Friday, 31 January 2014
((BEING CERTAIN SEGMENTS CUT FROM AN EARLY DRAFT OF JEWELL))
In this quadrant there are fifteen major concentrations of life. Four of them are easily understood: migrating geotheres that settled into quiescence two thousand years past, fused their network of roots with the ground, and rode the chemical eqilibria down to a long hybernation. Observed from the Tower in certain spectra the vegetation of the Land traces their major axons, feeding off the bacteria which in turn consume their wastes, though they have ceased spreading. One clangorous pit is a nest of scavenging mansonyaggers. Seven other groups are abHuman communities, scattered half-human cultures of temporary residence and ambiguous status pressing hard against the constraints of existence in the Land. Their technology will never rise above molten iron and lava glass blades, because if they become too intelligent they are prey for pneumavores and vanish. And two loci show wandering twists of space that seem to radiate some intelligence but take no action. They are probes, dreams, or wounds from the unknowable realms.
The larger and more distant threats need not be mapped because they are eternal. The Thing that Nods has not shifted within the reach of any record, and the Dark Palace holds its frigid layers of machine knowledge inviolate and threatens only the dreams of children. The two adjacent Watchers are not even to be viewed without conceptual shielding. Cybernetic illusions are employed to mask their faces in the Cannon's gunSight, and simple wielded iron baffles prevent any worker engaged in physical repair of the mounting from seeing what would kill them.
Of the middle rank, greater than the scuttling of animals and half-men but less formidable than the eternal geographies of the Night, is the Dead Titan, which lies sprawled a league southeast from the Circle. Beyond it on the left the Kilns glow ulfire-red. On the right is the slow turning of the Vane Light, an illuminance which settled on this spot thirty thousand years past and apparently coordinates the slow trooping of the Stone Men as they scavenge of the Titan's fabric. The beast itself was was broken by some concatenation of ordinance fifty thousand years ago and now only its nonorganic components remain, slumped in a mile-long hill. The ruined frame can still be seen behind great scrolls of peeled-back dermis, and ancient rents burned right through the exoskeleton dot its prothorax and mesothorax, but it is impossible to tell which were dealt by the guns of the Redoubt and which are simple decay or the eruption of its dying internal energies. Husks and nests of scavenging beasts make a scattered detritus around it which merges with the fragments of its disintegration, yet parts of it seem to live. Bobbing motes of light trickle from ports in its middle section and pool on the ground, drifting and slowly fading, and from time to time one of the turreted eyes that dot its slumped and bulging left flank glows or swivels and seems to be trying to focus. Two thousand years past one of its outthrown legs was witnessed to move a few fathoms, but nothing more happened and it was only thought needful to sever it at the tarsus with a stream of energy, since it could have swept across the Circle if it had moved in its full arc.
Sometimes it emits week-long pulses of infrasound. Perhaps it is screaming.
The Cannon remains in ready status. His central core is a sixty-fathom long and ten-fathom wide projector of actinic light. The thread of ionised air this creates acts as a guide for the earth-current or as a conductor for atropotaic patterns as the target dictates. The pattern generator is even larger than the cannon but is fixed to one side with only its conductive webs intersecting the beam line, and the channels for the raw earth-current, bulking on the other side, are solid metal a fathom thick. The hanger is conical, with the narrow end where the cannon is pivoted pressing against the port in the Redoubt wall and the flaring skirt expanding to left and right to give the great cylinder a full two radians of traverse.
The ceiling and the walls and the partitions and nonfunctional elements of the mounting are chased and decorated with the ancient stories of the cannon's battles. Charging gryphons dissolve in a river of fire, and pits of lava erupt in the ground, and in one place beneath the central pivot the Thing That Nods itself is shown receiving a blow from a whip of incandescence. This last boast is certainly a lie, for no beam could reach so far, but there are also cut here and there pictures that seem to describe the Titan. It is shown approaching the Redoubt, being repelled by the Circle, and returning again to find destruction from a hundred streams of fire. These ones are the oldest carvings and in my role as an investigator for the Purple I have been here thrice before to examine them.
But now it is late afternoon. My studies are finished for the day and I rest. The desk they gave me is cluttered with diagrams and drawings and plaquettes and I believe something has been achieved, recorded, and understood. My man Hugin sets the papers in order while I review my day's work, and I can sit at ease. I eat a piece of honeycomb, I think of my home, two days' travel away, and I watch the gunners Bal and Mannan co-run their scan of the Land.
The titanic cylinder swivels smoothly and slowly through the great volume of space above us. The control arena where we all sit is recessed into the parabolically curved floor beneath it. Bal stands here, wearing the gunSight like an ancient helm, and standing behind him his cogunner Mannan balances the trips vertically on his palms. Mannan's role is needful because the force screen generated by the Circle will allow the cannon's beam Out and therefore must allow certain radiations and signals in. In the heat of battle some unknown thing might enter here - perhaps a request from one of the machine cultures to their ancient cousin, beamed by microwaves, or perhaps the whisper of a ghost - but it could never act so smoothly and swiftly that it could take over the cannon's cybernetic mind or his master's human one before Mannan could spill these trips and cut off all power. So, properly understood, Mannan's flesh and soul are the outermost layer of armour that clothes Mother Redoubt.
Over certain segments of its field the cannon may be allowed to roam free and parse targets according to his own cybernetic mentation. This is absolutely necessary at the two extremes of traverse where the Watchers censor human sight, but as the scan sweeps right-away from from the Crowned One the false images on the screen that save the human mind are replaced by truth and Bal may take hold and mastery over the machine again, forbidding it, perhaps, from running into some evil. Bal is beautiful as he dances with the ancient weapon. His hands dart across the touchpoints while his hidden eyes drink the Land, each flat siccade traced by the gunSight and reflected by the great slave cylinder above us. The doubled image on the screen before him shivers with computer generated enhancements and suggestions, overlaid contours and classifications, each one of which has the tiniest reflection in his face and a thin echo in the telepathic vibrations I harvest from his pneumasome. Beneath the surface tremors of his mind I sense well-practiced joy in the wholeness of user and tool, the most ancient role of human kind.
I glance back at Mannan, still and upright as a statue. He laughs and swaps the trips palm to palm, keeping them vertical, without missing a beat. The smooth purr of the earth-current driven motors is uninterrupted and I smile to acknowledge the feat.
"Here, Ser". It is Bal who speaks.
"What is it?"
"Which you have requested, Ser. Look". With his eyes, he senses and commands in one act, and the cannon's crosshairs focus on the flat plaza immediately before the crumpled bulk of the Titan. If it had a head and if it had eyes it might be thought of as staring at this place. The Land here is flat and open, without the usual clutter of moss-bushes and landcoral though there is nothing obvious to stop them growing back over that half-mile. I rub my aching eyes and cross-check with the optical scope's unamplified bare vision, but there is nothing. I look again through the cybernetic gunscreen and the Cannon shifts of his own accord, following cybernetic routines that have modified themselves iteratively for millenia. Through the amplifiers and enhancers I now stare directly at the Dead Titan.
Bal rebukes his darling fondly, leashing him with two gentle touches of a finger. "Does it live yet, Ser"?
Yes, it lives, I am sure. And I am sure the Cannon lusts to slay it. "No one knows. Pass on."
Freed again, and obedient to Bal's darting eye, the scan continues. It touches the foot of the Vane light, slides away, and leaps swiftly to pin skulking hexapod beasts that surround some clump of debris they are dragging to their hive. It judges them no threat and continues to move at random across the Land, focusing on beast and giant, mechanism and structure, and from time to time asking Bal, Here? Now? Shall I Fire? But the cannon has not been discharged for decades. Threats are rare and fewer still are counted worthy of aggressive action. Almost none.
Yet I feel a tension in the aether which must emanate from the machine. He is being held back from his desire.