Collected Letters of Francis St. James, Letter 16
Third month at third island
Even from the vast remove at which we are from each other, I can feel still the weight of your disappointment; how long has it been, my brother? How many tired months have we spanned while you await another epistle from me? Wendel tells me it is now verging on two years, and my records confirm ‘tis so. That is, plainly speaking, disgraceful, and I would not blame you for ‘writing me off’ in a fit of rage, nor would I be surprised to hear that have long since given me up for dead: cannibalized by the crew or set adrift for my lonely carcass to sail the magnetic tides through eternity.
But, as such a great span has pass’d us by, I fear the only thing to do, after offering you my most hearty apologize for my (benign, I assure you) neglect, is to move on and speak of the future: bright it is, lit with the light of discovery! The past years have been difficult but, as the farmer plowing a field of flints, tossing them aside one by one, my long labors are at last bearing fruit. Through the able assistance of Wendel, I have proven the crux of Zakharov’s Mechanistic Philosophy. But, far more than that alone, I have shewn there to be far more to that philosophy than even the noble professor discerned. Yes, the branes are all underlain with a mechanistic essence. But the essence of the essence, the soul of the machine, is a story: an eternally unfolding narration of which I have caught rare glimpses. I have seen the lives of the crew as lived by our universe, and watched their tales twine together and unravel to void and machine and new tales. The machine is a story and the story is a machine; I can only hope that Zakharov will not object to my revisions, nor to my coining of Mechano-Narrative Philosophy as the proper name for the ‘revised’ version.
It is most unusual then, that given this discovery, this climax of long years of study and toil, ‘tis not the thing that excites me most. ‘Twas the harbinger, true, the finger pointing at the moon’s heavenly glory, the (and I know that this will, to you, border on blasphemy) John the Baptist calling from the wilderness. The story behind the world has led me here, to this, the third of the islands encountered in our journey, where it peeks forth from the rusty ground. We have been at this island for three months now - thank gods for Glasikis’s indulgence of me, for I fear the crew grows restive and, other than Glasikis, none save the chaplain seem to shew the slightest interest in this isle. For my own part, it has been a rare delight to once more have solid ground ‘neath my feet. At first, the sense of solidity did little more than induce an increase in my melancholy - though still ‘riding high’ ‘pon my successful researches, I still sorely missed the trodding the stout cobblestones of Londontown. But of late? I confess that my melancholy is easing and I missing my home less with each passing day. Were it not for those left behind, I confess I might be tempted to linger on after the ship makes its departure (something Anteas tells me will be happening shortly).
‘Tis not the mere fact of solidity that tempts me so - no, there is more ‘pon this island of a quite singular nature. For one, Wendel has found an offshoot of his ‘tribe’ - I know not how they cross’d the long eons ‘tween islands, but there they were, dancing ‘pon the shore as Anteas ‘rowed us in’ and the chittering reunion they shared with Wendal was a heartwarming sight to behold (I had worried that he would leave me behind when once more amongst his people, but his loyalty to me and our studies has won out.). But more important, by far, are the discoveries I have made in the interior of the island. You will have to excuse the cursory nature of what is to follow; I am preparing a lengthy monograph on my discoveries, but until such time as it is published, I must report back in a solely summary fashion.
In short, as on the other two islands visited, the current one contains life most curiously adapted to subsist ‘pon the magnetism that is all a-flow through the environs. The crucial difference with this, the third island, is that, in addition to a magnetic nourishment, there is a near-constant rain of rust from the sky; I theorize that the indigenous life is able to extract an additional sustenance from this rust and, as a result of the ‘surplus’ energy, is able to devote time to matters of life above and beyond mere survival; to put it in another fashion: they have developed a civilization.
And such a noble civilization it is, and how graceful the members of it (Wendel’s species seems unwilling to participate, preferring to loll about the beach, mouths agape to catch bits of rusty rain with minimal effort). They are like unto ravens, of a great size, and exhibit feathers of the purest silver interspersed with the usual midnight black. I had not thought them to possess a language (Wendel’s race does not, save parasitically), for they go about their routines immersed in an almost reverential silence; ‘twas only when I happened upon a gathering of these creatures (I have dubbed them theodorus zakharovius) engaged in what I can only describe as a combination of meditation and communion that I came to understand that their communication occurs in an entirely different fashion.
They sat in a circle, wings pressed ‘gainst one another, eyes shut and faces slackened. I do not yet understand the mechanism of communication (though, as I will explain shortly, I was privileged enough to partake in it) - it seems to make use of the omnipresent magnetism, but also to rely ‘pon physical contact - but it enables an entry into a collective world that seems to lie close to the mechanisms of the branes. My own experience (thus far, I have been limited to but a single day of participation in the ritual) is just barely describable: it lay beyond language, but even so, I could sense a vast presence: an incomprehensible machine, fueled by stories and texts and narrations, and I could feel mine own story meshing with those of the creatures about me and, in turn, tangling with those aboard the ship and with the creatures of the other islands and with those I had left far behind; with yours as well, my brother, and oh! with Theodora’s and Zakharov’s and all the worlds and worlds of worlds and this brane and every brane beyond. Would that I could stay here forever, in eternal learning and meditation, with this noble tribe and, though this should remain a secret, lest others ‘back at home’ cast aspersions upon my character, I must tell you that I have received an invitation to ‘stay behind’ when the ship finally continues upon its ponderous way. Had I not the thoughts of Theodora and Zakhorov, I might be sorely tempted by the offer. Think of’t: to be given the chance to repeat the dive into the universe, not once, but forever - think of’t! Ah - the stories I would share - my prose purples at the thought.
You will, I hope, forgive my lapse into rhapsody - the experience, as you may have noted, has had a profound impact ‘pon my very being.
And now, my brother, you must excuse me. Anteas has delivered a package to my berth - how it arrived, I know not (incoming mail has been an uncertain affair on this ship), but it cries out for my immediate attention.
Be well. I remain,
Francis St. James