Father, In a Far Distant Time
Return Sample chapter 2
Enter a young master
Within a decade of the building of the Gennitorium, all the actors we have been following were dead, first the king, then Joe, and then the last of his companions. A new king was crowned, and a new prosperity grew in the kingdom. The brilliance of the culture forged over the past forty years by Joe and his companions had made the kingdom the center of an expanding topological empire. The new king in turn died, and was succeeded by a queen. She continued to foster the commercial success of the empire, and support the research of the institute. But she neglected the Gennitorium, seeing it as an affront to women to be displayed so nakedly. It became dilapidated.
We must take a closer look at the Gennitorium. Its keeper lived with his wife and son in a house adjoining the main hall. He kept the plates clean, and periodically repainted the inscriptions. Many of the threads running from the plates to the genome had snapped, and he gathered them up and cut them—reconnecting them would have required massive scaffolding, and anyway he didn’t quite know where they belonged. He loved the exhibit, though, and liked nothing better than to show his young son around it and point out interesting details.
This son, who I’ll call “Joe,” is ten when we first hear news of him. The Keeper’s friend, Fred, rented space in the storage room beneath the great hall for his amateur yeast-pan experiments. He wrote later how Joe used to open a side door to the main hall after it had been closed to the public, and let in his young friends. Fred used to enjoy watching them run naked through the huge exhibit.
Periodically, little Joe ventured down to the basement with one or another of his friends, and peered down through the rafters to where Fred was working. Fred would shout at them—“Don’t shake dust down onto my pans”—but they’d just laugh and clamber around the rafters some more before returning to race around the great hall above. The keeper knew they played there but, like most of the city’s people, he indulged the young ones in their play, and didn’t object as long as they didn’t damage the exhibit.
Fred described how, a couple of years later, Joe would come to the basement with his girlfriend of the moment and peer at the pans, until his friend would drag him back upstairs to play. Joe would linger longer and longer each succeeding night, talking to Fred and asking him questions about the pans. Yeast pans were now about thirty feet wide, and the patterns were typically a dense mesh of squiggles and lines that took a great deal of experience to interpret.
One night Fred was telling Joe about the colony of phantasms he was running, and how a single super-“person” was emerging. “No, there are two,” Joe said.
Fred good-humoredly corrected him, but Joe insisted. “Come up here, and I’ll show you,” he told Fred.
Sure enough, it was just possible to make out another “person” showing through the dense mat of dye lines, if you had it pointed out to you.
“Good pair of eyes you’ve got, to pick that out,” said Fred, “Still, it won’t be there tomorrow night.” And it wasn’t; Joe couldn’t detect it when he visited the next evening.
One night soon after, Joe was racing around the Gennitorium as usual with his girlfriend, and they were running upstairs to the seventh landing. As they reached the landing he felt her hand on his back and, knowing what she wanted, he ran to make her chase him. She was a year older than he was, however, and she quickly caught up with him and threw him to the ground. She knelt over him, with her hands flat on the landing beside his head. Quickly, like the young animals familiar with each other that they were, they coupled.
Afterwards, as she briefly rested with her head hanging down toward him, Joe had a few seconds’ experience that was to dominate the rest of his life and inspire countless students for the next thousand years.
As he gazed absently up at her, seeing her dimly outlined by light from the moon coming in through the windows above, his mind turned to the series of great plates stacked beside them, and he idly recalled how they traced to the genome the sequence of urges, each one triggering the next, that lead inexorably from the first stirring of desire to the final release of orgasm. Suddenly he experienced a terrifying attack of vertigo. At that same moment, the young woman above him seemed to slip out of human scale and become enormous, towering above him, rearing up into space, becoming colossal. As she did so, she became herself a plate, like the plates of the exhibit itself, but she was a single plate that contained all of womanhood from conception to death, fused into one. Then he seemed to be seeing her more from one side, and he could see this huge plate, finely inscribed, and he could know her, entirely, in all her parts.
Fascinated, he gazed on this vision, drinking it in. Then, to his alarm, the huge plate seemed to be attacked by fire, starting from the bottom edge. It began to consume the plate that she was. To his horror, the fire raced up the plate, consuming it.
But what was left behind by the fire began to reconfigure itself, fracturing into a complex mesh of cracks. The plate became a vast pattern of interweaving lines, like a great cosmic yeast pan. As he watched, the mesh of lines, representing all her separate “persons,” processed itself, as if through a yeast pan fermentation, to declare a single “person,” and in place of seeing her entire in all her parts, he saw her entire as one single “person.” And where before he had not understood how all of her could be represented by a single major plate, it seemed perfectly reasonable that she should be represented entire by a single mesh of lines.
The vision was utterly convincing. He could scan it and understand it wholly, in every detail. He was seeing her as no one had ever before seen another person, yet it was as if he had known her like this forever. He studied her for what seemed an eternity. But the vision began to fade, and as it did so he felt that he had been gazing on it for no more than a tiny instant, and he became frightened to be losing it.
As it faded, he became conscious of another sheet of massively meshed lines to one side, another entire and single person, also infinitely large but also infinitely far away, and he knew it was himself. As the vision faded he saw, launched from that faroff sail of veins, an armada of thongs, bands, weaving as they advanced, seeking their destinations on the great mesh of veins sailing above him, and he yearned to mark the landing of those complementarities on their due destinations, their due lodging points on the great other soaring over him. But the vision was fading, and though he struggled to preserve it, it faded, faded, faded…and was gone.
For a second, he reviewed the vision from beginning to end, burning into memory the shreds of it that were all he would later be able to retrieve, that he would never forget.
The girl lifted lightly off him, got to her feet and trotted away. Groggily, slowly, he got to his feet, looking after her. In the gloom he saw her spring onto the handrail and prepare to race along it, her arms outstretched for balance. Perhaps sensing him lingering, she turned and called, “Come on, let’s go.”
He felt immobilized by the revelation he had just been given, weighed down as if his body had been turned to lead. He could only dumbly stare at her. Moonlight was rimming her body. He could see nothing of her but thin wisps of light silhouetting her back and her buttocks, her thighs and her breasts. Suddenly he saw something that, for the past few months, had escaped him. He saw that his young companion had become a woman. As he registered those wispy contours, he felt an enormous lust for her rise in him.
He wanted to weep; after a revelation of her perfection, of her massive singleness of person, how could he feel this gross passion for her, like one animal for another? He felt deeply ashamed of that part of him that made the lust, for demeaning the glorious vision. What kind of a man was he?
Then, rising as if from great depths within him, like a tower, banishing the conflicts, banishing all doubts, came the thunderous realization—“I love her. I have always loved her. I love her with every shred of my self. I will have her forever, I will never let her go.”
And all at once it was as if a great beam of sunlight had broken through the ceiling of the hall and bathed her in light. He saw her naked, he saw her clothed, he saw her pouting and smiling, he saw her looking at him with a radiant and loving smile. And he felt as if struck by a bolt of lightning, and felt warmth pour down through him, dissolving his strength, and he felt intense joy. But while he had been rapt in this vision, his eyes had been steadfastly fixed on her. And they called him back to attention. The ghostly outline had become alarmingly asymmetrical. Both arms were reaching back toward the landing; the fingers were grasping for support. As he watched, a second bolt struck him, but this time a bolt of terror. He saw the outline of one foot slip from the handrail. Then the other foot slipped. The silhouette of her thighs became intersected by the vertical railings into four lines of dashes, which one by one, in a flash, were blotted out by the edge of the landing. Then her hips disappeared, then her shoulders, her upswept arms, her hands, her fingers. Then he heard, and heard forever, the scream that went on forever, forever, until stilled by her impact on the stone flags seventy feet below.He would say later that at any instant in his life he could recall exactly the feel of the railing in his clamped fingers. People would describe how he would flex those fingers absently while thinking. His body brought him somehow to the rail, and he was gripping that rail and looking down and seeing a smudge on the stone floor below. Suddenly he regained his strength and was leaping, jumping down the flights of stairs, and howling his denials, No, No, until he crouched over her terribly broken and obviously lifeless body on the flags. Slowly, as if in a daze, he collected a blanket from a nearby service room, draped it over her, curled up next to her, and went to sleep. And that is how they were reported found the next morning.