Wednesday, 2 April 2008

DEFEAT, FRAGMENTS, 
AND THE IMPOSSIBLE ISLAND
by
ANDREW DARLINGTON

It was the end of time. It was the worst of times.
Escaping defeat, the rebel Skyship crossed an ocean of magma
to find an island that couldn’t possibly exist ... and to find
new horrors ... or a strange new salvation there ?
A short story of 5,250 words (approx.)
A story involving characters and environments from the
‘EARTH CLUSTER’ mythos. As featured in, but not part of, 
the forthcoming novel ‘BEAST OF THE COMING DARKNESS’

“There is no gravity. Only centrifuge forcing events apart.
No cohesion. Only the grit of fragments without connection. 
And out of defeat we arrive here. Above an impossible island ...”

Moving against brilliance, between glowing lava ocean and dense cloudbanks, hangs the wounded Skyship. Blackened, fleeing the Yallaactl war-zone, it tilts in the deep and vibrant hum of generators and vacuum tubes, dipping through veils of superheated steam in scintillations of colour. Towards the crescent island. Beneath its three huge stabilising bladders, complex with vanes, rudders and sails, its observation blister is illumed in eerie red warmth. Lights pendant from the ceiling oscillate gently, washing contours of electrum and orichalcum.
“Insurgency is a science” lectures A-Hylca, “its advances and indeed - as now, its reverses, must be subject to laws that can be rationally deciphered.”
“Yet it must be fed on passion, or the science is meaningless” counters Grenaman Taad, huge and bearlike.
“You speak to me in emotions. I answer you with ideals.”
“But emotions contain ideals.”
The island is elaborately dressed in red shadows. Vegetation extends on extravagant layers. Tree-tall viridian fungi. Tropical lushness lacing between. And all lit by the encircling magma. Taad glances across at the older man, whose frailty is disguised in rapid birdlike movement. How bloodless and spent he looks in the ghastly light. An animated corpse.
“Well ?” indicating the island. Voice tight as wire.
“Why not ? We can go no further. We must land somewhere. And our pursuers will never think to find us here, it’s on no charts I’ve ever seen.”
The ship aligns, about to settle, over a point midway along the island’s curved ten-k spine, a sheer line of upflung rock blending easily into jungle and sky. When a sudden beam of green fire plays from the land beneath, searing a swathe of destruction raking along its ornate side. A-Hylca flinches at the sound, as if struck by a physical blow. An attack - here ? Surely they’d outrun the Domain War-Ships when they’d ventured out over the Flamebelt ? But if not the Domain - who ? The ship lurches, hit with a smack of vertigo, oscillating wildly, losing height. The sounding meter shrills. A riot of sickening motion thrums in great shuddering pulses as the helmsman battles the controls, fighting course corrections. And all around cordage is creaking, ratchet and pawl groaning.
A raw high cliff looms ahead. Long yellow-orange streamers sweeping in from the horizon above it. Walls of foliage, tall columnar plants, brittle with branches that smash and shatter with the crystalline clatter of breaking glass at the roar of their passing. The impact, moments later, is sickening. For long minutes there’s silence.
“This is bad” says Taad. Voice grating like stone on stone.
“Once again your skill at stating the obvious is breathtaking” snipes A-Hylca.
“Steady, or your taste for contention will get you into trouble.”
The ship is slewed across a clearing in outrageous foliage, as if the jungle hangs back, avoiding it. They pause a long time for their unknown attackers to emerge. But there’s no sign of movement. At last the arching walkway gullwings out and down. Taad descends first, cautiously, blinking at the heat, the shimmering verdure, the buzzing haze. His feet jar down hard on soft springy turf. A-Hylca two paces behind him, moving even more reticently. Crewmen watch them from the open portal. The island’s smell reaches them simultaneously, cloyingly chemical and nauseating. Shot through with the unmistakable iridescence of sulphur.
“We needed refuge.” Taad’s beard itches. He resists the urge to scratch, knowing that will only make it itch more. “Well - we might not be welcome, but we could be here for some time. Long enough for the Domain to forget we ever existed.”

The control suite is lit only by the exterior glow. Empty wine goblets sit in bright shadow. A-Hylca doesn’t even bother activating the bioluminous dark dispellers. For the room is intimately known, its every corner and appurtenance familiar. And he can think better in twilight. The deep silence mutters wordlessly of black mystery, capricious and strange. The Domain - ‘damn their stinking souls’. For ten thousand years the worlds of the Cluster have been subject to its tyranny. And the long desperate insurrection against the regime has finally brought him - him - Ansor A-Hylca, to here. An impossible, hostile, and nameless island in a magma sea. And a night of darkness that grows deeper and more remote.
He purses his lips. Joins the tips of his fingers, to make a cave of fingers. He has a thin face of almost fragile vulnerability. Long white hair greying at the roots. For the first time in his life he knows doubt. Perhaps Yallaactl was not just a defeat. Perhaps it was the final defeat ? And this island the only free realm he’ll ever know ? Perhaps Taad is right, reason and science are not enough ?

Men with unsheathed blades move through tunnels of flowering trees, fragrant with clusters of fruit. As they pass, plants that might once have been bougainvillaea pull in their flowers smoothly, the ochre sheaths closing protectively about crimson blossoms like eyelids blinking in sudden light. Wind seethes in the foliage above, patterns forming, patterns breaking in wonderful abundance.
Taad scratches at a beard that grows like strands of grey mist. “Did you notice as we came down ? The attack was launched from the southern tip of this island. But there are also some kind of structures at the other extreme point too. It might mean there’s friendly habitation here as well as hostiles.”
A-Hylca grunts irritably. “We need help. There’s work to be done that we can’t do alone. We must get some kind of technological support to rewire the damaged antigravitrons. Repairs can begin, but can only go so far. We must organise a forage party to check out what resources exist on this place that we can utilise.”
The lurid path leads ahead into variegated jungle where a roof of leaves is stitched across the sky. A warm smell of growing things buzzing with insect noises. The surrounding magenta trees closing in, tawny yellows against marbled orange, pinks cooling into grey, lavender to violet.
They return to the crippled ship as soft drizzle hazes in over the clearing.
Halfway up the ramp A-Hylca pauses, looking back across the strange island. The Venerian sky coils and writhes in torrents of fierce thermal currents far above him. “We’re safe enough here for now. But we must start out first thing in the morning towards those buildings you claim you saw, Taad.”

He awakes retching. The phlegm of sulphur in his throat.
A-Hylca’s already awake and reading from a heavy book.
Danib Truul, a youth with amber eyes is there too, cramming his mouth with breakfast fruits harvested from the island. “What do we call this place ?” grins Truul mischievously. “It’s your world isn’t it, Grenaman Taad ? You should know.”
“I come from Nonocastria” growls the thickset insurrectionist. “I don’t know the equatorial flamebelt. No-one does. I suggest you wait and ask its inhabitants face to face. If they have faces. The condition of the ‘ship indicates we could be here long enough for quite detailed conversations.”
A-Hylca smirks uncharacteristically. An ant runs across the page he’s reading. “Did you notice ? Your potential co-conversationalists seem to be an active breed. I seldom sleep, as you know. And during the night I watched from the blister. There were lights and flares from both north and south tips of the island.”

--- 2 ---

“In the lost ages of science before there was history, before memory, before there was even time, the inner planets of the Solar System were first Terranized, then drawn together into a single lozenge of navigable air. Tellus at its centre, then Luna, Venus and Mars turning in a vast cosmic wheel of worlds and worldlets, the spaces between traversed by Skyships riding the vortexes provoked by the conflicting gravity fields. Civilisations, cultures and empires violently expanded and decayed, until the worlds themselves began inexorably decaying back, reverting to their original transfigured natures. But always, at the Cluster’s core, there is the vicious tyranny of the Domain. And equally, there are the rebels who oppose it ...”

Lakes of boiling sand. Blistering rocks. And set within a sea of lava is the crescent of an impossible island.
The crewmen check out repairs to the contradyning equipment using magnetoscopes to detect flaws, rehearsing their preparations to swing the gravity counterpoise over to full, so the Venerian gravitational force can be made to act in reverse and gently buoy them up from its surface. What limited work that can be done is progressing well already. But there’s also damage to the stabilising bladders and outer hull. While simultaneously, men killed in the clash with the crimson Domain Sky Galleons, are incinerated with little ceremony - this, after all, is an atheistic craft, and their ashes are given to the wind. Then Taad, A-Hylca and Truul, carrying weapons and shoulderpacks set out into the jungle, the scent of outlandish flowers heavy in the air.
There’s a curved central spine of mountains. The gradient sloping gradually upwards as they trudge through dull heat heading inland far enough to achieve sufficient altitude to orientate. They pass through forests of red-knobbed many-branching grey fungus twice as tall as they are, where four-winged snakes weave and flit. And through groves where masses of butterflies and diptera whirl through opaque shadowy silences, but so far they’ve seen neither birds nor animals despite the abundance of streams of clear water and foliage rich with varieties of fruit. Rain has carved gullies down from the central peaks, which eventually provide easy highways through the jungle, although time and scouring winds have worn away their corners and angles, smoothing them into the same blurred and tired uniformity. At intervals they pause to glance back at the island beneath them. The dark Skyship angled across the clearing, alive with the minute figures of moving men. And beyond the perimeter of wild shoreside scoria, the boiling lava-ocean of spewing flame-pits and continual eruptions incandescent to the horizon.
Truul moves ahead of the older men, the feline slits of his amber eyes flashing gold with excitement. It’s he who reaches the cleft first, looking through it, and down into the enclosed far side of the island. They slouch down, heat-haze dancing the vista into ripples of distortion. A-Hylca’s critical gaze analysing what he sees. The cliffs beyond steepen as they descend, much gnawed and worn by time and eternal wind. Taad blinks rapidly, as though trying to clear some obstruction. There seem to be buildings that must once have constituted an ancient city, but they project ludicrously from the near-verticality, all the way down to the lava-flow. Defying logic and gravity.
A-Hylca belches. Then begins talking. “This mountain ring is all that’s left of what must once have formed a complete plateau” he lectures in his usual pedagogic fashion, “only this crater wall now remains. Volcanic erosion over thousands of years must have undermined that original central plain, until the centre collapsed. There was a city here. A city of normal horizontal habitations, until that implosion. And now its remnants protrude clear down these inner walls. The centre of whatever advanced civilisation existed here must have been out ... there.” He stabs the air sharply. Indicating the seething well of magma at the imaginary centre of the island’s crescent.
Danib Truul whooped and began scrambling down into the declivity towards the nearest of the accessible building-shells, climbing over worn reefs lodged in the cliff-face that show their geology in layers, as though he’s passing down through vast ages of lost time. Taad follows, moving more cautiously, poised for action, his blade hung loosely at his side. It’s then that the beast as death-white as bloodless flesh uncoils with awful slowness to block the youth’s advance. Even from his distance Taad can see the sweat of fear on Truul’s face. He licks salt-dry lips. He can smell the monster. A strong rancid stench of blood and musk. Hear its leathery rasp of exhalation that sounds unnaturally loud ...
... and it darts faster than Taad can see, its head, its razor-sharp incisors striking Truul, catching and severing him in two, tossing the remains effortlessly high in a grotesque spray of flailing ganglia and ruptured intestines The whiteness of stripped bone gleaming. Truul’s abruptly terminated howl stays with him, working its way in, eating him alive. The claw around his heart closing in a tightening fist. And despite his nerves prickling in the suddenly electric hush Taad moves forward, almost sick with reaction.
Time takes a long single pace. Even the air itself has become a vacuum, incapable of carrying sound.
What’s left of Truul is scattered, body-parts huddled and shapeless sprawled across a spray of oblong-leafed spurge. The snake-like fanged monster, its multiple centipede fringe of forelimbs rippling agitatedly, is poised over him, ready to strike a second time. Taad moving across to attack it.
Then a scream scalds his ears, a hiss that rises to a wail and passes away beyond the limits of audition. And the creature’s head explodes in a welter of green flame, pierced by a beam of light that splashes cold fire and stone splinters in prisms around it. The heat of the blast strikes Taad’s face with brilliant blindness.
His head jerks back to see the machine emerging. His first confused impression is of an insect, although it seems to be hovering free of the ground at just above waist-height. From its spherical hub rise multiple arms of some jointed material that iridesces with mother-of-pearl sheen, each limb surmounted by a mechanical device. As he watches it, an arm tipped by two round eyes as big as fists, ineffably dark and segmented, travels to within a hand’s-span of his face, and stops. Another shifts smoothly out past his shoulder to squint back and view him from the rear. In their depths, lambent with electronics, he can glimpse his multiple mirrored self made small. The mutual scrutiny extents for a long time. The thing crackles faintly with an accelerating whirr. Then it ascends violently and without warning, to vanish above an overhang of beetling cliffs, a tidal wave of nodular stone frozen in the act of breaking.
It’s only then he begins to shiver. A shallow uncontrollable animal-twitching.
And suddenly A-Hylca is by his side, shaking him back to awareness. Through a vast stillness they pass the monstrously unmoving corpse. Truul lies beyond it. He’s foetally crouched. Breathing low and shallow.
“But ... I don’t understand. I saw him torn apart. This cannot be so.”

--- 3 ---

“There is diversity. But no depth.
Here, all layers of meaning dissolve.
In defeat, in the grit of fragments, 
there can be neither science nor reason ...”

There are embryos in his mouth. The taste congealing. Danib Truul spits. Each strand of his saliva is pearled with the foetal shapes of tiny human forms as it drools from the broad leaves of a deep mauve simsilia. Simultaneously, he feels his hair growing. Nasal hair fills his nostrils painfully tight until it’s difficult to breath. His body hair and pubence coil uncontrollably. He’s reverting to a simian form. He can feel the hair beneath his arms physically extending. Gradually. Inexorably. And beneath the hair his body is seamed with gleaming scar tissue. Vivid web-works of healing wounds.
Scrolls of binary code numbers scrawl in rapid succession across his field of vision. He closes his eyes. The numbers continue in an endless swim of columns across a white actinic glare.
He tries to move his hands. But he has no hands.
He looks across at Taad, and hears him thinking. Taad can hear the stream going over the pebbles. He can see that the moist shale is the colour of old iron. He sits in the shadowy coolness of lavender sward, immobile with thought. And he’s thinking a line of thought he does not like at all. He tries to keep his mind away from it. He tries not to think at all. Let A-Hylca do the thinking. Let A-Hylca deal with logic and analysis.
“Automata and Androgynals. Artificial and genetically altered life-forms” A-Hylca muses. “I’d heard stories of their existence in the remote past. In the days of dead sciences. But I’d never believed they existed. Yet now, I suppose, I must.”
“And those things could kill us a thousand times over.” A whiplash tone.
“While once would be quite sufficient.”
A-Hylca and Taad look oddly distanced. As though faceted, seen through a succession of distorting lenses. Their proportions are unfamiliar. Sometimes they look squat and compressed, then angular and so spindly it seems impossible they can even support their own weight. And when they speak they use aliens tongues. Sounds that are obviously complex and structured, but meaningless.
They’d been heading back for the flying Dreadnought. But the way forward was suddenly alive with machines. Gliding silveroids with winking cockroach eyes. Crawling metal insects with antennae and flexing mandibles. The forest glistening and trembling with mechanical animation. The ‘Ship’ was there. But it was circled by shapes that skitter at it from shadows of overhung foliage. Harpoon and arrow-engines have been readied in response. Once or twice he catches the bright flash as defensive projectiles are launched at the elusive besieging forms.
Ansor A-Hylca and Grenaman Taad are in deep conversation. Faces comically stern as they mouth their gibberish noises. And Truul’s impatient. His whole body vibrates with uncontrollable sensations. He knows the route they must take. It’s so obvious. How come they can’t see it ? Because their thought processes are made of clay, that’s why. Eventually they angle back down the scree at a tangent to their original course, crouching low to avoid detection. The stoops of trees where four-winged snakes flit encloses them. His feet bleed. But he can feel nothing beyond the thrum of enhanced blood glowing in his veins.
More machines. A column of them threading purposefully towards the ship. To risk confronting such massive numbers of them would be a mad insolence, it would mean walking into the dragon’s throat. So it forces another change of direction. And it’s all becoming so meaningless. Endless circles of trees and stone. Were they moving towards the ship, or away from it ? This area doesn’t look familiar. But all areas look alike. There are sudden eruptions of brutal conflict when the warm air runs ice-cold. Groups of the Androgynal Snake-Things launch abrupt missile attacks on legions of marching machines. Defensive arrangements of machines spin and reconfigure into attack mode. Gathering smashed limbs. While other specialisations return the fire. Mutual destruction. Then withdrawal. Machine parts litter the forest floor. Alongside the huge dead corpses of Snakes. Punctured, they ooze ichor in gloopy strands as their bodies slowly contract, imploding with moisture-loss until they become mere chitinous body-shells of translucent flakes. Eyes and skulls standing out from the creeping decay.
They skirt a low river. The Venerian sky far above them is orange, swirling and writhing in shades of fierce thermal tides. It makes the reflected water a brilliant liquid rust of orange as it rills over ribs of white stone. The silence is a physical thing. A physical thing that hurts. Which direction is the ship ? Shrug. They are arguing now. Their words indistinct. But the irritation a tactile tension that stands out between them. So Truul leads the way purposefully up the dense far bank where the shape of trees crawl and shift. Away from the ship. This is the way we must go. The opposite direction taken by the machines. To the hub of their nest. He’s naked, pale and sweating, ciphers and columns of digital figures cascade along his retina. He wipes them away with his fingers, gouging his eyes violently to rub it all clean. Shattered pieces of numbers remain. Slowly they reform. Correcting themselves. New files of numerals - 1’s and 0’s scrolling down to replace them. Dancing into different column shapes and equation formations.
“We started this.” Taad is talking, and now he understands the words. But Taad is afraid to meet his gaze, afraid to look at the disturbing hollows into which the feline slits of his amber eyes have receded. “This island was at peace. Divided between these two near-dormant species who restricted their own low-key activity to their own zones of exclusion. The arrival of our ship trashed that balance. We encroached their air-space. They shot us down. Now we’ve provided a new military objective to confront. Something new to be eradicated.”
“The whole island is becoming a war-zone. And we’re caught up in it,” adds A-Hylca. “You’ve seen ants ? The way they function. They work tirelessly, they never let up. They never doubt the rightness of what they’re doing. Whether shifting leaves or eggs. Or attacking maggoty invaders. It’s all the same to them. And that’s just what these things are doing to us. Like the cells of your own body, they’re working together to repulse infection.”
Truul speaks, tries to explain. No, you’re both wrong. It’s not like that. It’s ... it’s ... but they don’t seem to understand. He compresses his lips with concentration. Biting his lip. A bead of blood courses down his chin. There are embryos in the blood. The taste congealing on his tongue.
How long has it been ? The plan - or what started out as a plan, was to circle around the ship, avoiding bugs and machines, and eventually seize an opportunity to regain access through the gull-wing walkway to its safety. But each detour leads to further detours. Each proposed route quivers with Snake-Things or electronic sentience. So they back-track. This way. Then that, in a confusion of corrections. They’re back halfway up the island’s central spine, moving precariously down a shifting scoria of shale the colour of dead flesh. Beneath an overhang of cliffs that appear to be scarred by satanic knives. The sulphur air is uncomfortably hot and leaves foul tastes that must be coughed out at intervals. The water tastes metallic. Copper. Even the fruit tastes odd, gritted with seeds of steel. Here, the very strangeness of the place seems emphasised, enlarged.
“We’re almost there now” says Truul, panting with exertion, trembling with anticipation.
They seem to understand.
--- 4 ---

They wade through a forest of tree-tall viridian fungi sheltering red-knobbed many-branching grey lichen in its luminous gloom. To emerge here, at the southern-most tip of the island crescent. The one place neither Taad nor A-Hylca had consciously intended reaching. This is the place the first attack on the ship had been launched from. The source of the raking light that had brought them down. A long tongue of land, a lava-flow hardened into countless corrugations. Beyond and on both sides there are drops of some thirty metres into lakes of super-heated magma reduced to shimmering pools of liquid. It’s smouldering light is bright white, penetrating through even the elaborate trellises erected to reduce its intensity. And at the centre of the peninsula there’s a vast pyramid framework of alloy, or some like material that iridesces like mother-of-pearl, elaborate with cables, dishes and sensors trapping a gloom at once eerie, soft and strange, yet lambent with electronics, where intricate machinery gleams elfinly. Where sparks purr blue and steady on the brushes of gigantic magnetrons, its light impinging on huge machines, casting distorted shadows that march grotesquely. A nest of gliding silveroids with winking cockroach eyes. Crawling metal insects with antennae and flexing mandibles. Hovering spheres with multiple jointed spider limbs and round eyes as big as fists, ineffably dark and segmented. And more, monsters made more terrible by mere suggestions of shape.
“We’ve got to get out of here” breathes Taad. As tremors of some indefinable but extreme unease pass through his body.
“This is their city !”
His unease crystallises into fear. Into alien insects crawling through his head.
Truul stands tall. Naked. His scarred body pulsing. And he walks leisurely into its densest part of the metal city. Sensors twitch. Realign. They know he’s here. Lights are the eyes of watching insects. Pulsing mauve, through crimson and cinnamon. Carmine, magenta, bright emerald. Weapons gape and pivot, adjusting to his every movement. But they do not fire. Instead there are others. Hovering eyes that watch. Lenses flipping and telescoping. And yet other things. Their purpose difficult to fathom. But lacking obvious offensive capacity. Such peculiar things move in around him. A structure of needles. Its limbs envelop Truul. Lines of spines pricking indentations into his skin. Then biting, deep. Sliding smoothly through subcutaneous layers.
Taad starts forward uncertainly, he goes three paces, and halts in indecision. As A-Hylca watches with nervous intensity.
Truul’s breath comes faster, whistling through his nostrils, sounding strangely loud against the remorseless metallic drone. There are corpses in his mouth. The taste congealing. A row of blades centred on a spin of drills clamps to his face. The drills extrude, boring forward thread by thread. His amber eyes can’t close. The steel makes contact with the retina of his eye. It concaves with the slight pressure. From within the drill emerges a small diamond-topped blade. It punctures the eye and slides smoothly through the optic fluid. Analysing the new substance. Then deeper. The optic nerve. Tripping images through his skull. Fragments of vision. Distortion. Inverted colours. Black flames. Crimson sky. Flesh that glistens with nacreous hues. Uncontrollable erotic arousal. An urge to urinate. He’s pissing stupidly, spurts of hot urine dripping from the tendons and exposed circuits of the machine probing him. Back through the eye into the skull-case. Soft grey-white whorls of brain-matter.
Equations and binary columns scream in manic irritation. His scars lurch open, spouting a moist goo of symbols and ciphers. His chest rips opens bloodlessly. Cleaved to raw bone. His exposed lungs swelling and convulsing. Fibres squirm and burrow like ravenous parasites into the smashed core of his body, emerging sated from muscle and between rib-joints. Trailing fibre-optics and seeding nano-moniters.
Taad and A-Hylca stare in fascinated horror.
A hovering thing descends. An airbox. Waltzing on air. A slab of light bathing Truul in electro-luminance. When the light ceases he is ice-cold to the touch. He’s alive. But ... altered. His bare head is spiked with sensor-quills. His pierced eyes enhanced with discs. His musculature knitted with a bright bio-mesh and metal thread. His blood awash with nano-navigators.
It’s only then that he catches his first vision of the Androgynal Snake-Thing. It - too, has been treated. It bristles with spines and sockets, its eyes have been enhanced. Its rippling centipede forelimbs have been amputated and their stubs spliced into electronic arrays. The images slam closer. Overlapping. Snake. Human. Bug. Automata. Androgynal. Quills and sensors intermingle. Detonations of energy burst as reverse polarity connections ram together. Myriad explosions of bright luminance burn themselves out. Small robo-bugs crawl like ants to affect repairs. Remove tears, remove traces of phlegm and excrement ...

“How do you feel ?” from Grenaman Taad.
“Bizarre. I suppose,” confesses Danib Truul, the feline slits of his amber eyes flashing gold. Then, “and also nothing, in a way. I remember confronting that Snake-Thing by the vertical city. And then I remember ... this,” indicating the Skyship’s control suite.
“Yet we saw you hacked to pieces, butchered and disembowelled ... twice !”
“But do you understand it all now ?” from A-Hylca.
“I’m not sure. I know that this was once a human island. That they lived in what is now the vertical city on what was the island’s central plain. That those ancient humans created the machinery that maintained the artificial environment that makes the island possible, and that they then devised these creatures to serve and maintain it. A warrior caste. And a slave caste. Creatures who worked together through the medium of their human masters. Then there’s the eruption, the central plateau collapses ... and with it, the people. All that remains is the slaves. Prepared to protect and serve. But the focal point of their lives is gone. The connecting node that co-ordinates them. Until now - there’s us. Or more specifically, there’s me. That first Androgynal Snake-Thing we encountered pumped me full of howling questions full of a need for instructions. Pumped me full of the reports and collected data it’d been programmed to relay. Now these Automata-beings have reaped that information and reciprocated in the same way. The machines are a little more sophisticated. But essentially the same. An Automata, unaided, can never rival the chemical intricacy of an organic brain. So they need a biological component. And they both need a human element to co-ordinate the two species, so that they can function properly. A bridge. A two-way communication channel.”
“And now, through you, they’ve achieved it.”
“Yes. A continuing link has been established sufficient for both Automata and Androgynal to work together to repair the Skyship. That’s a start. That’s quite enough for now.”
“Where there was chaos there is now order. Where there was vagueness there’s now precise form. The binary codes and equations are interpreted. For this impossible island this is the moment of fulfilment.”
“And for us ... a turning point, eh A-Hylca ?”
--- 5 ---

From the eerie red warmth of the observation blister they watch the curved ten-k spine of the impossible island drop away beneath them. The renewed contradyning equipment is utilising the planet’s own gravitational force to propel the great Skyship from its temporary anchorage, and up into the fierce thermal currents of the Venerian sky. And they stand, immobile with thought in the deep and vibrant hum of generators and vacuum tubes. It is night. A Venerian night that seeps into their skin. Like a vision darkening. But outside, the magma-field still glowers to the horizon. And throughout the island’s jungles nocturnal plants are releasing stored energy in pale pockets of ghostly effulgence, each well of light appearing to melt together as they gain altitude, losing all sharpness of form. Until the crescent of rugged mountains softens into the shapelessly glowing night.
“What shall we talk of now, Taad ? Defeat ? Fragments ? An impossible island ?” A-Hylca’s question posed like a scholar proposing debate.
“Why can’t we just talk ?” The hand Taad runs through his iron-grey hair is heavily-veined and muscular.
“Words have little enough value. They are mere vibrations of the air. Nothing more. Sometimes you can talk too much, and say too little. I say ‘Insurgency is a science’. You say ‘yes, but it must be fed on passion’. To me ideals must be pure. To you, emotions intense. But ideals must contain emotions. The one cannot function without the other. As, down there on that island, one species cannot function without the other.”
A pause.
“Out there, beyond the Flamebelt, beyond the Yallaactl war-zone, the Warships of the Domain await us. Chaos is coming, A-Hylca” he whispers, his voice low, but full of implacable undertones. “We must learn to embrace that chaos. We must let its fire inspire us ... ”

“At first it had seemed there was no gravity. 
Only centrifuge forcing events apart. No cohesion. 
Only the grit of fragments without connection.
But as we returned from that impossible island
we had learned that there is more, there are 
connections of flesh and brain more powerful than
gravity, and stronger than defeat ...”


BY ANDREW DARLINGTON

Published in:-
‘THE DREAM ZONE no.6 : May’ (UK - April 2000)

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