Chapter Twenty Three
On that day,
She answered me. “The poet,” she said, smiling lightly. “Del Tanich of Ariel. I admire your work. Though I fear you’ll turn me into some kind of prophetess.”
I put a hand out to steady myself against the valkyrie. “My work?” I asked. “What? – ”
I liked the way the creases went to her eyes as she answered. “Just before the fall of this world, Jerem Cozak sent a spikeship bearing many documents to Earth, describing the Augers and the threat they represented. One of the documents bore chapters from your journal – taken, I presume, when you were arrested by your Temple.”
I considered that, and nodded. “Were they any help?”
She smiled again, looking down and twisting and to brush sand from her trousers and sleeves. “I don’t know why Ship insists that I wear these white impractical things. Something about admittance. But I think he might be being a bit theatrical.”
“Ship?” I asked – then, considering, “He?”
“Well,” she said. “Now that you’re here, it’s almost time for the big reveal. But come,” she added, gesturing toward one of the groups of people, whom I now saw gathered around a bonfire, “you should eat something. You’re probably very hungry. So.” She started walking.
Thus, I said it to her back: “You died.”
She paused a moment, and looked back over her shoulder. “You did, too.” Her brow furrowed. “And it wasn’t even your first time. So,” she repeated, turning back toward the throng, “you must be very hungry.”
The people of the nearest group, I saw, were tearing legs from what looked like a mound of crabs roasting in a pit. I realized that I was hungry indeed, and quickened my pace to match hers as we approached. She knelt and pulled off an articulated and pinkish limb and offered it to me. I took it, and ate, juices running over my hands, and remembered the shellfish I had stolen when I was an urchin growing up in Ariel. It was my young awe of the market’s abundance that had led me to becoming a seller of seeds when the Temple finally released me from its service.
Strange memories, now. They could have happened to someone else. The other group watched us from the distance with silent intensity as they stood or sat together, and they seemed familiar in that way that men cannot explain.
“It took me a long time to understand,” said Cassan, “and I suppose it took them a long time, too. Two kinds of machines to copy over: one to preserve life, and another to restore it. Thus two Wells: the Well in which you lay in Ariel, and the Wells that we mistook for gases in the swamps of Redmarak, where I found Nogilian.”
“He was not dead, then?”
She shook her head. “He certainly seemed so, but the Swarm told me they learned from him what they had not learned from you. They promised Jerem Cozak that they would think in parallel, so that by the time we reached Kasora they would be able to save those who would be lost. Because there were always going to be many of those.
So while we were freeing the northern continent, Naraval, there were really two halves of the Swarm. Jerem Cozak’s half contemplated the healing that leads to resurrection. Mine considered the preservation that leads to a kind of eternal life. Learning from all the different machines in the plants and animals and earth was essential. But when the two halves of the Swarm met in Sepira, they were not yet able to complete the problem.”