Monday, April 23, 2007

Chimneysweep

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but rather by making the darkness conscious. —Carl Jung
The robot guards brought Reo Kenner into the Chimney Room. Reo was in chains. Already the circular gallery around the Chimney was filling with robots come to witness the spectacle, come to witness and rejoice over Reo's latest ordeal.

Reo saw dozens of robots glaring across the Chimney Room at him, glaring at him with hatred in their eyes. For the robots hated Reo with a white-hot molten passion. The robots hated Reo with a raging transhuman fury.

The robots hated Reo Kenner because he could do something none of them could ever do: Reo could go down into the Chimney, and there endure trials no robot could ever know except dimly and vicariously. The robots hated Reo because he was an unmodified baseline human, one of the last unmodified humans left alive. Too late had it been realized, when robots and AIs and transhumans swept Man from the face of the Earth, that there are certain depths only unmodified Man can plumb.

So now a gallery full of robots glared at Reo, with a burning hatred hotter than the fire of a million suns. The guard robots had loosed Reo of his chains, and were fitting him with his body harness, with neck collar and wrist cuffs and ankle cuffs and crown above his fontanelle: ten contact points, from Kether to Malkuth, strung out across Reo's body to generate his energy armor, the energy armor of a Chimneysweep. The robots all hated Reo Kenner, for no robot or transhuman could ever be a Chimneysweep.

No robot could ever be a Chimneysweep. The best a robot could do was watch from the Gallery, patched into the Web and vaguely suffering what the Chimneysweep suffered: vaguely, dimly, as if in a glass darkly. Only a Chimneysweep could suffer the Chimney face to face. The robots could but witness from afar; witness from afar, and perhaps hope that, like a race car driver from times of old, the Chimneysweep might wipe out and suffer a spectacular, painful, blazing death down there in the Chimney.

Now the crane overhead was hooked to the back of Reo Kenner's body harness. It lifted him up in the air. Then the crane swung over until it held Reo suspended directly above the open circular metal mouth of the Chimney.

The gallery was full. The robots glared and muttered and snarled curses at Reo Kenner. Reo looked out into their eyes, the malevolent eyes of the Chromium Robot, and the Transhuman Cheetah-Man, and the Steel Druid, and a brace of L400 Construction Robots, and the CyberMantaRay, and the Six-Eyed Liquid Quicksilver Man in his life-sustaining bubble, and so many more. They had all transcended humanity, all except for Reo. Unlike the robots, Reo had never been up on the scorched and blasted surface of the Earth, where robot triads and octads performed unspeakable obscenities amidst ozone gales beneath a burnt sienna sky. But Reo could hope one day to ascend to the surface. Whereas no robot here could ever hope to descend the Chimney, as Reo was now about to do.

A robot voice over the loudspeaker: "First-stage armor activation has commenced." Reo heard and felt the electric buzzing of his energy armor like an invisible shroud all around him.

The robot loudspeaker continued: "Lowering the Chimneysweep into the Chimney." Now the robots in the gallery were galvanized. A multitude of discordant voices swelled in chaos excitement. The winch began unwinding, and Reo Kenner began lowering down, down, down into the Chimney.

Down, down into the dark and narrow confines of the Chimney. Not enough room to spread his arms more than a few inches to either side. Dark. Claustrophobic. The robot voice came to Reo over his body harness comm link: "Twenty meters and descending... forty meters and descending... Second-stage armor activation..." Now Reo's energy armor buzzed louder, crawled on his skin until it felt like ants crawling all over him...

"One hundred meters... One hundred fifty meters..." Reo knew that, in ordinary space-time, the Chimney was almost two hundred meters deep. But the Chimney was not confined to the ordinary space-time metric. Now they were about to spring Reo Kenner loose from ordinary space-time and into the infinite-dimensional manifold of Chimneyspace.

The robot voice: "Countdown to quantum phase transition has begun... Third-stage armor activation has commenced... twenty-four percent... twenty-two percent... nineteen percent... approaching quantum phase transition, Chimney is unfolding into eleven dimensions... twenty-six dimensions... five hundred and three dimensions... six point three times ten to the seventh dimensions... five, four, three, two..."

Reo was deafened by the electric buzzing in his ears, his skin burning like an ant horde eating him alive... A thousand pinpricks pierced him through... Now he was smeared out as a probability distribution over an infinite spectrum of Fourier coefficients... infinitely many dimensions intersecting in a blinding WHITE monopoint, then spinning off away from the central core, spinning off into uncharted Chimneyspace...

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 712.3.5194.40.12.12394.79 Monad Odor of Attar
Reo looked out over the vast, gently rolling plain. Countless thousands of walking boxkite creatures, ambling in formation. Each boxkite creature a solid color, whether blue or red or yellow or green or black or white or... violet! Violet corrupted the sequence. Violet must be removed.

Reo flew and skimmed over the plain, a flitting figure of light. It came to him as if in a word of knowledge that there were three violet boxkite creatures which must be removed. Three. Reo reached down and snatched one violet boxkite creature by its rigid backfin. Then sailing and, there, another! Now up over this next gentle rise, and... there, the third one!

Now mercy and severity warred within Reo, for these three violet boxkite creatures were not the guilty ones. Deposit them there... atop that butte? But that only removed them, it did not eliminate them. And every sequence in this world with violet boxkite creatures culminated in some horrible volcanic apocalypse.

With sorrow and tears, Reo Kenner flew deep into a volcanic vent, carrying the three creatures. Howling and sobbing, he plunged along with them into the molten lava.

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 51.889.148.13.8714.312 Monad Taste of Quinine
Reo stood there on the pavement outside the all-night diner, along with his best friends Tag and Ivy. (Tag and Ivy? He had never heard of them before this sequence... but he kept forgetting that.) Laughter, joking, the joy of youth on a late-night outing, the blinking of colored neon from the sign above the diner.

It could have been the late 1940s or early 1950s. Reo caught his own reflection in the diner window, thin face, horsehide leather jacket. Tag wore a similar outfit. As for Ivy, she was dressed in a white blouse and blue jeans.

There was a car parked alongside them, Chrysler, 40s vintage. Colored diner neon shone and reflected off the gleaming polished maroon finish, pink on maroon, yellow on maroon, lime green on maroon...

Reo cried, "No, Ivy, don't look!" Suddenly Reo had a long, heavy crescent wrench in his hand, a wrench two feet long, and he swung it hard at the front fender of the car. Swung the wrench hard again and again. Ka-WHOOM! Ka-WHOOM! A sound like an empty oil drum caving in and then popping back out. Ka-WHOOM! Ka-WHOOM! It had come to Reo that this was the car fender finish, neon light reflecting, that could capture a gaze hypnotically, hold a person's gaze captive for 3,192 hours, for days and weeks, like a narrative slown down to a crawl, a simple description of the fender and its reflections could run on for up to 189 pages of dense narration, like something out of Kerouac's Visions of Cody.

His eyes closed tight, Reo swung the wrench blindly, by dead reckoning, into the car fender again and again. When he dared look again, he saw that he had saved Ivy and Tag from the perils of car fender hypnosis. But they were both staring at him, wide-eyed, as if at a madman.

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 30.2995.1.31 Monad Color of Magenta
In this short and simple sequence, Reo was coming up over the rise, dead of night in this blacksky world. Coming toward him on the road was the Purple Cactus Man. Reo turned up the gain on his energy armor a notch, and tore into the Purple Cactus Man, beating the purple cartoon monster into dismembered chunks.

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 173.31883.1209.40.28892.309.6002 Monad The Quality of the Emotion upon Contemplating a Fine Mathematical Demonstration
Reo stood by the entrance to the alley, skyscrapers towering around him in the night. A bum in a long overcoat came walking down the streetlit sidewalk. The bum accosted Reo and bellowed at him: "The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason!"

The bum swayed unsteadily on his feet. Reo said, "Sir, this is no longer a physics lab or a middle-of-the-night dormitory-lounge bull session. These are now the streets of a great and ancient city. This way, sir." Reo directed the bum into the alleyway, and the bum tottered down the alley out of sight.

After a minute there was a roaring sound from down the alley; the bum's wounded howls of incredulity; crunching and snapping noises; and a dismembered bloody arm came flying out of the alley, still clad in the sleeve of an overcoat.

More drunken bums came walking down the street. One yelled, "I have never seen a situation I could not reduce to the equation ax + y = bz!" Another gargled angrily, "If I can't think it out without emotions, it doesn't exist!" Reo directed one bum after another down the alleyway. Again and again came the shrieks of terror, the noise as if of a garbage disposal, the flying bloody body parts.

At long last Reo stepped over and looked down the alley. He faced squarely what stood there within the alley, a calico giraffe with a flaming mane. A calico giraffe, all patchwork white and orange and black. The giraffe's mane burned but it was not consumed. The calico giraffe raised its long neck, turned its head to the night sky, and bellowed a loud roar. A loud giraffe roar.

Reo said, "Giraffe, Giraffe, burning bright, in the alleys of the night, what immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

Indeed. He who made winos put giraffes in their grasp.

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 4534.778.90371.22.995.0 Monad The Quality of the Feeling of Love
This was a checkerboard world, Reo hovering over a grid of gigantic frosted glass plates, shifting and moving effortlessly in the dark over a vast plain of frosted glass. No sense of direction, no up or down. Each glass-plate square lit up from within, behind each plate a distorted body seen floating in fluid dimly behind frosted glass.

Now Reo's energy armor punched through shattering glass, amniotic fluid pouring out over him in icy cascade. Quick! Reo reached in, throttled the horrible insect thing, must've been eight feet long. Tore it limb from limb.

Now flitting with diagonal bishop moves over the grid of frosted glass. Halt over another glass plate, Reo shattered the glass. This time something with a dozen hacksaw legs, already alert, came pouring out with the fluid, attacking Reo, opening wide its maw with a thousand needle sharkteeth. Reo wrestled in the dark, wrestled against the hacksaw sharkteeth monster, wrestled for his life. His energy armor buzzed and crackled and popped like an electric bug zapper. Slowly, straining, Reo fought against the monster until he bent and snapped its neck.

Shifting, zooming over the checkerboard array, Reo smashed another glass plate, then another, and another. Behind each plate, in cold salt fluid, lay another horror. Writhing tentacles. Billowing man-o-war mantles of sickening jelly. A whirling, whining, high-speed dervish. A thing like a headless man, armed with sword and axe. Each one, Reo had to fight and overcome. Fight and kill. For it was kill or be killed.

At long last, after more than thirty rounds, Reo paused, breathing hard. From far and wide across the checkerboard came the sounds of glass shattering in the dark. This world had been brought up to speed. From now on the monsters would shatter glass, and hatch, and feed on one another in the perpetual dark.

CHIMNEYSPACE Tumbler 343.39.8840.14.12439803.76.17998.831 Monad The Sound of a Railway Whistle
Reo came down and landed on one knee, knelt on soft soil in the dark of night, with two moons in the sky overhead. A larger ivory moon, a smaller tawny orange moon. Reo inspected the contact points of his energy armor. All ten sephiroth were still intact and transmitting.

Silence. Reo listened. Looked around him in the pitch black. Listened. Then, over there, in the dark... the rhythmic drumming... Reo walked cautiously around the bend... his eyes now adjusting to the dark... There, there, over there...

Not ten yards away it stood. The Dancing Iron Deer. A wrought-iron deer standing upright on its hind legs, standing upright and dancing, dancing like an antlered wrought-iron shaman. The Dancing Iron Deer, with flickering flame inside its skull showing through its eyeholes. The Dancing Iron Deer, dancing and swaying to the drumbeat: (thump) He won't be coming (thump) back again (thump) (thump thump)... He won't be coming (thump) back again (thump) (thump thump)

The Dancing Iron Deer swayed, it stamped its wrought-iron hooves in the dirt, it shook a rattle held in one forehoof, dancing in regal indifference to the presence of Reo Kenner. (thump) He won't be coming (thump) back again (thump) (thump thump) Reo knew that a frontal attack was out of the question. This was big medicine. The moment he directly attacked the Iron Deer, Reo would be blown away like a candle in a hurricane.

Now the Dancing Iron Deer picked up its pace as the drumbeat quickened, tossed its wrought-iron antlers in the moonlight as the flame inside its head flickered through its eyeholes. (thump) Oh no, (thump) he won't be coming (thump) back again (thump) (thump thump)... He won't be coming (thump) back again (thump) (thump thump)

The Iron Deer picked up its pace. It was building up to an attack; and when it cut loose, Reo wouldn't stand a chance, for never had he seen power like the power of the Dancing Iron Deer.

Not a moment to lose. If not a frontal attack, then... Reo spread his arms skyward, embraced the moons. Now Reo began multiplying the moons, until there were dozens and hundreds of moons in the sky, little blood-red moons, large golden moons, weathered grey moons, moonlets, moon of mystery moss green, moon of smokey blue, moons twinned and moons in crescent and half-full phase... Reo made each moon different, trying to make some of the moons more attractive, like word forms in varying dialects of some Plains Indian language... Reo multiplied the moons until the sky was filled with moons.

And then, just as Reo had hoped, the Dancing Iron Deer found some of the moons more attractive, and the Dancing Iron Deer bound the light of certain moons to its wrought-iron parts, left ankle to blood-red moonlight, right ankle to smokey blue moonlight, shaken rattle to moonlight of light moon-green moonlets, antlers to large golden moonlight, and flickering flame within to moonlight of an angry crimson and yellow moon like a moon on fire...

Now, channeling the power of a thousand moons through the ten sephiroth of his energy armor, Reo Kenner worked the intricate calculations, worked the calculations in Yesod, and... all perfectly coordinated in a vast celestial dance... the moons began going into eclipse, all of them at once, a thousand moons going into simultaneous eclipse, moons eclipsing moons, world eclipsing moons, eclipse by contagion, moons slipping behind the ecliptic, moons falling out of the sky like shooting stars, moons eclipsed by the quasi-planetary motion of the ascending and descending nodes, moons spontaneously eclipsing themselves, moons suffering multiple eclipse from a dozen other moons at once, a cascade of lunar eclipses, the awful night sky of a thousand moons all going into eclipse at once...

(thump thump) He won't... (thump) be....... (thump)...

The Dancing Iron Deer's drumbeat lurched, skipped a beat, halted. Even the flickering flame inside the Dancing Iron Deer's head had gone out, quenched, a smoking wick; for the light of the angry crimson and yellow moon had been eclipsed.

The Dancing Iron Deer stood there, frozen, motionless, like a gigantic lawn ornament of an antlered deer-shaman standing upright on its hind legs. Reo walked up and touched the cold wrought iron of the Dancing Deer. Now snowflakes were beginning to fall in the night, slowly at first, then fast and thick. Reo looked up through the swirling snowstorm at the night sky, where lunar eclipse had passed and there were now only two moons, a larger ivory moon, and a smaller tawny orange moon.

Snow was accumulating on the ground, and on the motionless Dancing Iron Deer. Reo Kenner stepped back and mentally tripped the release circuit within his armor.

CHIMNEYSPACE tumbler sequence completed, retrieving the Chimneysweep.

The crane was winching Reo back up out of the depths of the Chimney. His energy armor sparked and buzzed as it went through its shutdown sequence; but Reo no longer needed the light of his armor to see by, for he was now lighting up the Chimney from within by his own light.

When the crane lifted Reo up out of the Chimney, he saw the robots seated in the circular Gallery around the Chimney. He saw the look in their eyes, hatred now mingled with fear, fear and abject terror. The robots always were terrified of Reo when he was first brought back up out of the Chimney, his face shining with a blinding light, light blazing from his face so bright that it shone like horns from his forehead.

The robots were terrified of Reo now, for in these first minutes after he was brought back up out of the Chimney, Reo Kenner blazed with enough power to destroy them all. He could destroy all the robots here in the Chimney Room without effort. When he was first brought back up out of the Chimney, Reo shone with such unearthly light that he could well have cut loose and destroyed this entire underground anthill robot city.

But what then? What then? There was yet the whole world, and a single Chimneysweep could not hope to stand against an entire world of robots and posthumans and AIs, an entire world in which there were only a handful of unmodified humans left.

Reo hung suspended over the open mouth of the chimney until the shining light from his face gradually faded. Then he was taken down, stripped of his body harness, put back in chains, and led away. The robots in the Chimney Room jeered and hurled hate-filled invective at Reo as he was led from the room.

The guard robots led Reo Kenner back to the holding area. There they beat him and kicked him and struck him, and mocked and reviled him. Then they locked Reo in his cage, and flung his food in through the bars after him.

Reo lay on the floor of his cage, sobbing and weeping. One of these days... One of these days... Almost enough power this time, from facing down the Dancing Iron Deer... One of these days Reo would cut loose, and level the world... At times Reo thought he would level the world, or at least destroy this underground robot city... At other times Reo thought he would suffer, just suffer all the ordeals the Chimney could throw at him... Bear all the sufferings of a Chimneysweep, bear all the robots' glaring hatred, bear all the endless agony with patience and submission...

Reo ate some tasteless dry food. Then, aching and hurting, Reo cried himself to sleep. It would be another three days before his next descent into the Chimney.

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10 Comments:

Anonymous redjack said...

man what a trip!

Monday, April 23, 2007 4:59:00 PM  
Blogger The Tetrast said...

Man, that's got Chapter One written all over it.

Monday, April 23, 2007 6:24:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Thank you, both of you! This is a story that has been taking form in my head for a long time now.

BTW, notice my cryptic Peircean allusions in the story— to CP 1.304, to be exact...

Monday, April 23, 2007 8:17:00 PM  
Blogger The Tetrast said...

Thank goodness I know how to use a search which turned up too pages of references to CP 1.304, but only a few quotations, but that snatch of words was enough to lead me to Peirce's section on "Qualities of Feeling" at http://www.textlog.de/4300.html

Monday, April 23, 2007 8:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Lucy said...

It reminds me of early Thomas Pynchon, which is no small thing ...

Monday, April 23, 2007 9:59:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Thomas Pynchon is one of those writers I've been wanting to read now for many years. Maybe now that we're heading toward the summer, where my schedule will be lighter...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007 7:19:00 AM  
Anonymous TJIC said...

Wow.

So, I'm assuming, since the whole thing is packed full of details about how the protagonist experiences things first hand, that the quality that separates the human from the robots is some sort of experiential / qualitas / yadda-yadda-yadda aspect...but I still don't really understand the whole thing. I'd like to read more (and have the central thrust of it made more clear).

Saturday, April 28, 2007 5:07:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Bingo! Without giving too much away, I'll say that one of the concepts behind this story is American logician and philosopher of science Charles Sanders Peirce's notion of the category of Firstness: purely monadic qualities of feeling, logically prior to any dyadic subject/object distinction.

Note also how "coordinates" in Chimneyspace are not only quantitative (the "tumblers," which I borrowed, and misremembered, from Ted Nelson's writings on Project Xanadu), but also include a qualitative element. I borrowed the qualitative aspect of the "coordinates" in the story from a well-known list of examples of "qualities of feeling" given by Peirce: the Tetrast has already provided a link, in a comment above, to the relevant passage in Peirce's Collected Papers.

Saturday, April 28, 2007 6:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for showing me this.

I continue to like your worries about Transhumanism. I recently read a bit of a Steve White novel that had in its backstory a bit about comparing Transhumanists to our favorite blackhearts, the Nazi's in their effect with the end result being legal limits on cyborgization.

But I tend to feel that you are writing on a level a whole order of magnitude higher than pop-SF by Baen books.

I do think this piece was too long--you got your point well across before the checkerboard world unless that was needed for its 'hero has changed the world' bit.

Some really brilliant description there. It reminds me of Roger Zelazny a bit who wrote about dimension travelling too in his far-famed Nine Princes in Amber which I think might have had a Cosmic Avenger as a hero.

Eric R Ashley

Monday, April 30, 2007 9:25:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Eric, thanks for your feedback.

The Zelazny I remember reading once upon a time— still have it on my bookshelf— was Creatures of Light and Darkness.

Transhumanism does worry me. I wish I could shake off the impression that, as the generation of World War II passes from the scene, the reputation of eugenics is undergoing a rehabilitation, no longer the curse-word it long was thanks to the Nazis. Throughout the modern era, revolutionaries and utopians have striven to remake human nature. The day may be coming when remaking Man will no longer be beyond us, and if so, I fear the transhuman goal will be pursued with every bit as much utopian/revolutionary fervor as the earlier efforts of Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, etc.

Bad enough in itself, but worse yet— as suggested in my story— what if the remakers of human nature unwittingly leave something essential behind in the process?

The story is too long?? Hmmmm, how long is "too long"? :-) You'll notice, I've got two commenters above, requesting more. If I were to go further (no plans at present) this story would probably become chapter one of a novel. Though, like I say, no plans at present.

The sequence of chimneyspace worlds presented does have an internal logic and a narrative architecture to it. Each world builds in natural and intensifying progression on those which precede it: I don't know that I could really omit any of them without damaging that progression, save perhaps for the brief "Purple Cactus Man" sequence. Without going into a lengthy analysis, I'd simply refer you back to the Carl Jung quote at the beginning of the story: "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but rather by making the darkness conscious."

More generally speaking, in each world Reo encounters a different challenge or dilemma, and dealing with it brings suffering upon him. At the same time, he is functioning rather like a gladiator in the Roman Colisseum for the entertainment of the robots in the Chimney Room, who are "patched in" and following his travails in the poor, dim, limited, vicarious way they can.

Well, I'm rambling on and on, better cut it short here. Once again, thanks.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007 5:41:00 PM  

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