Saturday, February 28, 2009

Gallery of Suns

Something immense and hot, nearby.

It came in pieces.

Was it a room? - hewn into the belly of some impossible cavern deep in the Earth? Or was it the gut of a beast, some petrified leviathan of proportions too huge to grasp?

Daylight? Above: Some kind of sick sky, the same orange hue as the massive sponge-stone walls that weakly defined the space as an enormous corridor. Light was ambient, radiating from all around, casting no shadows. Nausea. The only shapes to be discerned against the glowing sky were not quite clouds, but wisps of black vapors mixing unevenly into the pink upper regions of the space. The sensation of vomiting.

Squinting helped. The sky was gone for now. The floor was unyielding but soft to the touch, like damp felt.

There were towers. Shelves, rather; cases bearing stacks of books, scrolls, files in folders, cabinets, safes, boxes, glass cases, portraits of people and beasts, spheres as black as ink, shining discs, plastic reels, tablets . . . No; far more than that was on the shelves, which reached into the glowing heights. Far stranger objects - simple shapes worked from metal, crystals, bottles, machines defying description, platforms and levers and boxes and mounted things . . .

In one direction, the great shelves went on and on . . .

In another, they gave way to a gallery of spheres - all glowing orange in the light, like a cluster of tiny suns. Warmth, maybe from there. Beyond them, monoliths; giant rectangular pieces, some of which were in lumps, as if they were natural growths. Others rose starkly into the sun-sky.

Knees on the ground. Hands pushing one upwards. From, the damp bog of the floor rose erect humanity. With standing came dizziness; after dizziness balance; from balance, sense.

Before: A stone cube, on which were scattered papers, scrolls, a kerosene lantern, a tome. That tome, bound in clothe and cardboard. That tome, in which were pages of glossy mica. That tome, the name of which was cast in a single glyph, burned into its cover, facing the person standing before it, but unseen in the orange glow all around.

There was a smaller block before this cube, and the arrangement, complete with the lantern, suggested a study area, the cubicle of a monk. The tracks where it had been pushed were etched into the wet dust of the floor. A few human footprints lay caked, nearly fossilized, in the tracks. They seemed to come from nowhere and the went no further than the cube.

Behind, amongst the endless hall of shelves: the squeals and chirps of life amongst the artifacts.

(Image adapted by da solomon from a still from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), directed by Stanley Kubrick.)


  1. Peter shuddered with the realization that he was back at that dreaded, gargantuan library he had glimpsed from the well. Had something gone awry with his activation of the mirror? For this was the last place he would have chosen to see!

    But, perhaps due to the fact that he had arrived here of his own doing, or perhaps because he had some previous familiarity with these surroundings, Peter was less horrified by the place than before. He seemed more in control of his movements and thoughts, which allowed him to feel curious enough to want to glean more precise information about the nature of this place.

    Where, in fact, was he? He could not be certain whether the footprints he saw belonged to him alone, or if some had been left by others. Judging by the accumulated dust, it seemed as though aeons had passed since human foot had last trod here. The fact that it had only been a matter of days since his first visit suggested that time had little meaning in these vast basaltic halls.

    Gazing around at the infinite cornucopia of gathered knowledge, preserved in forms not necessarily familiar to him, Peter realized that it would require multiple lifetimes to see all that the towering shelves and cabinets had to offer. In this respect, perhaps the timelessness of the library had been intentionally designed?

    Who could have conceived of such a place as this, Peter wondered with amazement, let alone constructed and filled it? Its titanic proportions implied that the architect had been equally large, and Peter shuddered again at the thought of possibly encountering this being, and was glad that he had not called out.

    Still, he assumed that such an intelligence would also have designed some sort of cataloging system to enable the collected knowledge to be retrieved. This was also suggested by fact that similar objects seemed to be clustered together. As tempted as he was to tour his surroundings more thoroughly, Peter guessed this might require miles of walking, and he did not want to take the chance of getting lost.

    Peter cast his eyes warily at that tome. It had taken him by surprise before, and had almost filled his brain to bursting with its contents. The recollection caused another shudder to pass through his body. As loath as he was to look upon its pages again, part of him suspected that it held the key to making some sort of sense out of this place. Perhaps, knowing now what to expect, and having a clearer idea of what he needed to do, he would be more able to control the flow of information.

    And if not, he joked darkly to himself, I'm already mad for trying.

  2. Peter sat down at the stone "desk". He stretched arms and spread his fingers like a maestro before an orchestra (though this instrument would not likely play for him), and touched the book.

    In the orange-red light, the sigil on the front cover was invisible, but he could trace its shape on the cardboard under the clothe. Its ghost light, which had one time plunged him into insensibility, could it seemed only be discerned in the absence of the current all-around radiation. He lifted the cover.

    The glossy, mica-like pages reflected orange. The characters on them were still undecipherable.

    The ground shook once, as if someone had dropped something very heavy in the flat next door, but of course there was no flat and, if anything had been dropped, it had been very, very far away. And huge. Peter froze. The chirps ceased. He waited for the other shoe to come down, but it never did.

    The chirps resumed.

  3. Relax, Peter chided himself. It's just a book. You can handle this. Focus.

    He studied the unfamiliar glyphs, their meanings still lost to him. Examining them more closely, he realized he could not be certain whether they had been written on the surface of the page, or chiseled into the mineral, or imprinted somehow.

    Gliding his index finger lightly over one of the symbols to determine whether it had a tactile impression, Peter was surprised (delighted?) to find that he was suddenly able to intuit its meaning.

    The next symbol on the page was also incomprehensible at first, and became clear to Peter only when he also made physical contact with it.


    Believing that he had stumbled upon the secret of deciphering the book, Peter progressed over the first few pages deliberately slowly so as to minimize the possibility of a second nervous breakdown. After a time, he was able to confirm that his supposition about the tome had been correct: it was indeed a sort of catalogue, and Peter's heartbeat quickened as he realized he had the key to unlocking the mystery of the library's vast collection.

    Still, it was not easy going. Some of the objects listed were readily identifiable (Peter immediately recognized "a book of medieval Spanish poetry"), likely because they corresponded to familiar terrestrial objects or concepts. Most of the items, however, seemed to be of much more exotic origin, and Peter could only attempt to cobble together loose guesses on the basis of fleeting images or sensations the glyphs evoked in his mind.

    And then...

    Peter inhaled sharply and held his breath a beat as he suddenly encountered a name he recognized: Agasthya. At the same time, he caught a glimpse of a... was it a horse? No, not quite a horse; merely the impression of a smaller thing riding a larger thing, like a steed of some kind.

    I must discover more about this thing, Peter resolved, whatever it is.

  4. But finding the object posed a problem. The steed's location was very far away, and Peter would have to pass through the seemingly endless valley of shelves. How long would he walk before coming upon the right shelf? And once he did, how would he know where, exactly, the steed lay on the gargantuan structure? In the end, how would Peter even recognize it?

    Further problems came to mind now: While there was no way of knowing how many shelves there were, there were certainly more entries in this library than there were pages enough to describe them all, even if the descriptions were but one character long. Was there something more to this book, some layer to which he did not have access now?

    Just as Peter was about to rejoin his efforts at comprehending the book - through touch and concentration - he noticed that he was not alone.

    Peter was being observed. Standing amidst the garden of mounted globes, was a being, possibly a person. But in this place there was no assurance of its humanity, and Peter was quick to recognize this dreadful fact.

    It was tall as a man, and robed - no, not robed, but there was something like a glossy sheet covering the whole of its body, from top to bottom. It shimmered faintly in the radiation. There appeared to be a head, and perhaps a weak pair of shoulders, but all other facets of the being's anatomy were left to Peter's imagination. For his part, Peter sensed that beneath the veil there was an eye, and that it had settled upon him.

    The veiled figure shuddered. In three short bursts, it emitted a noise like a record scratching or rain falling, and fell silent again.

    Startled by the sudden noise, Peter took a step back and - what else could he have done? - began to stutter a question. "Are . . . are you-"

    His own voice was thrown back at him: "Are. Are you." The figure shuddered again. "Are. Are you. Are you a man."

  5. "I am," Peter answered after recovering from his initial startlement, "but what the devil are you?"

  6. "I am." Again, the sound of a raincloud bursting and suddenly ceasing. "The devil. But what are you?" Resonant radio static. "I am." Its voice was a mere echo of Peter's own, flattening it, twisting its pitch. "At your assistance. All your species es services. Our species es."

    The figure leaned and leaned - it did not bend where its waist would be, but at some joint very close to the ground. In this posture, the being drifted forward slowly. It cleared the gallery of globes and halted some yards away from Peter. "Very long time. Salt ribbons shredded on protein." The unseen eye bore down on him. "You? Your assistance. I am."

  7. Even though the veiled, shimmering being did not seem to mean him harm, Peter reflexively shuffled backward a few steps as it leaned toward him.

    "Assistance, you say? Well then." Peter hefted the catalogue from off the stone cube and, with his finger, pointed to the characters for Agasthiya's Steed so the figure could see.

    "I am interested in knowing more about this and would like to see it. Can you lead me to where it is? Or even better, would you fetch it for me and bring it here?"

  8. "Can me lead you to where it is?" There was a pop and a crackle of static, and then the being continued on in Peter's voice. "Assistance, I say. Protein ribbons. Salt Shredded on. Please? This way."

    Still leaning precariously forward, the figure began to glide in the direction of the gallery of shelves, away from the globes, amongst which it had appeared. "This way. Please?"

    It halted, resumed an upright bearing, and leaned, like a magnet to iron, to the left.

    On the ground, on the other side of the stone desk, was a man kneeling on the yielding floor. He had entered the scene with no noise, and seemed to be disoriented. This, Peter reckoned, must have been just how he himself had looked when he first arrived in this place . . .

    (Action continues in "Little Faith".)