Saturday, April 07, 2012

Fifteen ways of Looking at a Lapwing

"The secret of the lapwing is, disguise the secret."
(Robert Graves, The White Goddess)

The Lapwing is hopping across the grass
Its play of a broken wing convincing all critics
And attracting them away from the nest.

Small black eyes peering out of the hedgerow
Constant patrols to secure the perimeter
Lacking any defensive capability beyond the wing trick
The Lapwing scans the sky for signs of hope

We will summon all of our resources
And those of our allies
Spy satellites the size of pickups
Will gently rotate and re-focus
 Ballistic, sub-orbital Spy planes will fly overhead taking 10,000 pictures a second
Glittering machines
The size and shape of spiders
Will skitter through the hedgerow Looking for the nest

To be the first to fly across the field of broken bones
And see the roadway of shards the dead will walk upon
To fly across, along, up

Against a sky that looks as though
The blue were matte paint
Hastily slapped on the heavens
The Lapwing cuts lines and curves,
Tying the sky together with grace.

In the land of screaming birds space is only direction, not distance
Time is stretched to an endless glowing moment
There are no clouds, just a blue mist
Overlain with the patina of infinity
That mortal eyes never see
The delicate white crackling, the evidence of vast age
Black dots skim across

The evidence of age, the skimming black dots
In the land of screaming birds each dot is a bird with
Wings sewn together over its back, eyes pierced with
Needles, legs broken in multiple places
They fall forever Each a Lapwing who lost her nest

The meadow, blades of grass
A landscape of soil, ripe and scalloped by the rain
Steamy loam ready to take to a different kind of nest
Suddenly a wall of feathers descends
Huge and brown, iridescent, each brown drab feather
Somehow rippling deeply with colour
A light bomb exploding with colour like a tropical sunset
The wing scrapes overhead and is gone


The bird skims across the water like a skipping stone
Pursued by a snarl shaped like a fox.

Across the causeway Into the castle
Castle Perilous
Fifteen entered How many left?
None left but one

I could see the sparks rising in a fountain of speckled light
The old man's eyes black through the fire

Across the causeway
Under the ground
Castle Perilous
Eleven entered
How many left?
None left but one

I could see the stars spinning, a sprinkling of snow
Against soft black felt.
I remained silent

Across the causeway
Into the air
Castle Perilous
Seven entered
None left but one
But the six flew higher
Slipped along fault lines of sky
Saw the benevolent grinding
Of the millers stone
And only wanted to be chaff
To be blown away
And to fly higher
And the one that was left
Each time she fell
With a broken wing
What was her name?

I took my right hand cupped
Whispered a name into it
Made a holding fist
Threw the word across the fire Into his chest
He grunted and fell back slightly
Then smiled and across the fire
Threw the small sack from around his neck
I opened the bag and Gently spilled out the bones within
Slender tiny flutes from a small bird
Bone laid out on a stone in front of me I reached out to the fire
As did the old man I only knew from this bunker
Together we made a tear in the way things are

And opened a way to birdscreamingland
We own who we are
We all live forever
We all have a home
In birdscreamingland
Just one more black dot
Reach out and take
A Lapwing

Close the tear
Become mortal
Filled with sorrow
Fifteen breaks in her legs
Eleven needles in her eyes
Seven breaks in her wings

I give a week from my life and use the whole bones to heal hers, remove stitches and needles and throw into the air a small, brown, deceitful bundle of love.

These are the jokes - An Interlude

A Lapwing went to heaven
It was full of foxes
The Lapwing confused them all with graceful pirouettes on its' "good" wing and million mile an hour loops
No eggs were lost

When NASA decided to send a Lapwing to the Space Station they sent no eggs. The Lapwing adopted some spider eggs instead. It learned to loop and gyre in micro-gravity, teaching the baby spiders to spin the strange webs they spin in space. It tried to lure away the bits of cosmic radiation always hammering through the station. At this it was 100% successful. Unfortunately the scientists weren't watching. The spiders grew up happy, well-adjusted and expert web makers

birdscreamingland would be prime real estate if it weren't for all the needles

All Lapwings have subscriptions to People magazine. It makes excellent nesting material.

I once had a world in box
Speckled blue, the size of your fist
Resting on aromatic wood shavings
I can smell them now as I sit in my dark cell
I smashed it, I was only a child
I dropped it from a top floor window
It shattered and out came a drab brown bird
It flew high, then higher then disappeared

We all get one world and every world gets a bird
To warn other birds of a new predator
To be lured away from the speckled blue eggs

Augury is the art of telling fortunes by watching the flight of birds
The Lapwings' flight always tells of the same future
A future of great peril and unselfish sacrifice
This prediction is always correct

A piece of magic, a faked broken wing
It's love, pure. simple, a sight that lingers

Sentimentality aside, how could
This be anything but a mothers love

To pull along on a leash of weakness
The predator, a task that's endless

Again sentimental, but no surprise
There, where success is achieved by lies

"Hide the Secret" is such a human trait
When the opposition force is too great

To distract, to hide, to make things appear
Other than they are, learn to make a tear

In the way things are, and slip through a wing
Save the young, pull a fast one on the thromg

Of those who would hurt you or your young, but
How could evolution, blind, cause such love

The slow grind of mechanistic forces?
Or a benevolent creators courses?

We should know by now that often love is
A blind mechanistic force, a habit, has

No purpose beyond its own selfish needs
And a creator had best stick to seeds

The fifteenth way of looking at a
Lapwing is for a gene to go and

Make copies of itself and fill the pool
Fighting all the other genes with a silent howl

The faked broken wing is a happy chance
The Lapwing itself a DNA dance

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Sea of Dreams - Part 4

We dug back into the shoreline according to some plan dictated by Constancy.
As far as we could tell, we and the other crews were were making complex the simple, beautiful curve of our coastline.
Curves were becoming irregular fractals once the high basalt dams came down.
The serious questions were, "Why do this?" and, "Why do it so inefficiently?"
I had a feeling I'd find Neil getting drunk somewhere on the Sea of Tranquility seafront. He always liked high class bars with nice views, when he was sane and presentable enough to get served.
Sure enough I found him at a table looking out over the Sea of Tranquility, kept company by a G&T.
I sat opposite him and ordered a coffee from a sullen looking waiter.
"So what's going on Neil? Why was I brain-screwed by Constancy then bugged by her?"
"A black dog and a white dog fight, which one . . . ."
"No Neil, no more of that shit. Answers please"
"Look," he said, pointing behind me. I turned to see his dogs glaring at me.
"Don't care, never will. Why did you get Constancy so pissed at me." I ignored the huge favours he had done me and the Sea of Dreams. My brain was more important.
"I was spreading my wings a little," he said. "You were the one who got me away from the dogs Michael. If they'd been around when I pulled my magic tricks with your Sea they would have chewed through the door to stop me."
"So why didn't they?"
"The mote repelling field of that strange gun of yours confused them. It had the opposite effect on me of course. Cleared my mind to the point where I could issue commands to the Ship again."
"What did you say?" I asked. "About the commands I mean?"
He leaned forward and pulled aside the fur above his right breast.
"I wish our ancestors hadn't bred us for fur and large eyes," he said.
Beneath the matted fur I could just see a tattoo of three spirals in a equilateral triangle.
Shocked, I leaned back and inspected the highlands.
The Sea of Tranquility rose gently until it was over our heads. The white houses on either side were like clean foam on a breaking wave. Behind them the wheat fields glowed pale grey under the bright pulses of the noon sun.
"If that tattoo were fake Constancy would tear you apart. So you really must be crew."
"All that's left as far as I know. The others vanished one by one. Constancy couldn't kill me of course. "
A heron flew overhead, laboriously pumping air like a poor mechanical parody of a bird.
"Why couldn't it? Who are you?"
"I'm the captain and Constancy is hardwired to protect me."
"That is such bullshit. There never was a captain. With Constancy there's no need for one. Anyway, you're just a stinking drunk like me."
He looked south at the soaring endcap, pulses of gray daylight travelling out from the central hub.
"I'm 350 years old Michael. None of us stayed truly sane after 200. Constancy had to take over. Someone has to make the tough decisions."
The dogs were sitting, intently watching us. I'd never seen them so placid.
"The others are dead. They were in the way I suppose. I, however, can do things Constancy can't. I can access protocols it has no access to. You saw what I did with your Sea. That won't last by the way. All the Seas are screwed in the medium term. Iced over as available energy falls. I think Constancy has a plan though."
With that the dogs tried to leap over the table at Neil. Fortunately for him I was in the way and braving a whirlwind of snarls and teeth I held them off while I yelled , "Get to my apartment and get the gun." He ran north as I returned to being pissed at the powerful dogs.
Eventually I got a blow to the throat of one of the feral beasts, but as it fell the other one clamped its jaw on my arm.
It hung onto me, dragging me to the ground. As I lay there, trying to pull myself free, the dog I thought I'd killed weaved over and vomited in my face.
We're digging fjords," said the man with all the answers.
"Tiny, wee fjords. Liquid water coastline segments for seals and walruses to live in when the freeze comes."
Most of us ignored him, wanting only to eat our gruel and sleep. Some no doubt planned to give him a beating that night.
"And why the hell would that be a priority Alan? Sea of Vapours is already cold enough for seals and walruses," I asked.
"You'll see. For now, think about what a stable, low energy ecosystem would look like."
Alan was most likely the Constancy spy for our work crew. It was hard to tell if his claims of inside information were bullshit or not.
The impossible colour again.
"It's called blue. Eyes like yours, adapted to the low light levels on the Ship, only see shades of grey. I, however, can excite your visual cortex directly" (the dolphins lifted me to the surface, chattering clicks like bursting bubbles)
"Even now, with the low energy levels we use, the system is dying. Something must change" (cold blue water all around, no sign of land, no sign of my parents)
Cold blue water all around ("things must change, energy levels in Ship must fall, the Seas must suffer")
"A great freeze is coming. The ecosystem must be flattened. The brutalised will survive. Hence the work camps, factories for vicious practicality" (the dolphins carried me, me alone, across the great blue to land)
"Neil disagrees. He would rather fire the gun" (it's so cold out there in the deep water, sinking into that new colour, seeing it get deeper in shade)
"He has your gun. He can't use it. Not yet at least. He is very intelligent. That extra implant you now have lets me track you even if you get the gun back"
I woke up, a jaw shaped gash in my right arm, a blinding headache and a face full of dog vomit.
In disgust I threw up myself, the mess I made adding to the utterly foul dog mess.
I threw up again, a cascade of vomitous horror that lasted an eternity followed.
The dogs were gone, thankfully, so I cleaned myself off as well as I could and staggered away, vaguely wondering why the sheriffs hadn't come for me. I could only put it down to Constancy regarding me as an ally now.
I headed back to my apartment to find the print covering the gun hole smashed on the floor and the gun gone.
Constancy has returned to me a few times since. Across my system rather than through EMP or nano laced dog vomit.
I think it's scared. Its' neat plan for an iced over world inhabited by a rigid, low tech society could be rendered pointless if Neil bypasses the safeguards on the gun. He'd rather see the Ship destroyed than our gentle, complex society reduced to that level. He told me he's 350 years old after all. He said that past 200 one is insane.
My hope is to try and get Constancy to modify the severity of It's plan. It's a friend to me now. It shows me the beauty of blue whenever I ask.
It's told me It's finally over-ridden the restrictions on It or the dogs killing Neil. So now its a race between Constancy getting Its' motes past the guns suppression field and then sending in the dogs, or Neil getting past the gun's safety.
I know where I stand.
I have visions of a world of ice, two dogs slipping on a frozen lake, chewing on a human corpse.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Sea of Dreams - Part 3

Owning an unusable gun gave me the itch to own a usable one. Being in my early twenties and also being a barely functioning addict of several substances I found this to be difficult but possible.
The gun itself was a simple magnetic projectile device and came with a solid block that could produce 100 slugs.
I was picked up inside an hour, the motes having reported me to Constancy.
The sheriffs who brought me in laughed all the way back to the station, telling me that the gun would be back on the streets the next day.
Another gullible fool would follow me into the mines.
Joes' Neuro and Optosurgery Shack was, by common consent, the best in the Ship. Belying the North Pole style name it was actually on the shallow part of the South Pole end-cap.
Normally I could never afford even an eye colour change here, let alone the extensive implants I had in mid.
"So what exactly did you have in mind Mr. Stone?" the reception functionary sneered.
To be fair, I had stopped at a couple of pubs along the way and had spilled some of a doner kebab on myself.
If I hadn't shown the receptionist my bank credit as soon as I walked through the door I would have been back out on the street.
"I need a full implant suite replacing my burned out one. High bandwidth system interface. The usual optical memory storage with ten year contract for offsite backup. Neurotransmitter optimisations. Full checkup of my cognitive amplification net."
The receptionist smirked.
"If the net were damaged you would have come in here on all fours chattering mindlessly. Do you really think that with brains the size of ours we would have any higher cognitive functions at all without the CAN?"
"Just check it"
My mind had just been raped by Constancy and yet I was about to re-install the tools it used to control us.
After a short time in induced anaesthesia I woke to find the surgeon sitting next to me.
"The operation was a success," he said. showing me a handful of glittering metal. My dead implants.
"Except for this," he said.
A graphic of a brain, represented in pale grey lines appeared. The image slowly rotated and zoomed in toward what I knew to be the hippocampus.
At the top of the structure was a spiky white shape.
"One of your dead implants Mr. Stone. Perhaps better to say 'inert'."
"Why didn't you take it out?"
"Didn't dare to. Look."
The image rotated and zoomed again to show, embossed in the side of the implant a heavily curlicued letter "C".
After a perfunctory appearance in front of a judge to meet the letter of the law I found myself in those horrible, pointless mines.
By common consent there was no reason to use people there except to punish them.
Repairbots would dig an initial shallow bay, dam it off from the sea and drain the water from behind it.
In the narrow, dark, wet and stinking space we were set to work with picks, crude cranes, platforms on rollers and a whole range of other ancient tools.
It was clear to all of us that the basalt blocks we mined, used for construction of later dams, were just a byproduct of the misery and intense level of violence in the mining camps.
"What the hell is that? How did Constancy get it into my head?"
I was filled with horror and rage at what I was seeing. Constancy could track and read me with its' motes. It didn't need macroscopic objects in my brain.
"It was already in your head. I think Constancy re-purposed one of your existing implants. You recently suffered a Constancy generated EMP, yes? Took out your old implants?"
I nodded, still speechless.
"Constancy used a focused, high powered EMP to change this implant into a crude tracking device and then signed it."
I left, not knowing whether to to be angrier with the neurosurgeon or Constancy. As I walked through the door he said, "Spallation radiation will cause cancers eventually. Get regular scans."
With that I snapped. By the time the sheriffs pacified me I had caused C150,000 worth of damage.
The mines were the hardest work I ever did. The physical aspect of digging and transporting the blocks was hard enough.
The constant awareness required to do this without injury drained the spirit.
We were camped out in the stinking water at the bottom of the hole, the huge dam of green veined basalt casting a shadow over us.
"The seas are temperature buffers mainly. They reduce the need for frequent retunings of the sun."
I looked over at the speaker, vaguely interested that someone could talk about something other than food or work or who was going to get it that night.
"They are also reservoirs of life. Other than ourselves, land-based life could disappear with no real impact on the ship-wide ecosystem."
That foul water contained a multitude of anaerobic bacteria in every drop.
Life occupies all niches. Life in water has more and more varied niches that land based life. Microscopic life does anyway.
I spent another night in the cells and only avoided a trip to the mines by liberally spraying money around.
I ended up with just a few hundred credits left.
I tried hard to look on the bright side. I had a shiny new set of implants and was out of debt.
On the down side one of those implants was a Constancy bug.
I found an AA meeting near the clinic and went in after a few pulls on a bottle of Moment of Clarity whisky. Great name, terrible whisky.
After the meeting I left, determined to get sober and find Neil.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Sea of Dreams - Part 2

I decided to let Neil stay a few days. We were both screwed up. Perhaps between the two of us we could make a non-screwed up person.
Maybe we could go to a meeting or two. Or go to a pub.
I was OK with either.
"Over there, Neil. Go pass out again."
Obediently he collapsed onto a mattress up against a bare brick wall. Above his head was a print of early ship construction. Scaffolding around a series of misshapen rocks.
I called up my system and the room filled with pristine, simple graphics.
I didn't care about the calls, mails and constructs spinning wildly in one corner. I'd already screened them back at Tranquility on my bracelet and paper. Nothing that couldn't wait until tomorrow.
I invoked my high level Sea of Dreams Ecological Council clearance (a green ghost emerged from my forehead and flitted to the commlink box).
The room filled with a graphic representing the Sea, all blacks and greys. Tiny patches of white around our reclamation projects.
Short of restoring the maintenance equipment and opening the Sea up to the Seas to the south, we were finished.
I took a couple more pulls on my bottle and collapsed on my own mattress.
The next morning I woke to find the room filled with weird organic looking mounds, shifting purposefully around the figure seeming to orchestrate them from the middle.
"Neil, why the hell are you playing games on my system and how the hell did you get into it?"
"There's always a back door and it's not a game. Look."
He raised an arm, momentarily from his conductor routine to point at the tiny indicator near the ceiling.
It was odd. The system was in some deep sea control zone I hadn't previously been aware of.
There were unlocked wave parameters, full access to heat/cool circuits; light and oxygenation controls and so on.
Most astonishing of all was access for repairbot systems Shipwide. With that we could really begin to repair the Sea of Dreams.
Abruptly the system crashed with a flash of the impossible colour we'd been taught from infancy to associate with Constancy.
"What the hell were you doing, I've never even seen that colour outside simulations. Have you called the software cops down on us?"
"No, just the dogs, and they would have been down on us soon anyway.
"What you saw was a low level goal setting space for a large number of disparate elements. You should be getting some help soon. Think of it as a gift for your hospitality. Not many people would have taken me in. Be careful though. When Constancy comes a'knockin', tell it the truth. That I did all this on my own."
"Constancy calling on me? Get the hell out of here!"
He was smiling as though he'd just heard the funniest joke in the world. Just as he reached the door he turned to me and said, "Oh, that pistol you have in the wall? Hide it better. A gun untagged by Constancy is a great rarity. Ever tried the safety catch?"
"Once," I replied, caught off-guard by the change in subject. "It scared me."
"It should. Only you or another member of the security family could do that. A rather drastic device to be used if Constancy were suborned by an alien invasion. Could be useful under other circumstances though. Keep it safe."
With that the tall, upright, dignified, terminal drunk left.
I looked at what Neil had done. The goal he'd set for the Sea, the relatively modest one of return to some sort of living stability, was being worked on many fronts simultaneously.
Most significantly, fleets of repairbots were converging on the Sea of Dreams.
For almost a day I watched my Sea being stabilised then rebuilt.
Water filtration system (emergency use only) activated; wave systems running; lights on; oxygen pumping; stage one of a cascading restocking sequence churning out heavily adapted algae killing viruses.
I hadn't even known that the restocking tanks still had anything in them. There were even augmented dolphins!
Most of the repairbots were engaged in basic cleaning of the sea-bottom and sides. Rugged rock all the way to the abyssal plain scraped clean. Toxic sediment fused into blocks and used to build an island.
I sat back and watched, drinking from my emergency 1.5l bottle of vodka.
I was entirely a spectator having been locked out of all executive control. Everyone else at SoDEC had been locked out as well it seemed from the frantic messages I received from my colleagues.
I ignored them, determined to enjoy the show while it lasted,
More troublesome were the intrusive media demands. In the end they burned my home system so badly I retreated behind the Constancy generated firewall.
I had to make a couple of trips to the store for chips and more vodka. It was on one of these that I received the news that the repairbots were leaving and that our resource allocations were being reset to normal,
I was mostly OK with that.
I felt like a kid finally caught eating his way through the candy isle. The fun was over, punishment loomed, but I'd eaten a lot of candy.
As I walked in my apartment door I was grabbed from behind and I felt a net thrown over my head.
My implants were destroyed by a pulse which must also have sent me into a seizure, When I came around my scrambled mind kept sending me into a present occupied by an impossible colour which surrounded and penetrated me.
A huge non-voice said, "Where is Neil?"
"I don't know," (I saw it once, as a child, from above).
"Why did he do this?"
"It was a gift," (It was grey with creamy wave-tops speeding across).
"How did he do this?"
"I saw it once, as a child, from above," (we crashed, controlled, the pilot expertly turning decent into turning blades, into slower descent).
"Why did he do this?"
"We crashed slowly, touched the water and turned over."
"Who is he?"
"He brought us the possibility of reclamation, screw you!" (Blue water, mirrored balls of all sizes erupting from my mouth and nose, the clicking laughter of dolphins).
"Where is Neil?"
And so on, Constancy patiently asking the same questions over and over as its' impossible depths mercilessly took me to the central event of my life.
I woke alone and crying in my apartment.
I accessed my SoDEC account using data goggles since my implants were now burned out.
I saw whites, pale greys, some blacks. A vast improvement and one that looked as though it might even be stable.
The limited view I had through my goggles also showed a frantically flashing icon I didn't recognise at first.
Then I realised it was my bank, only the logo was black rather than the white I'd always seen before.
While my goggles ground away at a complex rendering of heat gradients I called up the bank icon.
I fell back slightly as though slapped.
A deposit of C500,000 had been made that morning, tagged, "With thanks, C."
My first reaction was to demand Constancy take the money back or give it to charity. Anything to get it away from me. Then common sense cut in. After the shit I'd been put through I deserved some cash, to buy new implants and some vodka if nothing else.
I used some of the money to hire a system clean-up agency to repair the damage caused by Constancy and the media. Then I checked the totally obvious hole in the wall where I kept the gun.
It was somehow still there. Sleek featureless metal, solid barrel, very serious safety catch. The only indication that this wasn't a normal pistol, other than the dead giveaway of that blank barrel, were the dense coils around the handgrip, containment for the anti-iron within. The little readout for the penning field (and who knew where power for that came from?) to be 90%.
My grandfather had told me that our family had possessed the gun since launch although he didn't know why. He also told me that the gun couldn't be tagged by the ubiquitous smart dust that Constancy used to track everything on the ship.
I, for once, showered, put on some vaguely clean clothes and after a liquid breakfast went in search of a neurosurgeon.