Ad Astra

One of the first things you learn as a sailor is that water bounces sound. It doesn't matter how quiet you are, the waves will grab any sounds you make with greedy, liquid hands, and throw it around for all to hear. That's why my father was always so silent. Or, at least, that's what I used to tell myself, huddled in our house near the docks, listening to the waves crash against the wave-breaker, greedy here as well for the warmth of the denizens of the city or simply greedy for that special warmth that fills the chest of a caretaker when they hold their charge close. Now that I am here, that the stars are so close to me that it feels as if I my misting breath could envelop them as the sea does the City, enshroud them in my own moisture, I understand that there was a different reason for the silence. Or reasons rather: the shadow the narwhal, the stopping of time, the unraveling of the narrative. The infinity looking inward, as those around you stop and the pure magic of the sea and all which lives within it suffuses your callouses, wraps around your aching bones, embraces you like the physical sea never could, tides sweeping in on your heart. Those things are what bred his silence, his austere yet somehow detached moods, the presence of him gliding through the house like a mast gliding on calm waves through the night, ignorant ships me and him, clashing by night. His absence and inwards gaze. My need to know, to understand, setting our hulls a-grinding across the Sea of Faith.

Even when frozen, water still appears to maintain that desire for the vibrations of speech. I'm sitting a short walk away from the cave and I can still the sound of a sword being drawn from its sheath and quickly returned to it again. The Guard is musing. His heart is full. His bones ache but with a different ache than mine, memories of the drill etching old words on them still ringing through his head, setting his jaw a-clench in sympathy for its appendaged brethren. His head is full with that which he shouldn't have seen, that which it should have been impossible for him to see, that which only his anger had prevented him from unseeing, the belly of the narwhal, the freezing of time, the falling apart of causality. I never knew his father but, following ancient, teleological law, I can surmise that he was very different to mine by watching his son. He never prepared him for the emptiness of singular meaning, never seemed to hollow himself out with introspection. His father might have left him but he left; he didn't hang around like mine, a ghost of an absence, someone who's gone but yet whose body persists in occupying space, in making sound, in setting furniture a-creak with his weight. As a result (teleology, remember?), the Guard has been cast a-drift by what he's seen; coming face to face with what keeps your entire world spinning is something for which one must prepare. As I have. Meeting it head on is a good recipe for madness, for the stripping away of the core of personality within us which interacts with the outside world in predictable ways, ways which, when translated and understood by those around us, mean sanity.

Which is not to say that the Guard will now roam these icy plains on which we find ourselves (the blizzard which I knew would be our sending off already building on the far horizon), forever screaming gibberish at the stars who are bound to hear him, being as close as they are. No, the madness which bests men like him doesn't take such a wild form. Instead, it gnaws at their heart of hearts; not at their emotions but at that which regulates other emotions, that place in all of us which gets bored, which pushes us over edges, which makes us wait for the pain to pass, which tells us "now!" or "not yet!". And when that place inside of him corrodes, out here on a Sea of Dreams, out here where the stars are so close that I could breathe them in, that I could inhale their ether and exhale magic, as we indeed all do, every day, in the City, when the place corrodes within him, in this space where all places are real and the inside becomes the outside and outside in, then there's no telling what he'll do. Thus, the sword and my ears perking for it even though its rough edges do not belong in this place, even though the rough sound of metal on metal echoes out over this ice, this frozen places at the heart of all frozen places, even though I can imagine that the stars, being as close as they are, much shimmer in pain, their metaphorical teeth set on edge by this serrated serenade, greedily grasped at by the frozen water, languishing so much for the touch of anything that they hunger for this taste of rust, for this blood-soaked chorus. For I know that, once that sounds stops, he will make a decision and who knows what the decision would be now that he is un-tethered from reason? Not Reason, not mental capacity, but from that every teleology I mentioned before, from the very idea that result follows action, that consequence flows out from a reason which made it to be.

He won't kill me, of that I am sure. No matter how much he shrugs off causality, the story (which exists before and after all reason) still binds him. I am his counterweight, his proof that he still has meaning, his image in the mirror, however distorted the glass might be, however darkly he sees me through it. But he will kill someone. The question of when is irrelevant; the stars are too close for time, the shadow of the narwhal still weighs heavily on us. And so, I listen to the only rhythm left, now that the rhythm of life itself, the rhythm of the sea, has been silenced by so much ice. Will he kill the men that, even now, prepare our ship for the return journey, prepare to head back into a singularity which their minds won't let them think about but which they will never forget either? Against whom will the sword be drawn once it is unsheathed for the last time, once its solitary pendulum of progress is silenced by this madman's rotting, indecisive core?

Rising to my feet, the sound of the sword suddenly stops and, from the mouth of the cave where this all began, the smell of blood comes to me. Ah, of course. Here, where the stars are so close, that which has no recourse will turn on itself. The men, seemingly unaware that the sound has stopped yet with impeccable timing, punctuate the occasion by hoisting the main sail and starting the embarkation song. I turn towards the cave mouth one last time, this once vibrant place where the deal was first struck. The guard won't be coming back with us. So be it. Time to head back. As I turn my back to the proximity of the stars, I swear I can almost hear them whispering to us, to me, to him:

"The deal is done. The price is paid. The dream led back. Ex sanguine, ad astra"

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