Collected Letters of Francis St. James, Letter 11
The Magnetic Sea
An uncertain amount of time has passed since last I wrote, so I know not whether to apologize for my tardiness or for my effusion. While I would dearly love to be able to blame my repeated bouts with the temporal ague for my current state, I fear that is instead something more insidious and more ingrained in my self: I am adrift ‘pon the currents of time, much like this ship is adrift on the currents of the Magnetic Sea and I have neither the fortitude nor the inclination to extract myself to less lassitudinal climes.
Given all that, you will scarce be surprised that, until the last fortnight (using that term, I must add, very loosely), I have made little progress in any of my many projects. While I have made numerous sketches of the flora and fauna found at our two points of landfall, I have made no attempts to pursue further investigation of my specimens. The strange pellets that I had previously mentioned, arising from the crew’s interactions with Norwegian Rot, pile up in the corners of my berth unexamined. And, though I am loathe to confess it, I have altogether given up my studies of Mechanistic Philosophy; I find myself nearing physical pain when I contemplate it, so inextricably tied to memories of happier times is it in my head. I cannot pick up one of your monographs for even an instant before succumbing to a flood of recollections that, though pleasant, cannot help but draw a sharp contrast betwixt past and current situations. The latter, I can assure you, does not fare well in this comparison.
I am afraid that I do little more than lie in my bunk, idly listening to the ‘music’ of my second machine: the strangely atonal melodies of the branes. Aside from my ‘music,’ I have little to console myself. Glasikis has quite absented himself from life since assuming captainship, seeming content to sit in his quarters and pour over the ship’s archives, letting the ship itself take what direction it may in the strange currents that engulf us. The chaplain (did I mention we have a chaplain? I have only just discovered this fact myself - she spent the first months of the voyage secured in her stateroom, for reasons unknown), though not unfriendly, is reserved in the extreme - I find myself growing ever more reticent and brittle in her presence, as does she, until we are the both of us staring nervously at the floor and clearing our throats uncomfortably; and then, she treats me with the same strange deference as does Glasikis: a kindness tinged with something indefinable - sadness? fear? regret? - I find her presence to be almost too much to bear. And then there is Anteas, who has been drinking much more heavily of late, and whom I suspect sabotaged (without meaning to, to be sure) my first machine by making off with the feather that was its key component.
No, I am wholly lacking in human companionship and it is thus not surprising that I spend an unusual amount of time in discourse with ‘Wendel,’ who is the sole living specimen thus secured on this voyage. You have, no doubt, seen the sketches I have sent, so I will refrain from supplementing them with my inexact descriptions. Wendel (who I assume is a he) has been my consolation throughout this long and darkened journey; without him, I fear I would long since have descended the ladder into madness. (I fully realize that my treatment of Wendel, including the simple fact of my having named him, is completely unscientific; to that I have no rejoinder.)
How marvelous then, that it was through the actions of Wendel that I should be shocked from my near-terminal ennui and back into the state of intellectual excitement that is ordinarily my natural state. I had left my bunk briefly (I believe it was to fetch some food from our makeshift kitchen - Anteas has been boiling his infamous barnacle stew for longer than I care to remember) and I must have left Wendel’s cage unlatched (though I do not let him roam ‘bout the ship, I must, of neccesity, open the cage to give him his daily repast of rusty nails and broken glass), for I returned to a most distressing scene.
Wendel had emerged from his cage and was hunched over on the floor, one of the pellets that I had collected, clutched in his chubby paws. He was eating it and, if I may be permitted to infer human emotion in a beast, he was eating it with relish. I quickly scooped him into my arms, and was examining him for any trace of injury when the most extraordinary thing began to happen: Wendel spoke.
And he spoke with a voice that had the resonance and weight of a person of some stature, not with the raspy squeak one might expect from so slight an animal. The words themselves were almost, yet not quite gibberish - from the scattered references to archives, Norwegian Rot and from the lengthy ‘parade of ships’ that, at one point occurred (Prospero, Caliban, Conducer, Sonad, Artemis Rex, Bellepheron, Inktilt, Romvishkraven) I have theorized that this pellet came, not from a current crewmember, but from an ex-crewmember: the former archivist, one Theodore Hubble, deceased. I find this intriguing - not least because it points to the incredibly lax standards of cleanliness aboard the ship; less facetiously, it seems to shew Wendel, or perhaps his entire species, to possess a unique ability to ‘translate’ physical objects, even ones of great antiquity, into a data output that is comprehensible to human ears. This may very well prove the breakthrough I have been looking for!
In the wake of this revelation, I am planning to construct a third machine, this one explicitly designed to take advantage of the unique abilities of my small companion. I will make use of the pellets I have collected to provide a ‘human’ input and, after a number of transformations, will route them through Wendel, who will then speak. Rather than outputting graphs or music, this machine will output actual words through the vehicle of Wendel. No more will I struggle to decipher the meaning behind the output of the branes’ mechanistic essence - it will be spoke to me in plain English, and I expect the words spoken will prove the vindication of us both.
Until that triumphant day, I remain,
Francis St. James