The Last Disarmament But One

Joseph McElroy

(author’s note: This narrative was written in the period 1981-3, edited in ‘84, as a possible late section of a novel then in progress. Puzzled over, protected within its own enigmas, half-forgotten, filed away, it is taken up now in the Spring of 2006 and re-edited as one of a number of short fictions intended for a volume long entitled Population Control. That title, fresh for my purposes in the late ‘70’s, may have become by now merely apt.)

It will not go away, this curious survival of ours. We tour the crater, contemplate its 1760-mile (though possibly immeasurable) perimeter. It is already in the atlases, where school-children may trace it. It is history. It is where our neighbor used to be. We internalize this crater. We express it in other terms. That twist that left us so little to work with that it might be nothing but ourselves.

We see it again to grasp what happened to that distinguished member of the community of nations. Powerful out of all proportion to its landlocked size, it one night became in seconds this awful map of itself cut into the earth. What an unusual map, life-size, with a visible depth yet a height absent perhaps only to the eye. Instead of mountain peaks and moving rivers, factories and airports, teeming cities and calm old towns, now these cliffs like the receding coast independent of a vanished sea go far beyond the horizon perhaps to make the horizon us. We keep returning to the wonder of it. The crater proves to be the exact shape of that vanished nation. What had we here?

That terrible night, the bright blast spiked to a pale plume many miles high. Night collected into a pillar of day. But while we who were near enough to watch could not think why we were living through it, the read-outs on the quake-activated monitors were showing even more astonishingly that the firestorm kept exactly within that nation’s airspace. Air-samples taken during the following weeks uniformly said the same for fallout. Stranger still, within the perimeter of the crater no fallout either. The holocaust was clean.

We keep returning to the wonder of it. A seventy-mile-high blast that incredibly did not overflow their frontiers. Did they ever really want us with them? They had outdone themselves.

The blast had risen like a computer-generated mesa faithful at all points of the atlas outline any schoolchild might scan. Indeed, because of certain phenomena we mobilized school- children to give us their thinking. The World Council set a zone round the new vacancy where only authorized persons might go. So we had what once was known in those days as a no man’s land, an incised micro-map of frontier embracing depth but within it now no mountains or river beds, no vales or unexpected cols. During those first weeks thousands came to look as they could. They saw of our former neighbor a crater outlined with infinite care and fractal fate. Adjacent nations that endured this tourism must needs control it.

The smoker’s smoke seeks any old lung, our roving Mach’monster machines spread bedlam on the still waters of untold semi-circular canals. Had a medium-size post-industrial state with a device that sealed off all other states from its explosive force achieved a technology downright self-containing. Yet self-reflective, it occurs to me. If so, why self-destroying? Was this holocaust a mistake? A folly of overreaching? If so, why the lack of contamination. Or would some new, unheard-of fallout follow in time? If not a mistake, was our vanished neighbor’s act suicide in some tradition ancient and modern of pride and refusal? A nation swallowing to the last-mega-drop the adventure of its own will, so swallower and responsibility went up as one.

We know a nation is one nation. But a nation, we have been told, of individuals and their powers. For population – a statistical, strange, perhaps incomprehensible term,is an intelligent resource poignant with human nuance and friction. Here, Us and Them. They had always said that in the light of their sovereignty they would never disarm. Had they at last been moved by us, the growing majority of unilateral disarmers? Yet never really wanted us with them. And when their power to outdo themselves found its last logic of undoing, they alone lived it. Was that annihilation, then, their way of respecting our convictions? A gift, and to us, if we’d take it, and at first we would. Yet if a gift, of what? Surely not the mere gross reduction in global numbers.

And the space. Whose was this new void? It repelled with some garden-variety inverse magnetism most winds and other air-currents, common particles of globally freewheeling dust and flesh. It repelled early test personnel who tried to install devices with which to descend the cliffs – and repelled at some frequencies light as well – beamed or in curious new forms of our naked sight. And if a gift from that now absent nation, who would we thank? Upwards of two thousand of their nationals traveling or residing outside the country at the moment of the event? Safely outside, we assumed – as with discretion in my laboratory circle we began to interview them, fission thinkers, architects, political scientists, artists, consultants, tourists, parents, many in semi-amnesiac shock, some curiously alive unable still to think out loud about their home. One psycho-biologist who had been asked before he left not to make this trip somehow could not speak of research he had been engaged in or of what he might have lost; yet, chastened, he pointed out how many unimaginative ways our thus far unchastened species had found to gradually kill itself. He recommended patience, a strangely elusive man – what was it? – and seemed to have in him a palpable thing he could not locate. Yet he had no wish to return to his homeland. Was it legally still there to be his? Could you return to such a place? The floor of the crater three miles down? We kept returning to the event, a technological twist, a coup. A nation swallowing to the last drop, or becoming, some task of its will. We had dared think the event could not happen. Yet if in thinking such holocaust unthinkable we had in fact thought it, still it didn’t then happen to us, the unilateral disarmers. Was this a holocaust to end all such, the last disarmament?

What had held the blast within these frontiers?

The upward gust of the event had drawn after it itself. With it went the neighbbreakthrough thinking, the unprecedented originality, it had sprung from, we concluded. Yet do not some thoughts need to forget the work they sprang from? Like childbirth, like hatred toward a friend, even the materials from which a formula is framed. The relief we felt that the one-man arms race was over gave way to a new drive toward understanding. This neighbor nation, reaching one end of its time-line like an unusual music, had ventured so far that, in fascination, one might forget one’s good fortune that one had not oneself been incinerated.

Some of us needed to know how it had been done, hear that music, for in fact the literal vector of honest inquiry that confronts premises may have heard in the metaphor of our widespread thought that there was indeed an unusual music to be heard. Yet the relief we felt that the one-man arms race, as we used to call it, was over gave way to a suspicion that we had better know how the thing had been done.

Vanished yet still among us, that nation had been monitored; so in the event we had a wealth of data. They revealed an eerie scene that night. Micro-forces unique in our experience had barraged transparent interfaces along the risen ghost frontiers, yet both barrier and forces seemed there only at instants of collision, so the forces themselves appeared to at once create the transparencies they were rebuffed by. As best we could make out, the forces “shimmered.” They were shimmers, and appeared at first at all points of boundary. We guessed they kept some secret of what had been done and how.

When I heard people say the force gave off an aura of purpose, I said to myself, as usual, No: the forces captured or were captured by their own field of purpose. The forces were called Shimmer Emission Demonstration or, the alternative D word, Doubt. In either case SHED. Not only because acronymed from Shimmer Emission Demonstration (or Doubt), but because they shed, it seemed limitlessly, though, like the old Einsteinian light, weighably, an aim. Thus, it seemed to come to us as, in another sense, simultaneously it was lost or went somewhere. Theory agreed that each of the SHEDs felt unique, but split on whether SHEDs were clusters or individuals; also, whether they were only a “shimmer-function” of this miles-high-risen, roughly (or perhaps exactly) cylindrical envelope of presumed electro-magnetism, or had for some reason in their millions-fold net of points chosen to stop there. Shimmer Theory had its satisfactions, its elegance, but with the advent of the What and the How approaches, it began to be argued that the barrier did not exist except as an illusion propagated by the very forces it seemed to enclose.

How would we rethink this breakthrough? I felt my words change. Not at first so much in isotope, spike, chain reaction, as, on our globe with its own spherical endlessness now not shadowed by terminal ignition, how nonetheless the unthinkable came to mind afresh.

I took my child to school, went in to work as I always did, and I drew my own sketches from what instruments had recorded digitally along the perimeter during and after the blast. Not just a lab person but a participating father of a study group, I spoke up: How and What had somehow become alternative visions. Easy enough to say. A workman observed, “Process and Essence.” But when my child’s 4th grade teacher agreed yet asked passionately if no matter “How” they’d pulled it off our vanished nation’s removal were not a What –– the What was what mattered!

Which in turn, it came to her, asked a whole new How: How we could take advantage of the nuclear disarmament we had dreamed of (if this event wasn’t in fact beyond nuclear). She was a fine and strong and beautiful mentor for the young but she was asking for it, we thought.
Majority “Hows” kept to two central points. What had held the blast within the boundary of our fellow nation? And what system of waste disposal could have created this great vacancy -- this void that for weeks actually pushed back currents of air and common particles of globally freewheeling dust and flesh and even repelled at some frequencies light as well, beamed, or in new, apparently thinking forms.

Minority “Whats” asked what new way we would think, free now of nuclear anxiety. But how had the people of that nation really thought? Had secret tests been tolerated even so much as they seemed to have been by their disarmament faction? And why so few exit-visa applications – somewhere between seventeen and eighteen hundred where there were so few restrictions anyhow, and when in the absence of unusual restrictions a healthy opposition had waxed so eloquent against arms development? The Hows jumped in here to ridicule the Whats on the visa question: why try to escape a thermonuclear event likely horizoning the entire globe? Unilateral disaster had been in the cards all along, Whats surprisingly concluded, so the anti’s would have had good reason to get out with their families, which mostly hadn’t happened.

Between me and my child’s teacher there came a thought. Well, she was a learner from the young. And their dreams, she said. Shimmer dreams, we were hearing. Future Shimmers in fact, promises lodging in you like both unknown insight and uncharted infection. The writing was on the wall and having originally chosen the civil service secondary school track which meant she had security, my child’s teacher must go where they told her. I made a friend of her. I loved her, I found. I would not own her. She was interested in my inclination to gather some of the Transitionals from the vanished nation and work with them, as in fact with some care I was already doing. Yet for dismissing the majority Hows and with them the riddle of this bold and heretofore inconceivable discrete holocaust, certain authorized persons suspected her both of starting a world movement against research and on the other hand of withholding information on the Shimmers along the boundary of the blast. And so it happened that she was given a much-sought-after administrative post in a distant sector known for its year-round fruits and vegetables and for the mineral from which was made a luminous stained glass of vivid and transparent color but little utility.

Films of the barrier force were aired worldwide and psychologists ascribed to its discovery a sadness which overtook many of us, Hows or Whats, though the World Council called it a low-level contagion emanating from a few of the especially uncommunicative Transitionals. Hard to define as a group across national, income, job, or age lines, these so much shared among themselves this sadness that it need hardly be voiced.

My child’s former teacher made much of it; she had become notorious. Those who had seen she was transferred to that remote region of endless produce and a population of hundreds of stained glass designers and their support cadres, waited for her to go too far. She had remarked that for her it was as if a raw gap at our heart where there had been some wonderful person must now in pain be either filled or narrowed and we could not tell which or how. She had gathered a group of children of all ages and they were studying Global Communication.

Three old friends of the transferred teacher not apparently in touch with her reported in themselves a heavy, hole-like place burning in the muscle interstices of the heart’s left ventricle usually occupied by phosphorus compounds. The burn did not hurt like a sore on a skinned knee or like normal chromosome damage in the urinary tract; it hurt more like a tiny interior lens magnifying perhaps sun at some point in the chest area. It was painful to describe. One of these friends told me I and our modest nation had turned up in his hands and feet, he was certain.

Hows or Whats, we found memorials being held somewhere on the globe every day. Thus we continued to feel the presence of our lost neighbor. The crown of its technology. Its generally calm polis. Its culture now ever with us in museums, concert domes, and conversations. All this grew compelling as if around some almost formulable belief. One reported child dreamed “up” (as the official phrase had it) a tale of refugee body-souls blasted so small they could not now be destroyed any more, nor resisted when they traveled out upon the globe finding space in each of us. Newspapers got hold of this, only then to retroactively erase from their pages a fiction that might spawn communal anxiety.

The mysterious atmospheric repellence in the Great Vacancy abated for some persons, not all. Now and then an overflight succeeded. Staring down upon the memory of our neighbor nation, a particle geologist reported that the crater down there had found some counter-crater in him. He was instantly scanned for feedback symptoms. Some step missing, he was asked if this crater had been in him before blast night. Maybe long before, maybe not, he said. Was he prone to an overproduction of future-predictive cells believed in though rarely isolated? On his return he was found to be more complex than measurably sad.

Whats urged Hows of all nations to let the event go, and get on with the job of living in a world free of thermonuclear threat and take the quantum jumps toward a polis free of national sovereignty. Yet quantum jumps are either-or and/or both-and, not some imagined rush to simple mastery. Needing to know how that nation had brought off its own disarmament, were not Hows thinking in a circle that would take them right back into some race for the technological lead? New exponential How mock-ups research actually saw How research itself as an ongoing chain reaction with no end in sight. The money was there, was the thing; and so was the desire, we seemed to be “seeing the ball well.” Surely some energy breakthrough was at hand, possibly feedback, in the technical and organic sense, of that perhaps not after all so self-contained explosion.

A super-inflatable device operated by a forgotten animal after a long communications blackout at an altitude of about seventy miles weighed in with data dating back to blast night. The upper reach of the blast had coincided almost exactly with this level of the troposphere. There, we have long left the frigid minus 200 degrees of the ionosphere floor to rise rapidly toward the high temperatures of that layer’s 85-mile range. Yet, astoundingly, the heat increase recorded of blast night at just the other side of blast’s upper limit was absolutely normal for ionospheric gradation. Had the animal-operated meteorological inflatable been just beyond the blast’s upper margin, or on it? What about within it? jibed one maverick What.

For two things had happened: Shimmer Theory research had found on the monitor records for the top of the blast a quasi-emotional agitation in the SHED super-forces which here imaged-out not as mega-heat but as handfuls of light networking and veer-bending among one another so that for the first time light bent back through other light, which gave to these grid-warps some self-correcting aim intelligent as AI but less clear and more surprising; the other thing that happened was that, with the return of normal void to this already legendary airspace, the animal-operated inflatable began unbidden to descend.

What evidence was there of mega-heat elsewhere in the blast area on blast night? Heat had been assumed by my people because of the blast’s overwhelming glare. Shock waves after all had not penetrated the blast barrier, but the instruments inferred levels of heat; and now, in the absence of sure signs, heat itself came into question.

How research raced toward concepts of heatless incineration by light.

Leading Whats sensed that we had all over again the dynamics of the arms race without its content.

One How lab detected changes in SHED forces. They swirled and plotted some personal dance-like system no longer apparently reciprocals of barrier-function. Some SHEDs infra-flickered in the outer zone. But SHED forces were thinning out. One small swarm or ”relationship” of SHEDs that had been observed faring forth across the frontier, easing back, faring forth, after a week suddenly burst and vanished. Hows claimed that as post-blast barrier faded, at least for some of the population, so, must Shimmer function.

But one of my people argued that “containment” or barrier-formation capability in SHED forces might be decaying toward low-grade detonation. This shunted us, and competing labs, in a hurry back to waste compaction, which How thought had always held that “it” all basically came down to. Whats asked, Had there been any waste? Other Hows, too.

As the animal-operated meteorological device made its ultra-slow descent (though now commanded to do what it was already doing), debate arose (as it will about matters of fact) regarding what animal was in the inflatable. No Transitional came forward to say. Logs like strings of opaque code in the blast night monitor digitals were said to show that the project had placed aboard its craft an ancient, friendly reptile hybridized to bear its young alive yet post-fertile and of a peculiar maturity that had profiled it for this assignment.

No, said another group of project people known for the high humor of their problem-solving: “it” was an even more highly classified crypto-human “experiment,” a man-woman who had accidentally proved immune to lethal radioactive leakage at a fruit-and-vegetable processing plant. This, it was now pointed out, had been along the perimeter of the region where the exiled teacher, my child’s and, I will add, now almost mine, so belabored by her bosses but also indirectly the World Council, whose constitutional say in loco-national schooling remained a gray area, had thrown fresh light on the widespread sadness which itself was now changing. Blood signals from the meteorological vehicle’s occupant became an unknown code that yet seemed not alien.

How researchers formed a secret project group.

The inflatable device, inflating, had slowed its descent despite commands not to. One afternoon a schoolchild’s doodle reproduced exactly one of the Shimmer configurations that How labs had kept under wraps even from each other, and beneath the gifted doodle the label LOOMS must refer to a story which now appeared in print a thousand miles away the next day. Upon which its author had to admit her child had told it to her at breakfast.

It was of a type of planet called a “plagnet” where everyone had myriad beings inside them called Lumes; and if you understood this, you might live it by sharing some of those Lumes; and so, on that plagnet, people stopped wanting to be other people instead of themselves. Which the mother in question said she had never imagined her child could want.

Who was this mother? At a historic moment when unexpected developments daily crept up on us from behind like quantum alternatives which might yet be both/and, this story was more than itself. For, through code-homonym LOOMS / LUMES and the mother’s admission that her daughter confessed to “bees in her bonnet” when she had woken that morning of the story, a chain-link appeared, it was reported, with the Shimmer configuration doodle torn from the school notebook of that other child a thousand miles away.

For the World Council authorities, disturbed by a How hypothesis that a pattern of blood signals monitored from the descending vehicle’s occupant matched exactly the classified SHED “relationship” which the school notebook’s doodle had reproduced, now traced it to the suspect teacher-exile, who herself had recently announced that the widespread sadness needed to be redefined.

She got a message to me. Visit soon. While tending her bees on a fruit-and-vegetable farm overlooked by a hill on which was a church built entirely of stained glass, she had found the bees’ patterns of affection and general neighboring an exact repeat of new “brain-beans” (she called them) multiplying their light inside her so she was now able not just to receive things miles off but even to give light to what she contemplated, in broad daylight and in the dark. Also, her hands had on them often now a light like honey.

How Ologists proved she had been infected with grandiose themes by the luminosity of old magnesium blues used in the local glass, when in fact as I knew she had internalized them with the help of ancient metal-clay templates in each of us. Others thought her far from harmless, for she occupied a famous exile; and lately, among members of the worldwide Sadness group, there now arose more than a story as if it were long known: a woman with blue hair, golden fingers, and beautiful webbed feet had been sent to the lone center of her land because she had a new offspring whenever she wanted, and could have one with wings and grass for fur one week and the next week full-grown twins with original sounds glowing from their skin that many people could hear, and a month later a new child that could be alone happily. And the woman had all the world in her like sun and strangely didn’t need company there where she had been put in the lonely center of that land. Another strain of this featured a man, and he had fine earthen feet and soft, porcupine-shaped hair and hands that changed color, and he too definitely gave birth. And in one faraway school six teenagers who fell asleep during bio-chem class woke with a cry and found that they had all dreamed this tale told by a woman who, though they had never seen her, proved to be my famed exile, who in the dream taught that the story-person was sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, never both at once.

Not recently heard from, the once distinguished particle geologist with a crater in him turned to the harvesting of stained-glass minerals. Some How scientists became Whats overnight and claimed that the interesting work was now interdisciplinary. My own attachment to the great event, the loss of that neighbor nation, I one day saw confusingly and not clearly but chokingly, was like when I lost the mother of my child and heard her voice for months as on an interdisciplinary telephone or as only a function of my own deafness, and was glad I had spoken to her so often before she died.

For a week the meteorological inflatable stopped descending, and the World Council put out word that the vehicle had been commanded to pause for a period of re-entry observation. Ordinary citizens hundreds of miles apart were saying they felt now happily exiled – alone, yet self-contained, able to speak foreign languages and perceive what they didn’t need to talk about.

The notorious teacher, with whom I had corresponded and become attuned, said she knew what they meant; asked if she was propagating some new immortality, she said she did not believe in life after death. Admitting death was hard to prove, she was accused of such influence upon these many other, far-flung self-styled exiles that, to my alarm and even, I think, my child’s, she was further removed to a top-secret job at a remote mountain station whence nonetheless were now said to emanate a range of curious reports. Doublings it sometimes seemed. Like the dubious radioactive-immune man-woman said to be replacing the reptile in the now again descending meteorological vehicle. Or my friend herself being that passenger. It might have been merely a religious era supplanting the pervasive emptiness wrongly inferred in the spread of SHED from the original blast. Yet the long-awaited data on Shimmer-function life at the ceiling of the original blast now half-neglected in the flurry of interest in these personality breakthroughs so rich yet, in their spread, so alarming, consolidated the thought of the How spokesmen to embrace the imaginative complexity of science so disquieting that they began to mention global personality malfunction. The force that modifies the thing becomes the thing itself, it was said.

An infra-scanner wrote a sonata for experimental lasar and unison mass-chorus. It was based on the identity of the schoolchild’s legendary doodle and the steady forms of occupant blood-signal transmitted from the descending vehicle. These patterns in turn matched one of the Shimmer configurations. Thus, doubts were reawakened as to whether the unilateral blast had really
been contained.

One bio-hawk heard in the sonata not the Mass Mind the World Council warned of, but beam-mass equation in the solo laser that argued new particle uses for non-nuclear conflict once called “conventional.” Old line How funding accelerated the quest to isolate and capture a Shimmer-function, and in a few labs this acceleration caused time itself to narrow and condense a billion times more swiftly than a New Zealand canyon over unthinkable centuries. The particle geologist reported that the counter-crater inside him receded yet opened larger. He had found better terms for the post-blast sadness anyway, but when he told these terms, he was accused of being in touch with the doubly exiled teacher, who he then said he sensed was dead, though I, who loved her, knew she was not. His new names for the post-blast sadness had come to him during a dream of overflight: he was above the vanished nation which was visible as scaleless clusters of cities in the night. Hows, now in a race against time itself, bypassed such terms of his as “threshold” and “the alien New” to extract from his term “tension” a revived essence of “tensor.” This was a device to measure the invasors causing the so-called sadness that was really straight-out depression according to the World Council and chemically treatable though socially intolerable.

Among the global sadness group, if group it was, a new spirit arose overnight. In one region it was a power to cooperate in reshaping community economics so that people without a job or home, say, were seen as having blindly or unjustly given those things away to others who themselves were now possessed of too much, a risk signaled in awful dreams, queer pique at family members, and a need to show off by giving everything away. Cadres of us in our modest nation began somehow to build a land we could understand. On one small continent noted for its autobiographical literature and its undersea sports, people began to move more slowly and were filmed by news services. They were in the grip of a force called Transitional (after our new world citizens-without-a-country) which sought to be at rest. In one extreme northern country, original sadness people stopped wearing heavy clothing out of doors, and no single How answers such as Changing One’s Life or Muscle Memory Re-education covered every case of this. How Shimmer sensors were picking up nothing anywhere, and the World Council found more funding to develop a still finer sensor. Transitional People from the vanished nation were chosen from all over the world to be Tensor-tested. A news organ reported the blast frontier now “shorn of Shimmer forces.”

How science liaisons at the World Council announced new funding to prove the link between at-large Shimmer-invasors and actual brain change. The alarmed, now prospering mother-author of the story her child had told her called the doctor upon being visited in her kitchen one late, dark afternoon by, she was certain, the notorious exile-teacher. From that person’s hands came light, in her words the clear message, “It comes from you, not to you.” The mother went gladly into custody. Upon being interrogated she said she’d never had one of these experiences and would not know one if she had had. She went on record, as an author, in urging the repopulation of the crater country.

The weather vehicle slowed its descent. Descending evidently toward the center of the crater as the World Council monitor confidently predicted, great more like an entire field sector or even Tropopause than a plottable object traversing such space, beginning to wait again as if it would take everything in its vicinity with it. Its meteorological inflatable inflated at an altitude of five miles and, slowly coming down on a dark, late afternoon, visible when I looked up at a plane far distant though seemingly next to the weather vehicle, I could have sworn my love was contemplating that plane wherever she was; and at that moment without benefit of instruments I became aware of a change in the weather vehicle’s course or angle less of position than of nature or a mode of evolution. Was it not descending now toward us?

Soon flanked round the clock by aircraft, it would land square in the middle of our modest nation, the World Council monitor predicted. This time the prediction was right, and the the meteorological vehicle came to rest amid dust-storms from assisting aircraft at a point a How geometer found to be dead-center of our country. It was wrapped almost instantly by World Council advisors and flown from the scene. Competing Hows demanded to know why WC had picked one lab over others to evaluate the contents of the vehicle. Secrecy we could have predicted would end in confusion.
Tensor tests continued apace, and many Transitionals were on such a sharp and happy Alert High that world niacin-supply controls came under scrutiny. Other testees seemed too self-contained to respond to a classified new death-therapy exploring waste-disposal but also aiming to discredit the exile-teacher’s Death-hard-to-prove remark. Tensors could only isolate, not measure, Shimmer relationship in, say, some knee-joint, eye, hand, or inner duct. When delicate amputations failed to “corral” shimmers that the instruments and operational tensors had shown to be there, How labs again pursued Shimmers as fleeting functions of barrier event. The great crater had become almost instantly ancient in its own private time and venerable , standing out in a line of cliffs deep-mapping what atlases had shown for a thousand years.

We knew in our bones that a fallout sample is worth little without real people on the spot, their organisms protected only by their openness. This view was held by Hows to be a result of Shimmer-contamination. But the Council thought to take advantage of the spreading enthusiasm to venture into the crater. Seeing through the emptiness of that place to resources in ourselves, some of us as if we were Transitionals as we imagined they ought to feel, thought of exploring at least the sheer walls. Such élan was ascribed to Transitionals said now to desire relocation in our former neighbor nation, that the World Council hung fire on the project.

Some new resource at large went unspecified, but the WC’s preferred lab now reported on what had been aboard the meteorological inflatable upon touchdown. No Shimmers, no records, and only a few scraps of graph read-out singed as by the vanished stylus itself: but a section of an organism; a soft half-doughnut of seemingly brain still transmitting: musicking its perhaps simple signals to itself like nutriment. The hind-brain of the hybridized reptile! labs chorused coast to coast. An “unchewed slice” of male-female cerebellum maintaining its balance through a crisis, argued another. Authorized Hows classed the half-doughnut a potential contaminant, we were told.

A blue and gold substance as if mining itself had worked its way to the surface near the foundations of the first major dwelling complex we had begun; then this vein sometimes extended outward, like a spoke, surfacing gradually, yet in fact inward toward where the weather vehicle had touched down. Metal clay, earth flesh – was it food for a new species or the start of one? The substance had some milky fume belying its strength, but its fine, easy coming gave us hour by hour, day by day, ideas of its use which were like refinements released by an ore.

I told my child it was not the end of the world. No surprise, said my child.

Was the crater a resource? The cliffs grew translucent, mauve, dark green, orange before the sunset and the dawn as if to impart that color to the coming change of light. Along the escarpments scans had discerned a self-mining substance. WC advisers declared it a danger. It was here, from my point of view, when we wanted it; and we went about our work. I have said “here” meaning “there.” We would hear How labs a thousand miles off clamoring that the cells discovered in the vehicle must be tested before they worked some more terrible completion. Voices reported near the vehicle and near the cliffs would perhaps be subject to tensor tests as of a new faith possessed possibly of an energy-conserving, waste-dissolving secret “covered” by its claim that that original nation’s self-immolating bomb had contained itself by communal will, which formula compensated its citizens for the loss of former life and limb by giving them those Shimmer relations so seminal that to seal the border of their energy-splitting blast that awesome night was second nature and like the five-finger exercise of what I had heard called (with a capital G) Grace. Hardly my view. WC followed the logic of all this out and announced a competition among How labs for solution to the “problem” doubtless geomorphic and metallurgical arising in our new crater country.

Word came to us that at a buffet marking the progress of this competition, the WC accused us of unilaterally challenging the global federated union. A senior How said, “We have not yet disarmed,” and she was greeted with a thunder of applause of hands then disquietingly aware of having felt in their palms the senior How think the words, We have not yet begun to fight.

I have written this informal history of I hope my child as well as me: yet also of what became possible for me when I and my child joined the teacher at her mountain station and found a small group of grownups and children often easy to distinguish without being seen. The livelihood I found with the teacher, so different in her views from me, and with my child who, an instinctive astronomer, points out the constellations to me in broad daylight – the green freedom of our chores in short – has left time to put into these words, if not the formula, the materials covered by it as in a calculus that sums up increasingly smaller everyday things by an infinite process to reach a finite answer so you know where you are. At least some notes toward an understanding of what happened, the hopes arising, and the hope against hope – if that saying is ever clear – with which we stay here, determined to come down from the village one day in some time-frame, though remaining uncertain what is this human nature we possess.

Am I myself? Shimmer Theory I leave to others. It will come to me when it comes. Shimmers in my system, however, even my desire for this woman who beguiles me and my child, telling me I teach her (because somehow we need to thank and give credit for what may be more deeply and strangely ours from the first), show me night after night until I have brought them into day a future with my people and the new thoughts each day voiced and unvoiced of our colony: yet a future for myself, alternating like blinks, like particle with wave, risk with mere happiness, a pioneering exploration of the crater risky in the extreme, descending the very colors of the blast-bereft walls to the floor and what it promises and what it may cost.