road branches in the rear-view mirror, but diverging paths ahead are always just half-a-second round the bend. Which is where
Jemima found herself towards the end of her journey.
It’s odd to be conscious of your own
insanity and to be able to ruminate upon the concept of what you might have done differently in the past to avoid your current
self. Sometimes she tried to rehearse the conversations she would have with her younger self on the way back. Unfortunately
the script was only ever one line. She could warn against or encourage towards but the road either choice would take her down
was as unknowable as the path round the next corner from here. Or rather less, since, at this stage in her travels, the likely
potential branching paths had narrower from a full-crowned tree to a thin twig.
because she was carrying discontent nor from a baggage of regrets that she couldn’t advise an earlier change in travel
plans. It was because she was tired of resisting the forward motion towards an end. This end would be demented, filled with
a lifetime not of memories but imaginings. She was already haunted by the characters she had or should have given a voice.
There were far too many of them for her earlier selves to get a word in edgeways to ask for guidance. And she’d been
writing down the stories from the age of four, so apart from that gap between 19 and 26 when she’d resisted the urge
to write to enable a self to have a life of her own, there weren’t that many of her own persona to pipe up querulously
Should she tell a four year old, engaged by escapism from the authority of God, parental
and Plymouth Brethren into baroque innocent imaginings, not to start scribbling stories for her dolls? Should she tell the
adolescent, whose ego was under such stress from the tearing pressures of being God’s child of grace, parents’
investment of divergent hopes, and a natural self evolving round that twisted tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not
to place the apex of her ambition at ‘eccentric spinster’? Not as long as she couldn’t change a deeper past
in which writers ideally live in garretts and spinsters of tales are intimidating witches whose spelling is formidable.
They, plus the warrior surname of Crusader, had been seminal notions she’d taken into fertilize
a covertly-robust rebellion of personality against the benign evils of nurture. Revolutionary could have described the circle
she’d spun into upon refuting Christianity and embracing a non-imaginary existence. All the main roads of her futures
had arced out of that unwritten drive roundabout the late70’s/early80’s autobahn. Those were the obvious choices
to tackle with a young you. All those false starts and missed opportunities, caused by bravado and lack of confidence, all
that unwarranted suspicion and misplaced trust, caused by cerebral reasoning and hormonal reactivity, all the anger and love,
stupidity and genius, caused by right, might, inexperience, perspiration - signifying nothing. The only significances were
She had written one text in the unscribed years, the One, written in DNA and protein and
love and it continued, etching new words out of its own flesh. Despite her predominant insanity it would remain her magnum
opus and her connection to archaic realisms. A thin thread now. Instead, imaginary worlds, peopled by vociferous characters
who clamoured to have their stories told, visions of vivid events stringing her along to see their bifurcating resolutions
pare themselves down towards a core, truncating surroundsense into caging words, had been the cosmos she’d observed
and interacted with when reality-unchecked.
A huge armoured bracelet, with (she knew) 5 brains behind
the multiply-appendaged sensory prickles, was floating in her living room, rather cramped but uncomplaining, its luminous
skin commenting occasionally on its boredom as it waited for her to come and play in its Europan ice-oceans. Jemima loved
Quogat, of course, and mostly she was just doing mental calculation, although the danceable delights of scaling fractals could
cause the whole house to waver precariously as she dervish-whorled the holographic waters they co-existed within.
But Jem had no intention of letting her mind wander to Europa today. She had directions to another path
she knew was just round a different bend. Unless Arvak turned up in shipform and removed her to go a-Viking into antispace.
She didn’t want to go there either. Sometimes, and it seemed a disloyal thought, it occurred to her these days that
trekking around space was a young person’s game, but no one would want to read adventures in the inglenook, unless there
were elvenfolk cavorting within, and anyway the brain gets more juvenile not rheumatic, comicbook not classic, whimsical not
wise, with age. It does get more weary though and inflexible and each time it gets stuck the rut gets deeper, hence the preponderance
of the old and familiar visitors.
Like the big rococco words, one of which was gothically ghosting
her vision between the nautilan-spinning exoarthropod and her chair. Not that an only child, being cloistered in the greenhouse
of limited leaves, reading through the dictionary from A-Z because every story must have a beginning, middle and end, should
be surprized at such latent displays.
Antifloccinaucinihilipilification was what she had spent her
life doing. Not describing something as unimportant, but describing something unimportant in the consensual-scheme-of-things
vividly enough for it to adapt a memetic life of its own. Conjuring out of nothings. Some physicists interpreted quantum theory
to allow all possibilities to be realized. All. Even the adventures that were currently only hallucinations, at least as long
as they were genuinely feasible in an infinity of potential physically-disparate universes. Then again, none of them seemed
to have a problem with the omniverse itself conjuring itself out of nothing(s?). So, logically, no individual life was worth
more than nothing, but there was this strange human impetus towards meaning, the satisfactory ending, if not, in this universe,
an happy-ever-after. Ever was, after all, about as elusive and unsatisfactory as nothing, because an unended story has not
finished meaning yet.
She was trying to find the wonderland glass door to the dimension the latest
story was calling from. It wasn’t blocked, as a writer whose brain still supplied words it was never blocked, but it
was narrower. She thought it was that the paths diverging round the bend in the outer world were fewer and shorter, but that
meant her brain could perceive the vast wealth of other paths, only they were round other bends, on roads she had not travelled,
with stories she could not hear distinctly, just their whisperings behind closed doors.
land contained a world with fungal-white giant rubbery plants ruby-broccoli-clouding an avocado sky. The
excited dictator she had come to meet was, for once she noted with relief, fluffy and big-eyed. A cute alien on a cartoon-bright
planet. Then she was properly inside it and realized the hexagonal sweet shape was puncturable under the tuftily-rounded vertices
by arms that were better described as armaments. Dictation to her might be unconscious but it, or rather he/she/it (complicated
gendering – she would work out an appropriate/innovative pronoun later) was consciously not so much a dictator as a
terrorist, she discovered.
One of the problems with ‘riding’ a new character was that
it was more like eavesdropping than knowing. So much of any self is an assumption, even those that haven’t fictionalized
their histories to fit into those current assumptions, even those without imagination and with perfect memory-recall, especially
those who don’t refer to an ideal just to an instinct. Bits of personality and history float almost-randomly on the
surface of a frothing tsunami of incoming data and referenced oceanic-contours of memory’s fishes. Unless they happen
to have reinforced their character into a jet-powered raft skimming across all the irrelevant surges that distract from megalomania.
So, by (Terran) default, he, then. For now. This chap might have his brain in his central
core but his heart was devoted to himself. So she even got his name, which is often the hardest word in an alien language
to construe, since most creatures do have a singular personal pronoun and keep names in the titles’ file, for third
person usage. But this ‘I’ was multiple and dissociated. ‘We are CxuWzKmkarTqay, Destroyer of Worlds.’
was not so much the dominant motif but the triumphant conquest of all other thought and, by association, names and their attached
number of people. She sighed. That’s what it had sounded like, but she was damn sure she couldn’t ever get her
tongue round it. Abridging worked as long as she didn’t need to use his own mouth to speak it for her. She already knew
that he would never ever allow his name to be shortened and a quick peek uncovered the nickname-banning legislation he had
imposed upon coming to power. Something about the contracted version being a derogatory word for out-hexagonal cross-mating
He was on his way to a sulphur-waterfall, the destination flashed and glittered, golden/goal,
behind the silvertrunked forest, through the plasma-lake, into the volcanic dell, round the lavalake and onto the towering
pinnacle of basaltic-black, islanded by flowing buttercup-powder streams, bestriding the falldrop, where his destiny awaited
him. Jemima could see the expressions of wrinkling fur that represented the expected awe as he took the Prominence for his
people, and the opposing forces, lying in purple fields, oozing green blood, conquered triangles, not even diced, expressions
of fear and shock wiffling as the wind of death rippled their thick pelts. So far as she could see the only visible difference
between the winners and losers in what had been a very emeraldbloody battle was the shade of their fur, puce won, pink lost.
As he embarked upon a long speech, partly rehearsed on his roll towards enthronement, Jemima wondered
what tale had brought her here. He wasn’t the kind of hero she had thought she’d heard behind the door, and politics
never engaged her attention for long. She hardly dared direct his eyes to scan his adoring public, because she was beginning
to have a very sharp idea of just what might happen to a subject upon which his roving stalks alighted. But there was one
hexagon that did catch her eye as his wandering appendages scanned and gesticulated to the crowd.
was hard to miss. ‘She’ because she was pink and pilloried, defeat writhing every hair, and being shaven before
her peers and superiors as he spoke. Shaving it wasn’t. It was scalping, if anything. She was being stripped, flank
by flank, of her covering, and, it transpired, also of her shape. Beneath the cuboid projections was a central core, as Jemima
already knew. But within wasn’t just a brain, it was the holoimage the person held most dear, the private autonomous
selfhood. It was this she and her fellows had been fighting for and it was this that was to be exposed to the cruel atmosphere
of a world historically alien to this species, to shrivel and die and make an ending of individualism.
was about to leap across the story’s divide to get this important perspective before it was extinct when the last strip
of pelt was ripped clear. She saw the puce executioners move forward with new extrusions, hammers to bludgeon the peanutbrittle
ambergris, to fracture the gilt prison and prismatic home of her inventing-storyteller. But she felt the blows and the fear
as her own, dominating the final mindscape, the instant she was within. Huge drummings from outside that broke her heart for
the naked creature, exposed as a life fighting to mean something for itself.
Abruptly, as if a
plan, oiled and ready like any mechanism passively awaiting its trigger, bubbled into being from nothing, the mind focused
outwards, fixated three ocularities very precisely to triangulate the co ordinate destination of the twelve cannon-arms that
snapped through the scaffoldshell of the denuded body and, in the instant of shrivelling implosion, sent the force outward
towards the pontificating, yet-crowing, victor.
Jemima flew with the mindsend. As the mortality
collision occurred, light burst everywhere. And pain. In her chest. The otherworld receded and the living room crinkled in
scrunched-up vision and the parade of fictions danced away upon paths that swooped and curled and forkedtongue-slivered to
the stuttering beat within and the rear-view mirror shattered invisibly, she could see only one road ahead, straight to infinity,
going nowhere, fast. No more bends, no more ends.
Did it mean more than nothing? Had there been
a story at all? Did it matter? She couldn’t decide. There came one last adage on automatic.
are worse ways to go.
So she went.