Quebec, part three: How the fuck is it so gold?

Published 2024.01.28

Section one.

Res Jino, narrating

Ice cream was not particularly a favorite dessert of mine until it helped me heal up from a sucker punch in the face, and ice cream never mattered all that much to me until it was all the way eaten and I wanted just a little bit more, always lacking. I seldom ever purchased it from anyone under any circumstances, unless Saja found herself craving some and begged me to put aside my mild prejudices against frozen shit for her sake, oftentimes in a sardonic third-person which I never, ever failed to tell her off for. I was about ice cream the way many people are about ending sentences with prepositions: I found it distasteful and negative for the soul in a way I could not quite explain, a way which had been instilled within me by many years of not instinctively buying the stuff whenever I went to the grocery, thinking of its comfort food status as a net negative for the world. The mode of thought required to avoid ending sentences or clauses with prepositions is, by necessity, ridiculous and in need of collective obsolescence. What a terrible analogy, the prescriptivist to personal taste. I should've never come up with such an atrocity, but anyway, I discovered that I got so-called 'brain freezes' far more easily than most people, and I would shake my head vigorously in a futile attempt to vanquish the unpleasant sensation. Ari, amused, would say nothing and laugh slightly. Something about these interactions felt innately correct in a way no prescriptivist could ever (even with government-backed grammatical authority as one would find within every Bureau-backed state with a name to it at the time these events took place) hope to create, because this was natural, uncontrollable. My love blossomed further as a matter of course, and the only force in play on my end was my own, for we all have the power to do whatever the fuck we want, and 'whatever the fuck we want' happened to be that. I think I fell asleep in her arms and was carried back to a bedroom in the mayoral building, where I slept alone, albeit while Ari watched over me eagerly, awaiting my presence in the world of the waking. Six years later, this would be the case again, and we would alternate in nightwatches to ensure that Rico Eisenberg would leave us alone, that time would forget us for a moment and we could survive unkidnapped and unscathed. When the time came, it would be something of a vigil in theory, a tactic in practice, a vigil for a simpler time with equally complex feelings underlying its status quo. For now, we had plenty of time. I don't understand why Ari watched as closely as she did; all I know is that she told me she had done so the next day - more on that.

Jump ahead to several hours later, time having been near-forgotten except for extremely occasional checks of feature-phone LED displays, with their hard-coded fixations on the local numericization of the situation of the present moment. All I can say for sure is that it was early morning, and I had only worried about my accumulating absences at Red Swan for a split second before putting it all aside to focus on my time with Ari Augustenburg.

Previously, I had been awakened by the misfiring - which I later learned was an intentional firing - of the bullet of a six-chamber revolver directly into the ceiling, which had caused a wooden panel to fall down immediately parallel to my position in bed. I fell back asleep. More specifically, I fell asleep until it was time to worry. Our lives had intersected in such a way that our lives were perpendicular first, then parallel, then twisted together into an ongoing braid occasionally. The bullet, Ari then explained, stemmed from her attempt to shoot herself in the head at the very end of the nightwatch, which brought a tear to my eye as I leapt from bed and tried to wordlessly embrace her without any melodramatic sensibility, thinking I had encountered a near-tragedy and her purpureous blood would ooze out onto me and destroy my clothing…but which also made her push me away.

"It would've been an impossibility for my life to end at the hands of a gun, Darling. I thought you would find this out sooner, given your own invulnerability."

"My own invulnerability? I thought you weren't a liar."

"I reckoned that for you there was a place in the magic world."

"Yes, but isn't it cold to deny me the difficulties of life, to keep me from the authenticity of human existence?"

"Papyri detailing the events of your lifetime will preserve poorly if not kept in cool, dry conditions." She paused, and added, "Before you mention the obsolescence of such a technology, recall that the materials used in books of even recent centuries destroy themselves given enough time, Darling dearest. In the magic world, we've had imperishable inks since the sixth century quote-unquote Anno Domini. You would be very interested in the manuscript sciences of a world of excess where everything is preserved almost forever. Countless billions of us exist out there who have idled for the majority of their existences, living in places which science fiction would describe as 'offworld,' twiddling their thumbs with the abandon of an unpreserved Czech castle, cobwebbed and useless, too many in number, and I am extending you the opportunity to take your immortal existence, of which I've learned from sources I cannot disclose, and make it something greater and greater with each passing beat in the continuously-written script. If you acknowledge that you are not mortal, everything will be at your fingertips."

"This makes me feel stupid, but it also makes me want to hold you while I pretend to continue to freak out over it and lament the loss of my mortality for some bullshit reason you can find in the Jino Code my clan's maintained or perhaps because I can't comprehend it. I have an idea - either you shoot me in the head right now and I live, or you get to watch me very publicly pretend to be unaware of this immortality you refer to for the next several years…or maybe I'll just forget you ever told me any of this! You think you can get me a glass of water? I'm gonna pour it on my head to make myself shut up."

"I'll go with the latter choice, and yes, the water is yours, but you ought not to dare become upset at me for shooting myself in the head again. After all, it will be a recurring theme, or at least I'll make it that way, like it or not, Res Jino."

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

So anyway, I gave her a glass of boiling water. And I watched her spit it out, and then drop it. I did not intend for this to happen.

After myself took exit in the service of hydration, the frost on the windows did not sparkle in the craftless grey sub-undercast, owing to my absolute geoposition where the Heavens are bounded by pareidolic milk foam, a wildfire red sky the unvarnished interior of a coffee cup. There are three kitchens in this house, each having its own tiled checkerboard pattern floor, and a misplaced cyan tile right under whichever appliance is the largest. In this case, it is rather dull and rational. What has a strange amount or placement of eyes and emits chemicals that kill? Insects, but gas stoves too. The windows of the Mansard third when opened accredit you as a lighthouse keeper. Stood in stale whispy gusts of wind I retrieve two tall glasses from the thousand-year-oak-cut wallbolted drawer, with prophetic but voiceless rung handles. It is eight degrees below zero centigrade, or it would be if Yakutia were not Death Valley. I unrousingly rouse the teapot, automata which whistles but does not intend to, cryonic except when made to boil from the inside, Heat Death (cosmologically false) and its mirror too. Why boil a glass of water? Well, why shoot someone who holds everyone and everything you love hostage in self-defense? At the time I did not realize it was an unbecoming or unconventional decision to serve my own beloved Darling a glass of boiling water. She looked at me downing mine, brimless, while I held her pour-individuated share in my right (non-dominant) hand, and then she took it, squinted with ocular congestion as a result of inside-mouth (and thus inside-head) burn, speak what you see, unsee what you drink, did an impression of a pufferfish with the cheeks on her face, and nearly dropped it, at which point I dived onto the floor, own glass emptied, still in hand, and then she inquired: "Was this a test of some sort? Please extrapolate on the mechanics here, I'm curious."

Myself is embarrassed. A thing I am not often. Flushed. Vivid violet, vivisected ego.

"As you well know, I have taken residence, without willing, in the Navashino castle. I do not trust the water supply, even though if they intentionally poisoned the water that flows into the pipes in my villa I would not be sickened nor sense anything. I do not trust the water supply because it contains the biological remnants, the germs of men. I boil it to remove androchlorine. I do not wish to ingest the lives of that which deserves to die, to carry on small involuntary memories that will be excreted anyway. I do not wish to purify what is born as walking sewage and returns to sewage by letting it pass through my perfect essence."

This seems to be a convincing explanation for this blunder, and this is satisfactory, because it is entirely true. But I feel as if this is the wrong truth to use if I want to look cute. I am now taking interest in her adoration. This has to be an act of the ditz. I have to have flaws to be something she loves.

"I was born unaware of air and water temperature as well, which I am sure has caused you much worry when I seemingly seasonally underdress. It is not a fashion choice, myself is simply unconscious of this behavior. If you want, I can dive for pike under a lake-ice sheet."

The northern pike is her favorite fish. I am appealing to her.

"I would be very interested in that, actually. But actually please stand up first, I'm sorry for causing you so much trouble, you don't have to be on the floor holding the glass I dropped like a dumbass this whole time."

Why, thank you.

I straighten out as a shrub from an earthly Venusian desert that shrivels up and dies temporarily until the very moment a single drop of water gives it to the go ahead to again touch whatever extremophilic scavenger bumps into or eats it with its fossil extremities, the failed glass in suffocation grip, and finally set it back down on the nightstand, returned to a time before it was recognized as inhospitable and unfriendly.

She then says:

"You know what, it was my bad not to just stand up and make you fetch it for me, I should have been more resolute-"

I bite back:

"You know, that pun makes me want to fetch it for you because if myself were yourself I would never dare greet the light outside of this room ever again."

Again out of the doorway, and this time running back with ice water from the bathroom tap a level lower, the third floor's kitchen tap insufficient in its capacity to chill the core to thermodynamic torpor, and ice the awakening extreme.

I return. She has stood up, stretching.

"Just fetched this from where pikes live."

"I thought you couldn't teleport."

"I forgot that I'm incapable of denoting what's a joke."

"You could have just ran there at wind speed, pierced the ice, dipped the glass, manually removed everything that got caught and returned to me in under a minute."

"I probably could have not."

Unbathed in bathwater changes hands. She, self-conscious, attempts not to throw her head back a bit when allowing water through her airways, probably in some superstitious avoidance of choking. Thirteen years later I realize that she loves me because to her I am total.

I recline against a halfwallwide cedar bookshelf. There is an interlude of wallpaper between it, the nightstand and the bed. There is one unseemly suspicious seam in the wallpaper, and there is one narrow, tall gap in one square of the wall where it peels as if the crack of a door leading nowhere. I rip another strip of the seamed wallpaper, making it uglier. Darling flinches. Sorry. At the sound or at the action? At inconsistency in my treatment of my own ancestral property? No, it's the sound, of course. The tall keyhole can only be opened with an ultrathin sword, and watch now the wallpaper mold itself. "Come, Misericorde." The wallpaper lengthens to four meters, hitting the high ceiling at a tilt, becoming light as a feather. Misericorde, the sword reforged from a broken scythe, the physical original. And Misericorde, the sword whose natural wielders are those born of Mother, and the sword that can arise from any wood chip, any paper rip, any chipped stone, but never a full object - Misericorde does not haunt nor possess, Misericorde reproduces itself in a sample material. So I swing at the gap. Loudly. The sound of clockworks turning. A tiny square of wall becomes an open safe. Embedded behind the wall is a gilded, almost sarcastically golden, clearly born of hate for gold (Mother always spoke at length about titanium and the European Titanium Standard), perfectly square block that you could call a "book". Its name is Counterrevolution.

Res Jino, narrating

Ari said she would have to explain to me a few things about Counterrevolution before she would allow me to open it up and inspect its contents carefully. "You must understand that everything you will see upon reaching for the tome and spreading the vellum pages out before your own eyes is not readily understandable without an intimate knowledge of magical history." I gave her a facetious glare and then a wink to signify my learnedness, but her countenance remained plain and unamused despite her knowledge of my historical knowledge I had gleaned through the Book of Unrest, the implication being that I wasn't quite ready for whatever I was going to see, which I found worthy of protest in and of itself given how much I'd already seen from Ari (and her idiot twin sister, for that matter), but I did not speak, allowing her to continue. "Ciphertext dominates each and every page, divided into even square quadrants amidst the vellum. Layers of interpretation are possible, but not readily. Exegesis reveals text hidden within text, idea hidden within idea, all reconstructable down to the exact word of my mother which she intended. Say there exists a single orthopaleographic layer of manuscriptural text before your eyes, a jumble of varied indecipherabilities. It seems to be meaningless and random, but after careful analysis, coherent prose becomes apparent. Now, you begin to realize that, while there is to the prose's credit an attribute of sensicality and topicality present, you may further analyze, and find another layer of text buried within, and you continue to recursively dig down until you realize that layers interconnect cryptographically, are mathematically patterned in increasingly subtle ways. You will have been reading in three dimensions across many centuries by the time every word of Counterrevolution becomes readily apparent. Even I cannot tell you everything, Darling."

"I imagine I should find myself humbled, but this all sounds like a challenge, Ari. I'd say something like 'oh wow, I can't bring myself to keep my hands off the book any longer,' but I have one more question, you see."

"And what would that be?"

"How the fuck is it so gold?"

"If it were not overcast, it would intentionally try to blind you."

"Are there any more, and do all of them hate me?"

"I think this is the only one that hates you." Jokingly exasperated sigh.

As for the book's contents, I can do them no better justice than a long-winded, heavily thematic ekphrasis in the tradition of Vergil.

Turning to the opening page, everything initially appeared unsuspecting, the title page seemingly having been printed with a meticulously-carved woodblock, leaves and hand-colored floral motifs surrounding the shakily-typeset English word 'COUNTERREVOLUTION,' an attribution to the author, Bathys Augustenburg, present not far off from the proclamation of the title (which had no ornate rhetorical flourishes, for Bathys had chosen not to include any subtitles for clarification on her intentions, or even a year of publication), and not much else aside from an adjacent blank page. "May I turn beyond here?" I asked sheepishly, and Ari nodded in assent, with the book still spread wide open in her hands (but not all the way, for potential damage could come from opening up an antiquarian book all the way). This revealed an image which I, even with the external degree of calm I would display in those days when faced with adversity, struggled to take in all at once. The text on the pages had been divided evenly into perfectly square quadrants, making for a display of eight jumbles of cipher upon each spreading-out of the incunabulum's contents. Overwhelmingly washing over the viewer, there had been inscribed blocks consisting predominantly of capital letters with jagged edges, pockmarked with blots of ink, which themselves appeared to have some kind of far-from-readily-comprehensible pattern obfuscated with intentional brushstroke after brushstroke; in this indiscernibility Bathys had imposed a variation within the dots' shapes and alignments with the knife-precise, impenetrable arrangements of letters lacking literary information at the first glance. The immense letters screeched encoded messages, broadcasting an absurdity to the mere viewer and vomiting ostentation to uninitiated viewers, those who had not known or did not know the character of Counterrevolution. Thence I would later learn the precise ways in which the majuscule typeface encoded underlying textuality, but for now, the clusters of letters - which had been perfectly justified and kerned without a hint of even forgivable error by the hand of a miraculous-but-not-divine creator on the metal surface and inked slowly and deliberately in a variety of colors for the eyes to feast upon - but for now, it was best to marvel - ego mirabar - rather than to interpret. Amidst the clusters, I identified that she had hand-lettered the occasional Chinese character, what is now encoded into computers as 'CJK' but which I would prefer to call 'hanzi,' written in a manic cursive reminiscent of the famed calligrapher Zhang Xu, albeit on such a small scale to fit within the tightly-spaced lines that a great degree of care became hyperevident in the work, the assortment of characters seemingly determined through the obsessive referencing of tables and rime dictionaries obtained in the early days of printing, perhaps even prior, from merchants traveling through Central Asia and encountering the wide variety of faiths therewithin, the irregularity of this illuminated print reflecting what Bathys had seen as the world's great gamut of possibility in those days, the days before, and the days beyond. I imagined she would've been far from happy with the way things were going, not because people were free to practice whatever religion they desired in those regions, but because of the impermanence of things. And not far off from many of these characters were dashes in vermillion-like, crimson, Tyrian purple and gold leaf, ornately expressed in linear strokes and often concealing what had already been printed, but not to the extent of complete illegibility: the underlying characters could still be deduced based on what little of their geometry had been left exposed underneath the scribal annotations. Overwhelmingly regal in their colors, I learned a year or two later that Bathys had adapted these glyphs herself from the cuneiform used to write Sumerian and Akkadian among others, but all that was evident on my initial viewing - which now translates literarily to the reading and misreading typical of any ekphrastic passage in any story ever written - was that these glyphs meant something. In the interlinears and the marginal spaces were macaronic verses transcribed in a messy hand, within which letters extended beyond their position in the fashion of Arabic, a nightmare for the paleographer but a dream come true for those who relish the bizarre. Strange to see were the multilingual arrangements, blending in blackletter to signify linguistic shifts, incorporating a wide variety of well-declined, well-conjugated European and West Asian languages (the latter in Romanization) to create an impenetrable zone, beyond which there would be no turning back if one were to find the further meaning encoded in the macaronics, which indeed turned out to be crucial in the interpretation of this particular edition of Counterrevolution, the very first ever printed, which focused on difficulty, required the presence of half a dozen multilingual dictionaries at the side of the author for any progress to be made on the strikingly beautiful arrangements of cipher. Nothing felt strange anymore; I had seen what Bathys had done, turning through pages with the utmost care so as not to cause any tears or blemishes, finding that the pattern persisted throughout the book without even momentary cessation. Bathys had labored over this with her own hands for a month on so little sleep that even a chronic insomniac would balk at the idea. Nothing would've stopped her from completing this volume, for it was a crown jewel of recursion, an undefeatable entry in the annals of literary history. It was as if she had succeeded in internally balkanizing the concept of language and writing through the division into complex quadrants, created a totality of disorganized thought which would eventually give way to the utmost organization of language after many decades of carefully studying the composition and literary merit, all the while being disallowed from publishing even a single word of a single 'layer' of Counterrevolution's text, only citing page and quadrant numbers followed by the layer of interpretation, coordinates to a world beyond, a world built for the ruin, inversion, and reversal of other worlds once past its reach. At the last of its hundreds of pages, I had to flip the book closed, shocked by its extent.

Ari Augustenburg, narrating

While she is in the structuralist undertow, myself is stood by, watching her see red or Heaven in this sea of gold, Res Jino reeling in intoxicatingly, irreparably leaden or diamond-encrusted cryptographic common carp. Is it the sea of the book that is poison or is it the leaden carp which maddens the sailor? No. It's not a question. It is the sea itself that is toxic, and it is the book that is a killing field.

"Oh, it's just the Jack Off Edition. What a disappointment."

"The Jack Off Edition?" She questions it.

"Mother's term for it, not mine. You should see the later ones. This is the first to have ever been printed, and the later editions are far more deliberate in the fundamental riddle. This one doesn't even have the central cryptogram which calls you an idiot."

I flip to folio 44.

"This here can be ascribed 'paleo-science fiction', or 'speculative fiction', or 'theory fiction', the latter only applicable if you consider bloodlust against Mariana Alarie an act of politics, which myself is of the opinion is accurate. It poses a history of the magic world where The Greatest was not ever intended to be The Greatest, and Mother is the intended recipient of the title. It is rather masturbatory-ventilatory. The scientific aspect originates from its coinage of the term 'Black Hole God', and the archaism for the term 'antimatter' employed in the text for lack of a word for it at the time of writing, which is Renaissance Era. The term, translated literally, means 'heavenly water'. This strikes me as quaint to an unduly degree, due to mirrors being extant at composition time, but it conceptualizes the reverse of all things as a reflection in Allah's ocean. It is truthful and proportionate too then, since all that is great and worthy and civilizational sits on land, and returns to the ocean, to be made Atlantean or merely sedimentary and geological. The land sinks into the water, and in billions of years is plunged into the dense and the dark, pressurized forever. This establishes then the relation of the 'black hole' as an impossibly dense space for matter and the oceanic 'heavenly water', the epithet of antimatter. Remind me, what is a free-diving submersible called?"

"A bathyscaphe."

"Bathys, bathyscaphe. Black Hole God, queen of the oceans, queen of density, queen of return, thus queen of absolutes and purity. Much like Mari's light eats everything, Mother too can be called 'pure' in being born able to control the Event Horizon, a region of density so absolute that all mass loses meaning. This entire digression is only present in the Jack Off Edition, even though it is the only thing in the book that's incontrovertibly true. Perhaps she felt this masturbation revelatory to a degree of demanding excision, as the puzzling audience is worth no clarity. This fluid staining transcribed in rigorous rivers of calligraphy is not for the eyes of peasants-intellectuals."

A pause.

"I hope that didn't interest you too much, it won't relate to you for a long time."

"Sorry, but I'm very interested."

"Get interested in more worldly matters."

Said the tentacle monster.