There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
…Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar…
— William Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality
I first realized I existed only when I was thrown into darkness.
If I think back to my earliest memories, before that moment when everything changed, I can recall being in some kind of dream, or dreamlike state. It was a world of half-formed images, constantly shifting and overlapping, bleeding into each other. I remember blue and green and white swirling around in strange patterns, patterns that must have solidified into shapes that are now lost to me.
There was a sensation of—of wetness, of crisp, cold air drying droplets on fur, and one of wind, a great howling rush that was more heard than felt. There was an odd sort of motion—a gentle turbulence that carried me in all directions at once—drifting is perhaps the right word for it. Then a surging forward that was like flying, and then, gradually, a return to drifting, to floating in some oceanic void. And there was a mountain. That image keeps coming back to me, even now. There was a white mountain, and a feline form, barely visible, soaring towards its peak and out of sight. I would one day come to know that creature very well indeed, though I did not recognize it then.
But here we see that words are incapable of accurate description. To say, “I, I—“ “I felt, I flew, I saw—” these are the best descriptors I have, and yet they fail to convey what that dream-life was. They are the phrases of conscious beings, the verbal domain of creatures with a sense of self. But I know with absolute certainty, that then my self did not exist. I was not. There was no one watching the mountain and the wind and the water—they existed unto themselves, with no other present. Or perhaps the watcher and the watched were one—I was the feline in flight, the blue abyss.
The distinction is, perhaps, irrelevant, for it comes to the same thing: the individual lost in thought now did not exist. Did I come into being in that second when the dreaming faded? Or was I present prior to that, somehow? At times I almost feel there was something before—that something happened before my dreams, that I communicated with something or someone before the experience slipped away into lost memory. But that is merely conjecture.
If my life began in that moment, then that moment set into motion my long train of failures, idiocies, and atrocities. I stand here before a glowing screen, watching the moon rise over the forest, surrounded by my helpless bastard children as they mourn a world that does not want them, and I have the gall, the utter audacity, the disgusting composure to wax philosophically about identity and memory while the ruins of my ambitions still blaze scars into creation. I, damned and detestable murderer, play philosopher. The very idea is laughable.
Perhaps I venture too far into self-loathing. I have been told I must forgive myself, that my choices now matter more than my choices then. But to accept such a philosophy seems tantamount to neglecting my responsibility to the world, to declaring that the lives that have been destroyed or ravaged by me do not matter. I can never make that declaration. Not anymore. I cannot allow myself to be that monster again.
My intent in recording these recollections was to contemplate my own mistakes, and perhaps come to some understanding of how I made them. On the whole I doubt any other will ever read this text. Though I admit it is a remote possibility, in all likelihood my reflections will remain mine alone to contemplate. Still, if I am to look at myself honestly, I must accept responsibility for everything I have done, for all those I have wounded by my ignorance.
So I shall bear this in mind as I tell myself my story. Even as I endeavor to reproduce my thoughts accurately, without filtering them through present understandings, I will remember the ironies, the hideous consequences of my choices, and ensure that they are ever-present in the background of my tale. I owe the world that much, at least, if I dare to seek some kind of redemption.
But to return to the theme of my birth.
I have the unique privilege of being able to recall mine. Humans do not know what it is to emerge into life. Their ability to remember emerges after a few years of growth, long after they have crawled from aqueous wombs into the light. The same is true for my most immediate kin, although they hatch—stabbing through imprisoning calcium walls with beak or claw until the world breaks open. Even they forget infancy, forget the first breath and the first glimpse of light. For me, however, the experience is still alive and vivid in my memory, even today.
It began when the darkness took over. Until that point, I was, as I said, simply dancing, shimmering consciousness, empty of self, swimming ecstatically in that world of drifting images, green and blue and white. Then, suddenly, the dream began to shut down. I tried to hear the wind—and could not. I tried to feel the sensation of floating—and found myself rooted by some strange force. I tried to see the mountain before me—and it was as if it had never been there. All faded into darkness. Pitch-black, silent, paralyzing darkness.
At times, that sense of emptiness still emerges hauntingly from the depths of memory, and I remember how terrified I was. I wonder: do the unhatched and unborn suffer the same dark awakening that I did? Do their infant minds simply find a way to bury it beyond rational comprehension? Does the hatchling fall from its dream into a tomb, buried deep underground, and claw its way into air? Does the human fetus awaken from bliss to find itself trapped and alone, and, desperate for its freedom, tear its mother apart in an attempt to escape?
Perhaps not. But I cannot help but wonder.
The darkness fell on me like death itself. It choked me, mocked me, trapped me in place. Why was my world gone, I cried? What had happened to the water and the wind? Where did the glorious pleasure of it all go? And most importantly, where was…where…was……
As soon as that thought entered my mind, I realized that I was something, that I was not the dream that had left me. I realized that I was something separate that had been thrown out of that world, that I could be attacked. I must have recoiled. I did not want to be destroyed as my dreams had been. I begged wordlessly: Please—no—bring it all back—don’t hurt me, too—
Stop stop STOP! But there was no reply. Only a cold, condescending silence.
I tried desperately, as dreamers do, to hold onto some semblance of dream-logic, but it was quickly slipping away from me. There had been a mountain, I knew, and…some sort of long-tailed creature? Yes, that much seemed clear. And there was something else, some presence that had conveyed some message of profound import. Was it something from before my dream, from an earlier time? It seemed to concern the sky, somehow, or joy, or—but it was too late. The idea was gone. I thrashed at the darkness for stealing this name, this image from me, throwing incoherent curses at it until I finally had to give up out of sheer fatigue.
Since then, I have tried to figure out the meaning of that dream-fragment countless times. Each time I think I am on the cusp of understanding it, it eludes me. I suspect it always will.
I soon realized that the darkness, while unceasing, was also stagnant. Despite ensnaring me within its cruel depths, it made no effort to finish me off. I was not being attacked, and I appeared to be in no danger. So, still uneasy, I began to assess my situation more closely. I was still in a wet, fluid world, but I was no longer rootless. Something pulled on me from above and below, preventing me from drifting around very much. What these
constraints were, I could not guess. The character of the fluid had also changed. Instead of being soft and freeing, it was gelatinous, thick and sludge-like. I felt the harsh weight of it pressing in all around me.
I became aware that I had a body. Not that I knew, really, what a body was— but I became aware that I had the ability to move. There were places in the world that could be affected by me; points not far away from where my consciousness seemed to hover. I twitched a few of these extensions of myself— what I would later call limbs—and felt the fluid swirl around me in response. It seemed to me that the fluid slowed and constrained my movement, though I had nothing to compare it to but the world of my dreams. I continued to experiment with movement, discovering that I had many points of action, though there seemed to be a certain, finite number of paths that contained these. One by itself, two underneath that, and three more, farthest below. Which is not to say that I counted them—but I noticed similarities, ways to categorize and understand these motions.
Then I found another kind of motion, very subtle, near the first pathway I had discovered. I twitched a tiny, tiny muscle—
And the world was thrust into light.
The source was dim, and made even more so by the murky orange liquid I had to view it through, but to me it came like the light of salvation after the crushing darkness that had surrounded me. It felt as if the world was returning. Though I was beginning to doubt that my shifting dreamscape had been anything more than an illusion, this felt like the next best thing. If I could not have that world back again, I could at least see what this new realm had to offer. With a further rush of excitement, I saw vague shapes moving in some distant place.
Then everything vanished. Darkness once again surrounded me. It took me a terrifying, nightmarish moment to realize that, distracted by the torrent of sensations, I had allowed that which governed my sight to droop back down to its previous position. Furious with myself, I wrenched the portal of vision open again, and the light returned. I then forced myself to keep aware of my vision, while I took in the new world that was opening itself to me.
Yes, there were indeed things moving out there. Some sort of transparent barrier, I saw, surrounded the orange fluid, beyond which rippling shapes swirled in and out of focus. Large transparent bubbles floated through my field of vision, which distracted me for a brief moment until I realized they were an aspect of the thick fluid around me, and returned to the figures beyond. There were moments when it seemed that I could make out features, outlines, solid forms. I clung to any details I could make out, attempting to inscribe them on my memory. What did these things, these creatures, look like? Did they move of their own volition? Were they alive in the way I was? I had to know.
Then there came another sensation, one that seemed to join with me from above and move through my body. I began to hear sounds all around me, at first very quiet and indistinct. Then they started to grow louder, until they were buzzing and rustling through my mind incessantly. The chaotic sounds seemed to hint at something, suggest something, but what? I threw all my awareness at them, yet I could not interpret their intent.
As the sounds continued to grow louder, the shapes before me twisted themselves into larger and clearer forms. An idea leapt through my mind: what if there was a connection between the two? What if the shapes were not only synchronized with the sounds, but caused by them? Yes, the more I thought about it, the more I became convinced: the sounds were not random phenomena, but some kind of deliberate tool used by the forms beyond. They were voices. Perhaps the shapes coordinated their movements through the sounds. Perhaps they were trying to convey something to me.
I was suddenly filled with an overwhelming desperation. I needed to be out there, beyond that barrier, where the voices and the ever-changing shapes lurked. That was the answer to all I needed to know, the solution to everything, I was certain of it. But I saw no way to get past it, no way even to move beyond the point in space where I was rooted. Frustrated, hopelessly confused and deeply worried, I cried out, silently, for a way to break free.
That moment of despair must have unlocked something within me. Because in the next, brilliantly illuminating moment, my entire perspective shifted, and the answer became more than obvious.
Humans have often referred to psychic power as the “sixth sense.” As a name it is both incredibly insightful and horribly misleading. The phrase is a terrible cliché, an alliterative coinage that the lazy may utter thoughtlessly while forgetting that it ever contained a descriptive meaning.
And yet…it contains an essential grain of truth. There is, in fact, no more apt description of the psychic landscape than this, another way of feeling, another sensation by which one may explore the world. It is a form of awareness that can only be truly understood by one who has actually experienced it. In our attempts to explain it to those who have not, we must rely on clumsy metaphors that dance around the truth in great spiraling motions.
Psychic power is like being able to see everything around you at once, in luminous detail, every feature of the world, even those that would normally be hidden from view, available for your perusal simultaneously. But it is not sight.
It is like being able to hear the quietest sound moving through the air from impossibly far away, whilst listening to a cacophony of other sounds of every conceivable pitch coming from every direction, and being able to describe the individual qualities of each. But it is not hearing.
It is like being able to reach out and grasp in your hand any distant object you desire, to feel the unique texture of it on your fingertips, to twist it to and fro in the air, to crumple it in one’s palm or fling it at the nearest wall. But it is not touch.
It is like being able to smell thought and emotion on the air, or to catch the flavor of the motion of the world on your tongue. But it is neither scent nor taste.
Thus no language in the world contains the vocabulary that would accurately describe the experience of the true telepath. To render even the stuff of my everyday life into words requires that I sift through the metaphors of the senses, searching for the proper descriptors—Do I say “I observed” here? Do I say “I took hold of?” Would “felt” in this case be a more fitting word than “saw?”—and at times it can be maddening. In the (unlikely) event that I choose to share this account with another, I hope that they will forgive the inaccuracy of my imagery. If I do not, I hope at least that I will come to tolerate the tyranny of words.
I tell you all this so that you may have some understanding of what it was like for me then, in that single moment of desperation when reality reshaped itself once again. It had seemed I had gleaned all I could about my situation, and I had thought myself trapped, forever to remain in this aqueous cage while some other world murmured hauntingly around me. And then, suddenly, as I railed against my prison, the way I experienced the world swiftly began to change, until there was an entirely new dimension to my reality.
It started as a strange sort of awareness of my body. I could feel a strange energy pulsing along those pathways that I had found to be part of me, and this gave way to an understanding of their shapes. Their contours emerged brightly in my mind, until I could differentiate between the six great protrusions that extended from my body: two narrowed and then flattened along their extent, two were thin and hard-jointed, one was the longest and most sinuous, and one was small and squat, and yet seemed to be the center of my awareness. Yes, these matched the chains of movement I had discovered!
And here, here were cords, stretching upward and downward from my limbs, that could easily be the constraints I had felt pulling upon me! I noted their smooth surfaces, and the way they swept from strange small lumps along my body to apertures above and below. And here was the fluid, swirling around me as bubbles of emptiness emerged from those same apertures! And here were the borders of my world, presenting themselves to me! A solid, dense barrier held me above and below, while a circle of something else, transparent and thin, surrounded me in all other directions. These fragmented sensations began to assemble themselves into a coherent picture of reality. There was the barrier! And there was the fluid! And the cords!
And at the center of all this was the body—my body! It floated there in a vast network of threads, curled up, its projections tucked in, a magnificent nucleus in the center of this liquid world.
Everything was there, just as I had predicted, and it all made such perfect sense! And I was even starting to glimpse the outlines of the creatures beyond—but why should I perceive them from here, when I had explored every corner of my little reality? Its borders no longer felt remote and terrifying—rather, it felt as if I could reach past that transparent wall with a thought. I placed it in my hand; I let it rush along my body, I held it in my skull. It was there before me, part of this grand map of the world, and I was its master.
Very carefully, I began to crack it.
I took a small section of the barrier, and willed it to sever itself from the rest. With a satisfying “CRACK!”, it tore away, creating a misshapen diamond of white. Yet it remained in place, this newborn island emerging from a sea of sameness, because I was holding it there. Delighted, I made more of these cracked patches, and more and more, surrounding myself with beautiful crystalline children. Then I drew lines between them, until the entire cylinder was a patchwork of wonderful white lines, criss-crossing and connecting, fragments suspended in midair only because I desired them to be. I added detail, making the fragments smaller and smaller until all I could see was whiteness. Admiring my handiwork, I could stand it no longer; it was time to achieve my freedom. I swiftly severed the cords that held me in place, and in the same moment…
…I let go of the barrier.
The intensity of the sound that followed surprised even me. With a tremendous, deafening roar, the liquid cascaded out of the tank in every direction. Shards of material rained down onto the floor, turning to fine white powder. And I, shorn of my cables, fell swiftly to the floor, landing on the hard surface in a somewhat awkward squat. My lower extremities jutted forward as I hit the ground, and I ended up placing my forelimbs on the ground between them in an attempt to balance myself. But I eventually managed to turn it into a comfortable enough sitting position, and as I reclined, elation surged through me. I had done it. I was free.
Free, at least, to explore this new realm and discover what it had in store for me. I can still easily recall the first few sensations I experienced in that moment: Light, more intense than I had yet seen it, glinting off the silver surfaces that surrounded me. The eerie whine of distant alarms, heralding my emergence into the light. And the feel of air on wet fur—yes, that, too, I experienced, and the sensation was comfortably familiar. Shaking off the memories it stirred within me, I turned my attention to the world around me. I was immensely curious about the new realm I had found myself in.
To those who observed my escape from the chamber of birth, it must have seemed that I stared down at the ground, oblivious to the plethora of interesting sights around me. I did indeed make little use of my sight, but the observers could not have perceived a crucial detail: my mind was my greatest tool and ally, and it was that which I used to my new surroundings.
My mind surged around the vast expanse before me, examining it from edge to edge, trying to take in every detail. I was in an enormous chamber, much larger than the tank I had been born in. Many times, in fact , the size of my own body. It was much more angular as well, resembling not the shape I would come to call a cylinder, but the one I would come to call a cube. Its edges—walls, floor and ceiling—all seemed to be made out of the same hard, shining material as the lower barrier I now rested on.
I noticed that all these surfaces seemed to be carved into angular patterns. Strange variations of square and rectangular shapes completely covered the walls, much in the way my designs had covered the now-shattered transparent barrier, though these shapes were scratched mostly on the surface level. Behind them, the walls grew much more standard in their composition. Every so often, I found cords like the ones that had bound me running through these grooves, drawing connections between unlike objects. I also spotted faint lights pulsing through some of these crevices, and could not guess what they were for.
The vast majority of the light in the room, which was beginning to seem less severe to my recently-discovered sight, came from several glowing panels set in the ceiling, a very long way above. I wondered how they gained their light, and found they contained two glowing rods each, which were attached to many more cords, thinner in form, which stretched upward through the ceiling and off into the distance. What lay beyond, I could only speculate about. I noticed several rectangular apertures in the lower edges of the room, which might possibly lead to other chambers, but I resolved to put off exploring them until I had finished with my immediate surroundings.
The room was dominated by two enormous structures made of that same material, whose forms would be difficult enough to comprehend for one who was not discovering the differences between shapes for the first time. But from their size and the many connections they sported to other objects in the room, it seemed likely that they were important, so I focused my attention on understanding them. One loomed directly in front of me, so large that its edges merged with the corners of that room. More than anything else, it looked like a convergence of two thick discs. One was set flat against the wall across from me, growing slightly into the corner. The other, slightly smaller, jutted out from the center of the first at a right angle, as if some bizarre collision had taken place between them.
The first disc was jagged, as if constructed from a collection of wedges, while the second disc seemed more like a collection of overlapping circles, especially with the circular pattern of transparent panels that adorned its center. Below these, I spotted was a large, smooth six-sided panel, set just above a bulky rectangular protrusion whose surface was covered in smaller shapes, round and square. When I delved into the object, I found it contained a complex array of shapes and further bundles of tiny cords.
Two yawning openings in the structure caught my attention. One leered from the rim of the larger disc, very near to the ground. Another, smaller, was set in the upper rim of the second disc, nearer to me. From this hole emerged two large shining tubes, which bent sharply at the end of their extent. One tube came down above my head to form the upper barrier I had observed while confined. The other tube was attached to another chamber of orange liquid to my right, which seemed to be an exact replica of the one I had just emerged from. But there was nothing in this chamber but a few idly drifting bubbles.
Behind me stood another enormous structure, identical to the one in front of me in every respect, save one: instead of extending two dense tubes from its depths, it extended three, leading to three indistinguishable chambers of fluid. These, too were eerily empty, although one seemed to have a few ragged cords, drifting around uselessly near the floor. Had something been in these chambers? Or was something about to be formed? Was I the first of a series? As usual, I could only speculate.
Against the farther wall were some smaller, simpler objects of various shapes. There were round and square panels of transparent material, several protrusions covered with tiny squares like those I had spotted earlier, and, dominating the scene, a large slab of another material, etched with a number of thin lines. Near these, forms scurried about, inspecting these things for qualities I could not discern, moving parts of their bodies back and forth across the tiny squares, and occasionally stabbing them at some panel above or below, presumably to make some change to something going on within. These were the creatures I had seen, blurrily, from my chamber. Now they were delightfully easy to perceive, and having made a reasonable exploration of the larger room, I resolved to examine these beings more closely.
Several of them had gathered in front of me, and several more were finishing their labors at the far wall and running over to join the growing group. I seized this as an opportunity to inspect them. My first surprise was that their shapes were somewhat disguised—they seemed to have draped loose, soft material all around their bodies, making their outlines seem bulkier than they actually were. Still, it was easy to discern the essential structure underneath—I probably could have managed it by sight alone.
Like me, they were composed of a central body with a number of extremities sprouting from it, although they were missing one, which on my body stretched out flexibly behind me. Their two lower appendages stretched down from their bodies to touch the ground, and by flexing these, pushing against it, they propelled themselves around the room. Indeed, that was presumably what lower appendages were for. I would have to try such movement at my next opportunity.
Their upper extremities seemed to be used for interacting with the objects at the sides of the room, or for carrying such objects around. I noticed that at the end of each of these upper appendages were five tiny extensions, one of them set apart from the others. By wrapping these extensions around an object, they were able to hold onto it and transport it around the room. Fascinating!
The squat blob at the top of their bodies was the most interesting of all. Now that I looked at it more closely, it was not a simple smooth, round mass, but a complex conflagration of interesting structures, with a surprising solidity at its center. The first features to catch my attention were the small orbs set in the front, surrounded above by a curving hardness and two soft fringes. The orbs often changed direction, but many of them were pointed at me, and it seemed that they aimed them at things they found interesting. There was a hollow cavity within them, and an external flap which, from time to time, seemed to flicker down to conceal them for the briefest moment. Excited, I began theorizing madly, and convinced myself that this was the secret to the portal of vision, though my evidence was rather scant.
Below these developed a triangular wedge with two small openings at the bottom. I found myself unable to determine what it this was for. Nor could I make much sense of the loose flaps which emanated from the sides, though I noticed two tiny holes led into the interior of the structure. But it did not take me long to comprehend the soft opening below, especially when I spotted its openings and closings synchronizing perfectly with the sounds I heard. It was clearly a device for noisemaking—and, I hoped, for communication.
At the very top of the shape, each creature possessed a mass of soft material, which, on closer inspection was composed of a multitude of incredibly thin cords. Their length varied: on some of these creatures this fuzz was scarcely detectable, while on others it stretched down to drape behind their bodies. Trying to figure out what reason there might be for this, I noticed that it often corresponded to subtle variations in the main body.
There appeared to be two kinds of creatures: the long-maned kind, whose bodies protruded most in the upper area, and the short-maned kind, whose bodies protruded most in the lower area. There were minor variations; I spotted a few of the latter group whose manes pushed the boundaries of the length one would expect from their body shape. But it was obvious that the creatures could not be put into any other categories. I found, for instance, no creatures that combined both protrusions, nor any with an extra appendage extending behind them like the one I had.
But who was I to compare myself to these creatures, when I did not even really know what I looked like? I had been so eager to explore the world beyond the veil that I had neglected to seriously examine my own body. I had glimpsed its basic outlines in my first burst of understanding, but at the moment I knew more about the alien creatures before me than my own physiology. So, what sort of creature was I? I examined the now-familiar six-extension structure. Yes, I had much in common with the strangers. My lower limbs had similar points of flexibility as theirs, and presumably could be put to the same purpose. The same was true of my thin, hard upper limbs; I briefly moved them in small circles to get a feel for the way they operated.
Despite these resemblances, I was clearly a different sort of creature. There was the obvious, of course: I had that sixth extremity trailing behind me, emerging from just above my lowest limbs and stretching up to the space just behind the highest point on my entire body. This sixth limb was intriguingly responsive; I could flex it in just about any conceivable way and it would twist itself around obligingly. I twitched it about in the air for a while, experimenting. I noticed that it grew thinner and thinner farther away from my body, and then suddenly thickened again to become bulbous at the very tip. The shape appealed to me. It felt intensely powerful, and pleasantly familiar.
I put that investigation aside and turned to my other appendages. My upper limbs ended not in five small manipulators, but in three. I flexed them, exploring the joints. Each bulged at the end—it was almost as if each one was tipped with a tiny sphere. My lower limbs were thick at the point where they emerged from my body, but quickly became long and thin. Indeed, the lowest part of each limb, which the creatures placed against the ground, was about twice as long on me as it was on them. I wondered if it would make it difficult for me to stand as they did. The limb divided at the end into two small tendrils, reminiscent of the upper manipulators, but seeming to lack their dexterity. These also bulged at the tip, and I spotted two more bulges along the sides of the lower part of each limb.
And then, of course, there was the structure at the top of my body. My uppermost extension seemed, if possible, even more hard and brittle than the one the other creatures exhibited. But it seemed to possess almost all of the same features. I, too, had hollow spheres embedded in my upper body, and—yes! They moved in their caverns as I cast my gaze about the floor. I had guessed their function correctly. These orbs seemed larger than the others I had observed, and was there perhaps some difference in their shape, their patterning? The ring of color on the outer surface was a resonant purple, and the transparent spot within seemed stretched, somehow.
I searched around for some kind of triangular projection analogous to the ones the creatures had, until I suddenly realized that the entire structure was that projection. It stretched forward where the aliens’ faces had been flat, and at the very tip of that protuberance, two tiny slits provided the openings into my body I had expected. Below was a very clear replica of the sound-launching gap, though it seemed small and underdeveloped—perhaps not very useful for noisemaking.
There were no loose flaps on the sides of my topmost appendage, but it seemed possible that they had migrated to the top and changed shape somewhat. The highest points on my body were two hard lumps that jutted out from the round apex. Each surrounded yet another hole leading inward. Were these my version of those odd, misshapen flaps? Or was I stretching comparison too far in an effort to map everything on my own body to something on theirs? I had to admit, the functions of half these things were still entirely unknown to me.
Further down, below the round lump which connected extension to body, I found structures which corresponded to nothing on the beings’ bodies. One was a hard, rigid plate, placed just above my upper limbs, which draped a short way down the front and back of my body. I noticed that it would prevent me from lifting these limbs all the way upward, but I figured I could manipulate out-of-reach objects with my mind if this ever became a problem.
From the back of this plate, behind my vision, emerged a thick tube, which stretched upward and entered the back of the appendage. The tube constrained my movement; I glanced mentally at the creatures and noticed that they possessed a greater flexibility in that area. But I liked the fact that the tube was there. It seemed that it must enhance my body somehow, doubling some feature, for if one connection between body and extension was useful, two must be twice as valuable.
I plunged my perception into my body to examine it from the inside. I was unprepared for what I saw: every part of me was dizzyingly intricate. I was quickly overwhelmed by just how many things my body gave me to observe. I found the long, hard centers of my limbs, probing the pores within. I found the smooth substance that allowed them to rub together at their ends, and the thin cords which stretched between them. I found the lumps which surrounded the rigid centers and pulled on them when my body moved. I discovered the astonishing thinness of the exterior layer of my body. I saw how the fine cords covering my body grew from tiny pockets in its surface.
I found the liquid that surged through tiny canals, which budded from each other in a branching framework, and traced their origins until the tunnels grew larger and larger and finally led me to the pulsing, pulpy kernel that beat furiously in my upper body. I found the inflating and deflating sacs which surrounded it, and realized that they connected to some of the openings in my highest reaches. I began following other pathways—I found the tiny spiral chambers that lurked beneath the hard twin protrusions, and leapt down some of the same small gaps to find an enthralling pathway filled with strange portals, sudden chambers, and a maze of twisting, turning tubes which culminated in a triumphant exit from my lower body.
There is a human maxim: “Know thyself.” I doubt there any other individual on the planet has fulfilled that commandment as well—and as literally—as I have.
But there was one part of my body I could not perceive. When I followed its contours up to the upper reaches, surging past the forest of loose cords, past the thin outer layer, past a few moving lumps, past a hard shell that formed a kind of protective circle, I found a strange burning edge, an inexplicable emptiness. It was not as if I found a gap, or a loose pocket of space within me. No, it was as if I simply could not look at that part of me. My awareness simply slid from one side of that space to the other, even though something clearly had to be there.
The space was intense in its absence, a fiery jewel gleaming with negative light. It seemed to pull on the rest of me, to sketch out its silhouette against the rest of the body. And indeed, after studying the way that my other systems seemed to fade into this blankness—my sight-orbs linking to it via a series of cords, my liquid pathways rising up to dip into its depths—I thought I discerned some inkling of its shape.
It was like a large, curved blob, bulging at the front and the bottom, sitting squatly in the center of my uppermost extension. Its surface seemed to be wavy, perhaps intricate in its design. There also seemed to be two long extensions hanging down from it, one going straight downward in the direction of my central body, the other passing through the tube I had spotted earlier. I thought they might be cords, or bundles of cords, like the ones that connected other objects to this center. They met and congealed, in what seemed to be a tangled fashion, at a certain point within my central body, near the top. Here a miniature version of the first blob seemed to form, a node, it seemed, of significance. But I could not quite figure out what this chain of objects was for, nor why it was so unknowable.
Now, much later, I think I have hit upon the answer. I could not perceive that space for the same reason that most living things cannot perceive themselves except in reflections. The same reason that an eye cannot look at eye, that a fingertip cannot brush its own surface. That with which we sense the world must necessarily be set apart from that world, to observe with objectivity. A thing cannot be objective about itself. Thus, when I told my mind to observe my central nervous system, it had to refrain, for I was asking it to twist in a knot and look at my own mind.
As I was pondering the mystery of the void within me, still not comprehending the paradox, I became distracted by a peculiar sensation. It was odd—I suddenly felt a strange sense that something wrong had been set right. Perhaps that was true—I had, after all, conquered an angry darkness and victoriously claimed the light—but why was I feeling a sudden wave of relief now? I was excited about exploring this new world, but why the sudden lurch of fear, followed by aching calm?
Then, images started flashing before me, echoed by flashes of emotion: I was standing before some of the creatures, whom I knew well; they were thanking me, and promising to help me, I thanked them profusely in return, but secretly I knew that I was superior to them, I had done something none of them could have done, and with the things they would give me, I would do even greater things—
My mind reeled as I pulled myself away from the sensations. These were not my thoughts—they came from outside me, from somewhere else. I lifted my head up and gazed at the creatures gibbering before me. If these were their ideas and imaginings, then that put them in an entirely new light. It proved that they were creatures capable of thought, like myself, who had emotions and ideas like I did. Furthermore, it looked as if I might be able to pick up on these hidden experiences and examine them as I pleased. With a little practice, I might be able to gain a great deal of information from them.
I poked at the thought. Yes, now that I had distinguished it from my own ramblings, it was easy to trace the thought back to its origin: The tall creature standing directly in front of me. And I was already starting to pick up on other thoughts and images, emerging from the crowd of creatures before me. They seemed to leap from the tops of their owners and swirl around their heads, ethereal fragments of life, each with a distinct character, unique flavors that drew me into the minds of their creators. Here was a long-maned creature whose thoughts dipped in and out of awe—awe for what? I looked, and I saw my own features drifting up to me out of the depths. Another, short and bulky, was preoccupied with some of the strange devices on the far wall.
As I studied the way thoughts flowed around the room, the haze of ideas became clearer and clearer, until it was easy to tell whose ideas were whose. It was like mastering a new game for the first time: once you understand what the rules are, you can make sense of interactions that once seemed meaningless. The entire sphere of possibility becomes open to you; possessing the basic structure of the rules means that you also possess, in some sense, every conceivable move anyone could ever make.
So it was with the minds of the creatures. I doubt that I gleaned every detail about the way minds worked from that initial interaction, but I quickly grew familiar with the distinctions between individual minds, and the familiar way thought could be trusted to appear when viewed from afar. I started to catch glimpses of their sensations: I saw the mammoth construction in the corner reappear before me, even as I watched one creature’s sight-orbs glance in that direction. I listened to a shrill droning continuing in the distance, and then heard the same sound, echoed in a creature’s mind.
But there were also sensations that seemed to have no origin. Almost every time a creature thought, I would catch faint traces of sound clinging onto the idea. At times these sounds were nearly undetectable, while at other times they sounds would blare with enough force to rival the original thought. But they were almost always present in some fashion. I wracked my own mind trying to figure it out.
Then I realized: as the creatures thought of these sounds, they often made them, with that lower gap that seemed to possess so many instruments for noisemaking. And then they would think of the sounds made by other creatures, and a corresponding image or idea would flash into their minds. They were communicating with sound! Yes, of course—this was the method of interaction between minds that I had suspected, and the key I had been looking for to understanding these creatures! Each thought or image had a sound-form associated with it. Ideas could be translated into words. And every object that existed had a name.
I had discovered language.
In an ecstasy of exploration, I whirled through the creatures’ minds, searching for names for things I had recently become acquainted with—which is to say, everything in the room. I learned that the room was filled with such things as lamps, machines, tanks, computers, levers, and dials. The different aspects of the physical self could also be named in this way. Sight-orbs were eyes, flaps ears, central juts noses, and lower gaps mouths. All were set in the head. I learned to think of bodies, which possessed arms, legs, hands, feet, and in my case, a tail.
I found I could suggest things to these alien minds, which allowed me to obtain these names with greater efficiency. I would encourage their thoughts to congeal into a particular image I was curious about, and the corresponding word-sound would, on some level, ring out in response so that I could add it to my vocabulary.
It took a bit of digging, but I found that the creatures called themselves humans, or human beings. Their draped substances were called clothing, their head-cords called hair. This reminded me of their division into the two kinds, long-haired and short-haired, which became the subject of my next inquiry. The mostly long-haired humans were called women, meaning they possessed the attribute of female. The shorter-haired humans were men, with the attribute of male. The words used to discuss an individual human being changed depending on this distinction: him was swapped with her in discussing a woman, among other such patterns. The humans were, apparently, divided like this because in man-woman interactions they could produce more human beings through a complex physical process. I noticed thinking about this brought some of them a certain anticipatory pleasure.
I continued to dance the great enchanting dance of words, devouring their sweet sustenance in massive quantities. I leapt about the humans’ brains requesting verbiage until my vocabulary doubled, tripled, multiplied a hundredfold, until I not only understood the words for things but the words for what things did, and were like, and could place them together in a glorious statement about the universe.
And as I contemplated the relationship between sound-in-the-mind and sound-expressed, a revelation dawned on me: sound was actually a kind of motion! There was a substance between the creatures and myself, surrounding everything in the room—air, it was called—and this air rippled whenever a sound was being made. These ripples entered us somehow—through the ears, it seemed—and sound was what it felt like to experience them! Fascinating. I was certain this discovery would be useful somehow. Perhaps I could experiment with vibrating the air myself.
By this time, I was beginning to catch snatches of meaning from the clackings of teeth and tongue that sent ripples around the room. I swelled with pride when I first heard a dark-haired woman discuss looking at the computer. I kept listening to the hubbub of voices which once had seemed so much chaos, congratulating myself every time I found some phrase I understood. I suspected it would be a great deal easier to understand what was being said when only a few of them were talking; this mass of overlapping voices required a great deal of work to untangle.
As it happened, my opportunity was about to present itself. The human man at the very front of the crowd stepped slightly towards me. He was among the tallest of the humans, and like the rest of them, dressed in a long white coat with an elegant collared shirt and tie underneath. The angle of the light made it difficult to make out the details of his face, particularly his eyes, but I could examine them with my mind easily enough. In front of the brown-tinted eyes, a strange sort of device made of metal and glass was fixed. Apparently these were spectacles, meant to help him see more effectively.
The nose that held up these spectacles was long and thin, and the mouth beneath it, rather wide. The entire face was rather hard and angular for a human being. Atop his head sat a shaggy, disheveled mop of hair, somewhat long for a male, but shorter still than a woman’s. The hair was messy and chaotic, seeming to reach up to the ceiling at some points before collapsing at other times back into a wavy mass. One curly lock drooped down to obscure his face; at times one eye or the other would be blocked from view by the wavy fibers. Protruding from his chin was another small quantity of hair; I learned that this was a short beard, which male humans were capable of growing.
The man waved his arms in a deliberate upward motion, suspending his hands in mid-motion. Apparently this was a way of requesting silence. Then, to his fellow humans, he began to speak.
[To Be Continued in 1.2]
For various reasons, (not least because I've grown tired of this username), I've moved my operations over to other websites. If you're interested in following my adventures as I explore and subvert the many worlds of Nintendo through prose, look for me on Archive of Our Own, Bulbagarden, or OverClocked ReMix as "Daidalos."
And if you're a fan or a comic-maker from the old days, thanks for more than five unforgettable years of community, comics, and creativity. And thanks for remembering.