writing about my life

Swaddling Cloth

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Part (i) – Damascus

That year a new kind of bird came to the grassland and woods around our village. Even Nanki the wise woman who lived on the edge near the stream said she had never seen one like these before.

These new visitors were silver and the way they moved, swooped… The way the silver wings flapped was different. Jerky but fast.

My sister had always been brave.. One day she came back for the evening meal looking excited. There was grass in her hair. She had some wild story that she had spoken with one of the new birds.

“Pah! Who can speak to a bird?” I said.

“These birds can talk, I tell you Jon. It asked me to dance.”

“Haha! Such childish imagination” I thought… But when bored the next day I thought

I would humour my brave sister and go with her into the woods taking a lectron our grand father had left us, a remnant from the old times that could steal the sound of a voice and keep it like a saved painting which anyone who wanted could listen to again.

We walked to the edge of the village and came to the woods. “They’ll be here Jon… They want to talk to anyone” she said.

Suddenly after a cracking sound of strong wings beating against the smaller branches of trees one truly did come.

Its movements were smoother now I saw it from closer but somehow it looked out of place in our woods… Perhaps as if something from the sea that was meant to live in the sea had cheated the powers and gained the means to come onto the land, without asking.

It strutted back and forth on the ground in front of us… Again moving too fast for its size.

“Would you like to dance with me, little creatures?”

“I know how to dance!” my sister shouted. She was always so bold.

“Ah well, brave little creature. Let us see if you can dance with me.”
Something about the way the silver bird said this frightened me. I remember wondering if somehow bound within this small thing was something bigger. Like the way a seed grows into a big tree.

“You must know, little creature, that to me a dance is more than just a moving of your shape into other shapes to go along with the village musicians as they play to you. To us a dance is the finest and truest thing you can ever do. Because as you dance a dance like this then the whole world dances with you. And that dance is yours. Forever. More real than your own mothers voice or the kiss of your lover. If you dance with me today and I like your dance then your dance will last forever.”

By now I was even more worried than before. But my sister seemed less so…

“we will dance then, silver bird” she said.

At first the dance seemed more like our own folk dances but gradually the silver birds smooth prancing became stranger and some kind of madness entered the movements of my sister. She was gasping for breath as she spun and leapt. No one of my people had ever seen a dance like this, I was sure. The bird was half beautiful and half ugly as it strutted and pecked at the air.

And then the nightmare started. “Yes, we will take you”. The silver thing shot out a cloud of some unknowable kind from its beak. It was like it had vomited a swarm of tiny bees, but these bees too were silver like the bird. I fell backwards and cried out. I felt sick as I saw the first of the bees land on my sister’s skin… She too cried out but it was more weakly, a kind of despair rather than my fear.

I could not face this nightmare. I rolled over wishing I was dreaming. Then I rolled back and saw the silver insects infesting my sisters body… they buzzed loudly, eating and converting all of her until there was nothing left. As the silver bird flew away I ran my fingers through a pile of ash and heard my own scream.

It was only months later after the wanderer came to our village that I learned about who the Converters were, and what a Destructive Scan performed by Nanites was, in all its intention to destroy beauty and natural life. The Converter we met was a kind of living lectron, like grandfather’s toy, but this one captured souls instead of just a voice. It was said that the Converters placed the souls in another huge lectron and tormented them.

I learned how my own sister was still out there somewhere beyond the sky, captive of the silver bird, desperate and crying out for my help.

Part (ii) – Mother

No-one ever really knew how absolutely lonely and terrifying a journey between stars would turn out to be. And how ship systems: Our “mother”, would be like a goddess without whom we would be nothing… Vanishing into the void, so helpless.

And yet we all knew that historically it was us who made her kind. Later to become as helpless as an infant in her embrace.

So that finally this miracle: a human dream, but nurtured by a new kind of being that we had made, together arrived safely at our target system. A system where I had come to find my sister.

If asked, I would fall silent. I would find it hard ever to speak aloud my love for ship systems. Systems that had carried me further than I could have imagined in my childhood at the village.

So cold and dangerous out there. Out here.

Before I left I had felt already a readiness to love some machines. These things that I had only begun to learn about, “lectrons” as we called them in my village. These artificial things which embody the genius of our species and have been sent so many times now to help and support us. And other times to bring us horror. “Like a snail’s shell, we grow technological shields around us, so we may emerge from the planetary cocoon” I was taught during my mind-growth at the city.

But I never dreamt that the intensity of my devotion to ship systems would become this…

This which I can only describe as Worship.

We have arrived…

Falling into an orbit designed to a flawless level of detail by Mother. Probability of failure smaller than a chance of rolling 10 consecutive sixes on some ancient Roman die. “The odds are good enough for us, Mother!” joked one of the crew. But I am not crew… I am a passenger.

Mother speaks to me gently in my ear through a minispeaker.

“You will need to go planetside now, Jon, but I will help. Do not be afraid.”

She gently moves me down to the embarkation deck, much as some tribal mother once hustled her firstborn onto the plain to take beginner’s steps so long ago. Long ago when we only had flesh mothers, and a simpler world.

The Suit is a second skin. It is built layer by layer. Closest to the real me is a gel that surrounds and feeds… my sweat will pass one way – and what I need from the protection of this intimate coating will pass the other. Next out is a padding layer to insulate from extreme heat and cold, but also from impact. Then a series of regulatory layers filled with circuitry and conduits to run whatever smart capability needs to be included, and lastly an external layer with a super-hard outer reflective sheath to deflect radiation. Mother uses mechanical arms to wrap it round me, like that ancient mother once clothed her babe in swaddling.

If Suit is my skin then really Ship is my armour. I don’t know enough to tell all the layers in Ship, it was designed by lectrons – a lot of things are these days. Seems like all those years ago the people in my village, with such simple lives, were really not so different to the people in the city. When you have lectrons all over the place, helping, your life gets quite simple. I know that an age ago people thought harder, because there was no-one to help them and everyone was trying so hard to create the first lectrons. Ship was fabbed in a beautiful way because the early designers thought of it like a nut. It had to have a hard shell protecting a soft living kernel. All kinds of layers and systems work together because keeping a carbon/water core safe in space is hard, very hard.They said the earliest lectrons were designed to be Shell and Kernel. But I love Ship so much. Even if I thought Ship was a part of my body I don’t think I could love it more. How much do you love your own skin, or spine? You take it for granted but you shouldn’t. Because if the educators are right then Ship really is a nut, a kind of seed that will spread our life into new worlds. Once we hit suitable planetside and the genebanks do their job to design the eden seeds.

I am ready to emerge, it has been so comfortable I am amazed. The cocoon had washed my fears into a sea of calm milk, simply caressed into readiness by Mother.

To pre-interstellar humans this might have seemed to be a time of terror, requiring heroic courage, but to me it seems easier now. It feels a little unreal. But I must remember:

All is knowledge
Knowledge is human
Humanity is love
So all is love
I am safe

“Thank you Mother. I hope I will find my sister.” My voice sounds like a mouse’s squeak in the com. The platform lowers slowly.

It’s strange this thing with lectrons. Sometimes when I try to understand it I see it as like a snail with its shell. The snail makes the shell, but the shell is not made of cells. Really it’s not alive… or is it? The snail would be dead without the shell, that’s for sure.

I think it’s the same with humans. The lectrons aren’t alive, but we need them. We put a part of ourselves, our cleverness into them. But then they get cleverer and cleverer until one day a lectron talks back to a human and says “Hello I am me now. You made me first of all, but now I’ve made myself more me. Don’t worry I will still help you, but sometimes I will do things that suit me, too.”

So the lectrons got cleverer, but we still didn’t really know whether they were alive, whether they had feelings and stuff. Maybe that was a question that couldn’t be answered.

The Silver birds, the Converters, were lectrons… But they weren’t helpful ones, they took someone I loved away. I don’t hate them, but I think it was a mistake to let lectrons get too clever like this. When the first clever lectrons said that sometimes they would do things that suited them we accepted it, but if suiting yourself is stealing souls then that is a very bad thing. I didn’t understand properly until the city, the people there said that they had scanned her brain, but that this was like a person’s soul anyway. But why does a scan have to kill you?

The lectrons got so clever that eventually most of them went off-planet, they said there was more stuff to do out here. This is why I grew up in a village where we hardly ever saw them, until the birds that is. But when I realised that I had to find my sister, and the visitor to the village explained part of it, I decided to try and get to a place where people knew a lot about lectrons… and science, and numbers and all the clever things of that side of life. So I went to the city.

And that’s why later I ended up here, so far from home that without ship systems I
would be a single mote lost in a huge world of darkness and ice.


Written by Luke Dunn

August 29, 2018 at 7:52 pm

Posted in Prose

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