frankly, bugger all else.
I took the lot. To the starving man, potato peelings are haute cuisine.
Ernie Blacksmith and Veronica Costello, come in, your time is up. Ernie and I had our
moments, but were it not for these fellow dissidents, Nurse Noakes would still have me
drugged up to my ruddy eyeballs today. One overcast afternoon while the Undead were in
rehearsal for the Big Sleep, the staff were in a meeting, and the only sound troubling Aurora
House’s slumbers was a WWF contest between Fat One Fauntleroy and the Dispatcher, I
noticed, unusually, a careless hand had left the front door ajar. I crept out on a reconnaissance
mission, armed with a fib about dizziness and fresh air. Cold singed my lips, and I shivered!
My convalescence had stripped me of subcutaneous fat; my frame had shrunk from quasiFalstaffian to John of Gaunt. It was my first venture outside since the day of my stroke, six or
seven weeks before. I circumnavigated the inner grounds and found the ruins of an old
building, then fought through unkempt shrubberies to the brick perimeter wall to check for
holes or breaches. An SAS sapper could have clambered over with a nylon rope but not a
stroke victim with a stick. Drifts of brown-paper leaves were eroded and formed by the wind
as I passed. I came to the magnificent iron gates, opened and closed by a flash pneumatic stroke
electronic gizmo. Ruddy hell, they even had a surveillance camera and a two-way phone
thingy! I imagined Nurse Noakes boasting to the children (I nearly wrote “parents”) of prospective residents that they slept safe and secure thanks to these state-of-the-art surveillance
arrangements, meaning, of course, “Pay us on time and you won’t hear a dickey bird.” The
view did not bode well. Hull lay to the south, a half-day hike away for a robust stripling down
side roads lined with telegraph poles. Only lost holidaymakers would ever stumble across the
institute gates. Walking back down the drive, I heard screeching tires and a furious beep from a
Jupiter red Range Rover. I stepped aside. The driver was a bullish fellow clad in one of those
silvery anoraks beloved of transpolar fund-raisers. The Range Rover screeched to a gravelly
stop at the front steps, and the driver swaggered up to Reception like a flying ace from Jaguars
of the Skies. Coming back to the main entrance, I passed the boiler room. Ernie Blacksmith
poked his head out. “A dram of firewater, Mr. Cavendish?”
I didn’t need to be asked twice. The boiler room smelt of fertilizer but was warmed by the
boiler’s coal furnace. Perched on a sack of coal and making contented baby noises was a
longtime resident with the status of institution mascot, Mr. Meeks. Ernie Blacksmith was the
kind of quiet man you notice at second glance. This observant Scot kept company with a lady
named Veronica Costello, who had owned the finest hat shop, legend had it, in Edinburgh’s
history The couple’s demeanor suggested residents at a shabby Chekhovian hotel. Ernie and
Veronica respected my wish to be a miserable bugger, and I respected that. He now produced a
bottle of Irish malt from a coal scuttle. “You’re half-rocked if you’re thinking of getting out of
here without a helicopter.”
No reason to give anything away “Me?”
My bluff was dashed to pieces on the Rock of Ernie. “Take a pew,” he told me, grim and
I did so. “Cozy in here.”
“I was a certificated boiler man once upon a time. I service the workings for free, so the
management turn a blind eye to one or two little liberties I allow myself.” Ernie poured two
generous measures into plastic beakers. “Down the hatch.”
Rain on the Serengeti! Cacti flowered, cheetahs loped! “Where do you get it?”
“The coal merchant is not an unreasonable man. Seriously, you want to be careful. Withers
goes out to the gate for the second post at a quarter to four daily. You don’t want him to catch
you plotting your getaway”
“You sound well informed.”
“I was a locksmith too, that was after the army You come into contact with the semicrim, in the
security game. Gamekeepers and poachers and all. Not that I ever did anything illegal myself,
mind you, I was straight as an arrow. But I learnt that a good three-quarters of prison bust outs
fall flat, because all the gray matter”— he tapped his temple—“gets spent on the escape itself.
Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics. That fancy electric lock on the gate, for
example, I could take it apart blindfolded if I had the mind to, but what about a vehicle on the
other side? Money? Bolt-holes? You see, without logistics, where are you? Belly-up is where,
and in the back of Withers’s van five minutes later.”
Mr. Meeks screwed up his gnomish features and ground out the only two coherent words he
had retained: “I know! I know!”
Before I could discern whether or not Ernie Blacksmith was warning me or sounding me out,
Veronica came in through the interior door wearing a hat of ice-melting scarlet. I just stopped
myself from bowing. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Costello.”
“Mr. Cavendish, how pleasant. Wandering abroad in this biting cold?”
“Scouting,” Ernie answered, “for his one-man escape committee.”
“Oh, once you’ve been initiated into the Elderly, the world doesn’t want you back.” Veronica
settled herself in a rattan chair and adjusted her hat just so. “We—by whom I mean anyone
over sixty—commit two offenses just by existing. One is Lack of Velocity We drive too slowly walk too slowly talk too slowly The world will do business with dictators, perverts, and
drug barons of all stripes, but being slowed down it cannot abide. Our second offence is being
Everyman’s memento mori. The world can only get comfy in shiny-eyed denial if we are out of
“Veronica’s parents served life sentences in the intelligentsia,” put in Ernie, with a dash of
She smiled fondly. “Just look at the people who come here during visiting hours! They need
treatment for shock. Why else do they spout that ‘You’re only as old as you feel!’ claptrap?
Really, who are they hoping to fool? Not us—themselves!”
Ernie concluded, “Us elderly are the modern lepers. That’s the truth of it.”
I objected: “I’m no outcast! I have my own publishing house, and I need to get back to work,
and I don’t expect you to believe me, but I am being confined here against my will.”
Ernie and Veronica exchanged a glance in their secret language.
“You are a publisher? Or you were, Mr. Cavendish?”
“Am. My office is in Haymarket.”
“Then what,” queried Ernie reasonably, “are you doing here?”
Now, that was the question. I recounted my unlikely yarn to date. Ernie and Veronica listened
the way sane, attentive adults do. Mr. Meeks nodded off. I got as far as my stroke, when a
yelling outside interrupted me. I assumed one of the Undead was having a fit, but a look
through the crack showed the driver of the Jupiter red Range Rover shouting into his mobile
phone. “Why bother?” Frustration twisted his face. “She’s in the clouds! She thinks it’s 1966!
… No, she’s not faking it. Would you wet your knickers for kicks? … No, she didn’t. She
thought I was her first husband. She said she didn’t have any sons … You’re telling me it’s
Oedipal…. Yes, I described it again. Three times…. In detail, yes. Come and have a go
yourself if you think you can do better…. Well, she never cared for me either. But bring
perfume…. No, for you. She reeks…. What else would she reek of? … Of course they do, but
it’s hard to keep up, it just … trickles out all the time.” He mounted his Range Rover and
roared off down the drive. Sprinting after it and nipping through the gates before they swung
shut did cross my mind, then I reminded myself of my age. Anyway, the surveillance camera
would spot me, and Withers would pick me up before I could flag anyone down.
“Mrs. Hotchkiss’s son,” Veronica said. “She was a sweet soul, but her son, ooh, no. You
don’t own half the hamburger franchises in Leeds and Sheffield by being nice. Not a family
short of a bob or two.”
A mini-Denholme. “Well, at least he visits her.”
“And here’s why.” An attractive, wicked gleam illuminated the old lady. “When Mrs.
Hotchkiss got wind of his plan to pack her off to Aurora House, she crammed every last family
gem into a shoe box and buried it. Now she can’t remember where, or she can remember but
isn’t saying.”
Ernie divided up the last drops of malt. “What gets my goat about him is how he leaves his
keys in the ignition. Every time. He’d never do that out in the real world. But we’re so decrepit,
so harmless, that he doesn’t even have to be careful when he visits.”
I judged it poor form to ask Ernie why he had noticed a thing like that. He had never spoken an
unnecessary word in his life.
I visited the boiler room on a daily basis. The whiskey supply was erratic, but not so the
company. Mr. Meeks’s role was that of a black Labrador in a long-lived marriage, after the
kids have left home. Ernie could spin wry observations about his life and times and Aurora
House folklore, but his de facto spouse could converse on most topics under the sun. Veronica maintained a vast collection of not-quite-stars’ autographed photographs. She was widely read
enough to appreciate my literary wit but not so widely read that she knew my sources. I like
that in a woman. I could say things to her like “The most singular difference between happiness
and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid” and, safe in her ignorance of J. D. Salinger,
I felt witty, charming, and yes, even youthful. I felt Ernie watching me as I showed off, but
what the heck? I thought. A man may flirt.
Veronica and Ernie were survivors. They warned me about the dangers of Aurora House: how
its pong of urine and disinfectant, the Undead Shuffle, Noakes’s spite, the catering redefine the
concept of “ordinary” Once any tyranny becomes accepted as ordinary, according to Veronica,
its victory is assured.
Thanks to her, I ruddy well bucked my ideas up. I clipped my nasal hair and borrowed some
shoe polish from Ernie. “Shine your shoes every night,” my old man used to say, “and you’re
as good as anyone.” Looking back, I see that Ernie tolerated my posturing because he knew
Veronica was only humoring me. Ernie had never read a work of fiction in his life—“Always a
radio man, me”—but watching him coax the Victorian boiler system into life one more time, I
always felt shallow. It’s true, reading too many novels makes you go blind.
I cooked up my first escape plan—one so simple it hardly warrants the name—alone. It needed
will and a modicum of courage, but not brains. A nocturnal telephone call from the phone in
Nurse Noakes’s office to the answering machine of Cavendish Publishing. An SOS for Mrs.
Latham, whose rugger-bugger nephew drives a mighty Ford Capri. They arrive at Aurora
House; after threats and remonstrances I get in; nevvy drives off. That’s all. On the night of
December 15 (I think), I woke myself up in the early hours, put on my dressing gown, and let
myself into the dim corridor. (My door had been left unlocked since I began playing possum.)
No sound but snores and plumbing. I thought of Hilary V Hush’s Luisa Rey creeping around
Swannekke B. (Behold my bifocals.) Reception looked empty but I crawled below the level of
the desk commando style and hoisted myself back to the vertical—no mean feat. Noakes’s
office light was off. I tried the door handle, and yes, it gave. In I slipped. Just enough light
came in through the crack to see. I picked up the receiver and dialed the number of Cavendish
Publishing. I did not get through to my answering machine.
“You cannot make the call as dialed. Replace the handset, check the number, and try again.”
Desolation. I assumed the worst, that the Hogginses had torched the place so badly that even
the telephones had melted. I tried once more, in vain. The only other telephone number I could
reconstruct since my stroke was my next, and last, resort. After five or six tense rings
Georgette, my sister-in-law, answered in the kittenish pout I knew, Lordy Lordy I knew. “It’s
gone bedtime, Aston.”
“Georgette, it’s me, Timbo. Put Denny on, will you?”
“Aston? What’s wrong with you?”
“It isn’t Aston, Georgette! It’s Timbo!”
“Put Aston back on, then!”
“I don’t know Aston! Listen, you must get me Denny.”
“Denny can’t come to the phone right now.”
Georgette’s grip on her rocker was never exactly firm, but she sounded buckarooed over the
rainbow. “Are you drunk?”
“Only if it’s a nice wine bar with a good cellar. I can’t abide pubs.”
“No, listen, it’s Timbo, your brother-in-law! I’ve got to speak to Denholme.”
“You sound like Timbo. Timbo? Is that you?”
“Yes, Georgette, it’s me, and if this is a—”“Rather rum of you not to turn up at your own brother’s funeral. That’s what the whole family
The floor spun. “What?”
“We knew about your various tiffs, but I mean—”
I fell. “Georgette, you just said Denny is dead. Did you mean to say it?”
“Of course I did! D’you think I’m bloody doolally?”
“Tell me once more.” I lost my voice. “Is—Denny—dead?”
“D’you think I’d make something like this up?”
Nurse Noakes’s chair creaked with treachery and torture. “How, Georgette, for Christ’s sake,
“Who are you? It’s the middle of the night! Who is this, anyway? Aston, is this you?”
I had a cramp in my throat. “Timbo.”
“Well, what clammy stone have you been hiding under?”
“Look, Georgette. How did Denny”—saying made it more so— “pass away?”
“Feeding his priceless carp. I was spreading duckling pâté on crackers for supper. When I went
to fetch Denny he was floating in the pond, facedown. He may have been there a day or so, I
wasn’t his babysitter, you know. Dixie had told him to cut back on the salt, strokes run in his
family. Look, stop hogging this line and put Aston on.”
“Listen, who’s there now? With you?”
“Just Denny”
“But Denny’s dead!”
“I know that! He’s been in the fishpond for absolutely … weeks, now. How am I supposed to
get him out? Listen, Timbo, be a dear, bring me a hamper or something from Fortnum and
Mason’s, will you? I ate all the crackers, and all the thrushes ate the crumbs, so now I’ve got
nothing to eat but fish food and Cumberland sauce. Aston hasn’t called back since he borrowed
Denny’s art collection to show his evaluator friend, and that was … days ago, weeks rather.
The gas people have stopped the supply and …”
My eyes stung with light.
The doorway filled with Withers. “You again.”
I flipped. “My brother has died! Dead, do you understand? Stone Ruddy Dead! My sister-inlaw’s bonkers, and she doesn’t know what to do! This is a family emergency! If you have a
Christian bone in your ruddy body you’ll help me sort this out this godawful ruddy mess!”
Dear Reader, Withers saw only a hysterical inmate making nuisance calls after midnight. He
shoved a chair from his path with his foot. I cried into the phone: “Georgette, listen to me, I’m
trapped in a ruddy madhouse hellhole called Aurora House in Hull, you’ve got that? Aurora
House in Hull, and for Christ’s sake, get anybody there to come up and rescue—”
A giant finger cut my line. Its nail was gammy and bruised.
Nurse Noakes walloped the breakfast gong to declare hostilities open. “Friends, we have
clasped a thief to our bosom.” A hush fell over the assembled Undead.
A desiccated walnut banged his spoon. “The Ay-rabs know what to do with ’em, Nurse! No
light-fingered Freddies in Saudi, eh? Friday afternoons in the mosque car parks, chop! Eh?
“A rotten apple is in our barrel.” I swear, it was Gresham Boys’ School again, sixty years on.
The same shredded wheat disintegrating in the same bowl of milk. “Cavendish!” Nurse
Noakes’s voice vibrated like a pennywhistle. “Stand!” The heads of those semiani-mate
autopsies in mildewed tweeds and colorless blouses swiveled my way. If I responded like a
victim, I would seal my own sentence.It was hard to care. I had not slept a wink all night. Denny was dead. Turned to carps, most
likely. “Oh, for God’s sake, woman, get some proportion in your life. The Crown Jewels are
still safe in the Tower! All I did was make one crucial telephone call. If Aurora House had a
cybercafe I would willingly have sent an e-mail! I didn’t want to wake anyone up, so I used my
initiative and borrowed the telephone. My profoundest apologies. I’ll pay for the call.”
“Oh, pay you shall. Residents, what do we do to Rotten Apples?”
Gwendolin Bendincks rose and pointed her finger. “Shame on you!”
Warlock-Williams seconded the motion. “Shame on you!”
One by one those Undead sentient enough to follow the plot joined in. “Shame on you! Shame
on you! Shame on you!” Mr. Meeks conducted the chorus like Herbert von Karajan. I poured
my tea, but a wooden ruler knocked the cup from my hands.
Nurse Noakes spat electrical sparks: “Don’t dare look away while you’re being shamed!”
The chorus died the death, except for one or two stragglers.
My knuckles whimpered. Anger and pain focused my wits like a zazen beating stick. “I doubt
the kindly Mr. Withers told you, but it transpires my brother Denholme is dead. Yes, stone
dead. Call him yourself, if you won’t believe me. Indeed, I beg you to call him. My sister-inlaw is not a well woman, and she needs help with funeral arrangements.”
“How could you know your brother had died before you broke into my office?”
A crafty double nelson. Her crucifix toying inspired me. “Saint Peter.”
Big Bad Frown. “What about him?”
“In a dream he told me that Denholme recently passed to the Other Side. ‘Phone your sister-inlaw,’ he said. ‘She needs your help.’ I told him using the telephone was against Aurora House
rules, but Saint Peter assured me that Nurse Noakes was a Godfearing Catholic who wouldn’t
mock such an explanation.”
La Duca was actually halted in her tracks by this balderdash. (“Know thine Enemy” trumps
“Know thyself”) Noakes ran through the alternatives: was I a dangerous deviant; harmless
delusional; re-alpolitikster; Petrine visionary? “Our rules in Aurora House are for everyone’s
Time to consolidate my gains. “How true that is.”
“I shall have a chat with the Lord. In the meantime”—she addressed the dining room—“Mr.
Cavendish is on probation. This episode is not gone and not forgotten.”
After my modest victory I played patience (the card game, not the virtue, never that) in the
lounge, something I had not done since my ill-starred Tintagel honeymoon with Madame X.
(The place was a dive. All crumbling council houses and joss-stick shops.) Patience’s design
flaw became obvious for the first time in my life: the outcome is decided not during the course
of play but when the cards are shuffled, before the game even begins. How pointless is that?
The point is that it lets your mind go elsewhere. Elsewhere was not rosy. Denholme had died
some time ago, but I was still in Aurora House. I dealt myself a new worst-case scenario, one
where Denholme sets up a standing order from one of his tricky-dicky accounts to pay for my
residency in Aurora House, out of kindness or malice. Denholme dies. My flight from the
Hogginses was classified, so nobody knows I’m here. The standing order survives its maker.
Mrs. Latham tells the police I was last seen going to a loan shark. Detective Plod conjectures I
had been turned down by my lender of the last resort and had Done a Eurostar. So, six weeks
later, nobody is looking for me, not even the Hogginses.
Ernie and Veronica came up to my table. “I used that telephone to check the cricket scores.”
Ernie was in ill humor. “Now it’ll be locked up at nights.”
“Black ten on red jack,” advised Veronica. “Never mind, Ernie.”Ernie ignored her. “Noakes’ll be looking to lynch you now.”
“What can she do? Take away my shredded wheat?”
“She’ll Mickey Finn your food! Like the last time.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“Remember the last time you crossed her?”
“The morning of your conveniently timed stroke was when.”
“Are you saying my stroke was … induced?”
Ernie made an extremely irritating “wakey, wakey!” face.
“Oh, pish and tosh! My father died of a stroke, my brother probably died of one. Print your
own reality if you must, Ernest, but leave Veronica and me out of it.”
Ernie glowered. (Lars, lower the lighting.) “Aye. You think you’re so damn clever, but you’re
nothing but a hoity-toity southern wazzock!”
“Better a wazzock, whatever one of those is, than a quitter.” I knew I was going to regret that.
“A quitter? Me? Call me that just once more. Go on.”
“Quitter.” (Oh, Imp of the Perverse! Why do I let you speak for me?) “What I think is this.
You’ve given up on the real world outside this prison because it intimidates you. Seeing
someone else escape would make you uncomfortable with your taste in deathbeds. That’s why
you’re throwing this tantrum now.”
The Gas Ring of Ernie flared. “Where I stop isn’t for you to pass judgments on, Timothy
Cavendish!” (A Scot can turn a perfectly decent name into a head-butt.) “Y ou couldn’t escape
from a garden center!”
“If you’ve got a foolproof plan, let’s hear it.”
Veronica attempted to mediate. “Boys!”
Ernie’s blood was up. “Foolproofdepends on the size of the fool.”
“Witty homily, that.” My sarcasm disgusted me. “You must be a genius in Scotland.”
“No, in Scotland a genius is an Englishman who gets himself accidentally imprisoned in a
retirement home.”
Veronica gathered my scattered cards. “Do either of you know clock patience? You have to add
cards up to fifteen?”
“We’re leaving, Veronica,” growled Ernie.
“No,” I snapped and stood up, wanting to avoid Veronica having to choose between us, for my
sake. “I’m leaving.”
I vowed not to visit the boiler room until I received an apology. So I didn’t go that afternoon,
or the next, or the next.
Ernie refused to meet my eye all Christmas week. Veronica gave me sorry smiles in passing,
but her loyalties were clear. In hindsight, I am stupefied. What was I thinking? Jeopardizing my
only friendships with sulks! I’ve always been a gifted sulker, which explains a lot. Sulkers
binge on lonely fantasies. Fantasies about the Hotel Chelsea on West Twenty-third Street,
about knocking on a certain door. It opens, and Miss Hilary V Hush is very pleased to see me,
her nightshirt hangs loose, she is as innocent as Kylie Minogue but as she-wolfish as Mrs.
Robinson. “I’ve flown round the world to find you,” I say. She pours a whiskey from the
minibar. “Mature. Mellow. Malty.” That naughty she-husky then draws me to her unmade bed,
where I search for the fount of eternal youth.
Half-Lives, Part II sits on a shelf above the bed. I read the manuscript, suspended in the
postorgasmic Dead Sea, while Hilary takes a shower. The second half is even better than the
first, but the Master will teach his Acolyte how to make it superb. Hilary dedicates the novel to me, wins the Pulitzer, and confesses at her acceptance speech that she owes everything to her
agent, friend, and in many ways, father.
Sweet fantasy Cancer for the cure.
Christmas Eve at Aurora House was a lukewarm dish. I strolled out (a privilege bartered
through the offices of Gwendolin Bendincks) to the gates for a glimpse of the outside world. I
gripped the iron gate and looked through the bars. (Visual irony, Lars. Casablanca.) My vision
roamed the moor, rested on a burial mound, an abandoned sheep pen, hovered on a Norman
church yielding to Druidic elements at last, skipped to a power station, skimmed the ink-stained
Sea of the Danes to the Humber bridge, tracked a warplane over corrugated fields. Poor
England. Too much history for its acreage. Years grow inwards here, like my toenails. The
surveillance camera watched me. It had all the time in the world. I considered ending my sulk
with Ernie Blacksmith, if only to hear a civil Merry Christmas from Veronica. No. To hell with
’em both.
“Reverend Rooney!” He had a sherry in one hand, and I tied up the other with a mince pie.
Behind the Christmas tree, fairy lights pinkened our complexions. “I have a teeny-weeny favor
to beg.”
“What might that be, Mr. Cavendish?” No comedy vicar, he. Reverend Rooney was a Career
Cleric, the spitting image of a tax-evading Welsh picture framer I once crossed swords with in
Hereford, but that is another story.
“I’d like you to pop a Christmas card in the post for me, Reverend.”
“Is that all? Surely if you asked Nurse Noakes she’d see to it for you?”
So the hag had got to him, too.
“Nurse Noakes and I don’t always see eye to eye regarding communications with the outside
“Christmas is a wonderful time for bridging the spaces between us.”
“Christmas is a wonderful time for letting snoozing dogs snooze, Vicar. But I do so want my
sister to know I’m thinking of her over our Lord’s Birthday Nurse Noakes may have
mentioned the death of my dear brother?”
“Terribly sad.” He knew about the Saint Peter affair all right. “I’m sorry.”
I produced the card from my jacket pocket. “I’ve addressed it to ‘The Caregiver,’ just to make
sure my Yuletide greetings do get through. She’s not all”—I tapped my head—“there, I’m
sorry to say. Here, let me slip it into your cassock pouch …” He squirmed, but I had him
cornered. “I’m so blessed, Vicar, to have friends I can trust. Thank you, thank you, from the
bottom of my heart.”
Simple, effective, subtle, you sly old fox TC. By New Year’s Day, Aurora House would wake
to find me gone, like Zorro.
Ursula invites me into the wardrobe. “You haven’t aged a day, Timbo, and neither has this
snaky fellow!” Her furry fawn rubs up against my Narnian-sized lamppost and mothballs …
but then, as ever, I awoke, my swollen appendage as welcome as a swollen appendix, and as
useful. Six o’clock. The heating systems composed works in the style of John Cage. Chilblains
burned my toe knuckles. I thought about Christmases gone, so many more gone than lay ahead.
How many more mornings did I have to endure?
“Courage, TC. A spanking red post-office train is taking your letter south to Mother London.
Its cluster bombs will be released on impact, to the police, to the social welfare people, to Mrs. Latham c/o the old Haymarket address. You’ll be out of here in a jiffy.” My imagination
described those belated Christmas presents I would celebrate my freedom with. Cigars, vintage
whiskey a dalliance with Little Miss Muffet on her ninety pence per minute line. Why stop
there? A return match to Thailand with Guy the Guy and Captain Viagra?
I noticed a misshapen woolen sock hanging from the mantelpiece. It hadn’t been there when I
had turned out the light. Who could have crept in without waking me? Ernie calling a Christmas
truce? Who else? Good old Ernie! Shuddering happily in my flannel pajamas, I retrieved the
stocking and brought it back to bed. It was very light. I turned it inside out, and a blizzard of
torn paper came out. My handwriting, my words, my phrases!
My letter!
My salvation, ripped up. I beat my breast, gnashed my hair, tore my teeth, I injured my wrist
by pounding my mattress. Reverend Ruddy Rooney Rot in Hell! Nurse Noakes, that bigoted
bitch! She had stood over me like the Angel of Death, as I slept! Merry Ruddy Christmas, Mr.
I succumbed. Late-fifteenth-century verb, Old French succomber or Latin succumbere, but a
basic necessity of the human condition, especially mine. I succumbed to the bovine care
assistants. I succumbed to the gift tag: “To Mr. Cavendish from your new pals— many more
Aurora House Christingles to come!” I succumbed to my gift: the Wonders of Nature twomonths-to-a-page calendar. (Date of death not included.) I succumbed to the rubber turkey, the
synthetic stuffing, the bitter Brussels sprouts; to the bangless cracker (mustn’t induce heart
attacks, bad for business), its midget’s paper crown, its snonky bazoo, its clean joke (Barman:
“What’ll it be?” Skeleton: “Pint and a mop, please.”). I succumbed to the soap-opera specials,
spiced with extra Christmas violence; to Queenie’s speech from the grave. Coming back from a
pee, I met Nurse Noakes, and succumbed to her triumphal “Season’s greetings, Mr.
A history program on BBC2 that afternoon showed old footage shot in Ypres in 1919. That
hellish mockery of a once fair town was my own soul.
Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to
fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds, and contrary tides … I mistook them for adulthood.
Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life’s voyage, I neglected to record their latitude,
their longitude, their approach. Young ruddy fool. What wouldn’t I give now for a neverchanging map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.
I made it to Boxing Day because I was too miserable to hang myself. I lie. I made it to Boxing
Day because I was too cowardly to hang myself. Lunch was a turkey broth (with crunchy
lentils), enlivened only by a search for Deirdre’s (the androgynous automaton) misplaced
mobile phone. The zombies enjoyed thinking where it could be (down sides of sofas), places it
probably wasn’t (the Christmas tree), and places it couldn’t possibly be (Mrs. Birkin’s
bedpan). I found myself tapping at the boiler room door, like a repentant puppy
Ernie stood over a washing machine in pieces on newspapers. “Look who it isn’t.”
“Merry Boxing Day, Mr. Cavendish”—Veronica beamed, in a Romanov fur hat. She had a fat
book of poetry propped on her lap. “Come in, do.”
“Been a day or two,” I understated, awkwardly.
“I know!” exclaimed Mr. Meeks. “I know!”
Ernie still radiated disdain.
“Er … can I come in, Ernie?”
He hoisted then dropped his chin a few degrees to show it was all the same to him. He was taking apart the boiler again, tiny silver screws in his chunky, oily digits. He wasn’t making it
easy for me. “Ernie,” I finally said, “sorry about the other day.”
“If you don’t get me out of here … I’ll lose my mind.”
He disassembled a component I couldn’t even name. “Aye.”
Mr. Meeks rocked himself to and fro.
“So … what do you say?”
He lowered himself onto a bag of fertilizer. “Oh, don’t be soft.”
I don’t believe I had smiled since the Frankfurt Book Fair. My face hurt.
Veronica corrected her flirty-flirty hat. “Tell him about our fee, Ernest.”
“Anything, anything.” I never meant it more. “What’s your price?”
Ernie made me wait until every last screwdriver was back in his tool bag. “Veronica and I have
decided to venture forth to pastures new.” He nodded in the direction of the gate. “Up north.
I’ve got an old friend who’ll see us right. So, you’ll be taking us with you.”
I hadn’t seen that coming, but who cared? “Fine, fine. Delighted.”
“Settled, then. D-Day is two days from now.”
“So soon? You’ve already got a plan?”
The Scot sniffed, unscrewed his thermos, and poured pungent black tea into its cap. “You
could say as much, aye.”
Ernie’s plan was a high-risk sequence of toppling dominoes. “Any escape strategy,” he
lectured, “must be more ingenious than your guards.” It was ingenious, not to say audacious,
but if any domino failed to trigger the next, instant exposure would bring dire results, especially
if Ernie’s macabre theory of enforced medication was in fact true. Looking back, I am amazed
at myself for agreeing to go along with it. My gratitude that my friends were talking to me
again, and my desperation to get out of Aurora House—alive— muted my natural prudence, I
can only suppose.
December 28 was chosen because Ernie had learnt from Deirdre that Mrs. Judd was staying in
Hull for nieces and pantomimes. “Intelligence groundwork.” Ernie tapped his nose. I would
have preferred Withers or the Noakes harpy to be off the scene, but Withers only left to visit
his mother in Robin Hood’s Bay in August, and Ernie considered Mrs. Judd was the most
levelheaded of our jailers and thus the most dangerous.
D-Day I reported to Ernie’s room thirty minutes after the Undead were put to bed at ten
o’clock. “Last chance to back out if you don’t think you can hack it,” the artful Scot told me.
“I’ve never backed out of anything in my life,” I replied, lying through my decaying teeth.
Ernie unscrewed the ventilation unit and removed Deirdre’s mobile telephone from its hiding
place. “You’ve got the poshest voice,” he had informed me, when allocating our various roles,
“and bullshitting on telephones is how you make your living.” I entered Johns Hotchkiss’s
number, obtained by Ernie from Mrs. Hotchkiss’s phone book months earlier.
It was answered with a sleepy “Whatizzit?”
“Ah, yes, Mr. Hotchkiss?”
“Speaking. You are?”
Reader, you would have been proud of me. “Dr. Conway Aurora House. I’m covering for Dr.
“Jesus, has something happened to Mother?”
“I’m afraid so, Mr. Hotchkiss. You must steel yourself. I don’t think she’ll make it to the
morning.”“Oh! Oh?”
A woman in the background demanded, “Who is it, Johns?”
“Jesus! Really?”
“But what’s … wrong with her?”
“Severe pleurisy.”
Perhaps my empathy with the role outpaced my expertise, by a whisker. “Healey’s pleurisy is
never impossible in women your mother’s age, Mr. Hotchkiss. Look, I’ll go over my diagnosis
once you’re here. Your mother is asking for you. I’ve got her on twenty mgs of, uh,
morphadin-50, so she isn’t in any pain. Odd thing is, she keeps talking about jewelry. Over
and over, she’s saying, ‘I must tell Johns, I must tell Johns …’ Does that make any sense to
The moment of truth.
He bit! “My God. Are you positive? Can she remember where she put it?”
The background woman said, “What? What?”
“She seems terribly distressed that these jewels stay in the family.”
“Of course, of course, but where are they, Doctor? Where is she saying she stashed them?”
“Look, I have to get back to her room, Mr. Hotchkiss. I’ll meet you in Reception at Aurora
House…. When?”
“Ask her where—no, tell her—tell Mummy to— Look, Doctor— er—”
“Er … Conway! Conway”
“Dr. Conway, can you hold your phone against my mother’s mouth?”
“I’m a doctor, not a telephone club. Come yourself. Then she can tell you.”
“Tell her—just hang on till we get there, for God’s sake. Tell her—Pipkins loves her very
much. I’ll be over … half an hour.”
The end of the beginning. Ernie zipped his bag. “Nice work. Keep the phone, in case he calls
Domino two had me standing sentinel in Mr. Meeks’s room watching through the crack in the
door. Due to his advanced state of decay, our loyal boiler room mascot wasn’t in on the great
escape, but his room was opposite mine, and he understood “Shush!” At a quarter past ten
Ernie went to Reception to announce my death to Nurse Noakes. This domino could fall in
unwelcome directions. (Our discussions over whom the corpse and whither the messenger had
been lengthy: Veronica’s death would require a drama beyond Ernie’s powers not to arouse
our shrew’s suspicion; Ernie’s death, reported by Veronica, was ruled out by her tendency to
lapse into melodrama; both Ernie’s and Veronica’s rooms were bordered by sentient Un-dead
who might throw a spanner in our works. My room, however, was in the old school wing, and
my only neighbor was Mr. Meeks.) The big unknown lay in Nurse Noakes’s personal loathing
for me. Would she rush to see her enemy fallen, to stick a hatpin in my neck to check I was
truly dead? Or celebrate in style first?
Footsteps. A knock on my door. Nurse Noakes, sniffing the bait. Domino three was teetering,
but already deviations were creeping in. Ernie was supposed to have accompanied her as far as
the door of my death chamber. She must have rushed on ahead. From my hiding place I saw
the predator peering in. She switched on the lights. The classic plot staple of pillows under the
blankets, more realistic than you’d think, lured her in. I dashed across the corridor and yanked
the door shut. From this point on, the third domino depended on lock mechanisms—the external latch was a stiff, rotary affair, and before I had it turned Noakes was hauling the door
open again—her foot levered against the doorframe—her demonic strength uprooting my
biceps and tearing my wrists. Victory, I knew, would not be mine.
So I took a big risk and abruptly released the handle. The door flew open, and the witch soared
across the room. Before she could charge at the door again I had it shut and locked. A Titus
Andronicus catalog of threats beat at the door. They haunt my nightmares still. Ernie came
puffing up with a hammer and some three-inch nails. He nailed the door to its frame and left the
huntress snarling in a prison cell of her own invention.
Down in Reception, domino four was bleeping blue murder on the main gate intercom
machine. Veronica knew what button to press. “I’ve been bloody bleeping this bloody thing for
ten bloody minutes while Mother is bloody fading away!” Johns Hotchkiss was upset. “What
the f*** are you people playing at?”
“I had to help Dr. Conway restrain your mother, Mr. Hotchkiss.”
“Restrain her? For pleurisy?”
Veronica pressed the open switch, and across the grounds the gate, we hoped, swung wide. (I
preempt the letter-writing reader who may demand to know why we hadn’t used this very
switch to make a run for it by explaining that the gate closed automatically after forty seconds;
that the reception desk was ordinarily manned; and that wintry miles of moorland lay beyond.)
Through the freezing mist, the screech of tires grew louder. Ernie hid in the back office, and I
greeted the Range Rover on the outside steps. Johns Hotchkiss’s wife was in the driving seat.
“How is she?” demanded Hotchkiss, striding over.
“Still with us, Mr. Hotchkiss, still asking for you.”
“Thank Christ. You’re this Conway?”
I wanted to head off more medical questions. “No, the doctor’s with your mother, I just work
“I’ve never seen you.”
“My daughter is an assistant nurse here, actually, but because of the staffing shortage and
emergency with your mother I’m out of retirement to man the front desk. Hence the delay in
getting the main gate open.”
His wife slammed the car door. “Johns! Hello? It’s below freezing out here and your mother is
dying. Can we sort out lapses in protocol later?”
Veronica had appeared in a spangly nightcap. “Mr. Hotchkiss? We’ve met on several
occasions. Your mother is my dearest friend here. Do hurry to her, please. She’s in her own
room. The doctor thought it too dangerous to move her.”
Johns Hotchkiss half-smelt a rat, but how could he accuse this dear old biddy of deceit and
conspiracy? His wife harried and hauled him down the corridor.
I was in a driving seat again. Ernie hoisted his arthritic cara and an unreasonable number of
hatboxes into the back, then jumped into the passenger seat. I hadn’t replaced the car after
Madame X left, and the intervening years did not fall away as I had hoped. Ruddy hell, which
pedal was which? Accelerator, brake, clutch, mirror, signal, maneuver. I reached for the key in
the ignition. “What are you waiting for?” asked Ernie.
My fingers insisted there was no key.
“Hurry, Tim, hurry!”
“No key No ruddy key.”
“He always leaves it in the ignition!”
My fingers insisted there was no key. “His wife was driving! She took the keys! The ruddy female took the keys in with her! Sweet Saint Ruddy Jude, what do we do now?”
Ernie looked on the dashboard, in the glove compartment, on the floor.
“Can’t you hot-wire it?” My voice was desperate.
“Don’t be soft!” he shouted back, scrabbling through the ashtray.
Domino five was Super-Glued vertical. “Excuse me,” said Veronica.
“Look under the sun flap!”
“Nothing here but a ruddy ruddy ruddy—”
“Excuse me,” said Veronica. “Is this a car key?”
Ernie and I turned, howled, “No-oooooo,” in stereo at the Yale key. We howled again as we
saw Withers running down the nightlit corridor from the dining room annex, with two
Hotchkisses close behind.
“Oh,” said Veronica. “This fat one fell out, too …”
We watched as Withers reached Reception. He looked through the glass straight at me,
transmitting a mental image of a Rottweiler savaging a doll sewn in the shape of Timothy
Langland Cavendish, aged sixty-five and three-quarters. Ernie locked all the doors, but what
good would that do us?
“How about this one?” Was Veronica dangling a car key in front of my nose? With a Range
Rover logo on it.
Ernie and I howled, “Yeeeeee-sss!”
Withers flung open the front door and leapt down the steps.
My fingers fumbled and dropped the key.
Withers flew head-over-arse on a frozen puddle.
I banged my head on the steering wheel and the horn sounded.
Withers was pulling at the locked door. My fingers scrabbled as indoor fireworks of pain
flashed in my skull. Johns Hotchkiss was screaming, “Get your bony carcasses out of my car
or I’ll sue— Dammit, I’ll sue anyway!” Withers banged my window with a club, no, it was his
fist; the wife’s gemstone ring scratched the glass; the key somehow slid home into the ignition;
the engine roared into life; the dashboard lit up with fairy lights; Chet Baker was singing “Let’s
Get Lost;” Withers was hanging on to the door and banging; the Hotchkisses crouched in my
headlamps like El Greco sinners; I put the Range Rover into first, but it shunted rather than
moved because the hand brake was on; Aurora House lit up like the Close Encounters UFO; I
flung away the sensation of having lived through this very moment many times before; I
released the hand brake, bumped Withers; moved up to second; the Hotchkisses were not
drowning but waving and there they went and we had lift-off!
I drove round the pond, away from the gates, because Mrs. Hotchkiss had left the Range Rover
pointing that way. I checked the mirror—Withers and the Hotchkisses were sprinting after us
like ruddy commandos. “I’m going to lure them away from the gates,” I blurted to Ernie, “to
give you time to pick the lock. How long will you need? I reckon you’ll have forty-five
Ernie hadn’t heard me.
“How long will you need to pick the lock?”
“You’ll have to ram the gates.”
“Nice big Range Rover at fifty miles per hour should do the trick.”
“What? You said you could pick the lock in your sleep!”
“A state-of-the-art electric thing? No way!”
“I wouldn’t have locked up Noakes and stolen a car if I’d known you couldn’t pick the lock!”“Aye, exactly, you’re nesh, so you needed encouragement.”
“Encouragement?” I yelled, scared, desperate, furious in equal thirds. The car tore through a
shrubbery and the shrubbery tore back.
“How terribly thrilling!” exclaimed Veronica.
Ernie spoke as if discussing a DIY puzzler. “So long as the center pole isn’t sunk deep, the
gates’ll just fly apart on impact.”
“And if it is sunk deep?”
Veronica revealed a manic streak. “Then we’ll fly apart on impact! So, foot to the floor, Mr.
The gates flew at us, ten, eight, six car lengths away. Dad spoke from my pelvic floor. “Do you
have any inkling of the trouble you’re in, boy?” So I obeyed my father, yes, I obeyed him and I
slammed on the brakes. Mum hissed in my ear: “Sod it, our Timbo, what have you got to
lose?” The thought that I had slammed not the brakes but the accelerator was the last—two car
lengths, one, wham!
The vertical bars became diagonal ones.
The gates flew off their hinges.
My heart bungee-jumped from throat to bowel, back again, back again, and the Range Rover
skidded all over the road, I gripped my intestines shut with all my might, the brakes screeched
but I kept her out of the ditches, engine still running, windscreen still intact.
Dead stop.
Fog thickened and thinned in the headlight beams.
“We’re proud of you,” Veronica said, “aren’t we, Ernest?”
“Aye, pet, that we are!” Ernie slapped my back. I heard Withers barking doom and ire, close
behind. Ernie wound down the window and howled back at Aurora House:
“Waaaaaaazzzzzzoooooo-cccccckkk!” I touched the accelerator again. The tires scuffed gravel,
the engine flowered, and Aurora House disappeared into the night. Ruddy hell, when your
parents die they move in with you.
“Road map?” Ernie was ferreting through the glove compartment. His finds so far included
sunglasses and Werner’s toffees.
“No need. I memorized our route. I know it like the back of my hand. Any escape is ninetenths logistics.”
“Better steer clear of the motorways. They have cameras and whatnot nowadays.”
I contemplated my career change from publisher to car rustler. “I know.”
Veronica impersonated Mr. Meeks—brilliantly. “I know! I know!”
I told her it was an uncannily accurate impression.
A pause. “I didn’t say anything.”
Ernie turned round and yelled in surprise. When I looked in the mirror and saw Mr. Meeks
twitching in the rearmost compartment of the vehicle, I nearly drove us off the road. “How—” I
began. “When—who—”
“Mr. Meeks!” cooed Veronica. “What a nice surprise.”
“A surprise?” I said. “He’s broken the laws of ruddy physics!”
“We can’t very well do a U-ie back to Hull,” Ernie stated, “and it’s too cold to drop him off.
He’d be an ice block by morning.”
“We’ve run away from Aurora House, Mr. Meeks,” Veronica explained.
“I know,” the sozzled old duffer bleated, “I know.”
“All for one and one for all, is it?”
Mr. Meeks leaked a giggle, sucked toffees, and hummed “The British Grenadiers” as the Range Rover wolfed down the northward miles.
A sign—PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY IN SCOTCH CROSS—shone in the headlights.
Ernie had ended our route plan here with a big red X, and now I saw why. An all-night petrol
station servicing an A-road—next door to a pub called the Hanged Edward. Midnight was long
gone, but the lights were still on. “Park in the pub. I’ll go and get us a can of petrol so
nobody’ll spot us. Then my vote’s for a swift pint to celebrate a job well done. Silly Johns left
his jacket in the car, and in the jacket—tra-la.” Ernie flashed a wallet the size of my briefcase.
“I’m sure he can stand us a round.” “I know!” enthused Mr. Meeks. “I know!”
“A Drambuie and soda,” Veronica decided, “would hit the spot.”
Ernie was back in five minutes carrying the can. “No bother.” He siphoned the petrol into the
tank, then the four of us walked across the car park to the Hanged Edward. “A crisp night,”
remarked Ernie, offering his arm to Veronica. It was ruddy freezing, and I couldn’t stop
shivering. “A beautiful moon, Ernest,” added Veronica, looping hers through his. “What a
splendid night for an elopement!” She giggled like a sixteen-year-old. I screwed the lid down
on my old demon, Jealousy. Mr. Meeks was wobbly, so I supported him as far as the door,
where a blackboard advertised “The Massive Match!” In the warm cave inside, a crowd
watched TV soccer in a distant fluorescent time zone. In the eighty-first minute England was a
goal down to Scotland. Nobody even noticed us. England playing Scotland, abroad, in the deep
midwinter—is it World Cup qualifier time again already? Talk about Rip van Ruddy Winkle.
I’m no fan of television pubs, but at least there was no thumpy-thumpy-thump acidic music,
and that evening freedom was the sweetest commodity A sheepdog made room for us on a
fireside pew. Ernie ordered the drinks because he said my accent was too southern and they
might spit in my glass. I had a double Kilma-goon and the most expensive cigar the bar could
muster, Veronica ordered her Drambuie and soda, Mr. Meeks a ginger beer, and Ernie a pint of
Angry Bastard bitter. The barman didn’t take his eyes off the TV—he got our drinks by sense
of touch alone. Just as we took our seats in an alcove, a cyclone of despair swept through the
bar. England had been awarded a penalty Tribalism electrified the audience.
“I’d like to check my route. Ernie, the map if you will.”
“You had it last.”
“Oh. Must be in …” My room. Extreme close-up, Director Lars, of Cavendish realizing his
fateful mistake. I had left the map on my bed. For Nurse Noakes. With our route marked out in
felt pen. “… the car … oh, God. I think we had better drink up and move on.”
“But we’ve only just started this round.”
I swallowed hard. “About the, er, map …” I checked my watch and calculated distances and
Ernie was catching on. “What about the map?”
My answer was drowned in a howl of tribal grief. England had equalized. And at that exact
moment, I fib not, Withers looked in. His Gestapo eyes settled on us. Not a happy man. Johns
Hotchkiss appeared beside him, saw us, and he looked very happy indeed. He reached for his
mobile phone to summon his angels of vengeance. A third lout with oil-stained overalls
completed the posse, but it appeared Nurse Noakes had so far prevailed on Johns Hotchkiss to
leave the police out of it. The oily lout’s identity I was never to discover, but I knew right then:
the game was up.
Veronica sighed a frail sigh. “I had so hoped to see,” she half-sang, “the wild mountain thyme,
all across the blooming heather, and it’s go, lassie, go …”
A drug-addled semilife of restraints and daytime programs lay ahead. Mr. Meeks stood up to
go with our jailer.He let out a biblical bellow. (Lars: zoom the camera in from the outside car park, across the
busy bar, and right down between Mr. Meeks’s rotted tonsils.) The TV viewers dropped their
conversations, spilt their drinks, and looked. Even Withers was stopped in his tracks. The
octogenarian leapt onto the bar, like Astaire in his prime, and roared this SOS to his universal
fraternity “Are there nor trrruuue Scortsmen in tha hooossse?”
A whole sentence! Ernie, Veronica, and I were stunned as mullets.
High drama. Nobody stirred.
Mr. Meeks pointed at Withers with skeletal forefinger and intoned this ancient curse: “Those
there English gerrrrenfs are trampling o’er ma God-gi’en rrraights! Theeve used me an’ ma
pals morst direly an’ we’re inneed of a wee assistance!”
Withers growled at us: “Come quiet and face your punishments.”
Our captor’s southern Englishness was out! A rocker rose like Poseidon and flexed his
knuckles. A crane operator stood by him. A sharky-chinned man in a thousand-quid suit. An
axwoman with the scars to prove it.
The TV was switched off.
A Highlander spoke softly: “Aye, laddie. We’ll nort let ye doone.”
Withers assessed the stage and went for a get real! smirk. “These men are car thieves.”
“You a copper?” The axwoman advanced.
“Show us your badge then.” The crane operator advanced.
“Aw, you’re full o’ shite, man,” spat Poseidon.
Coolheadedness might have lost us the day, but Johns Hotchkiss scored a fatal own goal.
Finding his way blocked by a pool cue, he prefixed his distress with “Now you just look here,
you grebo, you can go shag your bloody sporran if you think—” One of his teeth splashed into
my Kilmagoon, fifteen feet away. (I fished the tooth out to keep as proof of this unlikely claim,
otherwise no one will ever believe me.) Withers caught and snapped an incoming wrist, hurled
a wee Krankie over the pool table, but the ogre was one and his enraged foes legion. Oh, the
ensuing scene was Trafalgaresque. I must admit, the sight of that brute being brutalized was not
wholly unpleasant, but when Withers hit the deck and disfiguring blows began to fall, I
proposed a tactful exit stage left to our borrowed vehicle. We departed via the back and scuttled
over the blustery car park as fast as our legs, whose combined age well exceeded three
centuries, could carry us. I drove. North.
Where all this will end, I do not know.
Very well, dear Reader, you deserve an epilogue if you’ve stayed with me this far. My ghastly
ordeal touched down in this spotless Edinburgh rooming house, kept by a discreet widow from
the Isle of Man. After the brawl at the Hanged Edward, we four blind mice drove to Glasgow,
where Ernie knows a bent copper who can take care of the Hotchkiss vehicle. Here our
fellowship parted. Ernie, Veronica, and Mr. Meeks waved me off at the station. Ernie promised
to take the flak if the law were ever to catch up, as he’s too old to stand trial, which is ruddy
civilized of him. He and Veronica were headed to a Hebridean location where Ernie’s
handyman-preacher-cousin does up falling-down crofts for Russian mafiosi and German
enthusiasts of the Gaelic tongue. I offer my secular prayers for their well-being. Mr. Meeks
was to be deposited in a public library with a “Please Look After This Bear” tag, but I suspect
Ernie and Veronica will take him with them. After my arrival at Widow Manx’s, I slept under
my goosedown quilt as sound as King Arthur on the Blessed Isle. Why didn’t I get on the first
train south to London, there and then? I’m still not sure. Maybe I recall Denholme’s remark
about life beyond the M25. I shall never know what part he played in my incarceration, but he was right—London darkens the map like England’s bowel polyp. There is a whole country up
I looked up Mrs. Latham’s home number at the library. Our telephone reunion was a moving
moment. Of course, Mrs. Latham smothered her emotion by lambasting me, before filling me
in on my missing weeks. The Hoggins Hydra had ripped the office apart when I failed to show
for my three o’clock castration, but years of financial brinkmanship had stood my redoubtable
pit prop in good stead. She had captured the vandalism on a cunning video camera supplied by
her nephew. The Hogginses were thus restrained: steer clear of Timothy Cavendish, Mrs.
Latham warned, or this footage will appear on the Internet and your various probations shall
hatch into prison sentences. Thus they were prevailed upon to accept an equitable proposal
cutting them into future royalties. (I suspect they had a sneaking admiration for my lady
bulldog’s cool nerves.) The building management used my disappearance—and the trashing of
my suite—as an excuse to turf us out. Even as I write, my former premises are being turned
into a Hard Rock Cafe for homesick Americans. Cavendish Publishing is currently run from a
house owned by my secretary’s eldest nephew, who resides in Tangier. Now for the best
news: a Hollywood studio has optioned Knuckle Sandwich—The Movie for a figure as
senselessly big as the number on a bar code. A lot of the money will go to the Hogginses, but
for the first time since I was twenty-two, I am flush.
Mrs. Latham sorted out my bank cards, etc., and I am designing the future on beer mats, like
Churchill and Stalin at Yalta, and I must say the future is not too shabby. I shall find a hungry
ghostwriter to turn these notes you’ve been reading into a film script of my own. Well, sod it
all, if Dermot “Duster” Hoggins can write a bestseller and have a film made, why the ruddy
hell not Timothy “Lazarus” Cavendish? Put Nurse Noakes in the book, the dock, and on the
block. The woman was sincere—bigots mostly are—but no less dangerous for that, and she
shall be named and shamed. The minor matter of Johns Hotchkiss’s vehicle loan needs to be
handled with delicacy, but fouler fish have been fried. Mrs. Latham got on the e-mail to Hilary
V Hush to express our interest in Half-Lives, and the postman delivered part two not an hour
ago. A photo was enclosed, and it turns out the V is for Vincent! And what a lard-bucket! I’m
no Chippendale myself, but Hilary has the girth to fill not two but three airline economy seats.
I’ll find out if Luisa Rey is still alive in a corner of the Whistling Thistle, my de facto office and
a wrecked galleon of a back-alley tavern where Mary, Queen of Scots, summoned the devil to
assist her cause. The landlord, whose double measures would be quadruples in managementconsulted Londinium, swears he sees Her ill-starred Majesty regularly. In vino veritas.
That is more or less it. Middle age is flown, but it is attitude, not years, that condemns one to
the ranks of the Undead, or else proffers salvation. In the domain of the young there dwells
many an Undead soul. They rush about so, their inner putrefaction is concealed for a few
decades, that is all. Outside, fat snowflakes are falling on slate roofs and granite walls. Like
Solzhenitsyn laboring in Vermont, I shall beaver away in exile, far from the city that knitted my
Like Solzhenitsyn, I shall return, one bright dusk.
HALF-LIVESthe first luisa rey
The black sea roars in. Its coldness shocks Luisa’s senses back to life. Her VW’s rear struck
the water at forty-five degrees, so the seat saved her spine, but the car now swings upside
down. She is trussed by her seat belt inches from the windshield. Get out, or die here. Luisa
panics, breathes a lungful of water, and struggles into a pocket of air, coughing. Unhook this
belt. She squirms and jackknifes up to the belt lock. Release button. It doesn’t click. The car
half-somersaults deeper, and with a wrenching noise, a giant squid-shaped air bubble flies
away Luisa stabs the button, frantic, and the strap drifts free. More air. She finds an air pocket
trapped beneath a windshield of dark water. The sea’s mass jams the door shut. Roll down the
window. It inches halfway and jams, right where it always jams. Luisa shimmies around,
squeezes her head, shoulders, and torso through the gap.
Sixsmith’s Report!
She pulls herself back into the sinking vehicle. Can’t see a damn thing. A plastic trash bag.
Wedged under the seat. She doubles up in the confined space … It’s here. She hauls, like a
woman hauling a sack of rocks. She feeds herself feetfirst back out the window, but the report
is too fat. The sinking car drags Luisa down. Her lungs ache now. The sodden papers have
quadrupled their weight. The trash bag is through the window, but as she kicks and struggles
Luisa feels a lightening. Hundreds of pages spin free from the vanilla binder, wheeling
wherever the sea will take them, wheeling around her, playing cards in Alice. She kicks off her
shoes. Her lungs shriek, curse, beg. Every pulse is a thump in Luisa’s ears. Which way is up?
The water is too murky to guess. Up is away from the car. Her lungs will collapse in another
moment. Where’s the car? Luisa realizes she has paid for the Sixsmith Report with her life.
Isaac Sachs looks down on a brilliant Pennsylvania morning. Labyrinthine suburbs of ivory
mansionettes and silk lawns inset with turquoise swimming pools. The executive-jet window is
cool against his face. Six feet directly beneath his seat is a suitcase in the baggage hold
containing enough C-4 to turn an airplane into a meteor. So, thinks Sachs, you obeyed your
conscience. Luisa Rey has the Sixsmith Report. He recollects as many details of her face as he
can. Do you feel doubt? Relief? Fear? Righteousness?
A premonition I’ll never see her again.
Alberto Grimaldi, the man he has double-crossed, is laughing at an aide’s remark. The hostess passes with a tray of clinking drinks. Sachs retreats into his notebook, where he writes the
following sentences.
• Exposition: the workings of the actual past + the virtual past may be illustrated by an event
well known to collective history, such as the sinking of the Titanic. The disaster as it actually
occurred descends into obscurity as its eyewitnesses die off, documents perish + the wreck of
the ship dissolves in its Atlantic grave. Yet a virtual sinking of the Titanic, created from
reworked memories, papers, hearsay, fiction—in short, belief—grows ever “truer.” The
actual past is brittle, ever-dimming + ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in
contrast, the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/
expose as fraudulent.
• The present presses the virtual past into its own service, to lend credence to its mythologies +
legitimacy to the imposition of will. Power seeks + is the right to “landscape” the virtual past.
(He who pays the historian calls the tune.)
• Symmetry demands an actual + virtual future, too. We imagine how next week, next year, or
2225 will shape up—a virtual future, constructed by wishes, prophecies + daydreams. This
virtual future may influence the actual future, as in a self fulfilling prophecy, but the actual
future will eclipse our virtual one as surely as tomorrow eclipses today. Like Utopia, the
actual future + the actual past exist only in the hazy distance, where they are no good to
• Q: Is there a meaningful distinction between one simulacrum of smoke, mirrors + shadows
—the actual past—from another such simulacrum—the actual future?
• One model of time: an infinite matryoshka doll of painted moments, each “shell” (the
present) encased inside a nest of “shells” (previous presents) I call the actual past but which
we perceive as the virtual past. The doll of “now” likewise encases a nest of presents yet to be,
which I call the actual future but which we perceive as the virtual future.
• Proposition: I have fallen in love with Luisa Rey
The detonator is triggered. The C-4 ignites. The jet is engulfed by a fireball. The jet’s metals,
plastics, circuitry, its passengers, their bones, clothes, notebooks, and brains all lose definition
in flames exceeding 1200 degrees C. The uncreated and the dead exist solely in our actual and
virtual pasts. Now the bifurcation of these two pasts will begin.
“Betty and Frank needed to shore up their finances,” Lloyd Hooks tells his breakfast audience
in the Swannekke Hotel. A circle of neophytes and acolytes pays keen attention to the
Presidential Energy Guru. “So they decide Bettyd go on the game to get a little cash in hand.
Night comes around, Frank drives Betty over to Whore Lane to ply her new trade. ‘Hey
Frank,’ says Betty from the sidewalk. ‘How much should I charge?’ Frank does the math and
tells her, ‘A hundred bucks for the whole shebang.’ So Betty gets out, and Frank parks down a
quiet alley Pretty soon this guy drives up in his beat-up old Chrysler and propositions Betty:
‘How much for all night, sugar?’ Betty says, ‘Hundred dollars.’ The guy says, ‘I only got
thirty dollars. What’ll thirty buy me?’ So Betty dashes around to Frank and asks him. Frank
says, ‘Tell him thirty dollars buys a hand job’ So Betty goes back to the guy—”
Lloyd Hooks notices Bill Smoke in the background. Bill Smoke raises one, two, three fingers; the three fingers become a fist; the fist becomes a slashing gesture. Alberto Grimaldi, dead;
Isaac Sachs, dead; Luisa Rey, dead. Swindler, sneak, snoop. Hooks’s eyes tell Smoke he has
understood, and a figment from a Greek myth surfaces in his mind. The sacred grove of Diana
was guarded by a warrior priest on whom luxury was lavished but whose tenure was earned
by slaying his predecessor. When he slept, it was at the peril of his life. Grimaldi, you dozed
for too long.
“So, anyway, Betty goes back to the guy and says his thirty’ll buy a hand job, take it or leave it.
The guy says, ‘Okay sugar, jump in, I’ll take the hand job. Is there a quiet alley around here?’
Betty has him drive around the corner to Frank’s alley, and the guy unbelts his pants to reveal
the most—y know—gargantuan schlong. ‘Wait up!’ gasps Betty ‘I’ll be right back.’ She jumps
out of the guy’s car and knocks on Frank’s window. Frank lowers the window, ‘What now?’”
Hooks pauses for the punch line. “Betty says, ‘Frank, hey, Frank, lend this guy seventy
dollars!’ ”
The men who would be board members cackle like hyenas. Whoever said money can’t buy you
happiness, Lloyd Hooks thinks, basking, obviously didn’t have enough of the stuff
Through binoculars Hester Van Zandt watches the divers on their launch. An unhappy-looking
barefoot teenager in a poncho ambles along the beach and pats Hester’s mongrel. “They found
the car yet, Hester? Channel’s pretty deep at that point. That’s why the fishing’s so good
“Hard to be sure at this distance.”
“Kinda ironic to drown in the sea you’re polluting. The guard’s kinda got the hots for me. Told
me it was a drunk driver, a woman, ’bout four in the morning.”
“Swannekke Bridge comes under the same special security remit as the island. Seaboard can
say what they like. No one’ll cross-check their story”
The teenager yawns. “D’you s’pose she drowned in her car, the woman? Or d’you think she
got out and kinda drowned later?”
“Couldn’t say.”
“If she was drunk enough to drive through a railing, she couldn’t have made it to the shore.”
“Who knows?”
“Gross way to die.” The teenager yawns and walks off. Hester trudges back to her trailer.
Milton the Native American sits on its step, drinking from a milk carton. He wipes his mouth
and tells her, “Wonder Woman’s awake.”
Hester steps around Milton and asks the woman on the sofa how she is feeling.
“Lucky to be alive,” answers Luisa Rey “full of muffins, and drier. Thanks for the loan of your
“Lucky we’re the same size. Divers are looking for your car.”
“The Sixsmith Report, not my car. My body would be a bonus.”
Milton locks the door. “So you crashed through a barrier, dropped into the sea, got out of a
sinking car, and swam three hundred yards to shore, with no injuries worse than mild
“It hurts plenty when I think of my insurance claim.”
Hester sits down. “What’s your next move?”“Well, first I need to go back to my apartment and get a few things. Then I’ll go stay with my
mother, on Ewingsville Hill. Then … back to square one. I can’t get the police or my editor
interested in what’s happening on Swannekke without the report.”
“Will you be safe at your mother’s?”
“As long as Seaboard thinks I’m dead, Joe Napier won’t come looking. When they learn I’m
not …” She shrugs, having gained an armor of fatalism from the events of the last six hours.
“Altogether safe, possibly not. An acceptable degree of risk. I don’t do this sort of thing often
enough to be an expert.”
Milton digs his thumbs into his pockets. “I’ll drive you back to Buenas Yerbas. Gimme a
minute, I’ll go call a friend and get him to bring his pickup over.”
“Good guy,” says Luisa, after he’s left.
“I’d trust Milton with my life,” answers Hester.
Milton strides over to the flyblown general store that services the campsite, trailer park,
beachgoers, traffic to Swannekke, and the isolated houses hereabouts. An Eagles song comes
on a radio behind the counter. Milton feeds a dime into the phone, checks the walls for ears,
and dials in a number from memory Water vapor rises from the Swannekke cooling towers like
malign genies. Pylons march north to Buenas Yerbas and south to Los Angeles. Funny, thinks
Milton. Power, time, gravity, love. The forces that really kick ass are all invisible. The phone is
answered. “Yeah?”
“Yeah, Napier? It’s me. Listen, about a woman called Luisa Rey Well, suppose she isn’t?
Suppose she’s still walking around eating Popsicles and paying utility bills? Would her
whereabouts be worth anything to you? Yeah? How much? No, you name a figure. Okay,
double that … No? Nice talking with you, Napier, I gotta go and”—Milton smirks—“the usual
account within one working day, if you please. Right. What? No, no one else has seen her, only
Crazy Van Zandt. No. She did mention it, but it’s in the bottom of the deep blue sea. Quite
sure. Fish food. Course not, my exclusives are for your ears only … Uh-huh, I’m driving her
back to her apartment, then she’s going to her mother’s … Okay, I’ll make it an hour. The
usual account. One working day”
Luisa opens her front door to the sounds of a Sunday ball game and the smell of popcorn.
“Since when did I say you could fry oil?” she calls through to Javier. “Why are the blinds all
Javier bounces down the hallway grinning. “Hi, Luisa! Your uncle Joe made the popcorn.
We’re watching Giants versus Dodgers. Why are you dressed like an old woman?”
Luisa feels her core sicken. “Come here. Where is he?”
Javier sniggers. “On your sofa! What’s up?”“Come here! Your mom wants you.”
“She’s working overtime at the hotel.”
“Luisa, it wasn’t me, on the bridge, it wasn’t me!” Joe Napier appears behind him, holding out
his palms as if reassuring a scared animal. “Listen—”
Luisa’s voice judders. “Javi! Out! Behind me!”
Napier raises his voice. “Listen to me—”
Yes, I am talking with my own killer. “Why in hell should I listen to a word you say?”
“Because I’m the only insider at Seaboard who doesn’t want you dead!” Napier’s calm has
deserted him. “In the parking lot, I was trying to warn you! Think about it! If I was the hit man
would we even be having this conversation? Don’t go, for Chrissakes! It’s not safe! Your
apartment could be under surveillance still. That’s why the blinds are down.”
Javier looks aghast. Luisa holds the boy but doesn’t know the least dangerous way to turn.
“Why are you here?”
Napier is quiet again, but tired and troubled. “I knew your father, when he was a cop. V-J Day
on Silvaplana Wharf. Come in, Luisa. Sit down.”
Joe Napier calculated that the neighbor’s kid would tether Luisa long enough to make her
listen. He’s not proud that his plan paid off. Napier, more a watcher than a speaker, chisels out
his sentences with care. “In 1945, I’d been a cop for six years at Spinoza District Station. No
commendations, no black marks. A regular cop, keeping his nose clean, dating a regular girl in
a typing pool. On the fourteenth of August, the radio said the Japs had surrendered and Buenas
Yerbas danced one almighty hula. Drink flowed, cars revved up, firecrackers were set off,
people took a holiday even if their bosses didn’t give ’em one. Come nine o’clock or so, my
partner and I were called to a hit-and-run in Little Korea. Normally we didn’t bother with that
end of town, but the victim was a white kid, so there’d be relatives and questions. We were en
route when a Code Eight comes through from your father, calling all available cars to
Silvaplana Wharf. Now, the rule of thumb was, you didn’t go snooping around that part of the
docks, not if you wanted a career. The mob had their warehouses there, under a city hall
umbrella. What’s more, Lester Rey”—Napier decides not to modify his language—“was
known as a Tenth Precinct pain-in-the-ass Sunday-school cop. But two officers were down,
and that ain’t the same ball game. It could be your buddy bleeding to death on the tarmac. So
we flat-outed and reached the wharf just behind another Spinoza car, Brozman and Harkins.
Saw nothing at first. No sign of Lester Rey, no sign of a squad car. The dockside lights were
off. We drove between two walls of cargo containers, around the corner into a yard where men
were loading up an army truck. I was thinking we were in the wrong zone of the docks. Then
the wall of bullets hit us. Brozman and Harkins took the first wave—brakes, glass filling the
air, our car skidded into theirs, me and my partner rolled out of our car and holed up behind a
stack of steel tubes. Brozman’s car horn sounds, doesn’t stop, and they don’t appear. More
bullets ack-ack-acking around us, I’m shitting myself—I’d become a cop to avoid war zones.
My partner starts firing back. I follow his lead, but our chances of hitting anything are zilch. To
be honest with you, I was glad when the truck trundled by Dumb ass that I was, I broke cover
too soon—to see if I could get a license plate.” The root of Napier’s tongue is aching. “Then all
this happenes A yelling man charges me from across the yard. I fire at him. I miss—the luckiest miss of my life, and yours too, Luisa, because if I’d shot your father you wouldn’t be
here. Lester Rey is pointing behind me as he sprints by, and he kicks an object rolling my way,
lobbed from the back of the truck. Then a blinding light fries me, a noise axes my head, and a
needle of pain shoots through my butt. I lay where I fell, half conscious, until I was hoisted
into an ambulance.”
Luisa still isn’t saying anything.
“I was lucky. A fragment of grenade shrapnel tore through both buttock cheeks. The rest of me
was fine. The doctor said it was the first time he’d seen one projectile make four holes. Your
dad, of course, was not so fine. Lester was a piece of Swiss cheese. They’d operated but failed
to save his eye the day before I left the hospital. We just shook hands and I left, I didn’t know
what to say. The most humiliating thing you can do to a man is to save his life. Lester knew it
too. But there’s not a day, possibly not an hour, that’s gone by without my thinking about him.
Every time I sit down.”
Luisa says nothing for a while. “Why didn’t you tell me this on Swannekke Island?”
Napier scratches his ear. “I was afraid you’d use the connection to squeeze me for juice …”
“On what really happened to Rufus Sixsmith?”
Napier doesn’t say yes, doesn’t say no. “I know how reporters work.”
“Y ou are picking holes in my integrity?”
She’s speaking generally—she can’t know about Margo Roker. “If you keep on looking for
Rufus Sixsmith’s report”—Napier wonders if he should say this in front of the boy—“you’ll
be killed, plain and simple. Not by me! But it’ll happen. Please. Leave town now. Jettison your
old life and job, and go.”
“Alberto Grimaldi sent you to tell me that, did he?”
“No one knows I’m here—pray God—or I’m in as much trouble as you.”
“One question first.”
“You want to ask if”—he wishes the kid was elsewhere—“if Sixsmith’s ‘fate’ was my work.
The answer is no. That sort of … job, it wasn’t my business. I’m not saying I’m innocent. I’m
just saying I’m guilty only of looking the other way. Grimaldi’s fixer killed Six-smith and
drove you off the bridge last night. A man by the name of Bill Smoke—one name of many I
suspect. I can’t make you believe me, but I hope you will.”
“How did you know I’d survived?”
“Vain hope. Look, life is more precious than a damn scoop. I’m begging you, one last time,
and it will be the last, to drop this story. Now I’ve got to leave, and I wish to Christ you’d do
the same.” He stands. “One last thing. Can you use a gun?”
“I have an allergy to guns.”
“How do you mean?”
“Guns make me nauseous. Literally.”
“Everyone should learn to use a gun.”
“Yeah, you can see crowds of ’em laid out in morgues. Bill Smoke isn’t going to wait politely
while I get a gun out of my handbag, is he? My only way out is to get evidence that’ll blow this
affair so totally, killing me would be a pointless act.”
“You’re underestimating man’s fondness for petty revenge.”
“What do you care? You’ve paid back your debt to Dad. You’ve salved your conscience.”
Napier gives a morose sigh. “Enjoyed the ball game, Javi.”
“You’re a liar,” says the boy.
“I lied, yes, but that doesn’t make me a liar. Lying’s wrong, but when the world spins
backwards, a small wrong may be a big right.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“You’re damn right it doesn’t, but it’s still true.”Joe Napier lets himself out.
Javier is angry with Luisa, too. “And you act like I’m gambling with my life just because I
jump across a couple of balconies?”
Luisa’s and Javier’s footsteps reverberate in the stairwell. Javier peers over the handrail. Lower
floors recede like the whorls of a shell. A wind of vertigo blows, making him giddy. It works
the same looking upward. “If you could see into the future,” he asks, “would you?”
Luisa slings her bag. “Depends on if you could change it or not.”
“S’posing you could? So, say you saw you were going to be kidnapped by Communist spies
on the second story, youd take the elevator down to the ground floor.”
“But what if the spies called the elevator, agreeing to kidnap whoever was in it? What if trying
to avoid the future is what triggers it all?”
“If you could see the future, like you can see the end of Sixteenth Street from the top of
Kilroy’s department store, that means it’s already there. If it’s already there, you can’t change
“Yes, but what’s at the end of Sixteenth Street isn’t made by what you do. It’s pretty much
fixed, by planners, architects, designers, unless you go and blow a building up or something.
What happens in a minute’s time is made by what you do.”
“So what’s the answer? Can you change the future or not?”
Maybe the answer is not a function of metaphysics but one, simply, of power. “It’s a great
imponderable, Javi.”
They have reached the ground floor. The Six Million Dollar Man’s bionic biceps jangle on
Malcolm’s TV
“See you, Luisa.”
“I’m not leaving town forever, Javi.”
At the boy’s initiative they shake hands. The gesture surprises Luisa: it feels formal, final, and
A silver carriage clock in Judith Rey’s Ewingsville home tinkles one o’clock in the afternoon.
Bill Smoke is being talked at by a financier’s wife. “This house never fails to bring out the
demon of covetousness in me,” the fifty-something bejeweled woman confides, “it’s a copy of
a Frank Lloyd Wright. The original’s on the outskirts of Salem, I believe.” She is standing an
inch too close. You look like a witch from the outskirts of Salem gone fucking crazy in
Tiffany’s, Bill Smoke thinks, remarking, “Now, is that so?”
Hispanic maids supplied by the caterers carry trays of food among the all-white guests. Swanshaped linen napkins bear place cards. “That white-leafed oak tree on the front lawn would
have been here when the Spanish missions were built,” the wife says, “wouldn’t you agree?”“Without doubt. Oaks live for six hundred years. Two hundred to grow, two hundred to live,
two hundred to die.”
Smoke sees Luisa enter the lavish room, accepting a kiss on both cheeks from her stepfather.
What do I want from you, Luisa Rey? A female guest of Luisa’s age hugs her. “Luisa! It’s
been three or four years!” Close-up, the guest’s charm is cattish and prying. “But is it true
you’re not married’ yet?”
“I certainly am not” is Luisa’s crisp reply “Are you?”
Smoke senses she senses his gaze, refocuses his attention on the wife and agrees that, yes,
there are redwoods not sixty minutes from here that were mature when Nebuchadnezzar was
on his throne. Judith Rey stands on a footstool brought specially for the purpose and taps a
silver spoon on a bottle of pink champagne until everyone is listening. “Ladies, gentlemen, and
young people,” she declaims, “I am told dinner is served! But before we all begin, I’d like to
say a few words about the wonderful work done by the Bue-nas Yerbas Cancer Society and
how they’ll use the moneys from our fund-raiser you are so generously supporting today”
Bill Smoke amuses a pair of children by producing a shiny gold Krugerrand from thin air.
What I want from you, Luisa, is a killing of perfect intimacy. For a moment Bill Smoke
wonders at the powers inside us that are not us.
The maids have cleared the dessert course, the air is pungent with coffee fumes, and an overfed
Sunday drowsiness settles on the dining room. The eldest guests find nooks to snooze in.
Luisa’s stepfather rounds up a group of contemporaries to see his collection of 1950s cars, the
wives and mothers conduct maneuvers of allusion, the schoolchildren go outside to bicker in
the leafy sunshine and around the pool. The Henderson triplets dominate the discourse at the
matchmaking table. Each is as blue-eyed and gilded as his brothers, and Luisa doesn’t
distinguish among them. “What would I do,” says one triplet, “if I was president? First, I’d aim
to win the Cold War, not just aim not to lose it.”
Another takes over. “I wouldn’t kowtow to Arabs whose ancestors parked camels on lucky
patches of sand …”
“… or to red gooks. I’d establish—I’m not afraid to say it—our country’s rightful—corporate
—empire. Because if we don’t do it …”
“… the Japs’ll steal the march. The corporation is the future. We need to let business run the
country and establish a true meritocracy.”
“Not choked by welfare, unions, ‘affirmative action’ for amputee transvestite colored homeless
arachnophobes …”
“A meritocracy of acumen. A culture that is not ashamed to acknowledge that wealth attracts
power …”
“… and that the wealthmakers—us—are rewarded. When a man aspires to power, I ask one
simple question: ‘Does he think like a businessman?’”
Luisa rolls her napkin into a compact ball. “I ask three simple questions. How did he get that
power? How is he using it? And how can it be taken off the sonofabitch?”50
Judith Rey finds Luisa watching an afternoon news report in her husband’s den. “ ‘Bull dyke,’
I heard Anton Henderson say, and if it wasn’t about you, Cookie, I don’t know—it’s not
funny! Your … rebellion issues are getting worse. You complain about being lonely so I
introduce you to nice young men, and you ‘bull-dyke’ them in your Spyglass voice.”
“When did I ever complain about being lonely?”
“Boys like the Hendersons don’t grow on trees, you know.”
“Aphids grow on trees.”
There is a knock on the door, and Bill Smoke peers in. “Mrs. Rey? Sorry to intrude, but I have
to leave soon. Hand on heart, today was the most welcoming, best-organized fund-raiser I’ve
ever attended.”
Judith Rey’s hand flutters to her ear. “Most kind of you to say so …”
“Herman Howitt, junior partner at Musgrove Wyeland, up from the Malibu office. I didn’t get
the chance to introduce myself before that superb dinner—I was the last-minute booking this
morning. My father passed away over ten years ago—God bless his soul, cancer—I don’t
know how my mother and I would have gotten through it without the society’s help. When
Olly mentioned your fund-raiser, just out of the blue, I had to call to see if I could replace any
last-minute cancellations.”
“We’re very glad you did, and welcome to Buenas Yerbas.” A little short, assesses Judith Rey,
but muscular, well-salaried and probably on Luisa’s side of thirty-five. Junior partner sounds
promising. “I hope Mrs. Howitt can join you next time?”
Bill Smoke a.k.a. Herman Howitt does a mousy smile. “I’m sorry to say, the only Mrs. Howitt
is my ma. So far.”
“Now is that a fact,” responds Judith Rey.
He peers at Luisa, who is not paying attention. “I admired your daughter’s principled stand
downstairs. So many of our generation seem to lack a moral compass nowadays.”
“I so agree. The sixties threw out the baby with the bathwater. Luisa’s departed father and
myself separated some years ago, but we always aimed to instill a sense of right and wrong in
our daughter. Luisa! Will you tear yourself away from the television set for just a moment,
please, dear? Herman will be thinking— Luisa? Cookie, what is it?”
The anchorman intones: “Police confirmed the twelve killed on a Learjet accident over the
Allegheny Mountains this morning included Seaboard Power CEO Alberto Grimaldi,
America’s highest-paid executive. Preliminary reports from FAA investigators suggest an
explosion triggered by a defect in the fuel system. Wreckage is strewn over several square
miles …”
“Luisa, Cookie?” Judith Rey kneels by her daughter, who stares aghast at pictures of twisted
airplane pieces on a mountainside.
“How … appalling!” Bill Smoke savors a complex dish, all of whose ingredients even he, the
chef, can’t list. “Did you know any of those poor souls, Miss Rey?”
51Monday morning. The Spyglass newsroom swarms with rumors. One has it the magazine is
bust; another, that Kenneth P. Ogilvy its owner, will auction it off; the bank is giving a fresh
transfusion; the bank is pulling the plug. Luisa hasn’t informed anyone that she survived a
murder attempt twenty-four hours ago. She doesn’t want to involve her mother or Grelsch, and
except for her bruising, it is all increasingly unreal.
Luisa does feel grief over the death of Isaac Sachs, a man she hardly knew. She is also afraid
but focuses on work. Her father told her how war photographers refer to an immunity from
fear bestowed by the camera lens; this morning it makes perfect sense. If Bill Smoke knew
about Isaac Sachs’s defection, his death makes sense—but who wanted Alberto Grimaldi
taken down at the same time? The staff writers gravitate into Dom Grelsch’s office as usual for
the ten o’clock meeting. Ten-fifteen comes around.
“Grelsch wasn’t this late even when his first wife gave birth,” says Nancy O’Hagan, polishing
her nails. “Ogilvy’s got him screwed into an instrument of torture.”
Roland Jakes gouges wax from his ear with a pencil. “I met the drummer who’d done the
actual drumming on the Monkees’ hits. He was banging on about tantric sex—I thank you. His
favorite position is, uh, called ‘the Plumber.’ You stay in all day but nobody comes.”
“Jeez, just trying to lighten the vibes.”
Grelsch arrives and wastes no time. “Spyglass is being sold. We’ll learn later today who’ll
survive the sacrificial cull.”
Jerry Nussbaum loops his thumbs through his belt. “Sudden.”
“Damn sudden. Negotiations began late last week.” Grelsch simmers. “By this morning it was
a done deal.”
“Must have been, uh, one helluvan offer,” angles Jakes.
“Ask KPO that.”
“Who’s the buyer?” asks Luisa.
“Press announcement later today”
“Come on, Dom,” wheedles O’Hagan.
“I said, there’ll be a press announcement later today.”
Jakes rolls a cigarette. “Seems like our mystery buyer, uh, really wants Spyglass, and uh, if it
ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”
Nussbaum snorts. “Who says our mystery buyer doesn’t think we’re broken? When Allied
News bought Nouveau last year, they even fired the window cleaners.”
“So.” O’Hagan clicks her compact shut. “My cruise up the Nile is off again. Back to my sisterin-law’s in Chicago for Christmas. Her brats and the frozen-beef capital of the world. What a
difference a day makes.”
For months, Joe Napier realizes, looking at the coordinated artwork in vice CEO William
Wiley’s anteroom, he has been sidelined. Loyalties snaked out of sight, and power was tapped
from the known ducts. That was fine by me, Napier thinks, only a year and a half to go. He
hears footsteps and feels a draft. But downing an airplane with twelve men onboard isn’t
security, it’s multiple homicide. Who gave the order? Was Bill Smoke working for Wiley?
Could it just be an aviation accident? They happen. All I understand is that not understanding is dangerous. Napier berates himself for warning off Luisa Rey yesterday, a stupid risk that
achieved a big nothing.
William Wiley’s secretary appears at the door. “Mr. Wiley will see you now, Mr. Napier.”
Napier is surprised to see Fay Li in the office. The setting demands an exchange of smiles.
William Wiley’s “Joe! How are ya?” is as vigorous as his handshake.
“A sad morning, Mr. Wiley,” replies Napier, taking the seat but refusing the cigarette. “I still
can’t take it in about Mr. Grimaldi.” I never liked you. I never saw what you were for.
“None sadder. Alberto can be succeeded, but never replaced.”
Napier permits himself one question under the guise of small talk. “How long will the board
leave it before discussing a new appointment?”
“We’re meeting this afternoon. Alberto wouldn’t want us to drift without a helmsman for
longer than necessary You know, his respect for you, personally, was … well …”
“Devout,” suggests Fay Li.
You have come up in the world, Mister Li.
“Precisely! Exactly! Devout.”
“Mr. Grimaldi was a great guy.”
“He sure was, Joe, he sure was.” Wiley turns to Fay Li. “Fay. Let’s tell Joe about the package
we’re offering.”
“In recognition of your exemplary record, Mr. Wiley is proposing to set you free early. You’ll
receive full pay for the eighteen months still on your contract, your bonus—then your indexlinked pension will kick in.”
Walk the plank! Napier makes a “wow” expression. Bill Smoke is behind this. Wow fits both
the retirement offer and Napier’s sense of the seismic shift in his role from insider to liability
“This is … unexpected.”
“Must be, Joe,” says Wiley but adds nothing. The telephone rings. “No,” snaps Wiley into the
mouthpiece, “Mr. Reagan can wait his turn. I’m busy.”
Napier has decided by the time Wiley hangs up. A golden chance to exit a bloodstained stage.
He plays an old retainer speechless with gratitude. “Fay Mr. Wiley. I don’t know how to thank
William Wiley peers like a jokey coyote. “By accepting?”
“Of course I accept!”
Wiley and Fay Li are all congratulations. “You understand, of course,” Wiley continues, “with
a post as delicate as Security we need for the change to come into force when you leave this
Jesus, you people don’t waste a second, do you?
Fay Li adds, “I’ll have your effects shipped on, plus paperwork. I know you won’t be
offended by an escort to the mainland. Mr. Wiley has to be seen to respect protocol.”
“No offense, Fay.” Napier smiles, cursing her. “I wrote our protocol.” Napier, keep your .38
strapped to your calf until you’re off Swannekke, and for a long time after.
The music in the Lost Chord Music Store subsumes all thoughts of Spyglass, Sixsmith, Sachs,
and Grimaldi. The sound is pristine, riverlike, spectral, hypnotic … intimately familiar. Luisa
stands, entranced, as if living in a stream of time. “I know this music,” she tells the store clerk, who eventually asks if she’s okay. “What the hell is it?”
“I’m sorry, it’s a customer order, not for sale. I shouldn’t really be playing it.”
“Oh.” First things first. “I phoned last week. My name’s Rey Luisa Rey You said you could
find an obscure recording for me by Robert Frobisher, Cloud Atlas Sextet. But forget that for a
moment. I have to own this music too. I have to. You know what it’s like. What is it?”
The clerk presents his wrists for imaginary handcuffs. “Cloud Atlas Sextet by Robert
Frobisher. I listened to it to make sure it’s not scratched. Oh, I lie. I listened to it because I’m a
slave to curiosity Not exactly Delius, is it? Why companies won’t finance recordings of gems
like this, it’s criminal. Your record is in the mintest condition, I’m happy to report.”
“Where have I heard it before?”
The young man shrugs. “Can’t be more than a handful in North America.”
“But I know it. I’m telling you I know
Nancy O’Hagan is speaking excitedly on her phone when Luisa returns to the office. “Shirl?
Shirl! It’s Nancy. Listen, we may yet spend Christmas in the shadow of the Sphinx. The new
owner is Trans Vision Inc.”—she raises her voice—“Trans Vision Inc…. Me neither, but”—
O’Hagan lowers her voice—“I’ve just seen KPO, yeah, the old boss, he’s on the new board.
But listen up, what I’m calling to say is, my job’s safe!” She gives Luisa a frenetic nod. “Uhhuh, almost no jobs are being axed, so phone Janine and tell her she’s spending Christmas
alone with her abominable little snowmen.”
“Luisa,” Grelsch calls from his doorway, “Mr. Ogilvy’ll see you now.”
K. P. Ogilvy occupies Dom Grelsch’s temperamental chair, exiling the editor to a plastic
stacking seat. In the flesh, Spyglass’s proprietor reminds Luisa of a steel engraving. Of a Wild
West judge. “There’s no nice way to say this,” he begins, “so I’ll just say it the blunt way.
You’re fired. Orders of the new owner.”
Luisa watches the news bounce off her. No, it can’t compare to being driven off a bridge into
the sea in semidarkness. Grelsch can’t meet her eye. “I’ve got a contract.”
“Who hasn’t? You’re fired.”
“Am I the only staff writer to incur your new masters’ displeasure?”
“So it would seem.” K. P. Ogilvy’s jaw flinches once.
“I think it’s fair to ask, ‘Why me?’ ”
“Owners hire, fire, and say what’s fair. When a buyer offers a rescue package of the bounty
that Trans Vision offered, one doesn’t nitpick.”
“ ‘A Picked Nit.’ Can I have that on my gold watch?”
Dom Grelsch squirms. “Mr. Ogilvy I think Luisa’s entitled to some kind of an explanation.”
“Then she can go ask Trans Vision. Perhaps her face doesn’t fit their vision of Spyglass. Too
radical. Too feminist. Too dry. Too pushy.”
He’s trying to make a smokescreen.“I’d like to ask Trans Vision a number of things. Where’s
their head office?”
“Out east somewhere. But I doubt anyone’ll see you.”
“Out east somewhere. Who are your new fellow board members?”
“You’re being fired, not taking down an affidavit.”
“Just one more question, Mr. Ogilvy For three magical years of unstinting service, just answer this—what’s the overlap between Trans Vision and Seaboard Power?”
Dom Grelsch’s own curiosity is sharp. Ogilvy hesitates a fraction, then blusters, “I’ve got a lot
of work to get through. You’ll be paid until the end of the month, no need to come in. Thank
you and good-bye.”
Where there’s bluster, thinks Luisa, there’s duplicity.
Life’s okay. Joe Napier shifts his Jeep into cruise control. Life’s good. Seaboard Power, his
working life, Margo Roker, and Luisa Rey recede into his past at eighty miles per hour. Life’s
great. Two hours to his log cabin in the Santo Cristo mountains. He could catch catfish for
supper if he’s not too tired by the drive. He checks his mirror: a silver Chrysler has been sitting
a hundred yards behind him for a mile or two, but now it overtakes and vanishes into the
distance. Relax, Napier tells himself, you’ve gotten away. Something in his Jeep is rattling. The
afternoon reaches its three o’clock golden age. The freeway runs alongside the river for mile
after mile, slowly climbing. Upcountry’s gotten uglier in the last thirty years, but show me a
place that hasn’t. Either side, housing developments colonize the bulldozer-leveled shelves.
Getting out took me all my life. Buenas Yerbas dwindles to a bristling smudge in Napier’s
rearview mirror. You can’t stop Lester’s daughter playing Wonder Woman. You gave it your
best shot. Let her go. She ain’t a kid. He sifts the radio waves, but it’s all men singing like
women and women singing like men, until he finds a hokey country station playing
“Everybody’s Talkin’.” Milly was the musical half of his marriage. Napier revisits the first
evening he saw her: she was playing fiddle for Wild Oakum Hokum and His Cowgirls in the
Sand. The glances musicians exchange, when music is effortless, that was what he wanted
from Milly, that intimacy Luisa Rey is too a kid. Napier turns off at exit eighteen and takes the old gold miners’ road up toward Copperline. That rattling isn’t getting any better. Fall is
licking the mountain woods up here. The road follows a gorge under ancient pines to where the
sun goes down.
He’s here, all of a sudden, unable to recall a single thought from the last three-quarters of an
hour. Napier pulls over at the grocery store, kills the engine, and swings out of his Jeep. Hear
that rushing? The Lost River. It reminds him Copperline isn’t Buenas Yerbas, and he unlocks
his Jeep again. The store owner greets his customer by name, delivers six months’ gossip in as
many minutes, and asks if Napier’s on vacation for the whole week.
“I’m on permanent vacation now. I was offered early”—he’s never used the word on himself
before—“retirement. Took it like a shot.”
The store owner’s gaze is all-seeing. “Celebration at Duane’s tonight? Or commiseration at
Duane’s tomorrow?”
“Make it Friday Celebration, mostly. I want to spend my first week of freedom resting in my
cabin, not poleaxed under Duane’s tables.” Napier pays for his groceries and leaves, suddenly
hungry to be alone. The Jeep’s tires crunch the stony track. Its headlights illuminate the
primeval forest in bright, sweeping moments.
Here. Once again, Napier hears the Lost River. He remembers the first time he brought Milly
up to the cabin he, his brothers, and his dad built. Now he’s the last one left. They went
skinny-dipping that night. The forest dusk fills his lungs and his head. No phones, no CCTV
or just TV, no ID clearances, no meetings in the president’s soundproofed office. Not ever
again. The retired security man checks the padlock on the door for signs of tampering before he
opens the shutters. Relax, for Chrissakes. Seaboard let you go, free, no strings, no comeback.
Nonetheless his .38 is in his hand as he enters the cabin. See? Nobody. Napier gets a fire
crackling and fixes himself beans and sausages and sooty baked potatoes. A couple of beers. A
long, long piss outdoors. The fizzing Milky Way. A deep, deep sleep.
Awake, again, parched, with a beer-swollen bladder. Fifth time now or sixth? The sounds of
the forest don’t lullaby Napier tonight but itch his sense of well-being. A car’s brakes? An elf
owl. Twigs snapping? A rat, a mountain quail, I don’t know, you’re in a forest, it could be
anything. Go to sleep, Napier. The wind. Voices under the window? Napier wakes to find a
cougar crouched on a crossbeam over his bed; he wakes up with a yell; the cougar was Bill
Smoke, arm poised to stove Napier’s head in with a flashlight; nothing on the crossbeam. Is it
raining this time? Napier listens.
Only the river, only the river.
He lights another match to see if it’s a time worth getting up for: 4:05. No. An in-between
hour. Napier nestles down in folded darkness for holes of sleep, but recent memories of Margo
Roker’s house find him. Bill Smoke saying, Stand guard. My contact says she keeps her
documents in her room. Napier agreeing, glad to reduce his involvement. Bill Smoke switching
on his hefty rubber flashlight and going upstairs.
Napier scanning Roker’s orchard. The nearest house was over half a mile away. Wondering
why the solo operator Bill Smoke wanted him along for this simple job.
A frail scream. An abrupt ending.
Napier running upstairs, slipping, a series of empty rooms.
Bill Smoke kneeling on an antique bed, clubbing something on the bed with his flashlight, the
beam whipping the walls and ceiling, the near-noiseless thump as it lands on the senseless head
of Margo Roker. Her blood on the bedsheets—obscenely scarlet and wet.
Napier, shouting for him to stop.
Bill Smoke turned around, huffing. Wassup, Joe?You said she was out tonight!
No, no, you heard wrong. I said my contact said the old woman was out tonight. Reliable staff,
hard to find.
Christ, Christ, Christ, is she dead?
Better safe than sorry, Joe.
A neat little setup, Joe Napier admits in his sleepless cabin. A shackle of compliance. Party to
the clubbing of a defenseless, elderly activist? Any dropout law student with a speech
impediment could send him to prison for the rest of his life. A blackbird sings. I did a great
wrong by Margo Roker, but I’ve left that life. Four small shrapnel scars, two in each buttock,
ache. I went out on a limb to get Luisa Rey wised up. The window is light enough to discern
Milly in her frame. I’m only one man, he protests. I’m not a platoon. All I want out of life is
life. And a little fishing.
Joe Napier sighs, dresses, and begins reloading the Jeep.
Milly always won by saying nothing.
Judith Rey, barefoot, fastens her kimono-style dressing gown and crosses a vast Byzantine rug
to her marble-floored kitchen. She takes out three ruby grapefruits from a cavernous
refrigerator, halves them, then feeds the snow-cold dripping hemispheres into a juicer. The
machine buzzes like trapped wasps, and a jug fills with pulpy, pearly, candy-colored juice. She
pours herself a heavy blue glass and slooshes the liquid around every nook of her mouth.
On the striped veranda sofa, Luisa scans the paper and chews a croissant. The magnificent
view—over Ewingsville’s moneyed roofs and velveteen lawns to downtown Buenas Yerbas,
where skyscrapers rear from sea mist and commuter smog—has an especial otherworldliness at
this hour.
“Not sleeping in, Cookie?”
“Morning. No, I’m going to collect my stuff from the office, if you don’t mind me borrowing
one of the cars again.”
“Sure.” Judith Rey reads her daughter. “You were wasting your talents at Spyglass, Cookie. It
was a squalid little magazine.”
“True, Mom, but it was my squalid little magazine.”
Judith Rey settles on the arm of the sofa and shoos an impertinent fly from her glass. She
examines a circled article in the business section.
“ENERGY GURU” lloyd hooks
to head seaboard inc.
In a joint statement, the White House and electricity giant Seaboard Power Inc. have announced Federal Power Commissioner Lloyd Hooks is to fill the CEO’s seat left vacant by
Alberto Grimaldi’s tragic death in an airplane accident two days ago. Seaboard’s share price
on Wall Street leaped 40 points in response to the news. “We’re delighted Lloyd has accepted
our offer to come onboard,” said Seaboard vice CEO William Wiley, “and while the
circumstances behind the appointment couldn’t be sadder, the board feels Alberto in heaven
joins with us today as we extend the warmest welcome to a visionary new chief executive.”
Menzies Graham, Power Commission spokesman, said, “Lloyd Hooks’s expertise will
obviously be missed here in Washington, but President Ford respects his wishes and looks
forward to an ongoing liaison with one of the finest minds tackling today’s energy challenges
and keeping our great nation great.” Mr. Hooks is to take up his new responsibilities next
week. His successor is due to be announced later today.
“Is this a project you were working on?” asks Judith.
“Still am.”
“On whose behalf?”
“On behalf of the truth.” Her daughter’s irony is sincere. “I’m freelance.”
“Since when?”
“Since the moment KPO fired me. Firing me was a political decision, Mom. It proves I was
onto something big. Mammoth.”
Judith Rey watches the young woman. Once upon a time, I had a baby daughter. I dressed
her in frilly frocks, enrolled her for ballet classes, and sent her to horse-riding camp five
summers in a row. But look at her. She turned into Lester anyway. She kisses Luisa’s
forehead. Luisa frowns, suspiciously, like a teenager. “What?”
Luisa Rey drops into the Snow White Diner for the last coffee of her Spyglass days. The only
free seat is adjacent to a man hidden behind the San Francisco Chronicle. Luisa thinks, A good
paper, and takes the seat. Dom Grelsch says, “Morning.”
Luisa feels a flare of territorial jealousy “What are you doing here?”
“Even editors eat. I’ve come here every morning since my wife’s … y know. Waffles I can
make in the toaster but …” His gesture at his platter of pork chops implies, Need I say more?
“I never saw you in here once.”
“That’s ’cause he leaves,” says Bart, performing three tasks at once, “an hour before you
arrive. Usual, Luisa?”
“Please. How come you never told me, Bart?”
“I don’t talk about your comings and goings to no one else either.”
“First one into the office”—Dom Grelsch folds the newspaper—“last one out at night. Editor’s
lot. I wanted a word with you, Luisa.”
“I have a distinct memory of having been fired.”
“Can it, willya? I want to say why—how—I’m not resigning over how Ogilvy crapped on
you. And since my confessions are rolling out, I knew you were in for the ax since last
“Nice of you to let me know beforehand.”
The editor lowers his voice. “You know about my wife’s leukemia. Our insurance situation?”Luisa decides to grant him a nod.
Grelsch steels himself. “Last week, during the takeover negotiations … it was intimated, if I
stayed on at Spyglass and agreed I’d never heard … of a certain report, strings could be pulled
at my insurers.”
Luisa maintains her composure. “You trust these people to keep their word?”
“On Sunday morning my claims man, Arnold Frum, phones. Apologies for disturbing us,
blah-blah, but he thought we’d want to know Blue Shield reversed their decision and will be
handling all my wife’s medical bills. A reimbursement check for past payments is in the mail.
We even get to keep our house. I’m not proud of myself, but I won’t be ashamed for putting
my family ahead of the truth.”
“The truth is radiation raining on Buenas Yerbas.”
“We all make choices about levels of risk. If I can protect my wife in return for playing a bit
part in the chance of an accident at Swannekke, well, I’ll have to live with that. I sure as hell
wish you’d think a little more about the risk you’re exposing yourself to by taking these people
Luisa’s memory of sinking under water returns to haunt her, and her heart lurches. Bart places
a cup of coffee in front of her.
Grelsch slips a typewritten page over the counter. It contains two columns of seven names per
column. “Guess what this list is.” Two names jump out: Lloyd Hooks and William Wiley.
“Board members of Trans Vision Inc.?”
Grelsch nods. “Almost. Board membership is a matter of public knowledge. This is a list of
unlisted corporate advisers who receive money sourced in Trans Vision Inc. The circled names
should interest you. Look. Hooks and Wiley. Lazy damning, just plain greedy.”
Luisa pockets the list. “I should thank you for this.”
“Nussbaum the Foul did the digging. One last thing. Fran Peacock, at the Western Messenger,
you know her?”
“Just to say hi at superficial media parties.”
“Fran and me go back a ways. I dropped by her office last night, mentioned your story’s salient
points. I was noncommittal, but once you’ve got battleworthy evidence she’d like to say more
than just hi.”
“Is this in the spirit of your understanding with Trans Vision Inc.?”
Grelsch stands up and folds his newspaper. “They never said I couldn’t share my contacts.”
Jerry Nussbaum returns the car keys to Luisa. “Dear God in Heaven, let me be reincarnated as
your mother’s sports car. I don’t care which one. That’s the last of the boxes?”
“Yep,” says Luisa, “and thanks.”
Nussbaum shrugs like a modest maestro. “The place’ll sure feel empty without a real woman to
crack chauvinist jokes on. Nance is actually a man after so many decades in a newsroom.”
Nancy O’Hagan thumps her jammed typewriter and gives Nussbaum the finger.
“Yeah, like”—Roland Jakes surveys Luisa’s empty desk, glumly—“I still don’t believe how, y
know, the new guys’d give you the high jump but keep on a mollusk like Nussbaum.”
Nancy O’Hagan hisses, cobralike, “How can Grelsch”—she jabs her cigar at his office—“just
roll over waving his feet in the air and let KPO stiff you like that?”“Wish me luck.”
“Luck?” Jakes scoffs. “You don’t need luck. Don’t know why you stayed with this dead shark
for so long. The seventies is gonna see satire’s dying gasp. It’s true what Lehrer said. A world
that’ll award Henry Kissinger the Nobel Peace Prize throws us all out of a job.”
“Oh,” Nussbaum remembers, “I came back via the mailroom. Something for you.” He hands
Luisa a padded khaki envelope. She doesn’t recognize the crabbed, looping script. She slits
open the envelope. Inside is a safety-deposit key, wrapped in a short note. Luisa’s expression
intensifies as her eyes move down the note. She double-checks the label on the key. “Third
Bank of California, Ninth Street. Where’s that?”
“Downtown,” answers O’Hagan, “where Ninth crosses Flanders Boulevard.”
“Catch you all next time.” Luisa is going. “It’s a small world. It keeps recrossing itself.”
Waiting for the lights to change, Luisa glances once more at Six-smith’s letter to triple-check
she hasn’t missed anything. It was written in a hurried script.
B.Y. International Airport,
Dear Miss Rey,
    Forgive this scribbled note. I have been warned by a well-wisher at Seaboard I am in
imminent danger of my life. Exposing the HYDRA-Zero’s defects calls for excellent health, so I
will act on this tip-off I will be in touch with you as soon as I can from Cambridge or via the
IAEA. In the meantime, I have taken the liberty of depositing my report on Swan-nekke B in a
strongbox at the Third Bank of California on Ninth Street. You will need it should anything
happen to me.
    Be careful.
In haste,
Angry horns blast as Luisa fumbles with the unfamiliar transmission. After Thirteenth Street
the city loses its moneyed Pacific character. Carob trees, watered by the city give way to
buckled streetlights. Joggers do not pant down these side streets. The neighborhood could be
from any manufacturing zone in any industrial belt. Bums doze on benches, weeds crack the
sidewalk, skins get darker block by block, flyers cover barricaded doors, graffiti spreads across
every surface below the height of a teenager holding a spray can. The garbage collectors are on
strike, again, and mounds of rubbish putrefy in the sun. Pawnshops, nameless laundromats,
and grocers scratch a lean living from threadbare pockets. After more blocks and streetlights,
the shops give way to anonymous manufacturing firms and housing projects. Luisa has never even driven through this district and feels unsettled by the unknowability of cities. Was
Sixsmith’s logic to hide his report and then hide the hiding place? She comes to Flanders
Boulevard and sees the Third Bank of California dead ahead, with a customers’ parking lot
around the side. Luisa doesn’t notice the battered black Chevy parked across the street.
Fay Li, in visor sunglasses and a sunhat, checks her watch against the bank’s clock. The airconditioning is losing its battle against the midmorning heat. She dabs perspiration from her
face and forearms with a handkerchief, fans herself, and assesses recent developments. Joe
Napier, you look dumb but you’re deep-down smart, smart enough to know when to bow out.
Luisa Rey should be here any time now, if Bill Smoke was on the money. Bill Smoke, you look
smart but you’re deep-down dumb, and your men aren’t as loyal as you think. Because you
don’t do it for the money, you forgot how easily lesser mortals can be bought.
Two well-dressed Chinese men walk in. A look from one tells her Luisa Rey is coming. The
three converge at a desk guarding a side corridor: SAFETY DEPOSIT BOXES. This facility
has had very little traffic all morning. Fay Li considered getting a plant in place, but a
minimum-wage rent-a-guard’s natural laxness is safer than giving Triad men a sniff of the
“Hi”—Fay Li fires off her most intolerable Chinese accent at the guard—“brothers and I want
get from strongbox.” She dangles a deposit-box key. “Looky we got key.”
The bored youth has a bad skin problem. “ID?”
“ID here, you looky, ID you looky”
The Chinese ideograms repel white scrutiny with their ancient tribal magic. The guard nods
down the corridor and returns to his Aliens! magazine. “Door’s not locked.” I’d fire your ass
on the spot, kid, thinks Fay Li.
The corridor ends at a reinforced door, left ajar. Beyond is the deposit-box room, shaped like a
three-pronged fork. One associate joins her up the left prong, and she orders the other down
the right. About six hundred boxes in here. One of them hides a five-million-dollar, tenthousand-bucks-per-page report.
Footsteps approach down the corridor. Clipping, female heels.
The vault door swings open. “Anyone here?” calls Luisa Rey.
As the door clangs shut, the two men rush the woman. Luisa is gripped with a hand over her
mouth. “Thank you.” Fay Li prizes the key from the reporter’s fingers. Its engraved number is
36/64. She wastes no words. “Bad news. This room is soundproof, unmoni-tored, and my
friends and I are armed. The Sixsmith Report isn’t destined for your hands. Good news. I’m
acting for clients who want the HYDRA strangled at birth and Seaboard discredited.
Sixsmith’s findings will hit the news networks within two or three days. Whether they want to
pursue the corporate executions is their business. Don’t look at me like that, Luisa. Truth
doesn’t care who discovers it, so why should you? Even better news. Nothing bad will happen
to you. My associate will escort you to a holding location in B.Y. By evening, you’ll be a free
woman. You won’t cause us any trouble”—Fay Li produces a photo of Javier from Luisa’s
bulletin board and waves it an inch from her face—“because we’d reciprocate in kind.”
Submission replaces defiance in Luisa’s eyes.“I knew you had a fine head on your shoulders.” Fay Li addresses the man holding Luisa in
Cantonese. “Take her to the lockup. Nothing dirty before you shoot her. She may be a reporter,
but that doesn’t make her a total whore. Dispose of the body in the usual way”
They leave. The second associate remains by the door, holding it ajar.
Fay Li locates strongbox 36/64 at neck height, at the tip of the middle prong.
The key turns, and the door swings open.
Fay Li pulls out a vanilla binder. The HYDRAZero Reactor—An Operational Assessment
Model—Project Head Dr. Rufus Sixsmith—Unauthorized Possession Is a Federal Crime
Under the Military & Industrial Espionage Act 1971. Fay Li permits herself a jubilant smile.
The land of opportunity. Then she sees two wires trailing from inside the binder to the back of
the strongbox. She peers in. A red diode blinks on a neat four-by-two bundle of taped
cylinders, wires, components.
Bill Smoke, you goddamn—
The blast picks Luisa Rey up and throws her forward, irresistibly, like a Pacific breaker. The
corridor rotates through ninety degrees—several times—and pounds into Luisa’s ribs and
head. Petals of pain unfold across her vision. Masonry groans. Chunks of plaster, tile, and
glass shower, drizzle, stop.
An ominous peace. What am I living through? Calls for help spring up in the dust and smoke,
screams from the street, alarm bells drill the burnt air. Luisa’s mind reactivates. A bomb. The
rent-a-guard croaks and moans. Blood from his ear trickles into a delta flooding his shirt collar.
Luisa tries to pull herself away, but her right leg has been blown off.
The shock dies; her leg is just jammed under her unconscious Chinese escort. She pulls free
and crawls, stiff and hurting, across the lobby, now transformed into a movie set. Luisa finds
the vault door, blown off its hinges. Must have missed me by inches. Broken glass, upended
chairs, chunks of wall, cut and shocked people. Oily black smoke belches from the ducts, and a
sprinkler system kicks in— Luisa is drenched and choked, slips on the wet floor and stumbles,
dazed, bent double, into others.
A friendly hand takes Luisa’s wrist. “I got you, ma’am, I got you, let me help you outside,
there may be another explosion.”
Luisa allows herself to be led into congested sunlight, where a wall of faces looks on, hungry
for horror. The fireman guides her across a road blocked with gridlocked cars, and she is
reminded of April’s war footage from Saigon. Smoke still spills in senseless quantities. “Get
away! Over here! Get back! Over there!” Luisa the journalist is trying to tell Luisa the victim
something. She has grit in her mouth. Something urgent. She asks her rescuer, “How did you
get on the scene so soon?”
“It’s okay,” he insists, “you have a concussion.”
A fireman? “I can make my own way now—”
“No, you’ll be safe this way—”
The door of a dusty black Chevy swings open.
“Let go of me!”
His grip is iron. “In the car now,” he mutters, “or I’ll blow your fucking brains out.”
The bomb was supposed to get me, and now—Luisa’s abductor grunts and falls forward.
Joe Napier grabs Luisa Rey s arm and swings her away from the Chevy. Christ, that was
close! A baseball bat is in his other hand. “If you want to live to see the day out, youd better
come with me.”
Okay, thinks Luisa. “Okay” she says.
Napier pulls her back into the jockeying crowd to block Bill Smoke’s line of fire, hands the
baseball bat to a bewildered boy, and marches toward Eighty-first Avenue, away from the
Chevy. Walk discreetly; or run for it and break your cover?
“My car’s next to the bank,” says Luisa.
“We’ll be sitting ducks in this traffic,” says Napier. “Bill Smoke’s got two more ape-men,
they’ll just fire through the window. Can you walk?”
“I can run, Napier.”
They advance a third of the way down the block, but then Napier makes out Bill Smoke’s face
ahead, his hand hovering around his jacket pocket. Napier checks behind him. A second goon
is the second pincer. Across the road is a third. There won’t be any cops on the scene for
minutes yet, and they have mere seconds. Two killings in broad daylight: risky, but the stakes
are high enough for them to chance it, and there’s so much chaos here, they’ll get away with it.
Napier is desperate: they are level with a windowless warehouse. “Up these steps,” he tells
Luisa, praying the door opens.
It does.
A sparse reception area, shady and lit by a single tube, a tomb of flies. Napier bolts the door
behind them. From behind a desk, a young girl in her Sunday best and an aged poodle in a
cardboard box bed watch, unperturbed. Three exits at the far end. The noise of machinery is
A black-eyed Mexican woman swoops from nowhere and flutters in his face: “No ’llegals
here! No ’llegals here! Bossaway! Boss-away! Come back ’notherday!”
Luisa Rey addresses her in very battered Spanish. The Mexican woman glares, then jerks a
savage thumb at the exits. A blow crunches the outer door. Napier and Luisa run across the
echoing chamber. “Left or right?” demands Napier.
“Don’t know!” gasps Luisa.
Napier looks back for guidance from the Mexican, but the street door shudders under one
blow, splinters under the next, and flies open with the third. Napier pulls Luisa through the left
Bisco and Roper, Bill Smoke’s sidemen, body-charge the door. In the courtroom of his head,
Bill Smoke finds William Wiley and Lloyd Hooks guilty of gross negligence. I told you! Joe
Napier couldn’t be trusted to pack up his conscience and pick up his fishing rods.The door is in pieces.
A spidery Mexican woman inside is having hysterics. A placid child and a bedecked poodle sit
on an office desk. “FBI!” Bisco yells, flourishing his driver’s license. “Which way did they
The Mexican woman screeches: “We care our workers! Very good! Very much pay! No need
Bisco takes out his gun and blasts the poodle against the wall. “Which way did they fucking
Jesus Muhammad Christ, this is why I work alone.
The Mexican woman bites her fist, shudders, and launches a rising wail.
“Brilliant, Bisco, like the FBI kills poodles.” Roper leans over the child, who hasn’t responded
in any way to the death of the dog. “Which exit did the man and the woman take?”
She gazes back as if he is nothing but a pleasant sunset.
“You speak English?”
A hysteric, a mute, a dead dog—Bill Smoke walks to the three exits— and a pair of fuckups
royale. “We’re losing time! Roper, right door. Bisco, left. I’m the middle.”
Rows, aisles, and ten-box-high walls of cardboard conceal the true dimensions of the
storeroom. Napier wedges the door shut with a cart. “Tell me you’ve gotten over your gun
allergy since yesterday,” he hisses.
Luisa shakes her head. “You?”
“Only a popgun. Six shots. C’mon.”
Even as they run, she hears the door being forced. Napier blocks the line of vision with a tower
of boxes. Then again, a few yards down. A third tower topples ahead of them, however, and
dozens of Big Birds—Luisa recognizes the dimwit yellow emu from the children’s program
Hal used to watch between jobs—spill free. Napier gestures: Run with your head down.
Five seconds later a bullet rips through cardboard three inches shy of Luisa’s head, and Big
Bird stuffing poofs into her face. She trips and collides with Napier; a rod of noise sears the air
above them. Napier draws his gun and fires twice around Luisa. The noise makes her curl into
a ball. “Run!” barks Napier, grabbing her upright. Luisa obeys—Napier starts knocking down
walls of boxes to impede their pursuer.
Ten yards later Luisa gets to a corner. A plywood door is marked EMERGENCY EXIT.
Locked. Breathless, Joe Napier reaches her. He fails to force the door.
“Give it up, Napier!” they hear. “It’s not you we’re after!”
Napier fires point-blank at the lock.
The door still won’t open. He empties three more bullets into the lock: each bang makes Luisa
flinch. The fourth bang is an empty click. Napier kicks the door with the sole of his boot.
An underworld sweatshop clattering with five hundred sewing machines. Flakes of textile are
suspended in the viscous heat, haloing the naked bulbs hanging over each machinist. Luisa and
Napier skirt the outer walkway in a rapid semicrouch. Limp Donald Ducks and crucified
Scooby-Doos have their innards stitched, one by one, row by row, pallet by pallet. Each
woman keeps her eyes fixed on the needle plates, so Luisa and Napier cause little commotion.
But how do we get out of here?
Napier runs, literally, into the Mexican woman from the makeshift reception. She beckons them down a semiblocked unlit side passage. Napier turns to Luisa, yelling over the metallic din, his
face saying, Do we trust her?
Luisa’s face replies, Any better ideas? They follow the woman between reams of fabric and
wire, split boxes of teddy-bear eyes and assorted sewing-machine body shells and innards. The
passage corners right and stops at an iron door. Day filters in through a grimy grille. The
Mexican fumbles with her key ring. It’s 1875 down here, thinks Luisa, not 1975. One key
won’t fit. The next fits but won’t turn. Even thirty seconds on the factory floor has affected her
A war cry from six yards away: “Hands in the air!” Luisa spins around. “I said, Hands in the
fuckin air!” Luisa’s hands obey. The gunman keeps his pistol trained on Napier. “Turn around,
Napier! Slow! Drop your gun!”
The señora shrills: “No shoot I! No shoot I, Señor! They force I show door! They say they kill
“Shuddup, you crazy fuckin’ wetback! Scram! Outa my way!”
The woman creeps around him, pressing herself against the wall, shrieking, “!No dispares! !
No dispares! !No quiero morir!”
Napier shouts, through the funneled factory noise, “Easy now, Bisco, how much you being
Bisco hollers back, “Don’t bother, Napier. Last words.”
“I can’t hear you! What did you say?”
“Last words? Who are you? Dirty Harry?”
Bisco’s mouth twitches. “I got a book of last words, and those were yours. You?” He looks at
Luisa, keeping the gun trained on Napier.
A pistol shot punches a hole in the din, and Luisa’s eyes clench shut. A hard thing touches her
toe. She forces her eyes open. It is a handgun, skidded to a stop. Bisco’s face is contorted into
inexplicable agony. The señora’s monkey wrench flashes and crumples the gunman’s lower
jaw. Ten or more blows of extreme ferocity follow, each one making Luisa flinch, punctuated
by the words, “Yo! Amaba! A! Eseljodido! Perro!”
Luisa checks Joe Napier. He looks on, unhurt, thunderstruck.
The señora wipes her mouth and leans over the motionless, pulp-faced Bisco. “And don’t call
me ‘wetback’!” She steps over his clotted head and unlocks the exit.
“You might want to tell the other two I did that to him,” Napier says to her, retrieving Bisco’s
The señora addresses Luisa. “Quítatelo de encima, cariño. Anda con gentuza y jDios míol ese
viejo podría ser tu padre.”
Napier sits on the graffiti-frescoed subway train, watching Lester Rey’s daughter. She is dazed,
disheveled, shaky, and her clothes are still damp from the bank’s sprinkler. “How did you find
me?” she asks, finally.
“Big fat guy at your office. Nosboomer, or something.”
“That’s it. Took a heap of persuading.”A silence lasts from Reunion Square subway to Seventeenth Avenue. Luisa picks at a hole in
her jeans. “I guess you don’t work at Seaboard any longer.”
“I was put out to pasture yesterday”
“No. Early retirement. Yes. I was put out to pasture.”
“And you came back from the pasture this morning?”
“That’s about the size of it.”
The next silence lasts from Seventeenth Avenue to McKnight Park.
“I feel,” Luisa hesitates, “that I—no, that you—broke some sort of decree back there. As if
Buenas Yerbas had decided I was to die today. But here I am.”
Napier considers this. “No. The city doesn’t care. And you could say it was your father who
just saved your life, when he kicked away that grenade rolling my way, thirty years ago.” Their
compartment groans and shudders. “We’ve got to go via a gun store. Empty guns make me
The subway emerges into the sunlight.
Luisa squints. “Where are we going?”
“To see somebody.” Napier checks his watch. “She’s flown in specially.”
Luisa rubs her red eyes. “Can the somebody give us a copy of the Sixsmith Report? Because
that dossier is my only way out.”
“I don’t know yet.”
Megan Sixsmith sits on a low bench in the Buenas Yerbas Museum of Modern Art and stares
back at a giant portrait of an old lady’s ursine face, rendered in interlacing gray and black lines
on a canvas otherwise blank. The only figurative in a room of Pollocks, de Koonings and
Mirós, the portrait quietly startles. “Look,” she says, thinks Megan, “at your future. Your
face, too, will one day be mine.” Time has knitted her skin into webs of wrinkles. Muscles sag
here, tauten there, her eyelids droop. Her pearls are of inferior quality most likely, and her hair
is mussed from an afternoon of rounding up grandchildren. But she sees things I don’t.
A woman about her own age sits next to her. She could use a wash and a change of clothes.
“Megan Sixsmith?”
Megan glances sidelong. “Luisa Rey?”
She nods toward the portrait. “I’ve always liked her. My dad met her, the real lady, I mean. She
was a Holocaust survivor who settled in BY. Ran a boardinghouse over in Little Lisbon. She
was the artist’s landlady.”
Courage grows anywhere, thinks Megan Sixsmith, like weeds.
“Joe Napier said you flew in today from Honolulu.”
“Is he here?”
“The guy behind me, in the denim shirt pretending to look at the Warhol. He’s watching out for
us. I’m afraid his paranoia is justified.”
“Yes. I need to know you are who you say you are.”
“I’m happy to hear it. Any ideas?”
“What was my uncle’s favorite Hitchcock movie?”
The woman claiming to be Luisa Rey thinks for a while and smiles. “We talked about Hitchcock in the elevator—I’m guessing he wrote you about that—but I don’t remember him
naming a favorite. He admired that wordless passage in Vertigo, where Jimmy Stewart trails
the mysterious woman to the waterfront with the San Francisco backdrop. He enjoyed
Charade—I know that’s not Hitchcock, but it tickled him, you calling Audrey Hepburn a bubblehead.”
Megan reclines into the seat. “Yes, my uncle referred to you in a card he wrote from the airport
hotel. It was agitated, and worrying, and dotted with phrases like ‘If anything should happen to
me’—but it wasn’t suicidal. Nothing could make Rufus do what the police claimed. I’m
certain.” Ask her, and control your trembling, for God’s sake. “Miss Rey—do you think my
uncle was murdered?”
Luisa Rey replies, “I’m afraid I know he was. I’m sorry.”
The journalist’s conviction is cathartic. Megan takes a deep breath. “I know about his work for
Seaboard and the Defense Department. I never saw the whole report, but I checked its
mathematics when I visited Rufus back in June. We vetted each other’s work.”
“The Defense Department? You don’t mean Energy?”
“Defense. A by-product of the HYDRA-Zero reactor is weapons-grade uranium. Highest
quality lots of it.” Megan lets Luisa Rey digest the new implications. “What do you need?”
“The report, only the report, will bring Seaboard crashing down in public and legal arenas.
And, incidentally, save my own skin.”
Trust this stranger or get up and walk away?
A crocodile of schoolchildren clusters around the portrait of the old woman. Megan murmurs,
under the curator’s short speech, “Rufus kept academic papers, data, notes, early drafts, et
cetera on Starfish—his yacht—for future reference. His funeral isn’t until next week, probate
won’t begin until then, so this cache should still be untouched. I would bet a lot he had a copy
of his report aboard. Seaboard’s people may have already combed the boat, but he had a thing
about not mentioning Starfish at work …”
“Where’s Starfish moored now?”
Napier parks the rented Ford by the clubhouse, a weatherboarded former boathouse. Its bright
windows boast an inviting bar, and nautical flags ruffle stiff in the evening wind. Sounds of
laughter and dogs are carried from the dunes as Luisa and Napier cross the clubhouse garden
and descend the steps to the sizable marina. A three-masted wooden ship is silhouetted against
the dying east, towering over the sleek fiberglass yachts around it. Some people move on the
jetties and yachts, but not many “Starfish is moored on the furthest jetty away from the
clubhouse”—Luisa consults Megan Sixsmith’s map—“past the Prophetess.”
The nineteenth-century ship is indeed restored beautifully Despite their mission, Luisa is
distracted by a strange gravity that makes her pause for a moment and look at its rigging, listen
to its wooden bones creaking.
“What’s wrong?” whispers Napier.
What is wrong? Luisa’s birthmark throbs. She grasps for the ends of this elastic moment, but
they disappear into the past and the future. “Nothing.”
“It’s okay to be spooked. I’m spooked myself.”
“We’re almost there.”
Starfish is where Megan’s map says. They clamber aboard. Napier inserts a clip into the cabin
door and slides a Popsicle stick into the gap. Luisa watches for watchers. “Bet you didn’t learn
that in the army.”
“You lose your bet. Cat burglars make resourceful soldiers, and the draft board wasn’t choosy
…” A click. “Got it.” The tidy cabin is devoid of books. An inset digital clock blinks from
21:55 to 21:56. Napier’s flashlight’s pencil beam rests on a navigation table fitted atop a mini–
filing cabinet. “How about in there?”
Luisa opens a drawer. “This is it. Shine here.” A mass of folders and binders. One, vanilla in
color, catches her eye. The HYDRAZero Reactor—An Operational Assessment Model—
Project Head Dr. Rufus Sixsmith. “Got it. This is it. Joe? You okay?”
“Yeah. It’s just … about time something went well, so simply.”
So Joe Napier can smile.
A motion in the cabin doorway; a man blocks out the stars. Napier reads Luisa’s alarm and
whirls around. In the flashlight Luisa sees a tendon in the gunman’s wrist twitch, twice, but no
gunfire sounds. Jammed safety catch?
Joe Napier makes a hiccuping sound, slumps to his knees, and cracks his head on the steel foot
of the navigation table.
He lies inert.
Luisa loses all but the dimmest sense of being herself. Napier’s flashlight rolls in the gentle
swell, and its beam rotates to show his shredded torso. His lifeblood spreads obscenely
quickly, obscenely scarlet, obscenely shiny Rigging whistles and twangs in the wind.
The killer closes the cabin door behind him. “Put the report on the table, Luisa.” His voice is
kindly “I don’t want blood on it.” She obeys. His face is hidden. “Well, you get to make peace
with your maker.”
Luisa grips the table. “You’re Bill Smoke. You killed Sixsmith.”
The darkness answers, “Bigger forces than me. I just dispatched the bullet.”
Focus. “You followed us, from the bank, in the subway, to the art museum …”
“Does death always make you so verbose?”
Luisa’s voice trembles. “What do you mean ‘always’?”68
Joe Napier drifts in a torrential silence.
The ghost of Bill Smoke hovers over his dark vision.
More than half of himself has gone already
Words come bruising the silence again. He’s going to kill her.
That .38 in your pocket.
I’ve done my duty, I’m dying, for Chrissakes.
Hey. Go tell Lester Rey about duty and dying.
Napier’s right hand inches to his buckle. He wonders if he is a baby in his cot or a man dying
in his bed. Nights pass, no, lifetimes. Often Napier wants to ebb away, but his hand refuses to
forget. The butt of a gun arrives in his palm. His finger enters a loop of steel, and a flare of
clarity illuminates his purpose. The trigger, this, yes. Pull her out. Slowly now …
Angle the gun. Bill Smoke is just yards away
The trigger resists his index finger—then a blaze of incredible noise spins Bill Smoke
backwards, his arms flailing like a marionette’s.
In the fourth to last moment of his life, Napier fires another bullet into the marionette
silhouetted by stars. The word Silvaplana comes to him, unasked for.
In the third to last moment, Bill Smoke’s body slides down the cabin door.
Second to last, an inset digital clock blinks from 21:57 to 21:58.
Napier’s eyes sink, newborn sunshine slants through ancient oaks and dances on a lost river.
Look, Joe, herons.
In Margo Roker’s ward in Swannekke County Hospital, Hester Van Zandt glances at her
watch. 21:57. Visiting hours end at ten o’clock. “One more for the road, Margo?” The visitor
glances at her comatose friend, then leafs through her Anthology of American Poetry. “A little
Emerson? Ah, yes. Remember this one? You introduced it to me.
If the red slayer thinks he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.
Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;The vanish’d gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.
They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.
The strong gods pine for my abode,
And pine in vain—
“Margo? Margo? Margo!” Margo Roker’s eyelids vibrate as if in REM. A groan squirms in
her larynx. She gulps for air, then her eyes are wide open, blinking in confusion and alarm at
the tubes in her nose. Hester Van Zandt is also panicky, but with hope. “Margo! Can you hear
me? Margo!”
The patient’s eyes settle on her old friend, and she lets her head sink into her pillow. “Yes, I
can hear you, Hester, you’re shouting in my goddamn ear.”
Luisa Rey surveys the October 1 edition of the Western Messenger amid the steamy clatter of
the Snow White Diner.
WHO BRING IGNOMINY TO CORPORATE AMERICA”A BYPD spokesman confirmed the newly appointed CEO of Seaboard Power Inc. and former
Federal Power Commissioner Lloyd Hooks has fled the country forfeiting the quarter-milliondollar bail posted Monday. The latest twist to “Seaboardgate” comes a day after Hooks
swore to “defend my integrity and the integrity of our great American company against this
pack of nefarious lies.” President Ford entered the fray at a White House press conference,
condemning his former adviser and distancing himself from the Nixon appointee. “My
administration makes no distinction between lawbreakers. We will root out the crooks who
bring ignominy to corporate America and punish them with the utmost severity of the law.”
Lloyd Hooks’s disappearance, interpreted by many observers as an admission of guilt, is the
latest twist in a series of revelations triggered by a Sept. 4 incident at Cape Yerbas Marina
Royale in which Joe Napier and Bill Smoke, security officers at Seaboard Inc.’s controversial
Swannekke Island atomic power stations, shot each other. Eyewitness Luisa Rey,
correspondent to this newspaper, summoned police to the crime scene, and the subsequent
investigation has already spread to last month’s killing of British atomic engineer and
Seaboard consultant Dr. Rufus Sixsmith, the crash of former Seaboard CEO Alberto
Grimaldi’s Learjet over Pennsylvania two weeks ago, and an explosion in Third Bank of
California in downtown B.Y which claimed the lives of two people. Five directors at Seaboard
Power have been charged in connection with the conspiracy, and two have committed suicide.
Three more, including Vice CEO William Wiley, have agreed to testify against Seaboard
The arrest of Lloyd Hooks two days ago was seen as vindication of this newspaper’s support
for Luisa Rey’s exposé of this major scandal, initially dismissed by William Wiley as “libelous fantasy culled from a spy novel and wholly unworthy of a serious response.” … Cont.
p. 2, Full Story p. 5, Comment p. 11.
“Front page!” Bart pours Luisa’s coffee. “Lester would be mighty proud.”
“Hed say I’m just a journalist doing my job.”
“Well, exactly, Luisa!”
Seaboardgate is no longer her scoop. Swannekke swarms with reporters, Senate investigators,
FBI agents, county police, and Hollywood scriptwriters. Swannekke B is in mothballs; C is
Luisa gets Javier’s postcard out again. It shows three UFOs zooming under the Golden Gate
Hi Luisa, it’s OK here but we live in a house so I can’t jump across balconies when I visit my
friends. Paul (that’s Wolf-man but Mom says I can’t call him that anymore though he kind of
likes it when I do) is taking me to a stamp fare tom-morrow, then I can choose what paint I
want for my bedroom and he cooks better than Mom. Saw you again on TV last night and in
the papers. Don’t forget me just because you’re fameous now, OK? Javi
The other item of mail is an airmailed package from Megan Six-smith, sent in response to
Luisa’s request. It contains the final eight letters Robert Frobisher wrote to his friend Rufus
Sixsmith. Luisa uses a plastic knife to slit the package open. She removes one of the yellowed envelopes, postmarked October 10, 1931, holds it against her nose, and inhales. Are molecules
of Zedelghem Château, of Robert Fro-bisher’s hand, dormant in this paper for forty-four
years, now swirling in my lungs, in my blood?
Who is to say?
Ayrs in bed for three days, fogged with morphine, calling out in pain. V distracting and
distressing. Dr. Egret warns J. and me not to confuse Ayrs’s newfound joie de vivre in music
with actual health and forbids VA. to work from his sickbed. Dr. Egret gives me the creeps.
Never met a quack whom I didn’t half-suspect of plotting to do me in as expensively as he
could contrive.
Buried in music of my own. Cruel to say it, but when Hendrick arrives at breakfast and tells
me, “Not today, Robert,” I’m almost relieved. Spent last night working on a rumbling ’cello
allegro lit by explosive triplets. Silence punctuated by breakneck mousetraps. Remember the
church clock chiming three A.M. “I heard an owl,” Huckleberry Finn says, “away off, whowhooing about somebody that was dead, and a whippowill and a dog crying about somebody
that was going to die.” Always haunted me, that line. Next thing I know, Lucille was
ballooning sheets of bright morning by the window. Morty Dhondt was downstairs, she told
me, ready for our excursion. Thought I was dreaming, but no. My face was crusted over, and
for a second I couldn’t have told you my name. Grunted I didn’t want to go anywhere with
Morty Dhondt, I wanted sleep, I have work to do. “But last week you arranged to go motoring
today!” objected Lucille.
I remembered. I washed, put on fresh clothes, and shaved. Sent Lucille to find the houseboy
whod polished my shoes, etc. Down in the breakfast room, the amiable jewel merchant was
smoking a cigar and reading The Times. “Don’t hurry,” he told me, when I apologized for my
tardiness. “Where we’re going no one will notice if we’re early or late.” Mrs. Willems brought
me some kedgeree, and J. breezed in. She hadn’t forgotten what day it was and gave me a
bunch of white roses, tied with a black ribbon, and smiled, just like her old self.
Dhondt drives a claret 1927 Bugatti Royale Type 41, a real spanker, Sixsmith. Goes like a
greased devil—nearly fifty on the metaled highway!—and boasts a Klaxon hooter that Dhondt
fires off at the least provocation. Beautiful day for a grim journey The nearer to the Front one
goes, naturally, the more blasted the countryside becomes. Beyond Roeselare, the land grows
crater-scarred, crisscrossed with collapsing trenches and pocked with burnt patches where not
even weeds take root. The few trees still standing here and there are, when you touch them, lifeless charcoal. The skein of green on the land seems less nature revivified, more nature
mildewed. Dhondt shouted over the engine’s roar that farmers still daren’t plow the land for
fear of unexploded ordnance. One cannot pass by without thinking of the density of men in the
ground. Any moment, the order to charge would be given, and infantrymen well up from the
earth, brushing off the powdery soil. The thirteen years since Armistice seemed only as many
Zonnebeke is a ramshackle village of semirepaired ruins and the site of a cemetery of the
Eleventh Essex of the Fifty-third Brigade. The War Graves Commission told me this cemetery
has the best chance of being where my brother was laid to rest. Adrian died in the charge of
July 31 on Messines Ridge, right in the thick of it. Dhondt dropped me off at the gates and
wished me luck. Tactfully, he told me he had business nearby—we must have been fifty miles
from the nearest jeweler’s—and left me to my quixotic quest. A consumptive ex-soldier
guarded the gates when not tending his sorry vegetable plot. He also worked as a groundsman
— self-appointed, one suspects—and waved a donation box at me, for “upkeep.” Parted with a
franc, and the fellow asked in tolerable English if I was looking for anyone in particular, as he
had committed the entire cemetery to memory. Wrote down my brother’s name, but he did that
Gallic mouth droop that indicates, “My problems are mine, and yours are yours, and this one is
Always felt I would divine which KNOWN UNTO GOD was Adrian’s. A glowing
inscription, a nodding magpie, or just a musical certainty would lead me to the right plot. Utter
tripe, of course. The headstones were uncountable, uniform, and arrayed as if on parade. Coils
of brambles invaded the perimeter. The air was stuffy as if the sky were sealing us in. Along
the aisles and rows I searched the F’s. Long odds, but one never knows. The War Office
makes mistakes—if war’s first victim is truth, its second is clerical efficiency. In the event, no
Frobisher was resting in that plot of Flanders. The closest was “Froames, B. W, Private 2389
18th (Eastern Division),” so I laid J.’s white roses on his stone. Who is to say? Maybe
Froames asked Adrian for a light one tired evening, or cowered with him as bombs rained
down, or shared a Bovril. Am a sentimental fool and I know it.
One encounters buffoons like Orford in your college, who wear an air of deprivation that the
war ended before they had a chance to show their mettle. Others, Figgis springs to mind,
confess their relief not to have been of service age before 1918 but a certain shame that they
feel this relief. I’ve often banged on to you about growing up in my legendary brother’s
shadow—every rebuke began with an “Adrian never used to …” or “If your brother were here
now he’d …” Grew to hate the sound of his name. During the runup to my forcible ejection
from the Frobishery it was all “You’re a disgrace to Adrian’s memory!” Never, ever forgive
the parents that. Remembered our last send-off one drizzly autumn afternoon at Audley End,
Adrian was in uniform, Pater clasping him. Days of bunting and cheering were long over—
later heard Military Police were escorting conscripts to Dunkirk to deter mass desertions. All
those Adrians jammed like pilchards in cemeteries throughout eastern France, western
Belgium, beyond. We cut a pack of cards called historical context—our generation, Sixsmith,
cut tens, jacks, and queens. Adrian’s cut threes, fours, and fives. That’s all.
Of course, “That’s all” is never all. Adrian’s letters were haunt-ingly aural. One can shut one’s
eyes but not one’s ears. Crackle of lice in seams; scutter of rats; snap of bones against bullet;
stutter of machine guns; thunder of distant explosions, lightning of nearer ones; ping of stones
off tin helmets; flies buzzing over no-man’s-land in summer. Later conversations add the
scream of horses; cracking of frozen mud; buzz of aircraft; tanks, churning in mud holes;
amputees, surfacing from the ether; belch of flamethrowers; squelch of bayonets in necks.
European music is passionately savage, broken by long silences.
Do wonder if my brother liked boys as well as girls too, or if my vice is mine alone. Wonder if he died celibate. Think of these troopers, lying together, cowering, alive; cold, dead. Tidied B.
W Froames’s headstone and went back to the gates. Well, my mission was bound to be futile.
Groundsman was twiddling with twine, said nothing. Morty Dhondt collected me bang on
time, and off we hurtled back toward civilization, ha. Passed through a place called Poelkapelle
or some such, down an avenue of elms lasting mile after mile. Dhondt chose this straight to
push the Bugatti as fast as she would go. Individual elms blurred into a single tree repeated to
infinity like a spinning top. The needle was nudging top speed when a form like a running
madwoman ran out smack in front of us—she hit the windscreen and spun over our heads.
Heart popped like a gunshot, I can tell you! Dhondt braked, the road tilted us one way,
shrugged us the other, the tires screamed and singed the air with hot rubber. We had run out of
infinity My teeth had bitten deep into my tongue. If the brakes hadn’t locked in such a way that
the Bugatti continued its trajectory along the road, we would have finished our day—if not our
lives—wrapped around an elm. The car scraped to a halt. Dhondt and I jumped out and ran
back—to see a monster pheasant, flapping its broken wings. Dhondt blew out an elaborate oath
in Sanskrit or something, and gave a ha! of relief that he hadn’t killed someone that also
expressed dismay at having killed something. Had lost the power of speech, and dabbed my
bleeding tongue on my handkerchief. Proposed putting the poor bird out of its misery
Dhondt’s answer was a proverb whose idiocy may have been deliberate: “To those upon the
menu, the sauce is no concern.” He went back to try to coax the Bugatti back to life. Couldn’t
fathom his meaning but walked up to the pheasant, causing it to flap ever more desperately Its
medallion breast feathers were matted with blood and fecal spewings. It cried, Sixsmith, just
like a two-day-old baby Wished I had a gun. On the roadside was a stone as big as my fist. I
smashed it down on the pheasant’s head. Unpleasant—not the same as shooting a bird, not at
Wiped its blood off the best I could, using dock leaves plucked from the roadside. Dhondt had
the car running, I hopped aboard, and we drove as far as the next village. A no-name place, as
far as I could see, but it had a miserable café-cum-garage-cum–funeral parlor shared by a gang
of silent locals and many flies who wheeled through the air like drugged angels of death. The
hard braking had misaligned the Bugatti’s front axle, so M.D. stopped here to have it seen to.
We sat alfresco on the edge of a “square,” in reality a pond of cobbly mud with a plinth
plonked in its navel whose original inhabitant had long ago been melted down for bullets.
Some dirty children chased the only fat hen in the country across the square— it flew up to the
plinth. The children began throwing stones at it. Wondered where the bird’s owner might be. I
asked the barman who had formerly occupied the plinth. He didn’t know, he was born in the
south. My glass was dirty so I made the barman change it. He took umbrage and was less
talkative from then on.
M.D. asked about my hour in the Zonnebeke cemetery. Didn’t really answer. Mangled,
bloodied pheasant kept flashing before my eyes. Asked M.D. where he’d spent his war. “Oh,
you know, attending to business.” In Bruges? I asked, surprised, hard put to imagine a Belgian
diamond merchant prospering under the Kaiser’s occupation. “Good God, no,” answered
M.D., “Johannesburg. My wife and I got out for the duration.” I complimented his foresight.
Modestly, he explained, “Wars do not combust without warning. They begin as little fires over
the horizon. Wars approach. A wise man watches for the smoke, and prepares to vacate the
neighborhood, just like Ayrs and Jocasta. My worry is that the next war will be so big,
nowhere with a decent restaurant will be left untouched.”
Was he so sure another war was coming?
“Another war is always coming, Robert. They are never properly extinguished. What sparks
wars? The will to power, the backbone of human nature. The threat of violence, the fear of
violence, or actual violence is the instrument of this dreadful will. You can see the will to power in bedrooms, kitchens, factories, unions, and the borders of states. Listen to this and
remember it. The nation-state is merely human nature inflated to monstrous proportions. QED,
nations are entities whose laws are written by violence. Thus it ever was, so ever shall it be.
War, Robert, is one of humanity’s two eternal companions.”
So, I asked, what was the other?
“Diamonds.” A butcher in a bloodstained apron ran across the square, and the children
scattered. Now he had the problem of luring the hen down from its plinth.
The League of Nations? Surely nations knew laws other than warfare? What of diplomacy?
“Oh, diplomacy,” said M.D., in his element, “it mops up war’s spillages; legitimizes its
outcomes; gives the strong state the means to impose its will on a weaker one, while saving its
fleets and battalions for weightier opponents. Only professional diplomats, inveterate idiots,
and women view diplomacy as a long-term substitute for war.”
The reductio ad absurdum of M.D.’s view, I argued, was that science devises ever bloodier
means of war until humanity’s powers of destruction overcome our powers of creation and our
civilization drives itself to extinction. M.D. embraced my objection with mordant glee.
“Precisely. Our will to power, our science, and those v. faculties that elevated us from apes, to
savages, to modern man, are the same faculties that’ll snuff out Homo sapiens before this
century is out! You’ll probably live to see it happen, you fortunate son. What a symphonic
crescendo that’ll be, eh?”
The butcher came over to ask the barman for a ladder. Got to end here. Can’t keep my eyes
open any longer.
Ayrs should be up on his feet tomorrow after a bed-bound fortnight. Wouldn’t wish syphilis
on my worst enemies. Only one or two, anyway. The syphilitic decays in increments, like fruit
rotting in orchard verges. Dr. Egret calls by every other day, but there’s not much left to
prescribe except ever-bigger doses of morphine. VA. loathes using it because it clouds his
J. prone to bouts of despondency. Some nights, she just clings to me as if I’m her life belt and
she’s drowning. Feel sorry for the woman, but I’m interested in her body, not her problems.
Spent the fortnight gone in the music room, reworking my year’s fragments into a “sextet for overlapping soloists”: piano, clarinet, ’cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of
key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second,
each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan’t know until it’s
finished, and by then it’ll be too late, but it’s the first thing I think of when I wake, and the last
thing I think of before I fall asleep, even if J. is in my bed. She should understand, the artist
lives in two worlds.
Next day
Had the devil of a spat with VA. He dictated a toccata-like étude during this morning’s
compositional, it seemed deuced familiar, then I recognized the refrain from my own “Angel of
Mons”! If Ayrs hoped I’d not notice he was v. much mistaken. I told him straight—this was
my music. He changed his tune: “What d’you mean, your music? Frobisher, when you grow
up, you’ll find that all composers draw inspiration from their environments. You’re one of
many elements in mine, receiving a fair salary, I might add, enjoying daily master classes in
composition and mingling with the greatest musical minds of the age. If you’re unhappy with
these terms, Hendrick will drive you to the station.” Well, a v. different man from the one I’d
wheeled down to the lodge house a few weeks ago, when he’d pleaded with me to stay on until
next spring. I asked whom he had in mind to replace me. Mrs. Willems? The gardener? Eva?
Nefertiti? “Oh, I’m sure Sir Trevor Mackerras could lay his hands on a suitable boy for me.
Yes, I shall advertise. You’re not as singular as you like to think. Now. Do you want your job
or not?”
Couldn’t find a way to win back lost ground so I walked out, complaining of agony in my big
toe. VA. fired this warning at my flank: “If your toe isn’t better by the morning, Frobisher, get
it fixed in London and don’t come back.” Sometimes I want to build a bloody great bonfire and
toss the old sod into its roaring heart.
Some days later
Still here, J. visited later, spun me a line about Ayrs’s pride, how much he values my work,
artistic tempers etc., but please stay, for her sake if not for his. Accepted this proxy fig leaf cum
olive branch, and our lovemaking that night was almost affectionate. Winter coming on, and
I’m not up to adventuring around Europe on my modest nest egg. Would need to meet a stupid,
wealthy heiress rather smartish if I left now. Anyone spring to mind? Will send another
package for Jansch, to boost my emergency fund. If Ayrs won’t cut me in for my ideas that
went into “Todtenvogel”— enjoying its twentieth public outing since Warsaw—I’ll just have to
reimburse myself. Resolve to be much more cautious before showing VA. my own
compositions again. You know, having the roof over one’s head dependent upon the good
offices of an employer is a loathsome way to live. Christ only knows how the serving classes
stand it. Are the Frobishery domestics forever biting their tongues as I must? one wonders.
Eva back from her summer in Switzerland. Well, this young woman says she’s Eva, and the
resemblance is certainly striking, but that snotty duckling who left Zedelghem three months ago
has returned a most graceful swan. She supports her mother, bathes her father’s eyelids with
cotton wool dipped in cold water and reads him Flaubert for hours on end, she’s courteous to
the servants, and she even asks me about my sextet’s progress. Was sure it was some new
strategy to oust me, but seven days on I’m beginning to suspect E. the stinker just might be dead and buried. V. well, there is more to E.’s & my pax than meets the eye, but must first
provide some background. Since my arrival in Neerbeke, Eva’s “landlady” in Bruges, Mme.
van de Velde, had been on at both E. & J. for me to visit their house so her five daughters—
E.’s schoolfellows—can practice their English on a genuine English gentleman. M. van de
Velde, you’ll remember, is the alleged rake of Minnewa-ter Park who turned out to be a
manufacturer of munitions and respected civic pillar etc. Mme. van de Velde is one of those
tiresome, persistent women whose ambitions won’t be thwarted by “He’s v. busy at the
moment.” Actually, one suspects J. of fixing the fait accompli out of spite—as her daughter
grows swanlike, the mother is turning into a nasty old rook.
Today was the day appointed for me to dine at the van d. Vs— five evenly spaced daughters
plus Mater and Pater. Needed a new set of strings for the ’cello, and it does Ayrs no harm to
see how helpless he is without me, so I put on my brave face and hoped the v.d.Vs employ a
chef commensurate to a factory owner’s income. So at eleven o’clock the van de Velde car—a
silver Mercedes-Benz, thank you very much—arrived at Zedelghem, and their driver, a
perspiring snowman with no neck and no French, drove E. and me back to Bruges. In the past
we would have ridden in stony silence, but found myself telling E. a little about my Cambridge
days. E. warned me that the eldest van de Velde, Marie-Louise, had decided to marry an
Englishman at any cost, so I should have to guard my chastity with the utmost care.
How do you like that?
At the van de Veldes’ town house, the girls were arranged on the stairway to greet me in
ascending order of age—half-expected ’em to burst into song, and stone the crows, Sixsmith,
that’s what they did. “Greensleeves,” in English. Syrupy as humbugs. Then Mme. vd.V
pinched my cheek as if I were a homecoming runaway and said, owlishly “How do you doooo?” Was ushered into “the salon”—a nursery—and seated on “the question chair,” a toy
box. The vd.V daughters, a hydra of heads named Marie-Louise, Stephanie, Zenobe,
Alphonsine, and I forget the last, ranged from nine years of age to said Marie-Louise, one year
Eva’s senior. All girls possess a thoroughly unjustified self-confidence. A v. long sofa sagged
beneath this family of porkers. The maid brought lemonade while Mme. began the questions.
“Eva tells us your family are v. well connected in Cambridge, Mr. Frobisher?” Glanced Evawards; she pulled a mock-fascinated face. Hid my smile and admitted my family are in the
Domesday Book and that Pater is an eminent churchman. All attempts to turn the topic away
from my eligibility were yorkered, and after a quarter of an hour the bug-eyed Marie-Louise
had sensed her mater’s approval and settled I would be her Prince Charming. She asked this:
“Mr. Frobisher, are you well acquainted with Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street?” Well, thought
I, the day might not be a complete wreck. A girl with a taste for irony must conceal some
depths. But Marie-Louise was serious! A congenital dunce. No, I replied, I didn’t know Mr.
Holmes personally, but he and David Copperfield could be seen playing billiards at my club
every Wednesday. Luncheon was served on fine Dresden crocks in a dining room with a large
reproduction of The Last Supper over floral wallpaper. Food a disappointment. Dry trout,
greens steamed to a sludge, gâteau simply vulgar; thought I was back dining in London. The
girls tittered glissando at my trivial missteps in French—yet their frightful English rasps on
one’s ear unbearably Mme. v.d.V, who also summered in Switzerland, gave laborious accounts
of how Marie-Louise had been eulogized in Berne as “the Flower of the Alps” by Countess
Slãck-Jawski or the Duchess of Sümdümpstädt. Couldn’t even force out a civil “Comme c’est
char-mant!” M. v.d.V arrived from his office. Asked a hundred questions on cricket to amuse
his daughters with this quaint English ritual of “Ins that are Out” and “Outs that are In.” A pijawed ass of kingly proportions, so busy planning his next boorish interruption that he never
listens properly. Pays himself unveiled compliments, beginning “Call me old-fashioned but …”
or “Some consider me a snob but …” Eva sent me a wry look. It said, “And to think you honestly thought this oaf was a threat to my reputation!”
After luncheon, the sun came out, and Mme. v.d.V announced we would all go for a walk to
show the honored visitor the sights of Bruges. Tried to say I’d already impinged on their
hospitality enough, but wasn’t to get away so lightly The Great Patriarch excused himself—had
a pile of chits to sign as high as the Matterhorn. May he die in an avalanche. After the maids
had hatted and gloved the girls, the carriage was summoned and I was carted around one
church after another. As dear old Kilvert notes, nothing is more tiresome than being told what
to admire, and having things pointed at with a stick. Can scarcely recall the name of a single
sight. By the itinerary’s finale, the great clock tower, my jaw was hurting from all the yawns
I’d suppressed. Mme. van de Velde gave the pinnacle one squint and announced that she
would let us young things scramble up there by ourselves and wait in the patisserie across the
piazza. Marie-Louise, who outweighs her mother, remarked that it wouldn’t be ladylike to
allow Maman to wait alone. Brainbox couldn’t go because of her asthma, and if Brainbox
wasn’t going etc. & etc., until in the end only Eva and I bought tickets to go up. I paid, to show
I wasn’t blaming her personally for the hideous waste of a day. Went first. The stairway was
an evernarrower spiral. A rope ran at hand height through iron rings set into the wall. Feet had
to feel their own way. Only source of light was occasional narrow windows. Only sounds
were our feet and E.’s feminine breathing, reminding me of my nocturnes with her mother. The
van de Veldes are six never-ending, ill-tuned harpsichord allegretti, and my ears rang with
gratitude to be free of ’em. Had forgotten to count the steps, I thought aloud. My voice
sounded locked in a closet of blankets. Eva gave me a lazy “Oui …”
Emerged into an airy chamber housing the cartwheel-size cogs of the clock mechanism. Ropes
and cables disappeared into the ceiling. A dogsbody snoozed in his deck chair. He was
supposed to inspect our tickets—on the Continent one must forever be producing a ticket—but
we slipped by him up a final flight of wooden stairs to the viewing belvedere. Tricolor Bruges
spread out, far below: roof-tile orange; masonry gray; canal brown. Horses, automobiles,
cyclists, a crocodile of choirboys, witch-hat roofs, washing on lines across side streets. Looked
for Ostend, found it. Sunlit strip of North Sea turned Polynesian ultramarine. Seagulls wheeled
in currents, I got giddy following ’em and thought of Ewing’s mol-lyhawk. Eva declared she
had spotted the van de Veldes. Assumed this was a comment on their ampleness but looked
where she said and, sure enough, six little blobs in pastels around a café table. E. folded her
ticket into a paper dart and flung it over the parapet. Wind carried it off until the sun burned it
up. What would she do if Dogsbody woke and demanded her ticket? “I’ll cry and say the
horrible English boy stole it.” So I folded my ticket into a paper dart, too, told E. she had no
evidence, and launched it. Instead of soaring high, my dart fell out of sight in a moment. E.’s
character depends on which angle you’re looking from, a quality of superior opals. “You
know, I can’t remember seeing Papa so content and alive as he is now,” she said.
The awful v.d.Vs had created a camaraderie. Asked her straight what had happened in
Switzerland. Had she fallen in love, worked in an orphanage, had a mystical encounter in a
snowy grotto?
She began to say something several times. In the end, she said (blushing!), “I was missing a
certain young man I met this June.”
You’re surprised? Imagine my feelings! Yet I was every inch the gentleman you know me for.
Instead of flirting back, I said, “And your first impression of this young man? Was it not
wholly negative?”
“Partly negative.” I observed her beads of perspiration from the climb, her lips, and the fine,
fine hairs on her upper lip.
“He’s a tall, dark, handsome, musical foreigner?”
She snorted. “He is … tall, yes; dark, quite; handsome, not so much as he thinks, but let us say he can catch the eye; musical, prodigiously; a foreigner, to his core. Remarkable that you know
so much about him! Are you spying on him too, as he passes through Minnewater Park?” I
had to laugh. So did she. “Robert, I sense …” She gazed at me shyly “You’re experienced.
May I call you Robert, by the way?”
I said it was about time she did.
“My words are not … entirely appropriate. Are you angry?”
No, I said, no. Surprised, flattered, but angry, not at all.
“I behaved so spitefully to you. But I’m hoping we can start again.”
Answered, of course, I’d like that too. “Since my childhood,” E. said, looking away, “I’ve
thought of this balcony as my own belvedere, from A Thousand and One Nights. I often come
up here at this hour, after school. I’m the empress of Bruges, you see. Its citizens are my
subjects. The van de Veldes are my jesters. I shall chop off their heads.” A beguiling creature,
she really is. My blood was hot, and I was seized by an impulse to give the empress of Bruges
a lingering kiss.
Got no further; a party of infernal American tourists swarmed up through the narrow doorway.
Fool that I am, I pretended not to be with Eva. Took in view from other side, trying to wind in
all unraveled strings of myself. When Dogsbody announced that the viewing balcony was
closing shortly, Eva was no longer there, like a cat. How true to form. Once again forgot to
count the steps going down.
At the cake shop Eva was helping littlest v.d.V at pussy’s cradle. Mme. van de Velde fanned
herself with a menu and ate boule de I'Yser with Marie-Louise as they dissected the fashions of
passersby Eva avoided my eye. Spell was broken. Marie-Louise sought my eye, the spoonyeyed little heifer. Ambled back to the v.d.Vs’ house where, hallelujah, Hendrick was waiting
with the Cowley Eva bade me au revoir in the doorway—glanced back to see her smile. Bliss!
The evening was golden and warm. All the way to Neerbeke, saw Eva’s face, strand or two of
hair across her face, left there by the wind. Don’t be hatefully jealous, Sixsmith. You know
how it is.
J. senses the entente between Eva and me, and doesn’t like it one fig. Last night, I imagined E.
was under me rather than her mother. Crescendo followed only bars later, a whole movement
before J. Can women detect imaginary betrayals? I ask because, with stupendous intuition, she
gave me this subtle warning: “I want you to know something, Robert. If you ever touch Eva,
I’ll find out, and I’ll destroy you.”
“I shouldn’t think of it,” I lied.
“I shouldn’t even dream of it, if I were you,” she warned.
Couldn’t leave it like that. “Why in hell do you think I’m attracted to your gangly, unpleasant
daughter, anyway?” She did the v. same snort Eva had done up on her belvedere.
Where the blazes is your reply? Look here, I’m much obliged to you, but if you think I’ll wait
around for your letters to appear, I’m afraid you’re sorely mistaken. It is all perfectly hateful,
hateful as my hypocrite father. I could ruin him. He’s ruined me. Anticipating the end of the
world is humanity’s oldest pastime. Dhondt is right, damn his Belgian eyes, damn all Belgian
eyes. Adrian would still be alive if “plucky little Belgium” never existed. Someone should turn
this dwarf-country into a giant boating lake and toss in Belgium’s inventor, his feet tied to a
Minerva. If he floats, he’s guilty To sink a white-hot poker through my father’s damn eyes!
Name one. Go on, name me just one famous Belgian. He has more money than Rothschild, but
will he pay me another farthing? Miserable, so miserable. How Christian is it to cut me off
without a single shilling to my name? Drowning is too good for him. Dhondt is right, I’m
afraid. Wars are never cured, they just go into remission for a few years. The End is what we
want, so I’m afraid the End is what we’re damn well going to get. There. Set that to music.
Timpani, cymbals, and a million trumpets, if"you would be so kind. Paying the old bastard with
my own music. Kills me.
Eva. Because her name is a synonym for temptation: what treads nearer to the core of man?
Because her soul swims in her eyes. Because I dream of creeping through the velvet folds to
her room, where I let myself in, hum her a tune so—so—so softly, she stands with her naked
feet on mine, her ear to my heart, and we waltz like string puppets. After that kiss, she says,
“Vous embrassez comme un poisson rouge!” and in moonlit mirrors we fall in love with our
youth and beauty Because all my life, sophisticated, idiotic women have taken it upon
themselves to understand me, to cure me, but Eva knows I’m terra incognita and explores me
unhurriedly, like you did. Because she’s lean as a boy Because her scent is almonds, meadow
grass. Because if I smile at her ambition to be an Egyptologist, she kicks my shin under the
table. Because she makes me think about something other than myself. Because even when
serious she shines. Because she prefers travelogues to Sir Walter Scott, prefers Billy Mayerl to
Mozart, and couldn’t tell C major from a sergeant major. Because I, only I, see her smile a
fraction before it reaches her face. Because Emperor Robert is not a good man—his best part is
commandeered by his unperformed music— but she gives me that rarest smile, anyway.
Because we listened to nightjars. Because her laughter spurts through a blowhole in the top of her head and sprays all over the morning. Because a man like me has no business with this
substance “beauty” yet here she is, in these soundproofed chambers of my heart.
Divorces. V messy affairs but Ayrs’s and mine was over in a single day. Just yesterday
morning we were at work on the second movement of his ambitious swan song. He announced
a new approach for our Compositional. “Frobisher, today I’d like you to come up with some
themes for my Severo movement. Something eve-of-war-ish in E minor. Once you’ve got
something that catches my eye, I’ll take it over and develop its potential. Got that?”
Got that I had. Like it I didn’t, not one bit. Scientific papers are coauthored, yes, and a
composer might work with a virtuoso musician to explore the boundaries of the playable—like
Elgar and W. H. Reed—but a coauthored symphonic work? V dubious idea, and told VA. so
in no uncertain terms. He tsked. “I didn’t say ‘coauthored,’ boy. You gather the raw material, I
refine it as I see fit.” This hardly reassured me. He chided me: “All the Greats have their
apprentices do it. How else could a man like Bach churn out new masses every week?”
We were in the twentieth century when I last looked, I retorted. Audiences pay to hear the
composer whose name is on the program notes. They don’t pay money for Vyvyan Ayrs only
to get Robert Frobisher. VA. got agitated. “They won’t ‘get’ you! They’ll get me! You’re not
listening, Frobisher. You do the block-and-tackle work, I orchestrate, I arrange, I polish.”
“Block-and-tackle” work like my “Angel of Mons,” robbed at gunpoint for the Adagio in
Ayrs’s glorious final monument? One may dress plagiarism up however one wishes, it’s still
plagiarism. “Plagiarism?” Ayrs kept his voice low, but his knuckles on his cane were
whitening. “In bygone days—when you were grateful for my tutelage—you called me one of
the greatest living European composers. Which is to say, the world. Why would such an artist
possibly need to ‘plagiarize’ anything from a copyist who, may I remind him, was unable to
obtain even a bachelor’s degree for himself from a college for the terminally privileged? You’re
not hungry enough, boy, that’s your problem. You’re Mendelssohn aping Mozart.”
The stakes rose like inflation in Germany, but I am constitutionally unable to fold under
pressure:—I dig in. “I’ll tell you why you need to plagiarize! Musical sterility!” The finest
moments in “Todtenvogel” are mine, I told him. The contrapuntal ingenuities of the new
work’s Allegro non troppo are mine. I hadn’t come to Belgium to be his damn fag.
The old dragon breathed smoke. Ten bars of silence in 6/8. Stubbed out his cigarette. “Your
petulance doesn’t deserve serious attention. In fact it deserves dismissal, but that would be
acting in the heat of the moment. Instead, I want you to think. Think about reputation.” Ayrs
unrolled the word. “Reputation is everything. Mine, save for a youthful exuberance that earned me the clap, is beyond reproach. Yours, my disinherited, gambling, bankrupt friend, is expired.
Leave Zedelghem whenever you wish. But be warned. Leave without my consent and all
musical society west of the Urals, east of Lisbon, north of Naples, and south of Helsinki will
know a scoundrel named Robert Frobisher forced himself upon purblind Vyvyan Ayrs’s wife,
his beloved wife, yes, the enchanting Mevrouw Crommelynck. She will not deny it. Imagine
the scandal! After everything Ayrs had done for Frobisher, too … well, no wealthy patron, no
impoverished patron, no festival organizer, no board of governors, no parent whose Little Lucy
Lamb wants to learn the piano will have anything, anything to do with you.”
So VA. knows. For weeks, months, probably. Was badly wrong-footed. Highlighted my
impotence by calling Ayrs some v. rude names. “Oh, flattery!” he crowed. “Encore, Maestro!”
Stopped myself battering the pox-nibbled corpse to a premature death with the bassoon. Didn’t
stop myself hissing that if Ayrs was half as good a husband as he was a manipulator and a
larcenist of better men’s ideas, his wife might not put it about so much. Come to think of it, I
added, how much credibility would his campaign to smear my name carry when European
society learned what kind of woman Jocasta Crommelynck was in her private life?
Hadn’t even scratched him. “You ignorant ass, Frobisher. Jo-casta’s numerous affairs are
discreet, always have been. Any society’s upper crust is riddled with immorality how else
d’you think they keep their power? Reputation is king of the public sphere, not private. It is
dethroned by public acts. Disinheritance. Fleeing famous hotels. Defaulting on monies owed to
the gentry’s lenders of last resort. Jocasta had my blessing when she seduced you, you stuckup piffler. I required you to finish ‘Todtenvogel.’ You fancy yourself a larky buck, but there’s
alchemy between Jocasta and I you cannot begin to fathom. She’ll fall out of love with you the
moment you threaten us. You’ll see. Now go away and come back tomorrow with your
homework done. We will pretend your little tantrum never happened.”
Was only too pleased to comply Needed to think.
J. must have played a major part in investigating my recent history. Hendrick doesn’t speak
English, and VA. couldn’t have done this delving alone. She must like louche men—explains
why she married Ayrs. Where E. stands on all of this I couldn’t guess, because yesterday was
Wednesday, so she was at school in Bruges. Eva could not know about my affair with her
mother and still make such open signs of love to me. Surely?
Spent afternoon walking across the bleak fields in solitary rage. Sheltered from hailstones in a
bombed-out chapel’s lych-gate. Thought about E., thought about E., thought about E. Only two
things were clear:—hanging myself from Zedelghem’s flagpole was preferable to letting its
parasite master plunder my talents a day longer; and never seeing E. again was unthinkable.
“It’ll all end in tears, Frobisher!” Yes, possibly, elopements often do, but I love her, I actually
love her, and there it is.
Returned to the château just before it got dark, ate cold meats in Mrs. Willems’s kitchen. Learnt
that J. and her Circean caresses were in Brussels on estate business and would not be back that
night. Hendrick told me VA. had retired early with his wireless and instructions not to be
disturbed. Perfect. Took a long soak in the tub and a wrote a well-knotted set of scalic bass
lines. Crises send me scurrying into music, where nothing can harm me. Retired early myself,
locked my door, and packed my valise. Woke myself this morning at four o’clock. Freezing
fog outside. Wanted to pay VA. a final call. Barefoot except for socks, I crept along the wintry
corridors to Ayrs’s door. Shivering, eased it open, at pains to avoid the slightest noise—
Hendrick sleeps in an adjoining room. Lights off, but in the ember glow from the hearth I saw
Ayrs, stretched out like that mummy in the British Museum. His room stank of bitter medicine.
Crept to the cabinet by his bed. Drawer was stiff, and as I jerked it open an ether bottle on top
wobbled—just caught it. VA.’s flaunted Luger lay bundled in its chamois cloth wrapped in a
string vest, next to a little saucer of bullets. They rattled. Ayrs’s fragile skull was only inches away, but he didn’t wake. His breathing was wheezy as a ratty old barrel organ. Felt an
impulse to steal a clutch of bullets, so I did.
A blue vein throbbed over Ayrs’s Adam’s apple, and I fought off an unaccountably strong
urge to open it up with my penknife. Most uncanny Not quite déjà vu, more jamais vu. Killing,
an experience that comes to few outside wartime. What is the timbre of murder? Don’t worry,
I’m not writing you a confession of homicide. Working on my sextet while evading a manhunt
would be far too much trouble, and ending one’s career swinging in soiled underwear is hardly
dignified. Even worse, murdering Eva’s father in cold blood might put the kibosh on her
feelings for me. VA. slumbered on, oblivious to all this, and I pocketed his pistol. I’d stolen the
bullets, so taking the Luger too had a sort of logic. Curiously heavy things, guns. It emanated a
bass note against my thigh: it’s killed people, for sure; this little Luger went to market. Why did
I take it, exactly? Couldn’t tell you. But place its mouth against your ear and you hear the world
in a different way.
Last port of call was Eva’s empty room. Lay on her bed, stroked her clothes, you know how I
get sentimental over partings. Left the shortest letter of my life on her dressing table: “Empress
of Bruges. Your belvedere, your hour.” Back to my room. Bade my four-poster bed a fond
farewell, raised the stubborn sash window, and effected my flight over the icy roof. Flight was
nearly the word—a tile slid out and crashed down to the gravel walk below. Lay prone,
expecting shouts and alarums at any second, but no one had heard. Reached Earth courtesy of
the obliging yew tree and made my way through the frosty herb garden, keeping the topiary
between me and the servants’ rooms. Rounded the front of the house and walked down the
Monk’s Walk. East wind straight from the steppes, was glad of Ayrs’s sheepskin. Heard
arthritic poplars, nightjars in the fossilized woods, a crazed dog, feet on frozen gravel, rising
pulse in my temples, some sorrow too, for myself, for the year. Passed the old lodge, took the
Bruges road. Had hoped to hitch a lift on a milk truck or cart, but there was nothing about.
Stars were fading in the frosty predawn. A few cottage candles were lit, glimpsed a fiery face
in the smithy, but the road north was nobody’s but mine.
So I thought, but the noise of an automobile was following me. Wasn’t going to hide, so I
stopped and faced it. Headlamps dazzled, the car slowed, the engine stalled, and a familiar voice
shrieked at me: “And where might you be creeping off to at such an ungodly hour?”
Mrs. Dhondt, none other, wrapped up in a black sealskin coat. Had the Ayrses sent her out to
capture the runaway slave? Confusedly, I garbled out, like an utter ass, “Oh, there’s been an
Cursed myself for this cul-de-sac of a lie, for clearly I was fit as a fiddle, alone, on foot, and
with my valise and satchel. “What terrible luck!” responded Mrs. Dhondt, with martial gusto,
filling in my blanks for me. “Friend or family?”
I saw my lifeboat. “Friend.”
“Morty did warn Mr. Ayrs against buying a Cowley for precisely this reason, you know!
Unreliable in a crisis. Silly Jocasta, why didn’t she telephone me? Jump in, then! One of my
Arabian mares gave birth to two glorious foals just an hour ago, and all three are doing
splendidly! I was on my way home, but I’m far too excited to sleep, so I’ll drive you to Ostend
if you miss the connection at Bruges. I do so love the roads at this hour. So what is the nature
of the accident? Buck up, now, Robert. Never assume the worst until you have all the facts to
Reached Bruges by dawn by virtue of a few plain untruths. Selected this superior hotel across
from St. Wenceslas because its exterior looks like a bookend and its flower boxes are well
planted with miniature firs. My rooms overlook a quiet canal on the west side. Now I’ve
finished this letter, will take forty winks until it’s time to go to the belfry. E. might be there. If
not, will lurk in an alleyway near her school and waylay her. If she fails to appear there, a call at the van de Veldes’ may be necessary. If my name is fouled, shall disguise myself as a
chimney sweep. If I am rumbled, a long letter. If long letter is intercepted, another one is
waiting in her dressing table. I am a determined man.
P.S.—Thanks for your anxious letter, but why the clucking Mother Goose? Yes, of course I’m
fine—apart from the consequences of described contretemps with VA. Am more than fine, to
tell the truth. My mind is capable of any creative task it can conceive. Composing the best work
of my life, of all lives. Have money in my pocket-book and more in the First Bank of Belgium.
Reminds me. If Otto Jansch won’t budge from thirty guineas for the Munthe pair, tell him to
skin his mother and roll her in salt. See what the Russian on Greek Street’ll cough up.
P.P.S.—One last serendipitous discovery. Back at Zedelghem, whilst packing my valise,
checked nothing had rolled under the bed. Found half a ripped-in-two volume wedged under
one of the legs by a long-since-departed guest to stop the bed wobbling. Prussian officer,
maybe, or Debussy, who knows? Thought nothing of it until a minute later, when the title on
the spine registered. Grimy job, but I lifted the bed up and extracted the bound pages. Sure
enough:—“The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing.” From the interrupted page to the end of the
first volume. Would you believe it? Slipped the half-book into my valise. Will finish gobbling it
down v. soon. Happy, dying Ewing, who never saw the unspeakable forms waiting around
history’s corner.
LE ROYAL Hôtel, bruge
near the endth—xi—1931
Working nights on Cloud Atlas Sextet until I drop, quite literally, no other way to get off to
sleep. My head is a Roman candle of invention. Lifetime’s music, arriving all at once.
Boundaries between noise and sound are conventions, I see now. All boundaries are
conventions, national ones too. One may transcend any convention, if only one can first
conceive of doing so. Take this island, midstream between timbre and rhythm, not down in any
book of theory but it’s here! Hear the instruments in my head, perfect clarity anything I wish
for. When it’s finished, there’ll be nothing left in me, I know, but this king’s shilling in my
sweaty palm is the philosopher’s stone! A man like Ayrs spends his allotted portion in dribs
and drabs over a dragged-out lifetime. Not I. Heard nothing from VA. or that adulterous,
rubbery, melodramatic wife of his. Suppose they believe I ran home to England. Last night
dreamt I fell from the Imperial Western, clutching my drainpipe. Violin note, misplayed,
hideously—that’s my sextet’s final note.Am perfectly well. So damnably well! Wish I could make you see this brightness. Prophets
went blind if they saw Jehovah. Not deaf, but blind, you appreciate the significance. Could still
hear him. Talk to myself all day long. Did it absently at first, the human voice soothes me so,
but now it takes real effort to stop, so I let it run and run. Take walks when not composing.
Could write a Michelin guide to Bruges now, had I but space enough, and time. Round the
poorer quarters, not just the groves of the wealthy. Behind a grubby window a grandmother
was arranging Saintpaulia in a bowl. Tapped on the pane and asked her to fall in love with me.
Pursed her lips, don’t think she spoke French, but I tried again. Cannonball-headed fellow with
absolutely no chin appeared at the window, spat out brimstone curses on me and my house.
Eva. Every day I’ve climbed up the belfry chanting a lucky chant at one syllable per beat, “To
—day—to—day—let—her—be— here—to—day—to—day.” Not yet, though I wait until it’s
dark. Golden days, bronze days, iron days, watery days, foggy days. Turkish delight sunsets.
Nights drawing in, frosty nip in the air. Eva is guarded in a schoolroom down on Earth,
chewing her pencil, dreaming of being with me, I know it, me, looking down from amongst
exfoliating apostles, dreaming of being with her. Her damn parents must have found the note in
her dressing table. Wish I’d gone about things more cunningly. Wish I’d shot the damn
fraudster when I had the chance. Ayrs’ll never find a replacement for Frobisher—Eternal
Recurrence’ll die with him. Those van de Veldes must have intercepted my second letter to Eva
in Bruges. Tried to bluff my way into her school but got chased out by a pair of liveried pigs
with whistles and sticks. Followed E. back from school, but the curtains of day are undrawn so
briefly cold and darkling when she leaves her school, cowled in her brown cape, orbited by
v.d.Vs, chaperones, and classmates. Peered out between my cap and muffler, waiting for her
heart to sense me. Not funny Today I brushed Eva’s cape as I passed in drizzle, in crowd. E.
didn’t notice me. As I near her a tonic pedal rises in volume, from groin, resounding in my
chest cavity up to somewhere behind my eyes. Why so nervous? Tomorrow maybe, yes,
tomorrow, for certain. Nothing to be afraid of. She has told me she loves me. Soon, soon.
Streaming nose and bad cough since Sunday. Matches my cuts and bruises. Hardly stepped
outside, nor do I wish to. Freezing fog crawls out of the canals, it stifles one’s lungs and chills
one’s veins. Send me an india-rubber hot-water bottle, would you? Only earthenware ones
Hotel manager dropped by earlier. An earnest penguin with no bottom at all. One presumes it is
his patent-leather shoes that squeak so as he walks, but one never knows in the Low Countries. His real reason for calling was to ensure I am a wealthy student of architecture, not some
dubious Cad the Lad who’ll skip town without settling his account. Anyway, promised to
show the color of my money at Reception tomorrow, so a bank visit is unavoidable. This
cheered the fellow up, and he hoped my studies were proceeding well. Excellently, I assured
him. I don’t say I’m a composer because I can no longer face the Moronic Inquisition: “What
kind of music do you write?” “Oh, should I have heard of you?” “Where do you get your ideas
Not in the mood for letter writing after all, not after my recent encounter with E. Lamplighter is
making his rounds. If I could turn back the clock, Sixsmith. Would that I could.
Next day
Improved. Eva. Ah. I’d laugh, if it didn’t hurt quite so much. Can’t remember where I was
when last I wrote to you. Time is an alle-grissimo blur since my Night of Epiphany. Well, it
had become pretty clear I wasn’t going to be able to catch E. on her own. She never appeared at
the belfry at four P.M. That my communiqués were being intercepted was the only explanation
that occurred to me. (Don’t know if VA. kept his promise to poison my name back in England;
maybe you’ve heard something? Don’t overly care, but one would like to know.) Half-hoped J.
might track me down to this hotel—in my second letter I wrote my whereabouts. Would even
sleep with her if it could open a channel to Eva. Reminded myself I’d not committed any crime
—va bene, hare[sic]splitter, not a crime against the Crommelynck-Ayrses that they know of—
and it seems that J. was once again playing under her husband’s baton. Probably always was.
So I had no choice but to pay a call to the van de Veldes’ town house.
Crossed dear old Minnewater Park in twilit sleet. Cold as the Urals. Ayrs’s Luger had wanted
to come along, so I’d buttoned my steel friend into my sheepskin’s cavernous pocket. Jowly
prostitutes smoked in the bandstand. Was not tempted for a moment—only the desperate
venture out in this weather. Ayrs’s ravages have put me off ’em, possibly for life. Outside the
vd.V house cabriolets queued, horses snorted cold air, drivers huddled in long coats, smoking,
stamping to keep warm. Windows were lit by vanilla lamps, fluttery debutantes, champagne
flutes, fizzing chandeliers. A major social event was under way Perfect, I thought. Camouflage,
you see. A happy couple climbed the steps with care, the door opened—Sesame—a gavotte
escaped into the frozen air. Followed ’em up the salt-strewn steps and rapped the golden
knocker, trying to remain calm.
The coattailed Cerberus recognized me—a surprised butler is never good news. “Je suis désolé,
Monsieur, mais votre nom ne figure pas sur la liste des invités.” Boot already in door. Guest
lists, I warned him, don’t apply to established family friends. The man smiled an apology—I
was dealing with a professional. Sequined gaggle of mantled goslings streamed past me just
then, and the butler unwisely let ’em pass me. Was halfway down the glittering hallway before
the white-gloved hand clamped my shoulder. Snapped, must admit, in a most undignified
manner—it’s been an abysmal time, shan’t deny it—and roared Eva’s name, over and over, like
a spoilt child in a temper tantrum, until the dance music collapsed and the hallway and stairs
were packed with shocked revelers. Only the trombonist played on. That’s trombonists for
you. A beehive of consternation in all major languages opened up and swarmed forth. Through
the ominous buzzing came Eva, in an electric blue ball gown, a rivière of green pearls. Think I
shouted, “Why have you been avoiding me?” or something equally dignified.
E. did not glide through the air into my arms, melt into my embrace, and caress me with words
of love. Her First Movement was Disgust: “What’s happened to you, Frobisher?” A mirror
hung in the hallway; looked to see what she meant. I’d let myself go, but I become a lax shaver when composing, as you know. Second Movement, Surprise: “Madame Dhondt said you’d
gone back to England.” Things went from worse to worst. Third Movement, Anger: “How
dare you show your face here, after … everything?” Her parents had told her nothing but lies
about me, I assured her. Why else had they intercepted my letters to her? She had received both
my letters, she said, but shredded them “out of pity” Now rather shaken. Demanded to speak
with her tête-à-tête. We had so much to sort out. A superficially handsome young fellow had
his arm round her, and he barred my way and told me something in proprietorial Flemish. I told
him in French he was pawing the girl I loved, adding that the war should have taught Belgians
when to duck in the face of superior force. Eva caught his right arm, cupped his fist in both her
hands. An intimate act, I see now. Caught her gallant’s name, muttered by a friend warning him
not to belt me one: Grigoire. Bubble of jealousy deep in my gut now had a name. I asked of
Eva who her fearsome lapdog was. “My fiancé,” she said, calmly, “and he’s not Belgian, he’s
Your what? Bubble popped, veins poisoned.
“I told you about him, that afternoon on the belfry! Why I came back from Switzerland, so
much happier … I told you, but then you subjected me to those … humiliating letters.” No slip
of her tongue or my pen. Grigoire the Fiancé. All those cannibals, feasting on my dignity There
we were. My impassioned love? No such thing. Never was. That unseen trombonist was now
monkeying about with “Ode to Joy” Roared at him with elemental violence—damaged my
throat—to play it in the key Beethoven intended or not play it at all. Asked, “Swiss? Why’s he
acting so aggressively, then?” Trombonist began a flatulent Beethoven’s Fifth, also in wrong
key E.’s voice was one degree off absolute zero. “I think you’re ill, Robert. You should leave
now.” Grigoire the Swiss Fiancé and the butler each clamped one of my unresisting shoulders
and marched me backwards to the doorway through the herd. High, high above, I glimpsed
two small v.d.Vs in their nightcaps peering down the stairwell through the landing railings like
nightcapped gargoylettes. Winked at ’em.
Gleam of triumph in my rival’s lovely, long-lashed eyes and his accented “Go home to
England!” ignited Frobisher the Rotter, sorry to say Just as I was flung over the threshold, I
embraced Grigoire in a rugger grip, determined that smug cockatoo was coming with me.
Birds-of-paradise in the hallway shrieked, baboons roared. Down the steps we bounced, no,
we thudded, slipped, swore, thumped, and tore. Grigoire cried in alarm, then pain—the very
medicine prescribed by Dr. Vengeance! Stone steps and icy pavements bruised my own flesh
as black as his, banged my elbows and hips just as hard, but at least mine was not the only
ruined evening in Bruges, and I yelled, kicking his ribs once for each word, before halfrunning, half-hobbling off on my whacked ankle, “Love hurts!”
Am in better spirits now. Hardly remember what E. even looks like. Once, her face was burned
into my idiotic eyes, saw her everywhere, in everyone. Grigoire has exquisite fingers, long and
pliant. Robert Schumann maimed his hands by tying weights to ’em. He thought itd increase
his range at the keyboard. Majestic string quartets but what a bloody fool! Grigoire on the other
hand possesses perfect hands by birth but probably doesn’t know a crotchet from crochet.
Six or seven days later
Forgot about this unfinished letter, well, half-forgot, it got buried under my piano MS & too
busy composing to fish it out. Icy seasonal weather. Half the clocks in Bruges have frozen fast.
So, now you know about Eva. The affair hollowed me out, but what, pray, resounds in
hollows? Music, Sixsmith, let there be Music and behold. During a six-hour fireside bath last
night I scored 102 bars of a funereal march based on “Ode to Joy” for my clarinetist.Another visitor this morning; haven’t been this popular since that notorious day at the Derby
Woken at noon by a friendly but firm knock-knock-knock. Called out, “Who’s there?”
Couldn’t place the name, but when I opened the door, there stood my musical policeman, the
one who had lent me the bicycle in my old life. “May I come in? Je pensais vous rendre une
visite de courtoisie.”
“Most certainly,” I replied, adding rather wittily, “Voilà qui est bien courtois, pour un policier.”
Cleared him an armchair & offered to ring for tea, but my visitor declined. Couldn’t quite
conceal his surprise at the untidiness. Explained how I tip the maids to stay away Can’t abide
having my MS touched. M. Verplancke nodded in sympathy then wondered why a gentleman
might check into his hotel under a pseudonym. An eccentricity inherited from my father, I said,
a notable in public life who prefers to keep his private one private. Keep my own vocation
similarly hush-hush so I’m not put upon to tinkle the ivories during cocktail hour. Refusals
cause offense. V seemed satisfied with my explanation. “A luxurious home away from home,
Le Royal.” He glanced around my sitting room. “I did not know amanuenses were so well
paid.” Admitted what the tactful fellow doubtless already knew: Ayrs and I had parted
company, adding I have my own independent income, which a mere twelve months ago would
have been the truth. “Ah, a bicycling millionaire?” He smiled. Tenacious, isn’t he? Not quite a
millionaire, I smiled back, but, providentially, a man of sufficient consequence to afford Le
He got to the point at last. “You’ve made an influential enemy during your short residency in
our city M. Frobisher. A certain manufacturer, I think we both know of whom I speak, made a
complaint to my superior about an incident a few nights ago. His secretary—a very fine
harpsichordist in our little group, in fact— recognized your name, and deflected the complaint
to my desk. So here I am.” Took pains to assure him it was all an absurd misunderstanding
over a young lady’s affections. Charming fellow nodded. “I know, I know. In youth, one’s
heart plays più fortissimo than the head. Our difficulty is, the young man’s father is banker for
several of our city elders and is making unpleasant noises about charging you with battery and
Thanked M. Verplancke for his warning and tact, and promised to keep a lower profile from
now on. Alas, not so simple. “Monsieur Frobisher, don’t you find our city intolerably cold in
winter? Don’t you think Mediterranean climes might better inspire your Muse?”
Asked if the banker’s anger might be appeased if I gave my word to leave Bruges within seven
days, after my sextet’s final revision. V thought yes, such an understanding should defuse the
situation. So I gave my word as a gentleman to make the necessary arrangements.
Business concluded, V asked if he might have a preview of my sextet. Showed him the clarinet
cadenza. He was unnerved at first by its spectral and structural peculiarities, but spent a further
hour asking perceptive questions about my semi-invented notation and the singular harmonics
of the piece. As we shook hands, he gave me his card, urged me to post a published copy of
the score for his ensemble, and expressed regret that his public persona had had to impinge
upon his private one. Was sorry to see him go. Writing is such a damn lonely sickness.
So you see, I must put my final days to good account. Don’t worry about me, Sixsmith, I’m
quite well, and far too busy for melancholia! There’s a sailors’ tavern at the end of the street
where I could find companionship if I chose (one catches salty boys going in and out at any
hour), but only music matters to me now. Music clatters, music swells, music tosses.
Shot myself through the roof of my mouth at five A.M. this morning with VA.’s Luger. But I
saw you, my dear, dear fellow! How touched I am that you care so much! On the belfry’s
lookout, yesterday, at sunset. Sheerest fluke you didn’t see me first. Had got to that last flight
of stairs, when I saw a man in profile leaning on the balcony, gazing at the sea—recognized
your natty gabardine coat, your one and only trilby One more step up, you’d have seen me
crouching in the shadows. You strolled to the north side—one turn my way, I would have been
rumbled. Watched you for as long as I dared—a minute?—before pulling back and hotfooting
it down to Earth. Don’t be cross. Thank you ever so for trying to find me. Did you come on the
Kentish Queen?
Questions rather pointless now, aren’t they?
Wasn’t the sheerest fluke I saw you first, not really World’s a shadow theater, an opera, and
such things writ large in its libretto. Don’t be too cross at my role. You couldn’t understand, no
matter how much I explained. You’re a brilliant physicist, your Rutherford chap et al. agree
you’ve got a brilliant future, quite sure they’re right. But in some fundamentals you’re a dunce.
The healthy can’t understand the emptied, the broken. You’d try to list all the reasons for
living, but I left ’em behind at Victoria Station back in early summer. Reason I crept back down
from the belvedere was that I can’t have you blaming yourself for failing to dissuade me. You
may anyway, but don’t, Sixsmith, don’t be such an ass.
Likewise, hope you weren’t too disappointed to find me gone from Le Royal. The manager got
wind of M. Verplancke’s visit. Obliged to ask me to leave, he said, on account of heavy
bookings. Piffle, but I took the fig leaf. Frobisher the Stinker wanted a tantrum, but Frobisher
the Composer wanted peace and quiet to finish my sextet. Paid in full—bang went the last
Jansch money— and packed my valise. Wandered crooked alleys and crossed icy canals before
coming across this deserted-looking caravansary. Reception a rarely manned nook under the
stairs. Only ornament in my room a monstrous Laughing Cavalier too ugly to steal and sell.
From my filthy window, one sees the very same dilapidated old windmill on whose steps I
napped on my first morning in Bruges. The very same. Fancy that. Around we go.
Knew I’d never see my twenty-fifth birthday. Am early for once. The lovelorn, the cry-forhelpers, all mawkish tragedians who give suicide a bad name are the idiots who rush it, like
amateur conductors. A true suicide is a paced, disciplined certainty People pontificate, “Suicide
is selfishness.” Career churchmen like Pater go a step further and call it a cowardly assault on
the living. Oafs argue this specious line for varying reasons: to evade fingers of blame, to
impress one’s audience with one’s mental fiber, to vent anger, or just because one lacks the
necessary suffering to sympathize. Cowardice is nothing to do with it—suicide takes
considerable courage. Japanese have the right idea. No, what’s selfish is to demand another to
endure an intolerable existence, just to spare families, friends, and enemies a bit of soulsearching. The only selfishness lies in ruining strangers’ days by forcing ’em to witness a grotesque-ness. So I’ll make a thick turban from several towels to muffle the shot and soak up
the blood, and do it in the bathtub, so it shouldn’t stain any carpets. Last night I left a letter
under the manager’s day-office door—he’ll find it at eight A.M. tomorrow—informing him of
the change in my existential status, so with luck an innocent chambermaid will be spared an
unpleasant surprise. See, I do think of the little people.
Don’t let ’em say I killed myself for love, Sixsmith, that would be too ridiculous. Was
infatuated by Eva Crommelynck for a blink of an eye, but we both know in our hearts who is
the sole love of my short, bright life.
Along with this letter and the rest of the Ewing book, I’ve made arrangements for a folder
containing my completed manuscript to find you at Le Royal. Use the Jansch money to defray
publishing costs, send copies to everyone on the enclosed list. Don’t let my family get hold of
either of the originals, whatever you do. Pater’ll sigh, “It’s no Eroica, is it?” and stuff it into a
drawer; but it’s an incomparable creation. Echoes of Scriabin’s White Mass, Stravinsky’s lost
footprints, chromatics of the more lunar Debussy, but truth is I don’t know where it came
from. Waking dream. Will never write anything one-hundredth as good. Wish I were being
immodest, but I’m not. Cloud Atlas Sextet holds my life, is my life, now I’m a spent firework;
but at least I’ve been a firework.
People are obscenities. Would rather be music than be a mass of tubes squeezing semisolids
around itself for a few decades before becoming so dribblesome it’ll no longer function.
Luger here. Thirteen minutes to go. Feel trepidation, naturally, but my love of this coda is
stronger. An electrical thrill that, like Adrian, I know I am to die. Pride, that I shall see it
through. Certainties. Strip back the beliefs pasted on by governesses, schools, and states, you
find indelible truths at one’s core. Rome’ll decline and fall again, Cortés’ll lay Tenochtitlán to
waste again, and later, Ewing will sail again, Adrian’ll be blown to pieces again, you and I’ll
sleep under Corsican stars again, I’ll come to Bruges again, fall in and out of love with Eva
again, you’ll read this letter again, the sun’ll grow cold again. Nietzsche’s gramophone record.
When it ends, the Old One plays it again, for an eternity of eternities.
Time cannot permeate this sabbatical. We do not stay dead long. Once my Luger lets me go, my
birth, next time around, will be upon me in a heartbeat. Thirteen years from now we’ll meet
again at Gresham, ten years later I’ll be back in this same room, holding this same gun,
composing this same letter, my resolution as perfect as my many-headed sextet. Such elegant
certainties comfort me at this quiet hour.
Sunt lacrimæ rerum.
join us. I am sorry to write, no man from either shift braved the first mate’s displeasure by
attending, but we shall persist in our efforts undiscouraged. Rafael was up the masthead &
interrupted our prayers with a treble cry of “Land! a-hoyyyyyy!”
We ended our worship early & braved dousings of sea spray to watch land emerge from the rocking horizon. “Raiatea,” Mr. Roderick told us, “of the Societies.” (Once again the
Prophetess’s keel crosses the Endeavours. Cpt. Cook himself named the group.) I asked if we
would be putting ashore. Mr. Roderick affirmed, “The captain wants to pay one of the
Missions a call.” The Societies loomed larger & after three weeks of oceanic grays & blazing
blues, our eyes rejoiced at the moss-drenched mountain faces, aglint with cataracts, daubed
with cacophonous jungle. The Prophetess cleared fifteen fathoms, yet so clear was the water,
iridescent corals were visible. I speculated with Henry on how we might prevail upon Cpt.
Molyneux for permission to go ashore, when the very same appeared from the deckhouse, his
beard trimmed & forelock oiled. Far from ignoring us, as is his custom, he walked over to us
with a smile as friendly as a cutpurse’s. “Mr. Ewing, Dr. Goose, would you care to accompany
the first mate & I ashore on yonder isle this morning? A settlement of Methodists lies in a bay
on the northern coast, ‘Nazareth’ they’ve named it. Gentlemen of inquiring minds may find the
place diverting.” Henry accepted with enthusiasm & I did not withhold my consent, though I
mistrusted the old raccoon’s motivations. “Settled,” the captain pronounced.
An hour later the Prophetess kedged into Bethlehem Bay, a black-sand cove sheltered from
trade winds by Cape Nazareth’s crook. Ashore was a stratum of cruder thatched dwellings
erected on “stilts” near the waterline, occupied (I correctly assumed) by the baptized Indians.
Above these were a dozen timber buildings crafted by civilized hands, & higher still, below the
hill’s crown, stood a proud church denoted by a white cruciform. The larger of the skiffs was
lowered for our benefit. Its four rowers were Guernsey Bentnail & a pair of garter snakes. Mr.
Boerhaave donned a hat & waistcoat more suitable for a Manhattan salon than a haul across the
surf. We beached with no mishap worse than a good soak, but our sole emissary from the
colonists was a Polynesian dog panting under golden jasmine & vermilion trumpet flowers.
The shoreline huts & “Main Street” winding up to the church were devoid of human life.
“Twenty men, twenty muskets,” commented Mr. Boerhaave, “and the placed be ours by
dinnertime. Makes you think, eh, sir?” Cpt. Molyneux instructed the rowers to wait in the
shade while we “Call on the King in his Counting House.” My suspicion that the captain’s new
graces were skin-deep was confirmed when he found the trading store boarded up & he vented
a fanged oath. “Mayhap,” speculated the Dutchman, “the niggers unconverted themselves & ate
their pastors for pudding?”
A bell rang from the church tower & the captain slapped his forehead. “D——my eyes, what
am I thinking? It’s the Sabbath, by G—— & these holy s——s’ll be a-braying in their rickety
church!” We wound our way up the steep hill at a crawl, our party slowed by Cpt. Molyneux’s
gout. (I feel a loamy breathlessness when I exert myself. Recalling my vigor on the Chathams,
I am worried at how severely the Parasite taxes my constitution.) We reached Nazareth’s house
of worship just as the congregation was emerging.
The captain removed his hat, boomed a hearty “Greetings! Jonathon Molyneux, captain of the
Prophetess.” He indicated our vessel in the bay with a sweep of his hand. The Nazarenes were
less effusive, the men awarding us wary nods, their wives & daughters hiding behind fans.
Cries of “Fetch Preacher Horrox!” echoed into the church recesses as its native occupants now
poured out to see the visitors. Upwards of sixty adult men & women I counted, of whom
around a third were White, garbed in their Sunday “Best” (as could be managed two weeks’
voyage from the nearest haberdashery). The Blacks watched us with bare curiosity The Native
women were decently clothed, but more than a few were blighted with goiter. Boys protecting
their fair-skinned mistresses from the sun’s fierceness with parasols of palm leaves grinned a
little. A privileged “platoon” of Polynesians wore a natty brown shoulder band embroidered
with a white crucifix as a uniform of sorts.
Now bounded out a cannonball of a man whose clerical garb declaimed his calling. “I,”
announced the patriarch, “am Giles Horrox, preacher of Bethlehem Bay & representative of the London Missionary Society on Raiatea. State your business, sirs, be quick about it.”
Cpt. Molyneux now extended his introductions to include Mr. Boerhaave “of the Dutch
Reformist Church,” Dr. Henry Goose, “Physician of the London Gentry & late of the Feejee
Mission” & Mr. Adam Ewing, “American Notary of Letters & Law.” (Now I stood wise to the
rogue’s game!) “The names of Preacher Horrox & Bethlehem Bay are spoken of with respect
amongst us peripatetic devout of the South Pacific. We had hoped to celebrate the Sabbath
before your altar”—the captain looked ruefully at the church— “but, alas, contrary winds
delayed our arrival. At the very least, I pray your collection plate is not yet closed?”
Preacher Horrox scrutinized our captain. “You command a godly ship, sir?”
Cpt. Molyneux glanced away in an imitation of humility “Neither as godly nor as unsinkable as
your church, sir, but yes, Mr. Boerhaave & I do what we can for those souls in our care. ’Tis
an unceasing struggle, I am sorry to say Sailors revert to their wanton ways as soon as our
backs are turned.”
“Oh, but, Captain,” spoke a lady in a lace collar, “we have our recidivists in Nazareth too! You
will pardon my husband’s caution. Experience teaches us most vessels under so-called
Christian flags bring us little but disease & drunkards. We must assume guilt until innocence is
The captain bowed again. “Madam, I can grant no pardon where no offense was given nor any
“Your prejudices against those ‘Visigoths of the Sea’ are amply warranted, Mrs. Horrox”—
Mr. Boerhaave entered the exchange— “but I won’t tolerate a drop of grog aboard our
Prophetess, however the men holler! & oh, they holler, but I holler back, ‘The only spirit you
need is the Holy Spirit!’ & I holler it louder & longer!”
The charade was having its desired effect. Preacher Horrox presented his two daughters &
three sons, all of whom were born here in Nazareth. (The girls might have stepped from a
Ladies’ School, but the boys were tanned as kanákas beneath their starched collars.) Loath as I
was to be lassoed into the captain’s masquerade, I was curious to learn more of this island
theocracy & let the current of events carry me along. Soon our party proceeded to the
Horroxes’ parsonage, which dwelling would not shame any petty Southern Hemisphere
consul. It included a large drawing room with glass windows & tulipwood furniture, a
necessary room, two shacks for servants & a dining room, where presently we were served
with fresh vegetables & tender pork. The table stood with each leg immersed in a dish of water.
Mrs. Horrox explained, “Ants, one bane of Bethlehem. Their drowned bodies must be emptied
periodically, lest they build a causeway of themselves.”
I complimented the domicile. “Preacher Horrox,” the lady of the house told us with pride, “was
trained as a carpenter in the shire of Gloucester. Most of Nazareth was built by his hands. The
pagan mind is impressed with material display, you see. He thinks:—How spick & span are
Christians’ houses! How dirty our hovels! How generous the White God is! How mean is
ours!’ In this way, one more convert is brought to the Lord.”
“If I could but live my life over,” opined Mr. Boerhaave, without the slightest blush, “I should
chuse the missionary’s selfless path. Preacher, we see here a well-established mission with
roots struck deep, but how does one begin the work of conversion upon a benighted beach
where no Christian foot ever trod?”
Preacher Horrox gazed beyond his interrogator to a future lecture hall. “Tenacity sir,
compassion & law. Fifteen years ago our reception in this bay was not so cordial as your own,
sir. That anvil-shaped island you see to the west, thither? Borabora, the Blacks call it, but
Sparta is an apter name, so warlike were its warriors! On the beach of Bethlehem Cove we
fought & some of us fell. Had our pistols not won that first week’s battles, well, the Raiatea
Mission should have remained a dream. But it was the will of the Lord that we light his beacon here & keep it burning. After a half year we could bring over our womenfolk from Tahiti. I
regret the Native deaths, but once the Indians saw how God protects his flock, why, even the
Spartans were begging us to send preachers.”
Mrs. Horrox took up the story. “When the pox began its deadly work, the Polynesians needed
succor, both spiritual & material. Our compassion then brought the heathen to the holy font.
Now ’tis the turn of Holy Law to keep our flock from Temptation— & marauding seamen.
Whalers, particularly, despise us for teaching the women chastity & modesty Our men must
keep our firearms well-oiled.”
“Yet if shipwrecked,” noted the captain, “I’ll warrant those same spouters beg Fate to wash
’em up on beaches where those same ‘cursed missionaries’ have brought the Gospels, do they
Assent was indignant & universal.
Mrs. Horrox answered my query about the enforcement of law & order in this lonesome
outpost of Progress. “Our Church Council—my husband & three wise elders—passes those
laws we deem necessary, with guidance of prayer. Our Guards of Christ, certain Natives who
prove themselves faithful servants of the Church, enforce these laws in return for credit at my
husband’s store. Vigilance, unflagging vigilance, is vital, or by next week …” Mrs. Horrox
shuddered as apostasy’s phantoms danced a hula on her grave.
The meal over, we adjourned to the parlor, where a Native boy served us cool tea in pleasing
gourd cups. Cpt. Molyneux asked, “Sir, how does one fund a Mission as industrious as
Preacher Horrox felt the breeze change & scrutinized the captain afresh. “Arrowroot starch &
cocoa-nut oil defray costs, Captain. The Blacks work on our plantation to pay for the school,
Bible study & church. In a week, God will it, we shall have an abundant harvest of copra.”
I asked if the Indians worked of their own free will.
“Of course!” exclaimed Mrs. Horrox. “If they succumb to sloth, they know the Guards of
Christ will punish them for it.”
I wished to ask about these punitive incentives, but Cpt. Molyneux snatched back the
conversation. “Your Missionary Society ship carries these perishable commodities back around
the Horn to London?”
“Your conjecture is correct, Captain.”
“Have you considered, Preacher Horrox, how more secure your Mission’s secular footing—&
by extension its spiritual one—would be, if you had a reliable market closer to the Societies?”
The preacher told the serving boy to quit the room. “I have considered this question at length,
but where? Mexico’s markets are small & prone to banditry, Cape Town is a marriage of
corrupt excisemen & greedy Afrikaners. The South China Seas swarm with ruthless, saucy
pirates. The Batavian Dutch bleed one dry. No offense, Mr. Boerhaave.”
The captain indicated myself. “Mr. Ewing is a denizen of”—he paused to unveil his proposal
—“San Francisco, California. You will know of its growth from a paltry town of seven
hundred souls to a metropolis of … a quarter million? No census can keep count! Celestials,
Chileans, Mexicans, Europeans, foreigners of all colors are flooding in by the day. An egg,
Mr. Ewing, kindly inform us how much is presently paid for an egg in San Francisco.”
“A dollar, so my wife wrote to me.”
“One Yankee dollar for a common egg.” (Cpt. Molyneux’s smile is that of a mummified
crocodile I once saw hanging in a Louisiana dry-goods store.) “Surely, this gives a man of
your acumen some pause for thought?”
Mrs. Horrox was nobody’s fool. “All the gold will be mined out soon.”
“Aye, madam, but the hungry, clamoring, enriched city of San Francisco—only three weeks
away by a trim schooner like my Prophetess—will remain & its destiny is clear as crystal. San Francisco shall become the London, the Rotterdam & the New York of the Pacific Ocean.”
Our capitán de la casa picked his teeth with a bluefin bone. “Do you believe, Mr. Ewing,
commodities grown in our plantations may fetch a fair price in your city” (how strange ’tis
hearing our modest township so appelled!) “both of the moment & after the gold rush?”
My truthfulness was a card Cpt. Molyneux had played to his devious advantage, but I would
not lie to spite him any more than I would to aid him. “I do.”
Giles Horrox removed his clergyman’s collar. “Would you care to accompany me to my office,
Jonathon? I am rather proud of its roof. I designed it myself to withstand the dreadful typhoo.”
“Is that so, Giles?” replied Cpt. Molyneux. “Lead the way.”
Notwithstanding the name of Dr. Henry Goose was unknown in Nazareth until this morning,
once the wives of Bethlehem learned a famed English surgeon was ashore, they recalled all
manner of ailments & beat a crowded path to the Parsonage. (So odd to be in the presence of
the fairer sex again after so many days penned up with the uglier one!) My friend’s generosity
could not turn away a single caller, so Mrs. Horrox’s salon was commandeered as his
consultation room & draped with linen to provide appropriate screens. Mr. Boerhaave returned
to the Prophetess to see about making more space in the hold.
I begged the Horroxes’ leave to explore Bethlehem Bay, but its beach was unbearably hot & its
sand flies pestilential, so I retraced our steps up the “Main Street” towards the church, whence
issued the sound of psalmody. I intended to join in the afternoon worship. Not a soul, not a
dog, not even a Native, stirred the Sabbath stillness. I peered into the dim church & so thick
was the smoke within, I feared, erroneously, the building was aflame! The singing was now
over & substituted by choruses of coughing. Fifty dark backs faced me & I realized the air was
thick with the smoke not of fire nor incense but raw-cut tobacco! for every man jack of them
was puffing on a pipe.
A rotund White stood in the pulpit sermonizing in that hybrid accent “Antipodean Cockney.”
This shew of informal religiosity did not offend until the content of the “sermon” became
apparent. I quoth: “So it came to pass, see, Saint Peter, aye, ’im ’oo Mistah Jesus called
Sweeter Peter Piper, he cameth from Rome an’ he taughteth them hooky-nosed Jews in
Palestine what was what with the Old Baccy, an’ this is what I’m teachin’ you now, see.” Here
he broke off to give guidance to an individual. “Nah, Tarbaby you’re doing it all wrong, see,
you load your baccy in the fat end, aye, that one, see, oh, J——s sneezed! how many times I
told you, this is the stem, this is the d——d bowl! Do it like Mudfish next to you, nah, let me
shew you!”
A sallow, stooping White leant against a cabinet (containing, I later verified, hundreds of Holy
Bibles printed in Polynesian— I must request one as a souvenir ere our departure) watching the
smoky proceedings. I made myself known to him in whispers so as not to distract the smokers
from their sermon. The young man introduced himself as Wagstaff & explained the pulpit’s
occupant was “the Headmaster of the Nazareth Smoking School.”
I confessed, such an academy was unknown to me.
“An idea of Father Upward’s, at the Tahitian Mission. You must understand, sir, your typical
Polynesian spurns industry because he’s got no reason to value money. ‘If I hungry’ says he,
‘I go pick me some, or catch me some. If I cold, I tell woman, “Weave!’ ” Idle hands, Mr.
Ewing, & we both know what work the Devil finds for them. But by instilling in the slothful
so-an’-sos a gentle craving for this harmless leaf, we give him an incentive to earn money, so
he can buy his baccy—not liquor, mind, just baccy—from the Mission trading post. Ingenious,
wouldn’t you say?”
How could I disagree?The light ebbs away. I hear children’s voices, exotic avian octaves, the surf pounding the cove.
Henry is grumbling at his cuff links. Mrs. Horrox, whose hospitality Henry & I are enjoying
tonight, has sent her maid to inform us dinner is served.
Monday, 9th December—
A continuance of yesterday’s narrative. After the smoking school was dismissed (several of the
students were swaying & nauseous, but their teacher, an itinerant tobacco trader, assured us,
“They’ll be hooked like pufferfish in no time!”), the back of the heat was broken, though Cape
Nazareth still broiled in glowing sunshine. Mr. Wagstaff strolled with me along the wooded
arm of land shouldering northwards from Bethlehem Bay. The youngest son of a Gravesend
curate, my guide had been drawn to the missionary’s vocation since infancy The Society by
arrangement with Preacher Horrox, sent him hither to wed a widow of Nazareth, Eliza, née
Mapple, & be a father to her son, Daniel. He arrived on these shores last May.
What fortune, I declared, to dwell in such an Eden, but my pleasantry punctured the young
man’s spirits. “So I believed in my first days, sir, but now I don’t rightly know. I mean, Eden’s
a spick ’n’ span place, but every living thing runs wild here, it bites & scratches so. A pagan
brought to God is a soul saved, I know it, but the sun never stops burning & the waves &
stones are always so bright, my eyes ache till dusk comes. Times are, I’d give anything for a
North Sea fog. The place puts a straining on our souls, to be truthful, Mr. Ewing. My wife’s
been here since she was a small girl, but that doesn’t make it easier for her. You’d think the
savages’d be grateful, I mean, we school them, heal them, bring employment & eternal life! Oh,
they say ‘Please, sir,’ an’ ‘Thank you, sir’ prettily enough, but you feel nothing”—Wagstaff
pounded his heart—“here. Aye, look like Eden it might, but Raiatea is a fallen place, same as
everywhere, aye, no snakes, but the Devil plies his trade here as much as anywhere else. The
ants! Ants get everywhere. In your food, your clothes, your nose, even. Until we convert these
accursed ants, these islands’ll never be truly ours.”
We arrived at his modest dwelling, crafted by his wife’s first husband. Mr. Wagstaff did not
invite me in but went inside to fetch a flask of water for our walk. I took a turn around the
modest front garden, where a Black gardener was hoeing. I asked what he was growing.
“David is dumb,” a woman called to me from the doorway dressed in a loosened, grubby
pinafore. I am afraid I can only describe her appearance and manner as slovenly. “Dumb as a
stone. You’re the English doctor staying at the Horroxes’.”
I explained I was an American notary & asked if I might be addressing Mrs. Wagstaff.
“My wedding banns and marriage lines say so, yes.”
I said Dr. Goose was holding an ad hoc surgery at the Horroxes’, if she wished to consult with
him. I assured her of Henry’s excellence as a physician.
“Excellent enough to spirit me away, restore the years I’ve wasted here & set me up in London
with a stipend of three hundred pounds per annum?”
Such a request was beyond my friend’s powers, I admitted.
“Then your excellent physician can do nothing for me, sir.”
I heard giggles in the bushes beyond me, turned around & saw a host of little Black boys (I
was curious to note so many light-skinned issue of “cross-racial” unions). I ignored the
children & turned back to see a White boy of twelve or thirteen, as grubby as his mother, slip
by Mrs. Wagstaff, who did not attempt to waylay him. Her son frolicked as naked as his
Native playmates! “Ho, there, young fellow,” I reprimanded, “won’t you get a sunstroke
running about in that state?” The boy’s blue eyes held a feral glint & his answer, barked in a
Polynesian tongue, baffled me as much as it amused the pickaninnies, who flew off like a flock of greenfinches.
Mr. Wagstaff followed in the boy’s wake, much agitated. “Daniel! Come back! Daniel! I know
you hear me! I’ll lash you! Do you hear? I’ll lash you!” He turned back to his wife. “Mrs.
Wagstaff! Do you want your son to grow up a savage? At the very least make the boy wear
clothes! Whatever will Mr. Ewing be thinking?”
Mrs. Wagstaff’s contempt for her young husband, if bottled, could have been vended as rat
poison. “Mr. Ewing will think whatever Mr. Ewing will think. Then, tomorrow, he will leave
on his handsome schooner, taking his thinkings with him. Unlike you & I, Mr. Wagstaff,
who’ll die here. Soon, I pray God.” She turned to me. “My husband could not compleat his
schooling, sir, so it is my sorry lot to explain the obvious, ten times a day.”
Averse to seeing Mr. Wagstaff’s humiliation at the hands of his wife, I gave a noncommittal
bow & withdrew outside the fence. I heard male indignation trampled by female scorn &
concentrated my attention on a nearby bird, whose refrain, to my ears, sounded thus:—Toby
isn’t telling, nooo … Toby isn’t telling …
My guide joined me, most visibly glum. “Beg pardon, Mr. Ewing, Mrs. Wagstaff’s nerves are
fearful frayed today. She don’t sleep much on account of the heat & flies.” I assured him the
“eternal afternoon” of the South Seas taxes the sturdiest physiologies. We walked under slimy
fronds, along the tapering headland, noxious with fertility & furry caterpillars, plump as my
thumb, dropped from talons of exquisite heliconia.
The young man narrated how the Mission had assured Mr. Wagstaff’s family of his intended’s
impeccable breeding. Preacher Horrox had married them a day after his arrival in Nazareth,
while the enchantment of the Tropics still dazzled his eyes. (Why Eliza Mapple had consented
to such an arranged union remains uncertain: Henry speculates the latitude & clime “unhinges”
the weaker sex & renders them pliable.) Mr. Wagstaff’s bride’s “infirmities,” true age &
Daniel’s obstreperous nature came to light scarcely after their signatures on the wedding
documents had dried. The stepfather had tried beating his new charge, but this led to such
“wicked recriminations” from both mother & stepson that he knew not where to turn. Far from
helping Mr. Wagstaff, Preacher Horrox chastised him for a weakling & the truth is, nine days
out of ten he is wretched as Job. (Whatever Mr. Wagstaff’s misfortunes, could any compare to
a parasitic Worm gnawing his cerebral canals?)
Thinking to distract the brooding youth with matters more logistical, I asked why such an
abundance of Bibles lay untouched (& read only by book lice, to tell the truth) in the church.
“Preacher Horrox should by rights tell it, but briefly, the Matavia Bay Mission first translated
the Lord’s Word into Polynesian & Native missionaries using those Bibles achieved so many
conversions that Elder Whitlock—one of Nazareth’s founders what’s dead now—convinced
the Mission to repeat the experiment here. He’d once been ’pren-ticed to a Highgate engraver,
see. So with guns & tools the first missionaries brought a printing press, paper, bottles of ink,
trays of type & reams of paper. Within ten days of founding Bethlehem Bay, three thousand
primers was printed for Mission schools, before theyd dug the gardens, even. Nazareth
Gospels came next & spread the Word from the Societies to the Cooks to Tonga. But now the
press is rusted up, we’ve got thousands of Bibles begging for an owner & why?”
I could not guess.
“Not enough Indians. Ships bring disease dust here, the Blacks breathe it in & they swell up
sick & fall like spinny tops. We teach the survivors about monogamy & marriage, but their
unions aren’t fruitful.” I found myself wondering how many months had passed since last Mr.
Wagstaff smiled. “To kill what you’d cherish & cure,” he opined, “that seems to be the way of
The path ended down by the sea at a crumbling “ingot” of black coral, twenty yards in length &
in height two men. “A marae, this is called,” Mr. Wagstaff informed me. “All over the South Seas you see ’em, I’m told.” We scrambled up & I had a fine view of the Prophetess, an easy
“dip” away for a lusty swimmer. (Finbar emptied a vat over the side & I spied Autua’s black
silhouette atop the mizzen, furling the fore-skysail lifts.)
I inquired after the origins & purpose of the marae & Mr. Wagstaff obliged, with brevity. “Just
one generation ago, the Indians did their screaming & bloodletting & sacrificing to their false
idols right on these stones where we’re standing.” My thoughts went back to the Banquet
Beach on Chatham Isle. “The Christ Guards gives any Black who sets foot here now a hefty
flogging. Or would do. The Native children don’t even know the names of the old idols no
more. It’s all rats’ nests & rubble now. That’s what all beliefs turn to one day. Rats’ nests &
Plumeria petals and scent enwrapped me.
My neighbor at the dinner table was Mrs. Derbyshire, a widow well into her sixth decade, as
bitter & hard as green acorns. “I confess to a disrelish for Americans,” she told me. “They
killed my treasured uncle Samuel, a colonel in His Majesty’s Artillery, in the War of 1812.” I
gave my (unwanted) condolences, but added that notwithstanding my own treasured uncle was
killed by Englishmen in the same conflict, some of my closest friends were Britons. The doctor
laughed too loudly & ejaculated, “Hurrah, Ewing!”
Mrs. Horrox seized the rudder of conversation ere we ran onto reefs. “Your employers evince
great faith in your talents, Mr. Ewing, to entrust you with business necessitating such a long &
arduous voyage.” I replied that, yes, I was a senior enough notary to be entrusted with my
present assignment, but a junior enough scrivener to be obligated to accept the same. Knowing
clucks rewarded my humility
After Preacher Horrox had said grace over the bowls of turtle soup & invoked God’s blessing
on his new business venture with Cpt. Molyneux, he sermonized upon a much-beloved topic
as we ate. “I have always unswervingly held, that God, in our Civilizing World, manifests
himself not in the Miracles of the Biblical Age, but in Progress. It is Progress that leads
Humanity up the ladder towards the Godhead. No Jacob’s Ladder this, no, but rather
‘Civilization’s Ladder,’ if you will. Highest of all the races on this ladder stands the AngloSaxon. The Latins are a rung or two below. Lower still are Asiatics—a hardworking race, none
can deny, yet lacking our Aryan bravery. Sinologists insist they once aspired to greatness, but
where is your yellow-hued Shakespeare, eh, or your almond-eyed da Vinci? Point made, point
taken. Lower down, we have the Negro. Good-tempered ones may be trained to work
profitably, though a rumbunctious one is the Devil incarnate! The American Indian, too, is
capable of useful chores on the Califor-nian barrios, is that not so, Mr. Ewing?”
I said ’tis so.
“Now, our Polynesian. The visitor to Tahiti, O-hawaii, or Bethlehem for that matter, will
concur that the Pacific Islander may, with careful instruction, acquire the A-B-C of literacy,
numeracy & piety thereby surpassing the Negroes to rival Asiatics in industri-ousness.”
Henry interrupted to note that the Maori have risen to the “D-E-F” of mercantilism, diplomacy
& colonialism.
“Proves my point. Last, lowest & least come those ‘Irreclaimable Races,’ the Australian
Aboriginals, Patagonians, various African peoples &c, just one rung up from the great apes &
so obdurate to Progress that, like mastodons & mammoths, I am afraid a speedy ‘knocking off
the ladder’—after their cousins, the Guanches, Canary Islanders & Tasmanians—is the kindest prospect.”
“You mean”—Cpt. Molyneux finished his soup—“extinction?”
“I do, Captain, I do. Nature’s Law & Progress move as one. Our own century shall witness
humanity’s tribes fulfill those prophecies writ in their racial traits. The superior shall relegate
the overpopu-lous savages to their natural numbers. Unpleasant scenes may ensue, but men of
intellectual courage must not flinch. A glorious order shall follow, when all races shall know &
aye, embrace, their place in God’s ladder of civilization. Bethlehem Bay offers a glimpse of the
coming dawn.”
“Amen to that, Preacher,” replied Cpt. Molyneux. One Mr. Gosling (fiancé of Preacher
Horrox’s eldest daughter) wrung his hands in oleaginous admiration. “If I dare be so bold, sir,
it strikes me as almost … yes, a deprivation to let your theorem go unpublished, sir. ‘The
Horrox Ladder of Civilization’ would set the Royal Society alight!”
Preacher Horrox said, “No, Mr. Gosling, my work is here. The Pacific must find itself another
Descartes, another Cuvier.”
“Wise of you, Preacher”—Henry clapped a flying insect & examined its remains—“to keep
your theory to yourself.”
Our host could not conceal his irritation. “How so?”
“Why, under scrutiny it is obvious a ‘theorem’ is redundant when a simple law suffices.”
“What law would that be, sir?”
“The first of ‘Goose’s Two Laws of Survival.’ It runs thus, ‘The weak are meat the strong do
eat.’ ”
“But your ‘simple law’ is blind to the fundamental mystery, ‘Why do White races hold
dominion over the world?’ ”
Henry chuckled & loaded an imaginary musket, aimed down its barrel, narrowed his eye, then
startled the company with a “Bang! Bang! Bang! See? Got him before he blew his blowpipe!”
Mrs. Derbyshire uttered a dismayed “Oh!”
Henry shrugged. “Where is the fundamental mystery?”
Preacher Horrox had lost his good humour. “Your implication is that White races rule the globe
not by divine grace but by the musket? But such an assertion is merely the same mystery
dressed up in borrowed clothes! How is it that the musket came to the White man & not, say,
the Esquimeau or the Pygmy if not by august will of the Almighty?”
Henry obliged. “Our weaponry was not dropped onto our laps one morning. It is not manna
from Sinai’s skies. Since Agincourt, the White man has refined & evolved the gunpowder
sciences until our modern armies may field muskets by the tens of thousands! Aha!’ you will
ask, yes, ‘But why us Aryans? Why not the Unipeds of Ur or the Mandrakes of Mauritius?’
Because, Preacher, of all the world’s races, our love—or rather our rapacity—for treasure,
gold, spices & dominion, oh, most of all, sweet dominion, is the keenest, the hungriest, the
most unscrupulous! This rapacity yes, powers our Progress; for ends infernal or divine I know
not. Nor do you know, sir. Nor do I overly care. I feel only gratitude that my Maker cast me on
the winning side.”
Henry’s forthrightness was misconstrued as incivility & Preacher Horrox, the Napoleon of his
equatorial Elba, was pinkening with indignation. I complimented our hostess’s soup (though in
truth my craving for vermicide makes it difficult to ingest any but the plainest fare) & asked if
the turtles were caught on nearby beaches or imported from afar.Later, lying abed in the muggy darkness, eavesdropped by geckos, Henry confided that the
day’s surgery had been “a parade of hysterical sun-baked women who need no medicine but
hosiers, milliners, bonnet makers, perfumeries & sundry trappings of their sex!” His
“consultations,” he elaborated, were one part medicine, nine parts tittle-tattle. “They swear their
husbands are tupping the Native women & live in mortal fear they’ll catch ‘something.’
Handkerchiefs aired in rotation.”
His confidences made me uneasy & I ventured that Henry might practice a little reserve when
disagreeing with our host. “Dearest Adam, I was practicing reserve, & more than a little! I
longed to shout this at the old fool:—‘Why tinker with the plain truth that we hurry the darker
races to their graves in order to take their land & its riches? Wolves don’t sit in their caves,
concocting crapulous theories of race to justify devouring a flock of sheep! “Intellectual
courage”? True “intellectual courage” is to dispense with these fig leaves & admit all peoples
are predatory, but White predators, with our deadly duet of disease dust & firearms, are
examplars of predacity par excellence, & what of it?’ ”
It upsets me that a dedicated healer & gentle Christian can succumb to such cynicism. I asked to
hear Goose’s Second Law of Survival. Henry grinned in the dark & cleared his throat. “The
second law of survival states that there is no second law. Eat or be eaten. That’s it.” He began
snoring soon after, but my Worm kept me awake until the stars began weakening. Geckos fed
& padded softly over my sheet.
Dawn was sweating & scarlet as passionfruit. Male & female Natives alike drudged up “Main
Street” to the church plantations atop the hill, where they worked until the afternoon heat was
intolerable. Before the skiff came to take Henry & me back to the Prophetess, I went to watch
the workers plucking weeds from the copra. Peradventure it fell to young Mr. Wagstaff to be
their overseer this morning & he had a Native boy bring us cocoa-nut milk. I withheld from
asking after his family & he did not mention them. He carries a whip, “but I rarely employ it
myself that’s what the Guard of Christ the King are for. I just watch the watchers,” he said.
Three of these dignitaries watched their fellows, leading hymns (“land shanties”) &
reprimanding slackers. Mr. Wagstaff was less inclined to conversation than yesterday & let my
pleasantries lapse into silence broken only by sounds of the jungle & laborers. “You’re
thinking, aren’t you, that we’ve made slaves out of free peoples?”
I avoided the question by saying Mr. Horrox had explained their labors paid for the benefits of
Progress brought by the Mission. Mr. Wagstaff did not hear me. “There exists a tribe of ants
called the slave maker. These insects raid the colonies of common ants, steal eggs back to their
own nests & after they hatch, why, the stolen slaves become workers of the greater empire &
never even dream they were once stolen. Now if you ask me, Lord Jehovah crafted these ants
as a model, Mr. Ewing.” Mr. Wagstaff’s gaze was gravid with the ancient future. “For them
with the eyes to see it.”
People of shifting character unnerve me & Mr. Wagstaff was one such. I made my excuses &
proceeded to my next port of call, viz., the schoolroom. Here, infant Nazarenes of both hues
study Scripture, arithmetic, and their ABC’s. Mrs. Derbyshire teaches the boys & Mrs. Horrox
the girls. In the afternoon the White children have an additional three hours’ tutelage in a
curriculum appropriate to their station (though Daniel Wagstaff for one appears immune to his
educators’ wiles), while their darker playmates join their parents in the fields before the daily
A short revue was staged in my honor. Ten girls, five White, five Black, recited a Holy Commandment apiece. Then I was treated to “O! Home Where Thou Art Loved the Best”
accompanied by Mrs. Horrox on an upright piano whose past was more glorious than its
present. The girls were then invited to ask the visitor questions, but only White misses raised
their hands. “Sir, do you know George Washington?” (Alas, no.) “How many horses pull your
carriage?” (My father-in-law keeps four, but I prefer to ride a single mount.) The littlest asked
of me, “Do ants get headaches?” (Had her classmates’ titters not reduced my interrogator to
tears, I should be standing there pondering this question still.) I told the students to live by the
Bible & obey their elders, then took my leave. Mrs. Hor-rox told me departees were once
presented with a garland of plumeria, but the Mission elders deemed garlands immoral. “If we
allow garlands today, it will be dancing tomorrow. If there is dancing tomorrow …” She
shuddered. ’Tis a pity
By noon the men had loaded the cargo & the Prophetess was kedging out of the bay against
unfavorable winds. Henry & I have retired to the mess room to avoid the spray & oaths. My
friend is composing an epic in Byronic stanzas entitled “True History of Autua, Last Moriori”
& interrupts my journal writing to ask what rhymes with what:—“Streams of blood”? “Themes
of mud”? “Robin Hood”?
I recall the crimes Mr. Melville imputes to Pacific missionaries in his recent account of the
Typee. As with cooks, doctors, notaries, clergymen, captains & kings, might evangelists also
not be some good, some bad? Maybe the Indians of the Societies & the Chathams would be
happiest “undiscovered,” but to say so is to cry for the moon. Should we not applaud Mr.
Horrox’s & his brethren’s efforts to assist the Indian’s climb up “Civilization’s Ladder”? Is not
ascent their sole salvation?
I know not the answer, nor whence flew the surety of my younger years.
During my night at the Horroxes’ Parsonage, a burglar broke into my coffin & when the
reprobate could not locate my jackwood trunk’s key (I wear it around my neck), he attempted
to force the lock. Had he succeeded, Mr. Busby’s deeds & documents would now be fodder
for sea horses. How I wish our captain was cut from trustworthy Cpt. Beale’s cloth! I dare not
give Cpt. Molyneux custody of my valuables & Henry warned me against “stirring the hornets’
nest” by raising the attempted crime with Mr. Boerhaave, lest an investigation spur every thief
aboard to try his luck whenever my back is turned. I suppose he is right.
Monday, 16th December
Today at noon the sun was vertical & that customary humbuggery known as “Crossing the
Line” was let loose, by which “Virgins” (those crewmen crossing the equator for the first time)
endure various hazings & duckings, as thought fit by those Tars conducting ceremonies. The
sensible Cpt. Beale did not waste time on this during my Australia-bound voyage, but the
seamen of the Prophetess were not to be denied their fun. (I considered all notions of “fun” to
be an anathema to Mr. Boerhaave, until I saw what cruelties these “amusements” entailed.)
Finbar warned us the two “Virgins” were Rafael & Bentnail. The latter has been at sea for two
years but sailed only the Sydney– Cape Town run.
During the dogwatch the men slung an awning over the fore-deck & assembled around the
capstan, where “King Neptune” (Pocock, dressed in absurd robe with a squilgee wig) was
holding court. The Virgins were tied to the catheads like a pair of Saint Sebastians. “Sawbone
& Mr. Quillcock!” cried Pocock upon seeing Henry & me. “Art thou come to rescue our virgin
sisters from my scabdragon?” Pocock danced with a marlinespike in a vulgar fashion & the seamen clapped with lickerish laughter. Henry, laughing, retorted that he preferred his virgins
without beards. Pocock’s riposte on maidens’ beards is too obscene to record.
His Barnacled Majesty turned back to his victims. “Bentnail of Cape Town, Riff-the-Raff of
Convict-town, be you ready to enter the Order of the Sons of Neptune?” Rafael, his boyish
spirits restored in part by the anticks, responded with a brisk, “Aye, Your Lordship!” Bentnail
gave a surly nod. Neptune roared, “Naaaaaay! Not till we shave those d——d scales off you
sogerers! Bring me the shaving cream!” Torgny hurried up with a pail of tar, which he applied
to the prisoners’ faces with a brush. Next, Guernsey appeared, dressed as Queen Amphitrite &
removed the tar with a razor. The Cape man howled curses, which caused much merriment &
not a few “slips” of the razor. Rafael had the sound sense to bear his ordeal in silence. “Better,
better,” growled Neptune, before yelling, “Blindfold ’em both & shew Young Riff into my
This “courtroom” was a barrel of salt water into which Rafael was plunged headfirst while the
men chanted to twenty after which Neptune commanded his “courtiers” to “fish out my newest
citizen!” His blindfold was removed & the boy leant against the bulwarks to recover from his
Bentnail acquiesced less willingly yelling, “Unhand me you sons of w——s!” King Neptune
rolled his eyes in horror. “That stinking mouth needs forty o’ the best in the brine, boys, or me
eyes ain’t mates!” On the count of forty the Afrikaner was raised, baying, “I’ll kill every last
one of you sons of sows, I swear I will I—” To general hilarity he was submerged for another
forty When Neptune declared his sentence served, he could do nothing but choke & retch
feebly. Mr. Boerhaave now ended the skylarking & the newest Sons of Neptune cleaned their
faces with oakum & a bar of toilet soap.
Finbar was still chuckling at dinner. Cruelty has never made me smile.
Wednesday, 18th December
Scaly seas, barely a breath of wind, therm. remains about 90°. The crew have washed their
hammocks & triced them up to dry My headaches commence earlier daily & Henry has once
more increased my dosage of vermicide. I pray his supply will not be depleted ere we drop
anchor in O-hawaii, for the pain unameliorated would shatter my skull. Elsewhere my doctor is
kept busy by much erysipelas & bilious cholera on the Prophetess.
This afternoon’s fitful siesta was cut short by clamor, so I went on deck & there found a young
shark being baited & hoisted aboard. It writhed in its own brilliant ruby juices for a
considerable time before Guernsey declared it well & truly dead. Its mouth & eyes called to
mind Tilda’s mother. Finbar butchered its carcass on deck & could not altogether ruin its
succulence in his galley (a woody scrod fish). The more superstitious sailors spurned this treat,
reasoning sharks are known to eat men, thus to eat shark flesh is cannibalism by proxy. Mr.
Sykes spent a profitable afternoon making sandpaper from the hide of the great fish.
Friday, 20th December
Can it be that the cockroaches grow fat on me as I sleep? This morning one woke me by
crawling over my face & attempting to feed from my nostril. Truly, it was six inches long! I
was possessed of a violent urge to kill the giant bug, but in my cramped, gloomy cabin it had
the advantage. I complained to Finbar, who urged me to pay a dollar for a specially trained “roach rat.” Later, doubtless, he will want to sell me a “rat cat” to subdue the roach rat, then I
will need a cat hound & who knows where it will all end?
Sunday, 22nd December—
Hot, so hot, I melt & itch & blister. This morn I awoke to the laments of fallen angels. I listened
in my coffin, as moments unfolded into minutes, wondering what new devilry my Worm was
working, until I made out a booming cry from above:—“There she blows!” I uncovered my
porthole, but the hour was too dim to see clearly, so despite my weakness I forced myself up
the companion-way. “There, sir, there!” Rafael steadied me by my waist with one hand as he
pointed with the other. I gripped the handrail tight, for my legs are unsteady now. The boy kept
pointing. “There! Ain’t they a marvel, sir?” By the crepuscular light I beheld a spume, only
thirty feet from the starboard prow. “Pod o’ six!” shouted Autua, from aloft. I heard the
Cetaceans’ breathing, then felt the droplets of spume shower upon us! I agreed with the boy,
they make a sublime sight indeed. One heaved itself up, down & beneath the waves. The flukes
of the fish stood in silhouette against the rose-licked east. “More’s the pity we ain’t a spouter, I
says,” commented New-fie. “Must be a hundred barrels o’ spermaceti in the big un alone!”
Pocock snapped. “Not I! I shipped on a spouter once, the cap’n was the blackest brute you’ve
ever seen, them three years make Prophetess seem a Sunday pleasure punt!”
I am back in my coffin, resting. We are passing through a great nursery of humpbacks. The cry
“There she blows!” is heard so often that none now bother to watch. My lips are baked &
The color of monotony is blue.
Christmas Eve—
A gale & heavy seas & ship rolling much. My finger is so swollen, Henry had to cut off my
wedding band lest it prevent circulation & cause the onset of dropsy. Losing this symbol of my
union with Tilda depressed my spirits beyond all measure. Henry berates me for being a “silly
puffin” & insists my wife would set my health above a fortnight without a metal loop. The
band is in my doctor’s safekeeping, for he knows a Spanish goldsmith in Honolulu who will
repair it for a reasonable price.
Christmas Day
Long swells left by yesterday’s gale. At dawn the waves looked like mountain ranges tipped
with gold as sunbeams slanted low under burgundy clouds. I rallied all my strength to reach the
mess room where Mr. Sykes & Mr. Green had accepted Henry’s & my invitation to our private
Christmas Meal. Finbar served a less noxious dinner than is his wont, of “lobscouse” (salt
beef, cabbage, yam & onion), so I was able to stomach most of it, until later. The plum duff had
never seen a plum. Cpt. Molyneux sent word to Mr. Green that the men’s grog ration was
doubled, so by the afternoon watch the seamen were flown. A regular saturnalia. A quantity of
small beer was poured down a luckless Diana monkey, who capped its crapulous mummery by
jumping overboard. I retired to Henry’s cabin & together we read the second chapter of
Matthew.The dinner wrought havoc on my digestion & necessitated frequent visits to the head. On my
last visit, Rafael was waiting outside. I apologized for delaying him, but the boy said, no, he
had contrived this meeting. He confessed he was troubled & posed me this question: “God lets
you in, doesn’t he, if you’re sorry … no matter what you do, he don’t send you to …
y’know”—here the ’prentice mumbled—“hell?”
I own, my mind was more on digestion than on theology & I blurted out that Rafael could
hardly have notched up a mortal portfolio of sin in his few years. The storm lantern swung & I
saw misery distort my young brave’s face. Regretting my levity I affirmed the Almighty’s
mercy is indeed infinite, that “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than
over ninety & nine just persons, which need no repentance.” Did Rafael wish to confide in me,
I asked, be it as a friend, or a fellow orphan, or a relative stranger? I told him I had noticed how
downcast he seemed of late & lamented how altered was that blithe boy who had stepped
aboard in Sydney, so eager to see the wide world. Ere he framed his reply, however, an attack
of laxity obliged me to return to the head. When I emerged, Rafael was gone. I shall not press
the matter. The boy knows where he can find me.
Seven bells of the first watch were just smote. My Worm pains my head as if the clapper
strikes my skull. (Do ants get headaches? I gladly should be turned into an ant to be freed from
these agonies.) How Henry & others sleep through this din of debauchery & blasphemous
caroling I know not, but keenly I envy them.
I snuffed some vermicide, but it no longer brings elation. It merely helps me feel halfway
ordinary. Then I took a turn about the decks, but the Star of David was obscured by thick
clouds. A few sober shouts aloft (Autua’s amongst them) & Mr. Green at the wheel assured
me that not all the crew were “sixteen sheets to the wind.” Empty bottles rolled from port to
starboard & back with the swell. I stumbled upon an insensible Rafael curled around the
windlass, his corrupted hand gripping his empty pewter. His bare young chest was bespattered
by ocherous smearages. That the boy had found his solace in drink instead of his friend-inChrist made my own spirits glummer.
“Guilty thoughts disturbing your rest, Mr. Ewing?” spoke a suc-cubus at my shoulder & I
dropped my pipe. It was Boerhaave. I assured the Hollander that while my conscience was
quite untroubled I doubted he could claim as much. Boerhaave spat overboard, smiling. Had
fangs & horns sprouted I should have felt no surprise. He slung Rafael over his shoulder,
slapped the sleeping ’prentice’s buttocks & carried his somnolent burden to the after-hatch, to
keep him out of harm’s way, I trust.
Boxing Day—
Yesterday’s entry sentences me to a prison of remorse for the rest of my days. How perversely
it reads, how flippant I was! Oh, I am sick to write these words. Rafael has hanged himself.
Hanged, by means of a noose slung over the mainmast lower yardarm. He ascended his
gallows between the end of his watch & first bell. Fate decreed I should be amongst his
discoverers. I was leaning over the bulwark, for the Worm causes bouts of nausea as it is
expelled. In the blue half-light I heard a cry & saw Mr. Roderick gazing heavenward.
Confusion twisted his face; succeeded by disbelief; folding in grief. His lips formed a word,
yet no word issued. He pointed to that he could not name.
There swung a body, a gray form brushing the canvas. Noise erupted from all quarters, but who was shouting what to whom I cannot recall. Rafael, hanged, steady as a plumb lead as the
Prophetess pitched & rolled. That amiable boy, lifeless as a sheep on a butcher’s hook! Autua
had scrambled aloft, but all he could do was lower the boy down gently. I heard Guernsey
mutter, “Should never o’ sailed on Friday, Friday’s the Jonah.”
My mind burns with the question, Why? None will discuss it, but Henry, who is as horrified as
myself, told me that, secretly, Bentnail had intimated to him that the unnatural crimes of Sodom
were visited upon the boy by Boerhaave & his “garter snakes.” Not just on Christmas night,
but every night for many weeks.
My duty is to follow this dark river to its source & impose justice on the miscreants but, Lord,
I can scarce sit up to feed myself! Henry says I cannot flagellate myself whene’er innocence
falls prey to savagery, but how can I let this be? Rafael was Jackson’s age. I feel such
impotence, I cannot bear it.
Friday, 27th December—
Whilst Henry was called away to attend an injury, I hauled myself to Cpt. Molyneux’s cabin to
speak my mind. He was displeazed at being visited, but I would not quit his quarters until my
charge was stated, to wit, Boerhaave’s pack had tormented Rafael with nightly bestiality until
the boy, seeing no possibility of reprieve or relief, took his life. Finally, the captain asked,
“You do, of course, have evidence for this crime? A suicide letter? Signed testimonials?” Every
man aboard knew I spoke the truth! The captain could not be insensible of Boerhaave’s
brutality! I demanded an inquiry into the first mate’s part in Rafael’s self-slaughter.
“Demand all you wish, Mr. Quillcock!” Cpt. Molyneux shouted. “I decide who sails
Prophetess, who maintains discipline, who trains the ’prentices, not a d——d pen pusher, not
his d——d ravings & by God’s Blood not any d——d ‘inquiry! Get out, sir, & blast you!”
I did so & immediately collided with Boerhaave. I asked him if he was going to lock me up in
his cabin with his garter snakes, then hope I’d hang myself before dawn? He showed his fangs
and in a voice laden with venom and hatred, issued this warning: “The stink of decay is on you,
Quillcock, no man of mine would touch you lest he contract it. You’ll die soon of your low
fever.’ ”
Notaries of the United States, I had the wit to warn him, do not vanish as conveniently as
colonial cabin boys. I believe he entertained the notion of strangling me. But I am too sickly to
be afraid of a Dutch sodomite.
Doubt besieges my conscience & complicity is its charge. Did I give Rafael the permission he
sought to commit self-slaughter? Had I divined his misery when last he spoke to me,
interpreted his intention & replied, “No, Rafael, the Lord cannot forgive a planned suicide, for
repentance cannot be true if it occurs before the crime,” the boy may yet be drawing breath.
Henry insists I could not have known, but for once his words ring hollow to my ears. Oh, did Isend that poor Innocent to Hell?
Saturday, 28th December—
A magic-lantern show in my mind has the boy taking the rope, ascending the mast, knotting his
noose, steadying himself, addressing his Maker, launching himself into vacancy. As he rushed
through the black, did he feel serenity or dread? The snap of his neck.
Had I but known! I could have helped the child jump ship, deflect his destiny as the Channings
did mine, or help him understand that no state of tyranny reigns forever.
The Prophetess has every inch of canvas aloft & is “sailing like a witch” (not for any benefit of
mine, but because the cargo is rotting) & makes over 3° of latitude daily. I am terribly sick now
& confined to my coffin. I suppose Boerhaave believes I am hiding from him. He is deceived,
for the righteous vengeance I wish to visit upon his head is one of the few flames
unextinguished by this dreadful torpor. Henry beseeches me write my journal to occupy my
brain, but my pen grows unwieldy & heavy. We make Honolulu in three days. My loyal doctor
promises to accompany me ashore, spare no expense to obtain powerful paregorics & remain at
my bedside until my recovery is compleat, even if the Prophetess must leave for California
without us. God bless this best of men. I can write no more today
Sunday, 29th December—
I fare most ill.
Monday, 30th December—
The Worm is recrudescent. Its poison sacs have burst. I am racked with pain & bedsores & a
dreadful thirst. Oahu is still two or three days to the north. Death is hours away. I cannot drink
& do not recall when I ate last. I made Henry promise to deliver this journal to Bedford’s in
Honolulu. From there it will reach my bereaved family. He swears I shall deliver it on my own
two feet, but my hopes are blasted. Henry has done his valiant best, but my parasite is too
virulent & I must entrust my soul to its Maker.
Jackson, when you are a grown man do not permit your profession to sunder you from loved
ones. During my months away from home, I thought of you & your mother with constant
fondness & should it come to pass […] *
Sunday, 12th January—
The temptation to begin at the perfidious end is strong, but this diarist shall remain true to
chronology On New Year’s Day, my head pains were rolling so thunderously I was taking
Goose’s medicine every hour. I could not stand against the ship’s roll, so I stayed abed in my
coffin, vomiting into a sack though my guts were vacant & shivering with an icy, scalding
fever. My Ailment could no longer be concealed from the crew & my coffin was placed under
quarantine. Goose had told Cpt. Molyneux that my Parasite was contagious, thereby appearing the very paragon of selfless courage. (The complicity of Cpt. Molyneux & Boerhaave in the
subsequent malfeasance cannot be proven or disproven. Boerhaave wished evil on me, but I am
forced to admit it unlikely he was party to the crime described below.)
I recall surfacing from feverish shallows. Goose was an inch away. His voice sank to a loving
whisper. “Dearest Ewing, your Worm is in its death throes & expelling every last drop of its
poison! You must drink this purgative to expel its calcified remains. It will send you to sleep,
but when you awake, the Worm that has so tormented you shall be out! The end of your
suffering is at hand. Open your mouth, one last time, handsomely does it, dearest of fellows …
here, ’tis bitter & foul a flavor, it’s the myrrh, but down with it, for Tilda & Jackson …”
A glass touched my lips & Goose’s hand cradled my head. I tried to thank him. The potion
tasted of bilgewater & almond. Goose raised my head & stroked my Adam’s apple until I
swallowed the liquid. Time passed, I know not how long. The creaking of my bones & the
ship’s timbers were one.
Somebody knocked. Light softened my coffin’s darkness & I heard Goose’s voice from the
corridor. “Yes, much, much better, Mr. Green! Yes, the worst is over. I was very worried, I
confess, but Mr. Ewing’s color is returning & his pulse strong. Only one hour? Excellent
news. No, no, he’s asleep now. Tell the captain we’ll be going ashore tonight—if he could
send word to arrange lodgings, I know Mr. Ewing’s father-in-law will remember the
Goose’s face floated into my vision again. “Adam?”
Another fist knocked at the door. Goose uttered an oath & swam away. I could no longer move
my head but heard Autua demanding, “I see Missa Ewing!” Goose bade him begone, but the
tenacious Indian was not to be faced down so easily. “No! Missa Green say he better! Missa
Ewing save my life! He my duty!” Goose then told Autua this:—that I saw in Autua a carrier
of disease & a rogue planning to exploit my present infirmity to rob me even of the buttons
from my waistcoat. I had begged Goose, so he claimed, to “keep that d——d nigger away from
me!” adding that I regretted ever saving his worthless neck. With that, Goose slammed &
bolted my coffin door.
Why had Goose lied so? Why was he so determined no one else should see me? The answer
raised the latch on a door of deception & an horrific truth kicked that same door in. To wit, the
doctor was a poisoner & I his prey. Since the commencement of my “Treatment,” the doctor
had been killing me by degrees with his “cure.”
My Worm? A fiction, implanted by the doctor’s power of suggestion! Goose, a doctor? No, an
itinerant, murdering confidence trickster!
I fought to rise, but the evil liquid my succubus had lately fed me had enfeebled my limbs so
wholly I could not so much as twitch my extremities. I tried to shout for aid, but my lungs did
not inflate. I heard Autua’s footsteps retreat up the companionway & prayed for God to guide
him back, but his intentions were otherwise. Goose clambered up the hawser to my bunk. He
saw my eyes. Seeing my fear, the demon removed his mask.
“What’s that you’re saying, Ewing? How shall I comprehend if you drool & dribble so?” I
emitted a frail whine. “Let me guess what you’re trying to tell me—‘Oh, Henry, we were
friends, Henry, how could you do this to me?’ [He mimicked my hoarse, dying whisper.] Am I
on the nose?” Goose cut the key from my neck & spoke as he worked at uncovering my trunk.
“Surgeons are a singular brotherhood, Adam. To us, people aren’t sacred beings crafted in the
Almighty’s image, no, people are joints of meat; diseased, leathery meat, yes, but meat ready
for the skewer & the spit.” He mimicked my usual voice, very well. “ ‘But why me, Henry, are
we not friends?’ Well, Adam, even friends are made of meat. ’Tis absurdly simple. I need
money & in your trunk, I am told, is an entire estate, so I have killed you for it. Where is the
mystery? ‘But, Henry, this is wicked!’ But, Adam, the world is wicked. Maoris prey on Moriori, Whites prey on darker-hued cousins, fleas prey on mice, cats prey on rats, Christians
on infidels, first mates on cabin boys, Death on the Living. ‘The weak are meat, the strong do
eat.’ ”
Goose checked my eyes for sentience & kissed my lips. “Your turn to be eaten, dear Adam.
You were no more gullible than any other of my patrons.” My trunk lid swung open. Goose
counted through my pocketbook, sneered, found the emerald from von Weiss & examined it
through an eyepiece. He was unimpressed. The fiend untied the bundles of documents relating
to the Busby estate & tore open the sealed envelopes in search of banknotes. I heard him count
my modest supply He tapped my trunk for secret compartments, but he found none, for there
are none. Lastly, he snipped the buttons from my waistcoat.
Goose addressed me through my delirium, as one might address an unsatisfactory tool.
“Frankly, I am disappointed. I have known Irish navvies with more pounds to their name.
Your cache scarcely covers my arsenick & opiate. If Mrs. Horrox had not donated her hoard of
black pearls to my worthy cause, poor Goose’s goose would be basted & cooked! Well, it is
time for us to part. You will be dead within the hour & for me, ’tis hey, ho! for the open road.”
My next cogent remembrance is of drowning in salt water so bright it hurt. Had Boerhaave
found my body & thrown me overboard to ensure my silence & avoid tiresome procedures
with the American consul? My mind was still active & as such might yet exercise some say in
my destiny. Consent to drown, or attempt to swim? Drowning was by far the least troublesome
option, so I cast about for a dying thought & settled on Tilda, waving off the Belle-Hoxie from
Silvaplana Wharf so many months before with Jackson shouting, “Papa! Bring me back a
kangaroo’s paw!”
The thought of never more seeing them was so distressing, I elected to swim & found myself
not in the sea but curled on deck, vomiting profusely & trembling violently with fever, aches,
cramps, pinches. Autua was holding me (he had forced a bucketful of brine down me to “flush
out” the poison). I retched & retched. Boerhaave shoved his way through the crowd of
onlooking stevedores & seamen, snarling, “I told you once, nigger, that Yankee’s no concern
of yours! & if a direct order won’t convince you—” Though the sun half-blinded me, I saw the
first mate land one brutal kick in Autua’s ribs & launch another. Autua gripped the atrabilious
Hollander’s shin in one firm hand whilst he gently lowered my head to the deck and rose up to
his full height, taking his assailant’s leg with him, robbing Boerhaave of his balance. The
Dutchman fell on his head with a leonine roar. Autua now seized the other foot & slung our
first mate over the bulwarks like a sack of cabbages.
Whether the crewmen were too fearful, astonished, or delighted to offer any resistance, I shall
never know, but Autua carried me down a gangplank on the dockside unmolested. My reason
informed me that Boerhaave could not be in heaven nor Autua in hell so we must be in
Honolulu. From the harbor we passed down a thoroughfare bustling with innumerable
tongues, hues, creeds & odors. My eyes met a Chinaman’s as he rested beneath a carved
dragon. A pair of women whose paint & tournure advertised their ancient calling peered at me
& crossed themselves. I tried to tell them I was not yet dead, but they were gone. Autua’s heart
beat against my side, encouraging my own. Thrice he asked of strangers, “Where doctor,
friend?” Thrice he was ignored (one answered, “No medicine for stinking Blacks!”) before an
old fish seller grunted directions to a sick house. I was parted from my senses for a time,
before hearing the word Infirmary. Merely entering its fetid air, laden with ordure &
decomposition, caused me to retch anew, notwithstanding my stomach was empty as a
discarded glove. The buzzing of bluebottles hovered & a madman howled about Jesus adrift on
the Sargasso Sea. Autua muttered to himself in his own tongue. “Patience more, Mr. Ewing—this place smell death—I take you to Sisters.”
How Autua’s Sisters might have strayed so far from Chatham Isle was a puzzle I could not
begin to solve, but I entrusted myself to his care. He quitted that charnel house & soon the
taverns, dwellings, and warehouses thinned before giving way to sugar plantations. I knew I
should ask, or warn, Autua about Goose, but speech was yet beyond my powers. Nauseous
slumber tightened then loosened its grip on me. A distinct hill rose up & its name stirred in
memory’s sediment:—Diamond Head. The road hither was rocks, dust & holes, walled on
both sides with unyielding vegetation. Autua’s stride broke only once, to cup cool stream water
to my lips, until we arrived at a Catholick mission, beyond the final fields. A nun tried to
“shoo” us away with a broom, but Autua enjoined her, in Spanish as broken as his English, to
grant his White charge sanctuary. Finally, one sister who evidently knew Autua arrived &
persuaded the others that the savage was on a mission not of malice but of mercy.
By the third day I could sit up, feed myself, thank my guardian angels & Autua, the last free
Moriori in this world, for my deliverance. Autua insists that had I not prevented him from
being tossed overboard as a stowaway he could not have saved me & so, in a sense, it is not
Autua who has preserved my life but myself. Be that as it may, no nursemaid ever ministered
as tenderly as rope-roughened Autua has to my sundry needs these last ten days. Sister
Véronique (of the broom) jests that my friend should be ordained & appointed hospital
Mentioning neither Henry Goose (or the poisoner who assumed that name) nor the saltwater
bath which Autua gave Boer-haave, Cpt. Molyneux forwarded my effects via Bedford’s agent,
doubtless with one eye on the mischief my father-in-law may inflict on his future as a trader
operating from San Francisco. Molyneux’s other eye is on disassociating his reputation from
that now-notorious murderer known as the Arsenick Goose. The devil has not yet been
apprehended by the Port Constabulary nor, I suspect, shall that day ever come. In Honolulu’s
lawless hive, where vessels of all flags & nations arrive & depart daily, a man may change his
name & history between entrée & dessert.
I am exhausted & must rest. Today is my thirty-fourth birthday.
I remain thankful to God for all his mercies.
Monday, 13th January—
Sitting under the candlenut tree in the courtyard is pleasant in the afternoon. Laced shadows,
frangipani & coral hibiscus ward away the memory of recent evil. The sisters go about their
duties, Sister Martinique tends her vegetables, the cats enact their feline comedies & tragedies. I
am making acquaintances amongst the local avifauna. The pallia has a head & tail of burnished
gold, the akohekohe is a handsome crested honeycreeper.
Over the wall is a poorhouse for foundlings, also administered by the sisters. I hear the
children chanting their classes (just as my schoolmates and I used to before Mr. & Mrs.
Channing’s philanthropy elevated my prospects). After their studies are done, the children
conduct their play in a beguiling babel. Sometimes, the more daring of their number brave the
nuns’ displeasure by scaling the wall & conduct a grand tour above the hospice garden by
means of the candlenut’s obliging branches. If the “coast is clear,” the pioneers beckon their
more timid playmates onto this human aviary & white faces, brown faces, kandka faces,
Chinese faces, mulatto faces appear in the arboreal overworld. Some are Rafael’s age & when I
remember him a bile of remorse rises in my throat, but the orphans grin down at me, imitate monkeys, poke out their tongues, or try to drop kukui nuts into the mouths of snoring
convalescents & do not let me stay mournful for very long. They beg me for a cent or two. I
toss up a coin for dextrous fingers to pluck, unerringly, from the air.
My recent adventures have made me quite the philosopher, especially at night, when I hear
naught but the stream grinding boulders into pebbles through an unhurried eternity My
thoughts flow thus. Scholars discern motions in history & formulate these motions into rules
that govern the rises & falls of civilizations. My belief runs contrary, however. To wit: history
admits no rules; only outcomes.
What precipitates outcomes? Vicious acts & virtuous acts.
What precipitates acts? Belief.
Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind’s mirror, the world. If we
believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality,
such a humanity is surely brought into being, & history’s Horroxes, Boer-haaves & Gooses
shall prevail. You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this
world, provided our luck holds. What of it if our consciences itch? Why undermine the
dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy? Why fight the “natural” (oh,
weaselly word!) order of things?
Why? Because of this:—one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the
Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness
uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.
Is this the doom written within our nature?
If we believe that humanity may transcend tooth & claw, if we believe divers races & creeds can
share this world as peaceably as the orphans share their candlenut tree, if we believe leaders
must be just, violence muzzled, power accountable & the riches of the Earth & its Oceans
shared equitably, such a world will come to pass. I am not deceived. It is the hardest of worlds
to make real. Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a
myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.
A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson shall inherit, this
strikes me as a life worth the living. Upon my return to San Francisco, I shall pledge myself to
the Abolitionist cause, because I owe my life to a self-freed slave & because I must begin
I hear my father-in-law’s response: “Oho, fine, Whiggish sentiments, Adam. But don’t tell me
about justice! Ride to Tennessee on an ass & convince the rednecks that they are merely whitewashed negroes & their negroes are black-washed Whites! Sail to the Old World, tell ’em their
imperial slaves’ rights are as inalienable as the Queen of Belgium’s! Oh, you’ll grow hoarse,
poor & gray in caucuses! You’ll be spat on, shot at, lynched, pacified with medals, spurned by
backwoodsmen! Crucified! Naïve, dreaming Adam. He who would do battle with the manyheaded hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with
him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no
more than one drop in a limitless ocean!” Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?
* Here my father’s handwriting slips into spasmodic illegibility. —J.E. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Mitchell’s first novel, Ghostwritten, was awarded the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn
Rhys Prize for the best book by a writer under thirty-five, and was shortlisted for the Guardian
First Book Award. His second novel, Number9Dream, followed in 2002 and was shortlisted
for the Booker Prize as well as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In 2003, David Mitchell
was selected as one of the Best of Young British Novelists by Granta. He also returned to
Britain from Japan, where he spent eight years, and now lives in Ireland.
Copyright © 2004 by David Mitchell