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Heirloom · by · Alexander · the · Great · by · Jacob · Clifton

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MONDEGREEN is a sequel of sorts to HEIRLOOM and the previous novel, RED SETTLEMENT (which we're calling XXXCOMMUNICATION now). Check it out.
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She will share my umbrella but she'll call it a parasol. Today is her twentieth birthday. She looks like Jenny, she's about the age that Jenny was when we first met; when we were born. She wears a huge, silly dress, black satin and red brocade, as is the fashion this week; she wears thin dancer's shoes and bangles on her wrists, and giggles behind her fan in the carriage, laughing at me and all my speeches.

Last night, she drove her car across the bridge from Nightmare, from her mother's court. They toasted her with champagne, a thousand vampires and beasts knelt at her feet. She blushes, claims boredom, even as she tells precisely how they laid their gifts down at her feet. I know she's more comfortable here, but you can't deny the thrill of it, the silly old-world customs and the sense of ceremony. It makes them happy, in their wilderness, to throw themselves on the wheels of history; next week they'll all be back to punk, or their Tokyo haircuts, or their Jacobean double-crosses, and she'll take to it like a fish to the sea, whatever it turns out to be. Sometimes I think it happens at her whim, and they only follow her lead. She's still the firstborn child of the Academy, and that carries a certain bellwether cache, even if nobody admits it.

But tonight, Tiger Lily and Babbage have arranged for a great storm, because that's what she and I love best, and we want her to remember this year. The last, we hope, in the Academy. Our best people and their children have been working for twenty years in the hopes that this will be the last. And in the midst of a great storm, the Academy will open up her doors, and we will go out into the strange new world. Like Titania and Oberon, with all attendant fairies, creatures of every description and strain, following along behind.

In battle, if it's battle that we'll find, I could ask for no better partner than my daughter. She is fierce as her father and wild as her mother; she combines intuition and bravery into a single burning weave, and carries it laughing into every conflict. But I'm gushing.

What I love about her is the shadow in her eyes, that reminds me of her mother. I love the stutter in her voice, that she got from Lantern, and her loping walk, the walk of a too-tall youth, that she seems to have picked up from Static. I love in her most the way her breath heaves when she's overjoyed, or exhausted, or when she's about to cut loose with wild laughter, or some grand story: that reminds me most of Sigma.

When she was a child, just learning at her mother's skirts and in her father's study, she would complain and weep until we put on the Sigma videos. She really took to him, to the memory of him. Bacon says it's because there was more Alexander material in his skein than we knew; I think he thinks he's being complimentary but I don't know. I don't want to draw the lines anymore, I just want to remember him. He always reminded me most of the Deans, if it comes down to that, and they just leave my Catherine cold.

She loves Olivier, and the Austens, and the quietness of the Turings. She knows they'll never crowd around her, or try to pick her up and dandle, which she hates more than anything. Such dignity she has, since birth; such ease with her affection when it's freely given, and so stingy when it is demanded. She bit a Fonda once.

She has only fallen in love once, to my knowledge, and that with one of those awful French theorists, about five years ago. She says they're the only ones that make any sense when they talk: they take an idea, your either/or, and they make of it a both-at-once, simply with their poetry. They take apart all that which tore us asunder, they made the Academy livable for Nightmares; and they smoke their godawful cigarettes and drink nasty wine and refuse to speak English. They're horrible and they have the worst taste in fashion, but she's always loved them. To watch her speak with them, even a few years ago, was heady, even when you couldn't follow. I'm still crap at French, of course, and even my Greek isn't what it was, but Catherine: the delirious tilt of her head, the coyness of a smile before she sends an arrow flying, right into a heart. She sees it all, and you, watching, learn to see a bit more of it alongside.

She says her true love is out there somewhere, in the wide world: that nothing will do for her but a savant. Of what, she doesn't care, but she says only somebody really good at something really small will do. She says she comes from Heirlooms and that it's an Heirloom she wants, one that never saw the Academy. Somebody from the ten or hundred or thousand years since we were all walled off, together -- for surely they've invented new arts in the meantime? Whatever the newest one is, she wants the man who is best at it. I blame her mother. Her mother says I just want him to be good-looking.

But look at her! The handsome, the glittering, the sternness of her beauty, her cheek like a white bird's wing, her arms, impossibly long. That's not for a mathematician, that's for a world-class athlete. That's for a Clark Kent nexus of perfection; she deserves a perfect mind in a perfect body with a perfect soul, like herself. It is the province of a father to see his children this way; it's not denial of fault but appreciation of the whole. You can be perfect and still flawed.

"It's where the light comes in," I muse aloud, and instantly regret it. The boys hurl first food and then shoot gouts of champagne at my back for even thinking it. They are so demanding. They've just loomed their second, a perfect mix of Alexander and Turing, this time a girl named Alice. She was born during a storm, too, with asthma and a sweet bucktoothed smile. Their Salamander is already one of the head scientists at the university, studying applied creative genetics. He's created a chimera that breathes real fire; they are delirious with pride.

Jenny's been with Pan in Scarlet, one pirate to another, for ten years now. Her lovers before then were mostly Nightmares, but I secretly always knew that she'd choose a story when it was time to settle down. Not that she's settled, not Pirate Jenny: she writes the most perverse and frightening plays, and gives them to our guys to perform. She and the Ortons have started up a troupe that travels the halls of the Academy endlessly, scaring the shit out of children and grownups alike; they've created new ways to divide language by itself.

Lantern spends some of the year with us in the halls, when Static gets too wild; I find myself in a strange between state, wishing for him to stay but wanting him to be with Static too. They somehow have it worked out, in a way I never could, and I am proud. One day, I hope, Static will outgrow that fierceness that agitates Lantern so. And, too, I hope he never does. I do wish I could see him more, especially when he's at his wildest. I miss that.

Catherine loves Static, I think, more than Lantern, but she was always a bit afraid of him growing up. Oh, the boys would hound her, picking her up and putting her down and dressing her up and taking her swimming; the endless boundless energy of their love was nothing compared to hers. They would begin with a full week's agenda, strapped and squeezed into a day, and by the end they'd be crying for relief, with Catherine in the highest boughs of a tree, or waving from across the sea, barely visible on some island she'd discovered.

Jenny, Alex, Static, Catherine, and poor Lantern. Poor sweet Lantern, in the middle of a wild family. I don't think he would have survived without Wills. Their relationship grew up and around and through the rest, like a thicket; it was only when I noticed they had something between them that I'd never understand that I realized I could finally love Wills, and gave him the signal. And he went. I won't bore you with descriptions of domestic bliss or hardship; we have a life and a complicated, strange family, and we live in the belly of a house as big as the universe, with stars at her crown and steam and gears and beasts in her guts. We have good days, more than bad ones, but just because it's yours doesn't make telling it any more interesting to anybody else. We get our hands dirty and we wash them again, and we apologize, and we keep searching and asking and finding. Side by side, not face to face. And if you trust someone enough to do that, the rest will iron itself out.

And neither will I tell you what happened to everybody else, in the intervening years: Bacon and Babbage, Tinker and the Bell, or the rest of the Turings, or the poets or the Cycles or Historicals or Sequels or any of the rest of it. Those are not my stories; they can tell you themselves, if they like. We only know a fraction of anybody else anyway, so I'd be hopelessly wrong. If I spent a lifetime writing down the lives of others, I'd still be hopelessly wrong. But they are happy more often than not, and the Academy loves them, and we have built a world, and that is enough.

I took Catherine upstairs earlier today, to see the looms, and she was fascinated. She says Salamander is going to teach her to create her own creations, to make new life. I think she'll make a lovely scientist, if that's what she chooses, although I do wish she'd study her history and war a bit more closely. She says the canon and the histories don't excite her as much as stories, but that not even stories are as exciting as science. Telling stories with real things, she says. She can work the walls and boards almost as well as Babbage, by this point, although she never got the hang of whistling and singing to them the way he did. The way Sigma did.

I put tulips in the hangar, the meet-point, whenever I feel like it. Sometimes it's three times in a week; sometimes a year goes by. Sometimes I find little offerings from others, in the same place, from those that knew and loved him. A pile of transistors from Bacon, the ashes of a new poem that nobody will ever read, from Wills. A child's whistle from the Turings, a bright painting by Static, an encoded message from Lantern. I don't look too closely at them, for fear I'd try to decode them, try to tease out some meaning, try to know what it was between them, in the long passages of time when I was broken, or simply gone, and the rest of them made do without me. Jenny makes a little black mark on the stone with charcoal whenever she visits. I think it's Jenny, but it could be anybody, I suppose.

I think it's partly modesty, my desire to let their love be theirs, that drives me from talking about Sigma very often. I think it's partly selfish fear, to hear a story or some particular movement or phrase that signifies him to them: to think, I saw him do that thing, or say that word, a million times, and it was never special until someone else said it, and now that you've mentioned it, I am pierced with longing, but it belongs to you. Guilt is for the living. But I think also that I am too embarrassed to say aloud something that it has taken me twenty years to figure out: that for all my war, for the fierceness I have learned to love in myself and in my daughter, my story was ultimately a romance. What began at the loom as a story about violence, and sex, and the very hardest journeys, ended up being a love story, all along. I spent so long, so much of my life, telling a story about war, only to find I'd been talking about love.

We move out, an infinity of identical cars, racing toward the sun, and when we reach the doors, the Academy heaves them open with a laugh, from the sky. As though the sun is laughing, delighting in us now. As though the Academy has finally deemed us worthy of the world outside; as though we've grown up enough to start a brand new story. We looks from window to window, grinning madly, at this last and best gift from the world. Wills and Catherine and I catch the eyes of Lantern and Static and their children on the one side, look over at Jenny and Peter on the other. The infinite growl of infinite engines rings out in the sun, like a pride of lions, before we are off again, into the world. And little Addie Lovelace, now with children of her own, dances in the sunlight, and holds her handkerchief aloft, and then drops it, like a white bird in the sun. Inside the Academy there is love, and finally comfort, and all the needs you could ever have, fulfilled. But outside, there is tomorrow.

We will wake it up.

* * *
"Thy drugs are quick!" I say again when I awake, and the boys know from my face that I am back. My sadness is a weight upon my face, like a hot and dry and heavy thing, I know, but they're relieved nonetheless.

"And what will we do today?"

"We're still recovering all the data on the Nightmares, classifying them for their treatments."

"I can't imagine."

"Most of them don't want it, of course. But the more dangerous ones have been put into context, and given the choice. To live here, as brothers."

"Or what?"

"To go back out into Nightmare, and to accede to the armistice we've brokered."

"You've made peace?"

"Not just us. Once the transmitter went down, most people started to see that it was a good idea."

"Static, is Lantern being modest?"

"Yeah. It was mostly us. There wasn't really anybody else who could handle it. Jenny said we were being obstinate but she eventually caved. I think she was just being Jenny."

"Have you see Catherine?"

"She is great."

Lantern snickers.

"...I mean, she's beautiful and you can tell she's smart. It was hard juggling her and dealing with the rest of it too. Jenny says she doesn't really like kids but she loves her as much as the rest of us do."

"I wonder if she'll know me."

"She should, they brought her in every day when you were down. She stared at your face, and touched it, and when you'd breathe she would chuckle and throw herself upon your neck."

"She knew me?"

"She liked you. I don't know. She's just a stupid baby. But she liked you."

"And Jenny is well?"

"She didn't leave your side."

"She's weird," coughs Lantern, and Static laughs.

"She's weird, but she's good. I think she's good, you know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I do."

"I know that it was hard, going with her, but I wanted to say that I ..."

"Static, it's not necessary."

"But it is, so let me say it. Thank you."

"I didn't have any options."

"I was a beast! I turned into an animal! I did really bad stuff!"

"And look at us now, though."

"I think I could spend the rest of my life making up for it."

"We all feel that way, Static. Every single person."

"I don't know."

"I do."

And I do. Remember, and forget. Remember and forget and keep moving, keep going, keep building. Remember this for next time: keep moving. When your hands are dirty, wash them clean. Your only duty in this life or any other is more kindness, more joy, more delight. To follow passion where it leads, into the sun. But I don't say it, because he would just laugh at me, and call me an old maudlin man. Old silly poet, rambling about passion and joy and bullshit abstraction. Sad old man, just a year his senior.

But I don't feel like an old man, broken and sad and building on wreckage. I feel young.

"That's Sigma!" exclaims Lantern.


"That look on your face. You were thinking of him."

Perhaps I was.

END Chapter Nine: SOMEONE
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"Thy drugs are quick!" I say, but I can feel the language draining away from me again, before he's even removed the needle. Everything is shiny, and silver, and sad. I remember first this hall, White hall, and down below I remember Red and Yellow and Green and Blue. Remember Botany days on Green hall, the smell that filled the air. I remember the rumbles, and the blood that used to scare me so. There's something bad, having to do with blood but I swerve around it, and keep going, into memory.

I remember my body: the strength and size and power of it. Testing the limits in those first days, running until I dropped of exhaustion, climbing to the tops of things. I remember pain and I remember pleasure, and I remember learning how much I could withstand of each. I remember trying desperately to communicate with it, as though through a thick screen, unable to reconcile its desires with the person I wanted to be. I remember hiding away sometimes in the dark and secret places of myself, and other times pushing thoughts and memories into those dark places. I remember playing games with the others, taking their desire and my ability to resist as a sign of what my body wanted, because it was too far and distant to know the truth of it plain. The drug is searing in my blood.

I remember Sigma, all at once, and I try to stay at the beginning of that story: remembering our meetings long ago, the clipboard and the questionnaires. I remember in a secret place my wonder and delight that he could so easily accede to the bonds of yearning and commonality that yoked us together; I remember taking his desire as proof that I was the stronger man, for being less desirous, for being less in contact with the truth of me and of our flesh. I remember hot and fervid nights alone, listening to Wills and Kit trying to be whole together, pressing down against my flesh and wishing desperately for sleep. I remember how the sight of Sigma turned in me like secret shameful lock, and I remember how it was that I stepped through the door it revealed, and how it was only light on the other side. How it felt like this, like Remembering.

I remember all the Stories and the Cycles and the Sequels and the rest of it, all the contexts, all the times I came back to him in tatters, hating him for making me do those things in the first place, and I remember the kindness and the sadness in his eyes. Every time. I remember how tenderly, how gingerly he ministered to me each time, relegating some blame to the doctors and the teachers, taking on most of my rage for himself.

I remember hurting him, in my fear and my confusion. I feel shame. There isn't a way, now, to apologize for that. Perhaps there never was. Perhaps within his love and his easy touch afterwards is contained all the apology I can give. Perhaps his kindness overruled any apology I could give, now that he is gone. I remember being a prostitute and I remember being a woman and I remember being a young weak boy, full of shame. I remember all the lives we lived, together and separately, and I remember how he brought me back, every single time.

I remember the end of the Sequels, how we whooped and shouted, how he rejoiced in our wild flight through the halls of the Academy, the destruction and the glory that followed us; I remember lying with Sigma and the rest of them on the floor in the Black, discussing the Academy, and sending the Raven on its flight. I remember killing Alan Turing, afraid of what I was becoming; afraid of the weakness of his love, disgusted at the way he turned up his throat for the killing blow. And yet I remember Lantern, later, and the Turings, and how none of us could forgive or shrive, and yet we somehow forged new truth. I remember Alan's body on the floor, as my brothers and my Sigma performed incantations on my sickened body. I remember Alexander the Great, his conquests and his loves. I remember how much I missed him, when he was gone, and never spoke a word. How often I thought of him, how I wished somehow Sigma could meet him and love him as I do: this other self, this other Alexander, now dead a billion years or more, this infinity of lions coursing through my veins.

I remember the time after the Raven, when we gathered together in the wreckage and pretended to life; I remember months in the basketball courts, before we cleared the debris from halls and got the lights working. I remember our little family, Sigma and Alex and Lantern and Static, our stumbly mornings spent bumping into each other and grumbling, giggling, foraging together. I remember Wills, the wonderful light in him, the way he told his stories and wove upon his loom, and how we made a world in the cracks between what used to be. I remember the way he'd look across at me sometimes, and the sad wish in his eyes, as I tended to my boys. I remember my secret joy, at finally finding a way to exclude him, the way he'd always excluded me, too concerned with his own pleasure and his own life to try harder to fit me into it. We could have been lovers and instead were barely friends, and yet closer than friends too; I remember how my own fear locked him out of the places he understood in me best. I remember resentment and I remember returning that resentment tenfold whenever I could: so, I thought in dark places where I couldn't even hear the thoughts, now you know what it is, to want and to be left out, in the cold.

I remember our quest to bring the tribes together, after the Raven: the sickening anger and pain of Jack and the proud repudiation of Ralph. I remember the way Simon wanted nothing more than to touch me, to see the fire that I always saw. I remember thinking of him, when I was with God, and wondering if I was finally touching something of his. He died before I knew how badly I wanted to know him. I remember the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily and Alice-turned-Wendy, how we anguished at their plight but were too kind to take away their mayfly joys and excesses. I remember Tiger Lily most of all, for all her strength, and for the brave honesty of her love, and how I longed for her to love me too. I remember Peter, and the light in Sigma's eyes for him; I see now in remembering how much he reminded Sigma of me, and how this love was only ours, reflected. I remember hating Peter for it, even as I grew to care for him, and never once did it occur to me that Sigma's love for him was only another chapter in our story.

I remember the day the Black Freighter arrived, with Pirate Jenny at the prow, and I remember the day she showed me what they'd done to Static; I remember what she did to the Hybrids, and feel a thing I still can't name. I remember going with her, into Nightmare, and the adjustments that were made. I remember the awful, wonderful dreams I dreamt, when I went Forgetting. I remember the taste of God's lips on mine, and the grief when I'd returned to earth, like a Lost Boy fallen from his Heaven. I remember perfect Will, and killing Jack and Ginger, and the voice of Sigma on the stair.

I begin to weep, and can remember no more. I take some tea from Static's hand, and give Lantern's a tiny squeeze, and lie down with my boys in a hammock big enough for three, and look up to the false moon of the Academy, and promise to remember more tomorrow. I don't look into their eyes, but I know what they are feeling: all I am Remembering, they lived too. If I looked into their faces, the fresh beauty of them, I would see only my sadness reflected, and their shame at having forced me into Remembering, and I would shatter, and so I do not look. I sleep, and I dream, and all through my body and my blood, I burn with Remembering.
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This is only Telling. I may not get the words right.

This world is nothing but the butterfly, dreaming that he is a king. This world is nothing but a king, dreaming he is the butterfly. And when he wakes, all our miseries will be joys. We are all genetic memories of imperfect men who died at their allotted time. You are just a man by virtue of generic Y added to fruitful X, and you laugh instead of listening, but all the things she says are true. In your own repair you earn the love she's always given.

She has appeared to you in many guises, as a boy and as a man, as a girl and as a woman. She has been your father, Philip, and she has been the Great God Pan. She has come to you in the form of a lover, and you have broken your own heart upon her dream. You have traveled on a long, long road, and a short one. You burn with love, and with hate, and you have ended the world, again and again. You have cut the Gordian knot with love and hate and fire.

Shattered dreams and worthless years. Here am I, encased inside a hollow shell. Life began, then was done. Now I stare into a cold and empty well. The many sounds that meet our ears, the sights our eyes behold, will open up our merging hearts and feed our empty souls. And I believe when I fall in love with you, she says, it will be forever. And you will know peace, and in your repair you do nothing but to pay back all my sacrifice.

Inside our cage there are two families, and you have united them, in death. Inside our cage you created three families, and united them in love. Inside our cage there were seven families, and you brought them together in Nightmare and convergence. Inside our cage there are eleven, thirteen, seventeen families and you have united them, skein to skein to skein. Inside our cage there are nineteen families, and you unite them still. You have been prime and you have been bent under the wheel; you have conquered and you have been conquered; you have dived down into the deeps of love and wound your way around ancient pillars and sacred temples to gods and demons we cannot name, like a boy after pearls.

There are no families, and you have been divided by 0, and the whole world has fallen apart, into disuse and no meaning at all. You have brought the word: that there is only one family, only one family, but you have not united them. There are two families and you have not united them. You have beat yourself upon the stone and done no good. There are three families, five, eight, thirteen, twenty-one families and you will never unite them. Your strong back, wide chest, firm body, all of them have languished while you pretend to peace, while you made love in Nightmare and worked your horror magics on the loom.

You have learned to love, and you've forgotten. You have loved so much that you must never hate again, never fear or anger or pain, only love, and it is killing you, and it is killing the world. Your hateful and beloved ignorance kills the Academy and the blueprint, and no context exists that can free you now, for your chains are self-wrought and all this is death and it is abomination. You ended the world, and burnt your brothers' eyes to whiteness. You knew and loved a Hybrid, a man named Sigma, and you live now in the space that memory has left, and this is ugliness and madness, for in your heart he could live on, on and on again. Every time you love, they'll disappear, and every time you will forget, and every time you will not know enough to mourn.

It's in the way your arms cling to your sides, the way your ears twitch when I say Sigma. You are the confirmation of a theory older than the Academy herself, and exactly as old, and somewhat younger than this new life of Someone. This life is an art project by an insane man, and not a God at all, and outside this Academy there lies a truth that's greater yet. There's not a reason, there is no reason in this world. But knowing and in loving Sigma Boy, you have killed and brought the man to life, and killed him once again. If you stay within these walls, we will all die tomorrow. We must wake up tomorrow, and you must be the first through the door. You must wake up tomorrow.

"How can I? What must I do?"

It's all lies. You are weaving a working that will give peace to every brother and sister of every strain and cultivar. You worry too much about eventualities, about maybe this and maybe that, when all that really matters is that you love. You love when you know not that you love, and hate now when you know nothing of hate, and that your every misstep scratches great gouges in the skin and flesh of the Academy, even as she wraps herself around you, warm and full of strength and Heaven.

"Then what must I do?"

Only kindness. Only kindness, and to love that which does not deserve it most. Even when it's you, Alex. Even when you're the hateful thing, you must be brave enough. You must love that most of all which does not deserve it. You must knit yourself together, with only the ragged strength of your hands at their work. With only your love at your back, urging you on, urging you up, with only Static and Lantern and Catherine the Great watching, standing at your side, you must do this work, and thus wake up tomorrow.

"How do I do it? How can I come home to that?"

Only kindness, Alex. Only turn that greatest power, that passion and the strength and the fierceness of your love, on the place it can do the most damage, and give the most aid.

"I am afraid of him. I don't think that he would welcome any love at all."

The boys weren't wrong. He'd think you were a weakling.

"Even if I'm right?"

For not trying. Pick up your needle and your thread, Alexander. Pick up your needle, and your thread, and start the great work again. And thus you pay tribute to him, and to Sigma, and to all of us that ever loved you. To all of us that ever loved. To all of us. Set yourself upon the loom of your life, its warp and its woof, and begin the work of weaving it again.

"They said he was the one that stitched me back together. He was the bird I followed, into sunset. Every context, ever story, he saved me in the end, and taught me to be human again."

Nobody ever saved you, and nobody ever lifted you up.

"And on this loom I'll be reborn?"

Nobody is ever reborn, and nobody is innocent. Your hands are dirty: wash them clean.
* * *
Bacon comes again anon, proffering his drugs and simples. I make ready to send him on his way again, but he lays down his blanket and his trash around himself in fairy circles, and prepares himself for Telling.

"There's no need, Bacon. I need hear nothing you can bring me, Telling."

"I bring news of the Academy and blueprint," he says, shaking his shaggy head.

"The blueprint? Is that still a part of the stories you weave?"

"The Academy has broken through a worldly crust. She speaks again."

"Babbage will be pleased."

"Babbage and the Turings can speak of nothing else. And in turn she speaks of nothing else but you."

"I? The Academy thinks still of me? I am nothing, just a child in the wilderness. I am nothing but a babe, as my sons and brothers have told me again and again."

"She speaks of nothing else."

"And what is it, Bacon, that she says."

His eyes roll back with whiteness like a dawning.
* * *
Lantern does not come again. But by and by, Static comes again. His visits are erratic, but always joyful and exhilarating. He brings a silvered glass, a mirror, and we look at our faces together in the reflection: so different and so close to the same thing, expressed as in two voices. He is beautiful, and thereby I realize that I am still beautiful. Even after all I suffered, in that other life, I still have that. Perhaps everyone falls in love, though, when they see their faces on the glass. Or perhaps stranger still, they grow more beautiful in the faces of their children; perhaps by leaps and bounds they grow.

But he is not my child; he is another me. They tell me, back before the world began, that others, strange elderly doctors and teachers, were given to the rearing and the education of us all; before the beginning of the world, they tell me, I would have called him brother. But he would not have looked at me this way, like a son to his father; he would not beg and beat upon my chest with his demands to look into the mirror. To look until I see the mystery there he cannot name.

Static says that I am a wild thing, that all this pleasantness and softness is abomination. He says even Lantern and the Turings now find me weak. It is a ploy, the kind of ploy that he would play, and I do love him for it, but I am unmoved. He tells me stories, his uncanny love for Lantern and for the boys of Coral Island, who shuddered and shook under a Black sky for years. He tells me of our Sigma, unmindful of the rules, explains the height and breadth of my love for this strange man whose face I cannot picture. I form a very book of love upon the very shoals of these long songs and descriptions, and can believe I would love such a one, the picture of 36 whom I saw when I awoke after Forgetting.

36 does not visit nor does he send any message. I know that he loves without knowing why he loves, and my heart does ache for him, but Static says it's just too hard for him. That the wildness beneath my skin, which none see but all remember, is too frightening and too strong for him.

"And yet I show no sign of it!"

"We all feel it, like a lion in the room."

"Should not a man know that strength and that wildness, when it holds court within his bosom?"

"You have made a decision, Alex. Some time in the past before we got to you, before we found you on the floor, when you were waking and looked at first on this new love, you decided that your love would bear no fierceness. And so you have locked yourself away, without Remembering and without even the warp of your own loom to show you true."

"I do not wish to be violent, Static. I do not wish to rage or to remember."

"And yet it lies within you, twice over."

"Will you too abandon me, most beloved brother and son?"

"I will not. The call of your blood to mine is too specific and too strong. But I will remind, and cajole, and I will never rest until you are free and whole again, because this is the secret that we share: this constant burning as a fire, to know and cleave only to that which is true."

"Because you are a little beast, you see a beast in me."

"We are of the same flesh and loom and blood, Alex. I know the sound of your heartbeat, for it is my own."

"And so in all your disappointment and fear that I will ever forsake Remembering, where is the rhythm of your love for me now?"

"You, as you are?"

"Aye. As I am. For I could not love you more."

"By your own words you damn yourself. If you love me, this face and this wildness and our faces in the glass, then so must you love yourself. You cannot discount within your soul that fire which you love most tenderly in mine. You cannot say that we are not brothers, closer than brothers, identical under the skin. By giving your own secrets this selfish and childish rejection, so do you damn me as you go. So how can you say in truth that I am loved?"

"Do not make of my love a poor and paltry copy. You do me and yourself disservice."

"Not I, sir. You decide to hate your soul, and in doing so you render me worthless in your own heart, for all the truths you fear about yourself are here, in me, and as I sit by you our blood sings, each to each. If you do not love as fire and the storm, as I do, you make a lie of my own love."

"I love you in my own way and need not trap myself upon your screen. It is youth that makes you think all love must be equal and thus forfeit. I must love that which is in you with my whole being, but that does not mean it lies in me."

"Then you do not love. You say to me, Static, you are wild and free and strong, and I love those things in you, but in my heart I am too good to be the same. I am too good for wildness, I am too old for freedom, too tempered for any strength. You are vile insulting and a liar besides."

"I feel my love and passion are a great river that, unboxed, would destroy the world."

"And this too is love."

"I choose to swim in other rivers now."

"To choose is not to live, or to love. You box yourself up in a coward's winding-sheet and kill the man we all must love. You make our grief a mockery and expect we love you just the same."

"Ah, you break my heart. I know your love is but a pale copy for the man I have become. How can you think I do not know that? How can you think I would expect the truth and fire of your love, when you make of me a puppet of your love? I am the face you remember and the body you did love, and within I am a monster, and you look at this and pretend to love. I am prepared to accept this token, though it breaks my heart, for where you love with half a heart, I love completely. I know no other life."

"Perhaps you speak aright, my brother. Perhaps you are worth only these tokens and these memories of greater love. But I think not. I think our pride is that of lions, and that somewhere inside, even though Forgetting has stripped away your warp, somewhere inside their lies your weft, and that cries out to burn. And so we love the screen, and the man projected on it, but we too are content."

"Lantern isn't."

"Lantern is a boy abandoned in the flower of his youth, who wants only to know the secrets of all those whom he loves. He fell down from Heaven, Alex, at your hand, and every day is a ragged crawl across the glass and stones and thorns of the world, back to even simple happiness. Lantern has surpassed you, for having been Lost and then been Found again, he has danced across the coals. And him born without the fearlessness or strength or power that is your birthright: he moved one foot ahead of the other, and learned again to be alive. He stitches happiness and love from the scraps of nothing. I will not blame him for his impatience. His fall from Heaven was not his fault, but he was a man: he was brave and took hold of his fate, and steered himself into a port. And here you sit, day after day, floating on the absence of grief, this pretense of living."

"Then I must ask why it is that you attend me."

"What do you mean?"

"You love him so; why spend time with a hollow man, a puppet of fantasy, a coward and a liar, when you could drink him in and watch his every heroic movement?"

"For every day that you sit, obstinate and silly and insensate, you lose the right to ask me that. My story and Lantern's is none of your concern; our story is reserved to us and to Alexander alone, not his shade."

"And with the airy word of a gossip it comes clearly! You wish to taunt me with your secrets, thus to prove myself upon the anvil of your hopes and awful dreams. I will not be so manipulated, boy, I will not watch you twist me on your words, or pin me with them, or steer my ship anywhere but where I am. Let me live out my days, part of your story or outwith it, it makes no difference to me. I love you according to our bond, no more no less."

"This is the voice of fear and willed stupidity. I pity you so, father. Your blindness is blight upon all that which we share, in our blood and in our bodies. You revolt against your own self, so afraid of simple life, and with such venom and terror that you wish to drive me from you forevermore."

"I am an old man."

"You are three years old, three months since your Forgetting. You are nothing like."

"And yet I ache in my bones and in my back, my Static, and I know not where to turn."

"Toward the sun. What is your word? What is the word of the thing that drives you?"

"Only kindness."

"Your kindness to yourself is destruction to the world. Wake from this dream."

"Would it not be meet to split the task? Alternating days you and your brother Lantern could pin me to a million punch-cards; you could be wild and harsh and he could be calm and loving, and thus worry me to death."

"Alex, that's what we're doing. You've pushed Lantern to this point, and he ..."

"He abandoned me! Left me bleeding for his love, when we could have done with only kindness."

"He stands outside that door, waiting for Alexander."

"I am here."

"We all stand outside that door, waiting for you. Waiting for you to wake up. Tomorrow, perhaps, we say, this fear and loathing will subside, and our beloved Alex will return. And every day, you beat us back with harshness and with empty, gormless words of love."

"Then I suppose one day you'll have to give in, to give up, to give me a moment of peace and go back to your own lives."

"You do not know me, if you say that. I am Alexander, of your skein. I do not give in, I do not give up. I know nothing of peace."

"Then that is your tragedy."

"And yours. You lie even now."

"I say nothing but the truth: what I wish is to be left alone, to float along on nothingness and never again to feel the pain and fear I see in your eyes and the rest of them."

"When even Pirate Jenny is shamed on your behalf..."

"Jenny is the perfect example! She is strength and wildness and all the chaos you could want! That is what you wish, that is your Alexander. Take her for me and leave me be."

"Jenny wants you to come out, too. Jenny wants you whole."

"Jenny is another attacker and invader."

"Attacker and invader is all you see, for your war is all defense and lies of peace."

"This is not war! I have no war in me!"

"Then you are nothing."
* * *
Lantern comes to me, and consents to my hands upon his face. He fits himself alongside, in my bed, and dozes there, and when we are awake we speak of this and that, and when we sleep it is the sleep of lions.


"My Lantern."

"This is only dream. You must wake up."

"I am awake. I have in my Forgetting become a new man, beloved and loving, and I am surrounded with family. I feel of an age. I would not tender you such affection if I were that man, that cruel and fearful and violent man."

"It lies in you as it lay in him. You must seek a convergence."

"I see no consequence to this Forgetting. You are being obstinate."

"It's not real, though. That's enough."

"Is contentment such an offense to the young?"

"I'm less than a year younger than you."

"And yet they tell me I taught you language."

"And so you did. But now we are of an age. No, less. You are now a babe."

"Lantern, this perfection is enough. You must becalm yourself and tame these wild fancies."

"The world is a screen on which we are shone, like a light out of the darkness. What you do now is a horror and a travesty. You defame the screen of yourself with this half-life."

"I know your spheres and philosophy, Lantern. I am no more real today than I would be on Remembering. We are only ever particles and shades of ourselves, collections of trifles. The truth of us will never exist, never be apprehensible."

"And yet it is our duty, Alex. To apprehend what we can, to come as close as we ever can. It is our duty to be vigilant, to swim down into the depths of ourselves ever and anon, every day seeking some new shameful and some new beautiful truth. To compose the portrait of ourselves as close to truth as can be. This is our only duty."

"My duty is to bring you joy."

"And so you do, Alex. But these are not my words, they are yours. I know that you respect the man that you once were."

"As do we all. But he is gone."

"And you do him shame in keeping him buried."

"I do him kindness! I keep him pure!"

"These were the words of Alexander. A brave man, who swam down through every story and every painful day, to bring back sometimes a single pearl. A man who, looking upon himself within the glass, never stopped trying to uncover the truth. Alexander, whose shame and fear were proportionate to his beauty, and his strength, and never once shrank back from this sacred duty. Know thyself, he said, again and again. A brave man."

"What are you saying?"

"He would hate you, in this time. He would be disgusted by your weakness."

"Boy, you speak of things you do not know."

"This is the last response and bastion of a frightened old man. A coward."

"And you speak in the silly forcefulness of youth."

"Alex would hate you now. Sigma would never have ..."

"-- What say? Who, boy? Speak that name again."

"They told us we should not. I speak out of turn. I must away, Alex."

"Say the name again."

"I speak of Sigma, your one true love, who loved best what you now relinquish and defame."

"This bravery, I call it self-obsession."

"I speak now, Lantern, who knows all the world is only a projection on the screen before your eyes. We are caged up in our little worlds, and must spend our lives in making them grow. The garden of the world and all its denizens grows up and on the tears we shed in your ill-named self-obsession."

"And why in all Academy should I spend this energy unearthing old and painful secrets, when that energy can be spent in love and bringing joy to you, and to my family?"

"Because when you are not you, when you are not fully yourself, when you willfully deny this knowledge, your love is made a lie."

"I do not lie when I say I love you, here and now, in this body and with no name."

"And yet it is base cowardice. You must repair yourself, and in so doing you remake the world."


"You cast aspersions on self-obsession because you are afraid. You deny the truth because you wish it, not because of honor. Your obsession is in avoiding your own heart and mind, not in meekness. There is no meekness in you, only pretense, and indulging only brings you further from the world."

"Lantern, you say again and again that we are never real; that we build our faces to meet the faces that we meet. Sit at a terminal, you say, sit at a terminal and determine the humanity on the other side."

"And on the other side I see a liar and a contemptible criminal, who steals a life from a worthier man."

"How can you say these things? How can you do these things and claim to love?"

"Because I love, I say them. Wake up. You must wake up from this dream."

"This purity. I know enough from watching that I was not always content; that beasts and storms beat beneath his skin."

"And in full knowledge you can repair."

"I am repaired already, Lantern."

"Alexander would protest; would know this is just a coward's shortcut. You must grow large enough to contain him and joy both."

"Perhaps I am afraid, after all. Perhaps you are right, dear one. And so then? Will you make my decisions for me now?"

"You taught me that the thing we fear is the thing we must first love, before others, before even ourselves: find the fear and dive into it, like a boy after pearls."

"I was not content then."

"And yet you were a man. Once."

"You cannot say these things and love."

"You deserve no love, in this blind and fearful state. I love you according to our bond, no more no less. I will not come again."

"You would abandon and forfend the man that taught you love?"

"That man is dead, you tell me. You protest, mayhap too much, and say that man is dead. I say only that he loves you as I do, and that you can remake the world. With my hand in yours, and Static, and Wills, and Bacon and Babbage and Pirate Jenny, you can make a man worth loving of the animate flesh and skin you have become."

"That man is dead. Let him lie."

"I shall not come again. I call you father and pronounce you dead."

"You wound me."

"Alexander. If you cannot see thus how you wound me in turn, your wounds are nothing on my conscience. You do not love. You cannot love, if this is your choice."

"You break a father's heart."

"You have none. You have disowned it."
* * *
* * *