Alignment, Part One: Spiders
Alignment, Part One: Spiders
respect, you will secure a bulwark to protect the land
and constitution, the like of which no other nation has,
not the barbarous Scythians, nor in the heart of Pelops' land.
First, you have a dream.
A dream of empty air, still and opaque.
A pressure that makes your ears ring, an electricity that hums in your teeth.
A dream of being closed up, the air and the world and you, into a little box, which is tied with a little silk ribbon, and placed in a little cubby in a big room of haze and warm light. All the walls in this room are lined with little cubbies like the warrens of rabbits, and all the cubbies are filled with colorful things- sealed envelopes and glass bottles and little boxes tied with silk ribbons just like yours.
|by Walter Wick|
As you watch the machine in motion, you understand it less and less. It rises around you like a foreign city. You feel smaller and smaller. Like a child. Like a prey animal. Like a fly.
|by Walter Wick|
There are spiders in the room. You did not see them at first, because they are indistinguishable from the machine unless you are very small. They are thread-cutters and ball-track-resetters. Rope-menders. Their webs brace the machine like scaffolding. They ignore you. Sometimes they retreat to deeper places, beyond your sight.
If you follow them, you will follow them through corridors the width of a finger, through the body, into the heart of the machine.
|by Puma Ghostwalker|
The Heart of the Machine is a cavity in the wood and metal and moving turning things, stable enough to stand, and large enough for a child to crouch, or an adult to kneel. The air hums with electricity. Here is a tree of corrugated metal, lashed together with rubber bands. It is joined with bent-toothed gears, and all its articulated limbs end in white silk gloves. They reach into the walls, where they are part of the machine- they topple dominoes that don't fall on their own, and cut threads when the scissors are too dull, and hold out their palms for silver balls to roll down.
The Heart of the Heart of the Machine is a heart just like yours. You can see it through a scuffed porthole of thick glass in the center of the tree, where it is backlit in a little shadowbox. It does not beat. Rather, it taps. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. And the arms move in and out. Tap tap tap. And a soft plush hand pats you on the head. Tap tap tap. And it all goes on moving.
You can ask it a question, if you like. It speaks with the click of a tape recorder, and the sound of a spider shuffling tapes. It is very earnest, and very matter-of-fact. It does not entertain hypotheticals. It is very busy.
Q: Where am I?
A: In the wending.
Q: What is the wending?
A: When you trust the road to take you where you need to go, this is where it wants to take you. But it never will.
Q: Who are you?
A: A part of the world. So are you.
Q: What are you?
A: The Heart of the Machine.
Q: What is the machine?
A: Everything in the world is the machine.
Q: What does the machine do?
A: Everything in the world.
Q: How does the machine work?
A: I don't know.
It is certain that the machine is made of parts, the quality and nature of which are set in manufacture. Each part is made of smaller parts, and the interactions between parts are governed by rules, which are emergent properties of the qualities of the parts. There are too many for anyone to know, but this is a lesson- one can always understand better. Understanding makes one a better steward.
A spider spends its precious little life to spin its web, which is torn by large animals and small ones who struggle, by rain, by the wind. It is always in a state of losing. When it builds its web, it must be fastidious, and diligent, and must always keep an eye to careful maintenance. When it catches something in its web, it must be efficient, and disciplined, and go without today in case it is in need tomorrow.
This too is a lesson. A spider on the forest floor is nowhere. It can hide in the soil, or stalk among the leaf clutter, but everything is vast and wild and far away, like the outer spaces of the sky, before the firmament was constructed. Like the deep places of the sea, or of the heart. That is not a place to be. A spider that spins its fragile web creates the world. Creation is an act of diligent and constant obedience to your creation, because the world is always going away.
|by Kindra Klineff|
Anyone who is orderly, or diligent, or Lawful may feel echoes of this place in dreams. But they will not have the true dream on their own. To love the world is not enough.
There are three ways to have the true dream, to meet the Heart of the Machine.
Leave your home in the middle of the night, and take nothing with you. Lock the door behind you and drop your keys through the mail slot. Leave your name unspoken, like a stone under your tongue. Wander in the dark, in the rain, in the mist, until your clothes are soaked through, and you do not remember how to go home again. Walk dark alleys until you are not just lost, but missing. Then close your eyes, and trust the road to take you somewhere safe.
Haunted places are close to the machine. They are bastions of responsibility, duty, and normality. Routines that continue, business carried out, in defiance of the arbitrary, purposeless disruption called death. Live among ghosts, and work to synchronize the motions of your life, until your routines interlock with theirs. Live in a haunted place until the haunting is as much a part of your life as your own thoughts. Until you are are a part of the house, and the haunting acts through you the way it once acted through a slammed door or a cold breeze. When you are one –the way the past and present are one– you will dream of the machine.
Sleep in the embrace of a giant spider. A spider that cannot maintain the world will starve. So the older and larger a spider is, the more it knows, and the more it understands. The very largest can only ever dream of the machine. They may share their dream with you, but they will always demand something in return. Their schedules are disciplined, and their time is precious.
When you have the dream, and you speak to the Heart, it will make you an offer: To help maintain the world. This is a responsibility, not an opportunity. It is something you must do, because you live in the world. Without it, you will live nowhere. Because too: you care for the world, when so few do. You endeavor to understand it, when many live in fantasy. You are willing, and someone must.
When you assent, or concede, a needle will go into your eye. It will enter painlessly, and without sound. The pupil of your eye is a hole made for this purpose, and beyond that hole is a tiny cavity, smaller than almost anything. The acceptance of your responsibility will fill that cavity, and make you more complete.
When you wake, nothing will have changed.
Alignment Feature: The Sight
Contemplation: Now, your eye is still. All over, it is the color of stone. It is cool to the touch, and unflinching. It cannot be blinded, or damaged, or made to turn away. You could stare into the sun, into darkness, through a blizzard, deep into the eyes of someone you love who has always lied to you.
Understanding: When you use your eye to see something that nobody else ever could, it hatches. Now it is always in motion. It is hollow, and an untangling of little limbs presses against the gossamer sheet of its surface. It is blind, and sees nothing. But its unflinching nature is your nature too, now and forever.
When your eye has hatched, you must find your way back to the true dream: to the Heart of the Machine. Nothing will have changed. But matters have progressed. (Can there by progress without change? Yes. Do you see the machine in motion? Dominoes are toppling. Gears are turning. Everything is moving everything else. To change the machine, one would need to understand all these things that make up the machine- how they work, and why, and what they do. And you cannot, so you cannot change the machine.) Your eye is blind because its purpose was to see something in particular, something no one else ever could, and now it has seen it. Now it has its next purpose to accomplish, and so do you.
With a plush, silk gloved hand, and your permission, it will pluck out your seeing eye like a marble, and place it on the marble track (one of the marbles has gone missing). In its place, it will insert a sphere of translucent glass, like a church window, which is the more proper tool for the job. (Sometimes, when you look in the mirror, you will see the spider pass from one eye to the other. From its private space to its public one, where it can look out through the window, and see the world.)
Alignment Feature: The Constancy
Contemplation: You see in red, and gold, and purple. You see the motion in the layers of things- water in pipes under walls and rats in cellars under floors and blood in veins under skin. The passage of electricity through power lines, and wind through the corridors between buildings. It is very much like the rolling of balls down tracks, and the toppling of dominoes, but not exactly like.
Understanding: When you find someone or something that you could not otherwise find by following the motions of the world in the window of your eye, I will speak to you for the first time. The mirror of your eye is the window through which I come and go. If you look into a mirror in the dark, you can see me reflected back at you. The gossamer strands of my web are visible in the shadows under the surface, and sometimes in the back of your throat. I have been speaking all this time, but you did not hear me, because I spoke in a special way– as an acousmêtre. You can try it yourself, if you like. Start with something simple like "Imogene could not help but knock upon her handmaid's door." If she can hear, but not see you, and doesn't know your voice, and you say it just right, she'll want to do it, and won't know why. (But you'll only get one shot per person, and her Charisma might Save her from the wanting.)
When you have spoken to me, you must return to the true dream, to the Heart of the Machine. Nothing will have changed, but we will know we are together. (The Heart will be too busy to speak with us. It cannot afford indulgence, even in instruction. But we will watch it together. The fragile old rubber that holds its limbs together like a wedding bouquet. The sound that fills the air like static electricity. Like you, it is always compensating for the weaknesses of its tools. When scissors dull, or gears grind down, or ramps warp and crack, it must play their role for them, but it only has so much to give and it too is made of parts and motions. Everything in the world is always wearing down to a suffering nub.)
Perhaps we could find a kind of motion that is more like stillness? A way to be that protects us from wearing down and filling with woe, that lets all the little things progress while remaining the same, just like the machine does. It is a pretty thought, and a kind one. It would make the world better. We could hold onto it, and see where it takes us.
Alignment Feature: The Cathedral
Contemplation: Your eye was a window, and now it is a door. When I come and go, I can shut it behind me, so the things that pass within cannot easily return. You will not forget anything you do not wish to forget (Or the things you wish to either. Sorry.) You can commit pages of text in foreign languages and glimpses of faces in the dark to your memory as clearly as ink on paper, and go over them with a magnifying glass to consider their fine details. Keep thinking. Perhaps it will help us find the answer.
Understanding: When you have found three answers to the riddle "What is the movement that is most like stillness?" out there in the world, I will have an answer of my own. (I have made space for myself in the hollow chamber of your skull. I know you will understand. It is warm and safe in here, and I am always growing larger.) Your thoughts glisten on my web like sunbeams. I will give you my answer, which I think is the right one: The movement most like stillness is movement in a circle, like I do when I make my web. To remain at fixed and constant distance from home, to always be returning. Now that you understand it, you can try it: measure how far you have walked, or retrace your footsteps. You will always do it right, just like I do. Now we should return to the Wending. Perhaps we can make things better.
When we have the answer, and we return to the true dream, nothing will have changed. When we meet with the Heart of the Machine, we will find that its limbs are already moving in circles, that its fingers are moving in circles, that its heart taps one ventricle at a time. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap. Tap tap tap again.
(So you have changed nothing. Nothing has been made better. This is the last lesson I have to teach you. All motion ends in stillness. The world is full of empty cobwebs. But there is only this world, as you have only this body, and I have only this machine. One day, that will stop too. There is nothing you can do. We have all done our best, and it has been wanting. If a better world was ever possible, it was possible only a very long time ago. I'm sorry. Do your best.)
Alignment Feature: The Dollhouse
Contemplation: Why is the world the way it is? It's a fruitless question, a question for flies. The world is as small as a human head, and as delicate as a gossamer dream. It is always dying, because you are always dying. My beautiful engine of thought and light and bone. My home. I love you. Don't leave me.
Understanding: When you first ensnare a little fly, and give to our greater cause what's real and lasting in them, I will understand. When you die, but you will not die. For just as I am your dream, you are mine. Look in the mirror. Past the stitching of your velveteen skin, past the glossy glass of your eyes, past the spider-silk stuffing that fills you and makes you soft, you can feel the motion of your heart. It does not beat. There is no blood in you. Rather, it taps. Tap tap tap. Like the uncoiling of little limbs against pale grey stone. We will maintain each other. We will not suffer sickness or age. We will sew ourselves shut with a needle and thread, where others need medicine. Some day, the world will die, and we will die with it. But until then, it is our responsibility to preserve it, and to preserve ourselves.
(Ask yourself: is there something sinister in all of this? A world by spiders, for the ensnarement of flies?
And then answer: No. This is what there is to be. Everything is normal on earth.)