Sleep of the Unjust

 

 

The nightmares started the day he buried his sons, but they got so much worse after he'd visited their Ages.

He'd had the amulet, too. Yeesha had lent it to him, despite Anya's warning that it was not safe to be worn by an uninitiate. She'd been waiting for him by the linking chamber, the great heavy blue shell cradled in both her hands, as if she'd known. Known what he was doing and why. He'd half-heartedly offered to take her with him; she'd just shaken her head and left for the elevator.

He went to Haven first, because, he admitted, he was a coward.

The first while was still very hard, camoudiles aside. He'd stood for far too long before the tremendous skeleton in the harbor, the words echoing from the amulet through his mind. Patience. Premeditation. Stealth. Intelligence. He was caught in questioning himself--could he have created intelligent life in this Age and not seen it, been too short-sighted to see it because he'd ruled out sea-creatures as intelligent? That would have been a failure--of his perception, of his Art. He tried to comfort himself with his youth--that was when he'd had less control, less knowledge, when he'd broken a ship through the rock rather than writing it in proper.

Then he puzzled through to the ship and stood chilled by his son's wholesale slaughter of the animals--not just for food, but for sport, torture, revenge for petty theft. He told himself it must have taken years for him to turn around. He told himself it was in the past, unmendable, that the Age would heal itself.

He cursed himself for fathering such a monster.

He wondered if that was what Gehn thought of him.

Still, it had not been as bad as visiting Stoneship and Mechanical thirty years before. That was still burned into his mind. Every time he smelled dried blood or rotting flesh, he still thought of his lost son. If he could handle that, he could handle this. It was his responsibility.

The hunting lodge in the forest was just as bad, but at least there he found the last key to open the drawbridge, and there he saw his son's heart softening, and there he wept with him, holding the empty shirt in his hands.

He distracted himself to composure by wondering of the mangrees. He had inadvertently created intelligence--inhuman intelligence, but intelligence nonetheless. He sketched all the portraits and hoped he would meet them. He wondered if he could perhaps help with the reproduction problem--import mangrees from the further reaches of the jungle to restock the population, perhaps? He could get the necessary protection equipment against the camoudiles--more than Achenar would have had.

He wondered if the great sea creatures, the cerpantees, were truly extinct. He hoped, and a little feared, that they were not.

The mangrees liked him, and he sat amongst them in the treehouse for hours, attempting squawks and squeaks--to their high amusement, it seemed. They named him quickly. That much calmed him. Haven, high in the sweet-smelling trees, safe from camoudile jaws and hunting trophies and the dead fish stink of the harbor, was soothing, healing, though it was still far too hot. He could almost understand the strange redemption that seemed to have overtaken Achenar. He could almost forget that the red book was waiting for him upon his return.

When he finally left, doing his very best to convey that he'd be back--for several of the creatures seemed to have taken quite a liking for him--it was nearly nightfall in Tomahna, and he padded stealthily to the kitchen and stole from the cupboards. Catherine would bend his ear backwards if she was there, but Catherine was in Serenia, taking better solace from the sisters than he could offer, and Yeesha was down in her room, and nobody need know.

The food sat poorly and he knew he would not sleep, so he walked slowly back to the empty bedroom and took the elevator back to the linking chamber, terrified that this time he would find far worse than Stoneship or Mechanical, worse than hoarded jewels and needles in desk drawers, broken chairs and hidden daggers and the sun behind Sirrus' throne.

For a while, he didn't. For a while, he was almost proud. Sirrus had more than survived in this harsh and empty environment; he had flourished. It was too easy to delight in the sheer brilliance and persistence and skill of his constructions. Too easy to forget--the same mind that had harnessed the floating ship and the very lightning of the clouds had conspired to destroy his sister's soul, to tear apart the family from the inside out, to murder his parents and master the Art to the same mad, despotic end as his grandfather.

The same mind that had recreated Anna's last portrait of the family in glinting, pristine crystal, high amongst the icy clouds.

That gave him pause. So did what the amulet whispered in his ear, dripping with his dead son's voice. I had the boat. For with him, it had always been that, from when he was just that small. I want. I have.

He did thank the maker for good strong D'ni pants to hold up to all the sliding down windpipes. But no distractions like a pack of mangrees here. No little bony hands to hold and chattering cries to echo. Nothing to keep anybody sane.

And he stood for a long time at the bottom of the other tower, dangling over the surface of one of the most insane Ages he'd ever written. And for the first time he fully considered what it might do to a human soul to be trapped in such a place for thirty years. He had designed this, these impossible towers orbiting a star. He had written it. But he had not given himself the time, that first and only visit, to see it. It was a sight that sent the mind and senses reeling, rebelling. It was like a nightmare: you climb down to the door and the world beyond does not exist, has vanished, and you fall, and do not wake before you hit, but there is no bottom. It was like an eclipse, like a brown cloud billowing through a city--the heart screeched.

What do you see?

The stricken, broken slackness to Sirrus' face as he stared out upon the true nature of his prison. It was only the thought of his daughter's face when he returned empty-handed that kept him from tearing it off and throwing it down to the star for showing him such a thing.

"By the Maker," he whispered. "What have I done?"

It was a long time before he gathered the strength to haul himself back up the long rope.

Slowly, eventually, he unlocked and powered up the lab dangling at the bottom of the world, and he read the journal in a sort of sickened haze

Slowly, eventually, bearing the heavy burden of that abominable wash of empty space, he went home. And lay down, and fell into sleep, like a nightmare.

Falling, like into the bliss of the Fissure, but drawn towards a green star, sinking down from stone towers, and screaming in terror. Or the chains of the chair that dangled down to the tuning winches snapping, tearing apart one link at a time. Or as if he was his son, his own prisoner, closing his eyes in sheer despair and walking over the edge, as Sirrus could have done a thousand times but didn't because of that accursed, indomitable pride.

More than once he woke up in the middle of the night and went down to the kitchen balcony, simply because it was the most assuring--the kitchen is the heart of the house, Catherine would always say, even if the library is the soul--and because the great stove radiated welcome warmth. Unable to sleep for fear of the dreams. Just the once, Yeesha joined him, although it felt like it had happened a thousand times as he sat there with her watching the bushes and the water in the moonlight, so much pain between them that every word that broke through rang like a hammered bell through his skull.

"What were the Ages like?" she'd ask.

"I don't want you visiting them alone."

"Yes, Daddy."

"Well, there are dangerous animals in Haven. And if you lose your footing in Spire..." He trailed off, utterly unwilling to finish the thought. He had lost his sons, twice over, now forever. His father, twice over. Ti'ana, forever. He would not lose Yeesha. Not a child, an innocent, the last light in this broken family.

Catherine was still in Tay, or sometimes Serenia. She did not speak to him. He knew the accusation.

"Yeesha," he would say, exhausted, the words a burden of too much sorrow, too many years, three graves dug in the soft sweet soil of Myst. "What do you see?"

She looked around for a long while at their home, spread out under the wide moon.

"I see a very sad father," she said at last.

Perceptive beyond her age. The amulet, back around her neck, shifted slow midnight blues. Nothing he could do but draw a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. Nothing he could say.

"What do you see?" she asked.

He closed his eyes. "I see a little girl who should have been in bed six hours ago."

"I was in bed, Daddy. I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. I'm afraid, a little. In Serenia, dreams can kill people." She paused, for a very long time. "They killed Sirrus." She took his hand and squeezed, hard.

"I know."

"Mother wrote Serenia when she was dreaming."

"She always wrote when she was dreaming," said Atrus, and a spark of something fifty years old stirred within him as it had not in far too long.

We can do wonders, you and I.

"I do love her, Yeesha," he said, in answer to something she'd asked days ago. "We just..."

"Why aren't you together now? Wouldn't she want to be here?"

Her clear little voice staggered him into a long, questioning silence. "There's...no logical reason," he said at last, more to himself than to her. "We just...we're afraid, Yeesha. We're so terribly afraid, and old, and far apart." He paused, trying not to cry in front of her. She looked up at him, very solemn with big brown eyes. "I'll find her tomorrow. I'll talk to her. There's no reason..." He hugged his daughter, one-armed. "Don't worry about us, desert bird. We'll all take care of each other. But I think all the birds should be flying off to their roosts..."

Wonders.

It had taken so long to come, this hope that perhaps they were not broken.

He went to bed somewhat after, telling himself he needed rest, but even at the best of times it was hard to sleep in a bed meant for two without the warmth of Catherine's small body by his side, and these days sleep was a monster, a ravager, no comfort at all. He stared at the ceiling until it finally conquered him, planning the introduction of Yeesha to the mangrees.

Sleep was his pen, scratching out the garo-hevtee for floating rocks and perfect stairs of crystals and the mad light of a green star comforted by meaningless sheets of clouds. Sleep was his son, his son who he'd loved, staring out to the distant cauldron of Spire's core with the hollow face of a broken man. Sleep was falling, was hanging, was chains hand-carved over mindless years and locked around his own wrists, was a linking book swallowed by acid-green fire, was ten thousand days alone in a prison written with words of madness on howling wind.

Was himself, his son, screaming, begging, pleading for mercy, for freedom, for relief. Was his son, himself, linking away, leaving him, abandoning him to a world that would erode his mind to nothing but a shining and soulless crystal, ringing with destructive song.

Was his son, Sirrus, chaining him to the throne in a dark cave, strapping him to the chair in a moldering flower, tearing through his body with quartz song, stealing his memories and his Art and drinking out his mind like a vampire. Carving him out of crystal and shattering him over the star.

Was his son, Sirrus, turning to him and uttering the accusation that he himself had leveled, that Catherine had leveled, that the very towering walls of Spire had leveled.

You did this to me, Father. You made me like this. You drove me insane. You are responsible for me. Your own son.

You did this to him, Atrus, my love. My son. Our son. You destroyed him. You broke him. You tortured him to insanity.

I did this to him. My son. My enemy. My murderer. My victim.

Sleep was then waking, sweating and screaming and in tears, and huddling in the empty bed wracked with sobs. Grateful that Catherine wasn't there to see his grief naked, humiliating, twisting him apart. Wishing with all his heart that she was, to hold him, to comfort him, with her deep eyes green like stars that spoke of better dreams.

 

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