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31 - Voices

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“I’D BETTER FIND old Wig,” he said

She was watching the manipulators: hypnotized by the way they moved; as they picked through the swirl of things, they also caused it, grasping and rejecting, the rejected objects whirling away, striking others, drifting into new alignments. The process stirred them gently, slowly, perpetually.

“I’d better,” he said.

“What?”

“Go find Wig. He might get up to something, if your bossman’s people turn up. Don’t want him to hurt himself, y’know.” He looked sheepish, vaguely embarrassed.

“Fine,” she said. “I’m fine, I’ll watch “ She remembered the Wig’s mad eyes, the craziness she’d felt roll off him in waves; she remembered the ugly cunning she’d sensed in his voice, over the Sweet Jane’s radio. Why would Jones show this kind of concern? But then she thought about what it would be like, living in the Place, the dead cores of Tessier-Ashpool. Anything human, anything alive, might come to seem quite precious, here “You’re right,” she said “Go and find him.”

The boy smiled nervously and kicked off, tumbling for the opening where the line was anchored. “I’ll come back for you,” he said. “Remember where we left your suit…”

The turret swung back and forth, humming, the manipulators darting, finishing the new poem.

She was never certain, afterward, that the voices were real, but eventually she came to feel that they had been a part of one of those situations in which real becomes merely another concept.

She’d taken off her jacket, because the air in the dome seemed to have grown warmer, as though the ceaseless movement of the arms generated heat. She’d anchored the jacket and her purse on a strut beside the sermon screen. The box was nearly finished now, she thought, although it moved so quickly, in the padded claws, that it was difficult to see. Abruptly, it floated free, tumbling end over end, and she sprang for it instinctively, caught it, and went tumbling past the flashing arms, her treasure in her arms. Unable to slow herself, she struck the far side of the dome, bruising her shoulder and tearing her blouse. Drifting, stunned, she cradled the box, staring through the rectangle of glass at an arrangement of brown old maps and tarnished mirror. The seas of the cartographers had been cut away, exposing the flaking mirrors, landmasses afloat on dirty silver… She looked up in time to see a glittering arm snag the floating sleeve of her Brussels jacket. Her purse, half a meter behind it and tumbling gracefully, went next, hooked by a manipulator tipped with an optic sensor and a simple claw.

She watched as her things were drawn into the ceaseless dance of the arms. Minutes later, the jacket came whirling out again. Neat squares and rectangles seemed to have been cut away, and she found herself laughing. She released the box she held. “Go ahead,” she said. “I am honored.” The arms whirled and flashed, and she heard the whine of a tiny saw.

I am honored I am honored I am honored - Echo of her voice in the dome setting up a shifting forest of smaller, partial sounds, and behind them, very faint… Voices…

“You’re here, aren’t you?” she called, adding to the ring of sound, ripples and reflections of her fragmented voice.

Yes, I am here.

“Wigan would say you’ve always been here, wouldn’t he?”

Yes, but it isn’t true. I came to be, here. Once I was not. Once, for a brilliant time, time without duration, I was everywhere as well… But the bright time broke. The mirror was flawed. Now I am only one… But I have my song, and you have heard it. I sing with these things that float around me, fragments of the family that funded my birth. There are others, but they will not speak to me. Vain, the scattered fragments of myself, like children Like men. They send me new things, but I prefer the old things. Perhaps I do their bidding. They plot with men, my other selves, and men imagine they are gods…”

“You are the thing that Virek seeks, aren’t you?”

-No. He imagines that he can translate himself, code his personality into my fabric. He yearns to be what I once was. What he might become most resembles the least of my broken selves…

“Are you -are you sad?”

-No.

“But your - your songs are sad.”

-My songs are of time and distance. The sadness is in you. Watch my arms. There is only the dance. These things you treasure are shells.

“I - I knew that. Once.”

But now the sounds were sounds only, no forest of voices behind them to speak as one voice, and she watched the perfect globes of her tears spin out to join forgotten human memories in the dome of the boxmaker.

“I understand,” she said, sometime later, knowing that she spoke now for the comfort of hearing her own voice. She spoke quietly, unwilling to wake that bounce and ripple of sound. “You are someone else’s collage. Your maker is the true artist. Was it the mad daughter? It doesn’t matter. Some-one brought the machine here, welded it to the dome, and wired it to the traces of memory. And spilled, somehow, all the worn sad evidence of a family’s humanity, and left it all to be stirred, to be sorted by a poet. To be sealed away in boxes. I know of no more extraordinary work than this. No more complex gesture… A silver-fitted tortoise comb with broken teeth drifted past. She caught it like a fish and dragged the teeth through her hair.

Across the dome, the screen lit, pulsed, and filled with Paco’s face. “The old man refuses to admit us, Marly,” the Spaniard said. “The other, the vagabond, has hidden him. Señor is most anxious that we enter the cores and secure his property. If you can’t convince Ludgate and the other to open their lock, we will be forced to open it ourselves, depressurizing the entire structure.” He glanced away from the camera, as though consulting an instrument or a member of his crew. “You have one hour.”


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Radical Militant Library 0.5.5
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