What discoveries we made in ascending the Carbon Tower.
Sleep, for all the security of our new quarters in Camp Mu, was slow in coming last night.
When we first arrived, the echo of our footsteps in the grand stillness of the atrium accentuated my wonder, but with my eyes closed in the dark of night it quickly became a hateful thing. In this place where nothing grows, where nothing lives, the silence seems to have a physical presence.
I lay awake for an hour before I recognized the cause of my rising agitation, the tension radiating from the very core of me. I was haunted by inarticulate fear and knew not of what I was afraid - because it was not a thing which I feared, but the lack of a thing. I could not hear the everlasting song of insects or of bats or of frogs, the quiet shufflings of other bodies in the dark. I could not hear anything at all, and in this grotesque vacancy the subtle sounds of my own body became sickeningly loud. Breathing and bile and blood, untethered to anything outside of myself.
I am as ill-equipped to explain the concept of total silence as I am to describe the perpetual plains, characterized not by presence but by absence. By a tangible negation of existence. Empty places which were meant to be full.
There is a feeling of pressure against my eardrums that, while no longer unbearable, has yet to fade entirely. My scalp is tense, and the space between my temples feels as if it is being compressed. It is too quiet. No natural place could be so quiet.
I did sleep, and in my dreams the brazen felines crouching atop the waterfall lept from their plinths, prowling the mezzanines with the low-slung, sinuous gait fossil evidence suggests. I felt an instinctive terror strung taut at the base of my skull, torn between paralysis and flight. I knew if I allowed these creatures to find me, they would kill me, and that they would take me into themselves in wet, bloody chunks, unspooling my viscera in long pink ribbons across the marble.
I hid, frozen, but so intent was I on avoiding the one that I realized I had lost sight of the other. I caught a glimmer of gold out of the corner of my eye, and then I awoke, my whole body contracted in anticipation of a blow which had not come.
It seems I was right in mandating cohabitation after the seabed encounter. It may also be prudent to rotate the team regularly between field operations and the ship. Periodic reprieve is what will allow us to best endure the prolonged stress of this alienating land.
By Yrai's proposal we shall make it our goal to ascend the tower, with the intention of establishing a transceiver that will strengthen our connection to the Coelacanth. In the center of the northward face of the atrium there stand three golden shafts which Yrai believes to have contained electric lifts. These are of course non-functional, but should the stairways prove impassable at any point we might climb the shafts as we have the basalt cliffs.
We will make a thorough exploration only of floors which differ conspicuously from those we have previously seen. We shall carry supplies sufficient to make camp if we cannot attain the summit by nightfall, but I have hope yet that we will make good time.
Later. We have ascended twenty-five storeys above the atrium without need of the lifts, as each floor contains multiple stairways, some half of which we have found clear and stable enough for use.
The first twenty floors contain smaller units which seem intended not for commerce, as those below, but for administration. Most identifiable are the larger, lengthier rooms still containing carbon-framed, marble-top tables, evidently meant to seat a dozen persons or more. There are between one and three of these per floor, and given that the majority of the remaining rooms are single-occupant, I would guess that these are convention spaces.
The tables are not elliptical, as one might expect, but rectangular, positioned within the room to emphasize the seat at either end. It is an odd choice, as each person seated along the length of the table would be required to look away from all others to attend those at either end, leaving only these two able to canvas the entire gathering. The shape of the room seems to force this perspective, evidently emphasizing oration over discussion.
These meeting chambers are remarkably standardized between floors, but what is most striking is the repetitious nature of the single-occupant rooms surrounding them.
Endless cubes of frosted glass partitioned the inhabitants of each floor from one another like insects in a terrarium, sequestering them from all outside stimulus but the white sunlight which permeates deep into the building. I would think this isolation prudent in a laboratory setting, but if this is where administrators managed the bustling commerce of the atrium and marina, this fixation on solitude in a social space feels strangely counterintuitive.
The Antecedents seem to have placed great emphasis on personal privacy, embracing the isolation which the people of Shol so often revile. I am not unsympathetic to this - had I lived in a city populated by millions, I too would have burst at the seams without a place to seek respite from the crowd - but it startles me to imagine that my introversion might here have been not an aberration, but the norm.
This theory is so far borne out by the contents of the most recent floors. The storey following the administrative sector contained additional dining space, food preparation facilities, and what Yrai believes to have been sanitation equipment. The former two are considerably more opulent than the dining court in the atrium, presumably intended for residents rather than visitors.
The angular, sleekly utilitarian design of the admin floors was again replaced by the dazzling excess evident at floor level, although this deviation was immediately followed by another. The four most recent floors we have climbed contain a far greater quantity of preserved artifacts, including furniture and even some decor - presumably due to more liberal use of marble and carbon framing.
The marble is typically not breccia, but carrara, cool white with gray veins, and contrasts sharply with the matte black of seating and surfaces. Metallic and reflective accents are used liberally, and these too amplify the natural light of the sun.
The more pleasing pieces, I notice, are those in which I recognize organic curves. These accents are few, jarring among the geometric angles which surround them, jagged and strange in their artificiality. A breccia statuette of a feminine torso, twisting as if in dance, placed on a black rectangular table. An elliptical titanium sculpture suspended over a cubistic arrangement of recreational seating, delineated by a sunken lounge, a perfect square.
I at first judged, by these communal areas and the open floor plan, that this was a dwelling for a large family unit. Yet the attached sleeping chamber is far more compact, generally twenty by fourteen spans, surely accommodating no more than two or three separate beddings.
My first suspicion seems to reinforce this theory of moderate social seclusion as a cultural norm. Cohabitating units would seem to be small, but each maintains recreational space fit for a dozen or more. It may be that the preference to build upward allowed extended families to live in close proximity without compromising individual privacy.
It may not have been so different from the terraces of Shol Ai. From staking one's first family home and watching over years and decades as it expands up the cliffside, sprawling with the boughs of generations, growth of one's own tending.
Perhaps I could see myself in such a place, seated within one of these sunken lounges surrounded by friends, filling the great empty space of the primary room with human warmth. The chatter and hum of lively companionship as we overlook the dizzying expanse of the City, beyond the windows lined floor to ceiling along the outer wall and out into the infinity of the raw horizon.
Perhaps I could see myself further within, too, retreating from the crush of bodies at evening into the confined seclusion of the private chamber. Curling into great mounds of bedding with Ayel's wiry warmth along my back, Jask's proud stomach hot against my cheek, thrumming with his lifeblood.
Warmth. I have nearly written the word a third time in as many paragraphs. That is what is missing from this place, I think: its values and angles are cold. Enduring, but without vitality.
How would you have lived here, Shae?
Would you have warmed this place with signs of your presence? With artwork of towers and black beaches pinned to the walls, models of sea creatures lining these rigid shelves, your skirts and shawls strewn carelessly over the furniture? Or would we have raised you to be spartan and austere, to surround yourself with the sunlight only?
We have stopped to rest in the residence closest to the blocked stairwell and the mechanical lift, and when he has finished eating Yrai shall set about gaining access to the shaft. I have sketched the view of Ai Ara from out the great windows, in the meantime. A digital image could not convey the emotions I feel in this moment, seeing the venerable metropolis spread out below us.
The timeworn towers are dense, but exponentially more numerous are the smaller buildings filling the spaces between, crawling out across the desert into the rising heat mirage beyond which we cannot see. Standing at ground level, I was aware of a strange unease at the arrangement of the buildings, but it is only at this height that I perceive the cause.
The layout of the City writes large the rigid artificiality which has surrounded us since we entered the Tower of She. The buildings are arranged in a flawless grid, broad, pitch-dark streetways carving perpendicular canyons through the labyrinth of metal and glass. Looking down one of them from the ground, one's line of sight is unobstructed all the way to that yawning horizon.
Even in the heart of the urban jungle, there is no respite from the staring eye of the sun.
Yrai returns, and he reports that the lift is unobstructed by either debris or the car. There is railing and pipework which appears sufficient to support climbers. I shall not write again until we have settled for the night, but I hope by then to bring news more thrilling still.
All I have so far witnessed whispers to me of verticality, of ascent, of breathless vertigo, and in this moment I share in it. If we have come this far and found so much of value, I cannot wait to see what lies dreaming at the top.
Later. We have seen it. I think there is something wrong.