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Kali: After the End
12 Oct 2021

Kali: After the End

Post by Rowena Hill

Light is love without attachment
Gianfranco Spavieri

THE GUARDIAN

Her name is Kali and she was born in India. She is now head guardian in one of the biggest remaining cities in the south of the north. She has no peace. Wired to her workstation almost every hour of the day, she has to put down outbreaks of contamination all over her area, as well as decide on the compatibility with the Renewal of proposed developments, keep up with news from elsewhere, and deal with eruptions of memory and vision, her own and from the common store.

Circles of stone houses like a labyrinth. No one in the streets, only musical sounds clothed in softly coloured robes. The dreamer is also a sound. She goes round and round and finally stands at the entrance to a court where a stone temple with doors like an open vagina looms…

As she was saying. The place where she is now, where she lives, if she can be said to live, could hardly be more different from her birthplace. That was a small village beside an ashram on the banks of a wide, cool river. Enormous trees stood over the temples, and the devotees meditated on stone steps leading down to the water, while birds swooped and dived through the air in front of them. Her mother had a plait of long dusky-fair hair and was kind, and her father was a wise man who loved to watch her learn. For his sake she was a model pupil, and once her mind and her sense of service began to grow she followed where they led her, until by numerous stages, breaking through resistant membranes of awareness, she came to where she is now, this jangling divide in space-time, this vibrant ruin.

Come in, Bertram. No, whatever you are seeing we do not have the capacity to revive the space program. Please do not go on insisting, or I will have to revoke your access.

Perhaps someone will receive this – I’m telling it for no one and anyone, depending on chance and skill with codes, who doesn’t know this city, any city. Someone in a pacified region, too young to remember the time before the Renewal. So some explanations are in order. After the passage of the Golden Comet, the cities which were not emptied out by the return to the land were largely destroyed by civil war, as the owners of the old order defended it desperately against the heirs to the rebellion. The new order was victorious, but the old retreated to a dimension from which it can still…

When will they learn to deal with boredom? SOS Guard Centre IX. Contamination in Antarctica. Weary men at a detection station have let their computers be colonized. See if you can fix it from there. If not call the nearest ship. Before the spectres overflow on to the ice. Pure, cold, abysmal ice, keep your jewel hardness. Eyes inside freeze green. No thaw till the sun explodes.

This city. Some tall towers still stand but they are empty now. It’s impossible to maintain them. And who would live on the ninety-ninth floor without a lift if they can have a farm on the great plains. Many other buildings are ruins, too, all over the city. People live in the better ones that are still habitable. The Guardian Hub is well shored up, a cube whose outer structure once was filled with glass but is opaque concrete now, and surrounded by a hedge of beams.

The most powerful computers, the real time ones and the colonized rogues as well, are inside the Hub. But there are rogues outside too. Kali has heard from the street metallic sounds, by turns high-pitched and rumbling, as alien images forced the time divide in someone’s home computer. Then she has to intervene, and save the computer from invasion. That is part of her job. Who knows how many people fail to report the invasion.

There’s a god knocking, ping ping ping, but you can’t trust those musical notes. Plants can tell you. The weeds in the vacant lots, the shrubs in the abandoned gardens, the big trees that grow in peace now – they all hum with joy when a god is coming through. They know the difference between a rogue and a god.

Kali has no life, as people used to think of a life. Even her body is not her own. In the first, most primitive operation, the golden whistle was imbedded in her chest, an alternative outlet for the breath, and she has learned to mix the two airstreams according to the weight of authority she needs to apply. Mostly her own voice is sufficient. Everyone who listens to her knows who she is and what power she inherits. Then came the chakra implants, to detect, deflect, absorb and project all the different creature energies; and lastly the brain nodes, which communicate on all the channels she is programmed to deal with and some she is not, whether she is wired up to her workstation or temporarily wireless in the Hub or in the city. She even sleeps wired, her brain lulled by the vibrations of the deep relaxation program.

…Turkey and Greece are talking again, the Russians have a new president, a thousand air deaths worldwide in the last month, China has stepped up sterilizations. That was the news, brought to you by Kolgate, the Toothpaste Empire…

Virtual toothpaste for virtual teeth, as long as Kali can help it. But these intrusions from the colonized computers, which have proved impossible to tune out entirely, are distracting sometimes to the point of agony. Occasionally her fellow guardians can be seen writhing on the ground or banging their heads on walls, although the new protectors are providing some relief.

Kali has few personal relationships. Some of the other guardians at the Hub are her friends. They have meals together in their common living space at the head of the main stairs (where a statue of the Moon Dog looks down on them), and watch old films or play mindless cardgames in their short hours off. She has no lover, having no time for commitment or even a self (she feels) to commit; she thinks that if she did seek such intimacy it would be with another woman, perhaps out of nostalgia for her own body. The implants are not beautiful, and the head nodes especially, if for a moment she considers the matter, make her feel monstrous.

She has deeper affection for some distant friends, especially for people known in her youth, in India. Her mother, like almost everyone else at the ashram, refused any form of electronic connection, choosing to make her immediate reality the sufficient base for her service and growth. Dharma and Dance, however, her father’s favourite pupils besides herself, wanted no such restrictions, and are aware, in spite of the distance, of the tensions under which she lives. The love they send her is an important source of sustenance.

A small girl has stolen a banana from the altar in one of the temples (it’s a long time since breakfast) and runs out under the peepul tree to eat it. A big monkey jumps down from the tree and snatches it from her, crushing her hand in its clammy paw. She screams and her mother comes running…

Laws of association. Such a vivid memory. But does that mean it really happened just like that? The mind is in many ways a machine, but it’s not always a reliable one. Anyway…

She has met and made friends with other people too in her explorations of the world web, faces of all shapes and colours, voices, heard behind the mutter of the automatic translator, shrill, singsong or deep. Between crises, she enjoys collecting news and ideas from all over the world. There are blank places in the net, zones of silence where people have taken the same decision as her mother, sometimes for less noble reasons (they just want to be left in peace), and she wonders how awareness is developing there, whether it has its own acuteness or tends to stagnation.

Her father and his generation (his generation in the fight, because many of the warriors were years, even centuries, older than he) believed that the way of life of those blank, green zones was the answer to Earth’s plight and sufficient to all the needs of the new hybrid race, both material and spiritual. They didn’t see (perhaps they hadn’t time to see) that there is no stepping back from knowledge; or that true transcendence must satisfy the shadow as well as the bright and healthy light. The darkness they thought they had expelled simmered and rose again, concentrated in what is left of the cities.

The guardians, like all wise people, know that this darkness also longs to unite with the light, but it can move toward achieving that only by using all the means and all the channels our race has brought into being. Their work consists of preserving a fine balance between the thrust of all that exists toward illumination and the explosion into chaos of a still divided world, threatened by what it turned its back on.

Today Kali had to leave the Hub for a few hours. A violent quarrel broke out between the real time screens and a colonized screen in a barrio. Usually she would deal with a problem of this kind from her station at the Hub (one zap can usually disable a barrio screen), but she wanted to find out what the bad screen was doing in that place to start with, and to do that she had to talk to people.

When she reached the crisis point (a basketball court) she found the worst of the confrontation was over. The good screens were very much on their dignity, transmitting real news from many places in the world, with serene background music; they were directing only occasional energy bursts at the rebels. The colonized screen was spewing out distorted, repetitious holograms of its alternative world, which hovered for a moment in the air above, or against the walls, and then collapsed, powerless.

This kind of homemade rogue is not difficult to deactivate. It has only a weak charge, with a local range. The powerful screens (computers, TV broadcasters, dynamos all in one) transmit with enormous force. Where the beam passes it can leave mental havoc in its wake. Some people say it’s better not to resist it, to yield for as long as it takes to pass to the contagion of its alternative world. Others say the vertigo of the return to this here and now is worse than the pain of resisting. Luckily there are not many such screens, and the Hub has them mostly under control.

What is serious is that there are people in this barrio who are on the side of the rogues. Kali asked, shouted, “Who made this screen? How did you infect it?” No one answered.

She shouted again, knowing no one would answer. She could see the culprits, two young males who were leaning insolently on a wall opposite her. They wouldn’t dare to come out and challenge her (they even had, in spite of all, a genuine respect for her), but they won’t desist from their attempt to bring back the past either.

A group of older females approached Kali, half shyly, affection for her in their eyes.

“We are ashamed,” one of them said, “that in our barrio this madness has taken hold. We know what it cost to defeat the demons that they are trying to let out of their boxes again.”

“Yes,” said another. “Some of us knew the Tribesmen who fought here, and who looked after us while the city fell. We could never be ungrateful to their memory. And some of these deluded people are their descendants!”

“But are you happy now?” Kali asked, on impulse. “Do you think the world is better than it was?”

A thick-haired, ash-coloured Tribesman, walking very erect, crosses a field littered with bodies. He turns and looks the viewer straight in the eye, the example of self-sacrifice, the grandfather she never knew.

“What is happiness?” the woman asked. “We know we are still living in a battle zone. We know that elsewhere the battle has been won, and we pray that here also there will be peace, that this tension will be resolved.”

“We have all we need,” the first woman spoke again. “The community is a good provider. You can count on us for any help we can give.”

Kali thanked them, and moved to check whether the rogue screen was really moribund. She jumped back in time, as it suddenly sputtered more and more loudly and exploded. Then she witnessed a scene that worried her as nothing else in this situation had.

Attracted by the bang, children converged on the court from all around, more of them than she had seen in other parts of town, and rowdier. In a kind of haphazard dance, they skipped from side to side, picking up the bits of the exploded computer, caressing them, storing them in purses round their necks, often swallowing them. As she watched them she realized that many of them had electronic parts imbedded in their navels, and rings made of them in noses and breasts. Their movements became frenzied as they ran out of pieces to pick up, and they wrestled with each other for the last ones left. Some of them were spinning in circles with their halfshut eyes turned upward, and Kali knew that in their minds and guts they had crossed the divide.

“Tell their parents to look after them better,” she said to the females who had approached her, knowing her advice was totally inadequate, and she returned to the Hub heavy with concern.

She called a special meeting of the guardians, but she found it difficult to communicate to them her feeling that danger was so close and becoming so acute. For them, since the one catastrophic event – when the defeated timestream took over a new generation of computers and started to try to project itself back into the reality of the Renewal – nothing had changed. They kept the balance. Overflows from the colonized screens had always been minor, always been overcome.

“But nothing stands still,” said Kali. “We’re dealing with live creatures, not just machines. These children who have been watching the bad screens have a completely distorted idea of the world.”

“Yes,” said Tomy. “They think the golden comet was a bomb.”

“And they don’t understand why so few children are born,” said Angela. “They think we’re sick.”

“And they keep inventing money,” said Kurt, “and they wonder why it doesn’t give them power. But they’re just children.”

“So you all watch the bad screens too,” said Kali, dryly.

“Sure,” said Tomy. “They’re often more amusing than our own TV. And we need to know what’s going on there.”

“Of course,” said Kali. “As long as you don’t get seduced as well.”

They all laughed. Kali didn’t really doubt them. The tension they live in is terrible, and apparently unvarying. There has to be a crisis, she thought. A resolution so we can go on. On this side we must grow to meet deeper needs, and the persistence of those spectres doesn’t let us grow. Or ever feel free.

Taut spans of red feather to either side of my head. Wheeling in great arcs over the forest, a river flashing below. Hurtling toward a rock face, two figures in high relief dreamed by the earth from which they rise, male and female witnesses to creation. Swerving just in time, low now over the tree tops, light flashing on shiny leaves, million facets of Earth’s dress…

“Remember,” she said, “that children grow up. And even if we find a way to deal with the invasion, they will grow up with distorted minds in this time.”

“There are adults with distorted minds already,” said Angela.

“Yes,” said Kali, “but up to now they’ve been thought of as crazy or misguided and no one seemed to be taking too much notice of them. Now I wonder. Outbreaks like the one in Antarctica the other day may be worse than just carelessness. The men there may be getting infected. Even some of our own planners seem overenthusiastic about projects that were cut off by the Comet. Bertram won’t leave me in peace about the space program. He doesn’t seem to understand we don’t have the means in real time to do anything about it.”

Mars landing. The odd three-legged capsule skips and hops a few times before settling. The air is ruddy. The door of the capsule slowly…

Damn it! That was directly from one of their programs. Bullshit.

“Bert has been odd lately,” Kurt said. “He does spend an awful lot of time watching the bad screens.”

They all agreed vigilance must be increased. A group of educators will go out regularly into the barrios to help guide the children. Guardians in other cities will be alerted to the problem of chip-swallowing. It’s unlikely to be happening only here.

The meeting ended in depression. Kali had the sensation of being drawn irresistibly toward a huge whirlpool that spun bodies playfullyaround at its edge before dragging them down into turbulent dark depths. She looked round at the others and saw they were all contemplating images of catastrophe.

“No,” she said to herself. “Trust the sea. We have come so far.”

The first thing I did when I woke after my rest period was get in touch with Dharma and Dance. They are lucky in many ways. They have each other and they are a perfect couple. They live in the quiet south and they spend their lives developing and teaching the knowledge that came out of the forests with the Tribe. Their bodies are whole and beautiful. But they also know they’re lucky and are grateful for it and never refuse me help when I need it. Now I need it. I asked them to come. I suddenly feel weak before the immensity of the conflict. It’s not just some old computers that have gone wild, it’s all we’ve won threatened with destruction. Dharma and Dance understood that – they didn’t even seem surprised. They know what’s going on in the world and there are cities in India too. They promised to come as soon as they can get here. I could feel their love.

So today I’m speaking in the first person, because I know I exist after all. Because I feel supported. Sometimes I have very strong feelings that I know are my own, but they are painful so I prefer to set them aside, “her” feelings, like all the messages and memories and visions of Earth and alternative times that come and go through “her” head, often for no apparent reason and independently of her will. But if I’m to be any use I can’t lose touch with my centre, this “I” that often fades, because without it the desire that leads me on would wither too. The desire for the final synthesis, which is most mine and yet not mine at all.

This narrative that I’ve begun gives me some continuity.

Yes, Tomy. Show them the downside of their alternative reality. They regret the loss of this city as it was? Let them look behind the towers and freeways. Show them the slums under the bridges. Show them their own families with no food.

OK, there was a good reason for that interruption.

No, Karen, I’m not a heroine, and I hope when you grow up there’ll be no need for you to be like me. Good luck.

People have been finding a way to respond to this story I’m telling.

Thank you, Hector, I’m glad you find my story stimulating. No, I am not interested in sex with you, virtual or otherwise. What! Are you a pig?

Ugh! How did he get through? There’ll have to be tighter filter.

Bertram will you lay off the space program. I’m switching you to crop production. As of now. And no genetic engineering.

Switch to impersonal mode. This is not a good day for feelings.

A little girl is walking across the dam in the river. The water pulls at her feet, more strongly as she reaches the middle. She slips and nearly goes over. It seems a very long way still to the other bank, and as she turns back, trembling, strong arms pick her up and hold her. It’s her father. He strides across the dam and they walk hand and hand into the fields on the other side.

All right, so me after all. This is I. I look at my hands and suddenly a whorl in the lines on my index finger draws me in and I plummet to the core of myself. Heartbeat. Waves. Stillness within the waves. Movement out of the stillness, bifurcations in time multiplying into chaos, folds in time. And a vertical beam, the only secure place, anywhere and everywhere. Unconditioned light.

Kali is not going to use the first person any more. It leads to too many abysses. Anyway she knows she is she. Today she’s sure of it, because Dharma and Dance have arrived. They’ve brought their own support and the love and encouragement of Kali’s mother and other friends. They came as fast as the old airplanes India still maintains can travel. They stood on the other side of the glass surrounding Kali’s workstation, Dance slim and silvery and beautiful in an old, grey, cotton sari, Dharma tall and distinguished, the brown-haired Tribesman incarnate, holding a packet. Kali unwired herself in record time and stepped out of her glass box into their intertwined arms.

When they broke away from the hug, after exclamations and snuffles but few coherent words, Dharma bent to pick up the packet he had dropped. It was an untidily bound manuscript.

“This is a present for you,” he said.

“What is it?”

“You’ll see. You’ll be interested. It came from your grandmother’s town. Some travellers brought it to us, because the people who wrote it wanted it to be distributed and didn’t know how to go about it.”

“So they’re still refusing any kind of connection to the web.”

“Officially, yes. Though these travellers said some people there were trying to get connected and trouble was brewing.”

“It’s inevitable,” said Kali; and Dharma asked her what the crisis was, and they sat down and started to discuss it, and many hours passed.

Finally Kali could see that Dharma and Dance were drooping with exhaustion. She took them to a guest room and turned off all outside connections so they could rest undisturbed. Then she went back to her station, but asked the others to take care of all but emergency calls, and unwrapped the manuscript that Dharma had given her.

Several hours later she remembered where she was. She had lived every moment of the narrative – her father’s story, as recorded, and a little embroidered, by four young people in the town where her grandmother was born – as if she was there and as if she shared the innocence that oozed from every phrase and every gesture described. Her face was wet with tears and her chest tired with sobbing, though she had not realized she was weeping. It was not just sadness for so many old friends long gone; it was an almost insufferable ache for the hopes and jubilations of a lost time. Cruel innocence, so sure of itself in the Renewal and so bedraggled in her own life now.

The first thing she asked Dharma and Dance when they came out of their room, refreshed, was whether her father was still thought of at the ashram as disappeared or dead. The version of the four young people who had recorded his life was beautiful and poetic, and might even be true, though there was no way of knowing it. Certainly Dogson had been seen and heard many times again after the months he spent in the town in the valley where they lived; then he went out of sight and withdrew (if it depended on his will) all telepathic communication, and no one could be sure he was still on Earth. Kali had always suspected he was still alive somewhere. Dharma and Dance said they felt the same, though they’d had no further evidence for either his survival or his death.

“We’d have let you know,” Dharma said.

“I know,” said Kali. “It’s just I’d hardly thought of him for a while, and now after reading his story I wish so much I knew what had happened to him.”

Dance hugged her. Kali sat them down and gave them breakfast. She had had brought in the fruit she knew they liked.

“You still have the best papaya in the world,” said Dharma, licking his fingers as he finished.

Kali smiled. “Are you ready for what we discussed last night?” she asked.

“Ready,” they said in chorus, leaping out of their chairs.

“May I ask where you’re going?” asked Tomy, who had just come in.

“The cemetery,” said Kali.

Tomy went slightly pale. “That’s dangerous,” he said. “Is it really necessary?”

“We think so,” said Kali. “Hold the fort.”

“You’re going unwired?”

“Yes. I’ll hear you if necessary. But I don’t want any other interruptions.”

“Masks at least?”

“The cave-dwellers don’t like them.”

“Good luck then!” said Tomy and they all made the gesture of entering the wolf’s mouth and ran down the stairs.

They took a bus to the outskirts of the city, then walked up a slope to where a high cement wall cut off the view of anything beyond. The tall metal gates were shut, but there was a smaller door for pedestrians, and the guard recognized Kali and let them through.

Although Kali had been to the cemetery before, she found what they saw once inside the wall as startling as it was repulsive. Dharma gasped, and Dance said, “The bad screens could hardly show anything uglier than this.”

“True,” said Kali. “I had no idea it had got so bad.”

In front of them, over a space of about ten acres, smashed and gutted computers lay on the ground, singly or in heaps. At one end, to their right, a section of tombstones marking humanoid burials stood up relatively free of electronic debris, but looking squallid and desolate.

“Do they still bury people here?” asked Dharma.

“No”, said Kali. “They did when they first started dumping computers here, but then the computers took over. We fenced it because rogues were being left here too, but the fence is obviously not secure. The contamination in the barrios must have started here.”

They started to walk diagonally right across the wasteland, to where the cemetery was bounded for a hundred yards not by fence but by the steep rocks of the mountain behind. Metallic noises accompanied them, humming and twanging and rattling and the occasional boom, as the piles of comatose computers still trembled and settled. As they went further inside, they saw around them, among the inert frames and on the ground under their feet, small bits and pieces that were still animated by a leftover life, squirming and hopping, some still emitting squeaks and sighs or iridescent halos or even flashes of recognizable images. Kali saw Mickey Mouse leap for a second out of a tiny plaque and fade into the air, and an eagle from a nature program hover over a humanoid tomb.

Even more disconcerting she found the plants, some wiry and tightly ribbed, some fat and succulent, that prodded and interwove with the fabricated matter. They seemed to share its characteristics, glowing very faintly or swelling taut with arbitrary strength. They seemed evil, though Kali hated to attribute evil to any natural thing.

And she refused to do so, remembering who they were going to see, and the need to embrace mentally the most extreme iniquity ever imputed to animal creatures in order to come to an understanding with them.

As they approached they could see the mouths of caves in the sheer facade at the foot of the mountain. Kali glanced at her companions. They were both a little pale but showed no sign of faltering. Dance stopped for a moment to look at an angel with chipped wings on a humanoid tomb in their path. Its chubby child’s face gazed up at the sky in complaisant ignorance of what surrounded it; though right at that moment two lengths of peeling cable slithered toward it like snakes and flopped past. Kali wondered, as she often did, whether the dead it commemorated had been people of compassion, or whether their ghosts, together with those of all the other innumerable humanoids of the area who had died badly, were polluting Earth’s field, obstacles to clarity and freedom among the living.

“But some of the dead can help us, too,” she reminded herself, and sent out a plea for support to the ghost of her grandfather and other warriors of the Renewal.

“Some one has seen us,” said Dharma, as they walked on.

Kali looked and could make out a big hairy head in the shadows at the entrance to the middle and largest cave. The three of them walked resolutely on, and by the time they came to the bare semicircular area that surrounded the rock in which the caves were cut, there were heads visible in other caves as well.

“All five of them,” said Kali. “They must know this is an important meeting.”

“Will you speak for us?” asked Dharma.

“Better you do it,” said Kali, “since you’re the male here. We suppose they grew up patriarchal.”

“Who could be more macho?” said Dance, and the amusement, even now, in her light voice was hugely comforting to Kali.

They halted a few yards away from the middle cave. The inhabitants had withdrawn again into the shadows inside, but Dharma shouted, “Honourable Tribesmen, we beg you to come out and speak to us”, and the silhouettes slowly approached and were revealed by the daylight, squinting and blinking, in all their solid hideousness.

Kali had seen the werewolves once before, when she first came as a guardian to the city and identified their emanations as an obstacle to clear communication with spiritual centres in India. She had told no one and come alone, younger then and trembling, but determined to convince them that they too were heirs to the deepest wisdom in the world and must help it to prevail. They had stood upright, as now, in the mouths of their caves, gnarled, bristly, filthy, with cavernous maws and few but wicked teeth, their more human aspect abandoned centuries ago, and for a moment she had felt sure they were going to devour her and end her mission then and there. But after a moment she had seen in the eye of the leader, the one with the huge, domed, grey-black head, a gleam of admiration for her, and even something like tenderness. He had listened to what she had to say (using a careful dose of the whistle in her voice), and answered brusquely for all of them, promising to avoid interfering with her spiritual contacts. He had kept his promise.

She had asked no questions about their diet of blood, and the disappearances of people as well as cattle from a wide range round about. She couldn’t interfere with their nature. She knew from her early studies that they were the oldest creatures still alive, and probably couldn’t die even if they wanted to. She had turned her back to leave them still not sure they wouldn’t leap on her as she walked away.

Now she was facing them again and Dharma was addressing the leader, introducing himself, Dance and her, and asking the chief werewolf for his “good name”.

The huge creature nodded several times, with a flicker of recognition toward Kali. “My name was once Pewter, I believe,” he said. “Also Canescent at another stage in my life.” He seemed surprised to hear his own deep, cracked voice, and frowned, swinging his head.

“You will excuse our intrusion,” said Dharma quickly, “but we are in urgent need of your advice.”

A kind of seething, cackling sound came from the throats of several of the werewolves and Kali realized they were laughing.

“Our advice?” said Pewter. “We’ve been outcasts for millenniums and now you need our advice?”

“We want a world where no one is an outcast,” said Dharma, “and if we don’t achieve it now there is only ruin ahead. The forces of negativity we thought conquered are threatening to overwhelm us again.”

“And you want these fangs and these bloodshot eyes to be part of your world?” asked Pewter.

“Yes,” said Dharma. “We want everything in our world but under a different order.”

“So how are you going to achieve that?”

“We don’t know, but that’s where we need your help.”

Pewter was silent for a long moment. Then he said, “The Navel.”

“Yes,” said Dharma. “We were all taught about the ciphers on the Temple walls; but no one could tell us what they mean. Do any of you have any memory or knowledge of the secrets encoded there?”

Pewter didn’t answer directly. “Why do think we live here?” he said.

“Is it because the caves are convenient?”

“And the place for werewolves is the cemetery?” Pewter looked fierce.

“Excuse our ignorance,” said Dharma. “Many generations separate us.”

The werewolf was apparently appeased. “We know about the dangers,” he said. “Since her first visit” (he nodded toward Kali) “we have done our best for you. But for us many more viruses would have escaped this place.”

“We are grateful to you,” said Kali.

“And it’s not just that we eat the children that have eaten the viruses before they can contaminate others. The evil we ourselves have in suspension allows us to detoxify many of these machines.”

Kali swallowed hard. “Are you saying the ciphers refer to the suspension of evil?” she asked.

Pewter signed to a creature even older than himself who was leaning in the entrance to the next cave to his. “Shiva can tell you better than I can,” he said.

“The ciphers at the deepest level tell us about the fusion of negative and positive,” the old werewolf croaked. “In a great implosion. That much they could still read when I was young. But not how to bring it about. Many tried to pierce the secret, but it had been swallowed by time.”

For a moment a common feeling of sadness and helplessness overcame all of them, werewolves and supplicants, and they looked at each other in a kind of friendship.

“Could it be,” Kali said to the elder werewolf, “that the ciphers were referring simply to our death itself?”

“A good question,” he said, raising his trembling hands. “Many of us asked it. But I don’t believe so, no. I believe they referred to a spiritual death and resurrection in this world. Of the Tribe, not of one person only.”

“That’s what we hope,” said Dharma. “We will have to try to work out the message.”

“Of course the implosion would be death to us,” the old creature went on. “With the best will you couldn’t expect our blood-soaked brains to survive purification. But we wish you success. We have lived long enough.”

“Far too long, most of us,” growled Pewter, and Kali suddenly wanted to stroke his huge hairy head. He gave her a look that told her he understood her feeling, and turned brusquely away. In a moment all the werewolves had slipped inside their caves, and Kali and her friends were standing alone in front of the dusty cliff.

They turned and picked their way in silence back across the debris-strewn ground to the gate. Kali saw at the other end of the cemetery several small figures creeping among the piles of rubble, apparently alarmed by their presence. She resolutely decided not to imagine their possible fate, but thought instead of how her questions about the source of infected screens had been answered. She wondered what other situations were escaping so gravely from the guardians’ control.

Once they were out in the road (the guard looked relieved at their return), Kali, Dharma and Dance stared at each other in shared dismay and horror.

“We mustn’t let ourselves be overwhelmed,” said Dance finally. “There are still things we can do.”

“You two must go to the Navel,” said Kali. “Take the best interpreters with you. Those ciphers were encoded by people, and people may still deduce their meaning again.”

“As long as we can piece them together,” said Dharma. “Dogson saw the walls fall down in rubble.”

Only a low ring of ruined walls is left staring up at the great dark circle in the sky. The stones have fallen in all directions, some inwards, some rolling outwards, some smashing and crumbling as they grind together. And yet, on some of them the ciphers are still visible. The screens, except the last, isolated in a patch where no stone has fallen, have been smashed irretrievably; but pieces of stones with ciphers on them are lying all around, their careful, graceful engravings vibrant with life amid the general desolation…

“Enough may be left,” said Kali, quietly now. “It will be an immense job, but it’s worth trying.”

“You must go out too,” Dance said, as they started to walk down the hill. “It’s killing you to be wired all the time to that station in the tower…”

“And anyway the system of guardianship is not working,” interrupted Kali. “I’m saying it myself so you don’t have to.”

“It’s not your fault,” said Dharma. “The new reality is precarious everywhere. And I agree with Dance, your presence will do more than your transmissions. Leave the machines to the other guardians.”

As Kali stepped on to the bus that would take them back to the Hub, she felt for a moment the pleasure of having her body free in space, and she knew her friends were right. The time had come to go out on the road again.

NOTHING CONSTANT

Dharma and Dance used the powerful communications system at the Hub to gather together their team of experts (who also had to be qualified adventurers, Dharma said) and arrange a time and place for them all to meet in India. Then they wasted no more time in leaving. Kali, exercising her newly regained physical independence, went to see them off at the shabby old airport on the coast, and the exhilaration she felt watching the old planes land and take off partly compensated for her sadness at being separated again from her closest friends.

They would be constantly in touch. The question of communications had been very much in Kali’s mind since she had decided to leave her post; and she had devised with Tomy a tiny, light gadget that was powerful enough to keep her in touch wheverever she went with whoever she wanted to contact, but that only the Hub could break into, and only for the gravest reason. The other Guardians would share between them her responsibilities.

Dharma and Dance took with them similar transceivers, and of course with them there is little need for devices. Telepathy, which they have promised each other to practise every day, is almost completely effective between them in sending and receiving both words and images, with Kali’s chakra implants as powerful amplifiers. The separate electronic devices are for confirmation and to avoid overstraining their minds.

Kali took almost nothing with her. In a light backpack she put a change of clothes, the transceiver (to which, from now on, she will be dictating this narrative), a torch, a knife and the copy of the Bhagavad Gita that her father had given her when she left the ashram. She shut the door of her small room at the Hub and went to say goodbye to her colleagues.

Except for Angela, who waved to her confidently from the main workstation that had been hers, she found her closer friends all standing round a rogue screen. They were watching a singer who looked like a hairless version of a werewolf, dressed in tight black, with eyes like bruises and a mouth like a bloody gash, the song pulsating with pain.

“Is that a male or a female?” she asked.

“Female from the name,” said Judith. “I think she wants to get out of there.”

“To where?” asked Kali, not expecting an answer. “I’m going now,” she said.

They all turned to her. They looked fearful suddenly, and didn’t know what to say. Finally Tomy said, hiding emotion under a touch of irony, “It’s like losing our mother. We promise to do our best to carry on as you would.”

“Better than that, I hope,” said Kali. “We must all be inspired.”

“And lucky,” said Kurt. “We wish you the best of luck.”

“Thank you,” said Kali. “Anyway, we’ll be in touch all the time.” And she went quickly down the stairs.

At the airport she had to wait while the plane she was setting out in had a propeller repaired. From the terrace, she watched the rudimentary activity on the ground and saw how the hangars were collapsing, and she smiled grimly as she thought of Bertram’s illusions about developing a space program. Then she raised her eyes to the sea beyond, and felt again the excitement of travel over Earth’s surface, and deeper than that, the awareness that nature was powerful and resourceful still beyond all the commotion of the humanoid races. She was quite lighthearted when they called her for the flight.

Kali chose to come first to the high valley town where her father dictated his life-story. For several reasons: against all probability, she hopes she may find some clue there to his subsequent actions; the town is an example of what was considered the complete success of the Renewal; in spite of this, Dharma and Dance heard that rogue computers were causing problems there.

She arrived by jeep, which is the only form of transport allowed, and that only to a border at the entrance to the valley, where she was given a horse to ride to the town. She had let the local guards know by the emergency network that she was arriving, and they evidently recognized her, but she got the impression they were not altogether happy to see her.

Reaching the town, however, she wondered if she had been wrong, because the community leaders were in the square to welcome her warmly, and the four writers who had composed the memoir (no longer so young) were deputed to take care of her at all times. They were very pleased when Kali told them how their work had moved her. They didn’t take her to stay at the family house, which they said had become damp and uncomfortable, but gave her lodgings in a large, earthwalled house a block away from the centre.

That was yesterday. The vegetarian meals they have prepared have been delicious, and Kali has been resting before she starts her investigation of what is really going on here. She has been in touch with Dharma and Dance, and they are about to set off into the forest with their team, twelve in all, guides, decipherers and thinkers, all physically strong and prepared for hardships. They are quietly optimistic.

When Kali looks out of the window of her second-floor bedroom, she feels she has fallen into a time warp. Everything is quiet and natural. All the houses are made of earth, stone and wood. The only sounds are the voices of animals and people, the small clatter of everyday life. Green is visible everywhere, plants in window boxes, the tops of trees in the square and streets beyond. Above stand the mountains, with a remote, pure snowfield. It is all perfect and beautiful, and would have brought joy to the heart of any idealist of her father’s generation. Why should it seem false to her, and less than desirable? This is no artificial past, but the present of After the Renewal, the reality her work has all been aimed at defending. It is her own life that has been anomalous. She wonders if she has suffered contagion from the reality in the bad computers, and has perhaps gone over to the other side without realizing it. But a moment’s reflection tells her that’s not true. The defeated – yet undefeated – timestream is horrible to her. What she wants is this rural dream opened up and modified by the germs of spiritual expansion that grew so horribly twisted in the old reality, yet cannot be denied. Synthesis. The werewolf Shiva’s implosion. Would anyone survive it?

The four writers appear to be unaffected by any doubts. They have happily assured Kali that this valley has developed from purification to paradise, and when she is ready to go out they will show her their perfectly realized example of the Renewal. Something tells her that she will do well to put it off till tomorrow and build up her strength in the mean time.

No wonder Kali felt an emptiness behind the lovely surface of this place. Half of its energy has gone over to the other timestream, and the elders, far from being able to deal with the fact, have been pretending it’s not there.

In the morning, the writers took her for a leisurely walk through the quiet, pretty streets to her family’s house, where she looked with deep emotion at objects that once belonged to her grandmother or her father. Then they went to the temple, the usual round design with the altar in the middle. Bowing to the Moon Dog, Kali thought he looked sad. After that they visited a candle factory, where females sat happily together, working at their own pace, while a few cubs played round them, welcomed by all. The females were not effusive, but genuinely happy to meet her, though she felt they had little idea of what she was.

The writers asked if she wanted to go further, to see the fields where the community grows its food, and she said of course, she wanted to see everything. They glanced at each other and took a paved path between stone walls that led out into the open countryside. The fields are very fertile and beautifully cultivated. People sing as they weed the crops and choose ripe vegetables to pile on a barrow to bring into town. The writers smiled happily as Kali expressed her appreciation.

Kali was meaning to ask next to see the tower where the emergency computer is kept; but an idea struck her as the she remembered her father’s story. She told the writers she would like to go to the place on the hillside where Dogson had decided to record his memories, thinking that from above she might get a glimpse of contrasts.

“It’s long way, and steep,” said the male who appears to be their leader, if there are such distinctions among them.

“That’s all right,” said Kali. “I’m a lot younger than my father was at the time.”

So they branched off the path they were on, and took a narrower one down to a bridge over a swift river, and climbed up the other side till the valley was spread out in front of them.

Kali immediately identified the communications tower on the opposite edge of the town, and could tell just as immediately that it houses much more than an emergency transceiver. While she put off connecting to it, she stepped off the path to look more closely at a flower, a white orchid, that had attracted her attention, and she suddenly detected Dogson’s energy field, and that of an elder Tribesman beyond him, who must be Buk, her legendary other grandfather. She let herself rest for a moment in their presence, strong, earthy and wise, wishing she could spend more time with them, feeling both shaken and fortified.

Then she opened her mind to the dark tower. She was startled to see how, like a coloured map, the green valley was suddenly scored in all directions by lines and patches of black representing the pressure of counter-realities. She had not thought the situation could be so grave.

The four writers were standing stiffly on the path, waiting for her. Kali could see that they knew something had happened to her, and suspected what kind of thing, but still hoped to avoid it coming out into the open between them. Do they think she’s here for fun?

Kali pointed to a spot up the valley where the black stain was particularly intense, and asked what went on there. They said they didn’t know what she was referring to. She said, with a hint of anger, that lying was not part of the ethos of the Renewal.

“It’s a pig farm,” said one of the two women, blurting it out. “But we’ve heard they have a computer there too. We’ve heard that watching the screen sends people mad, but a lot of them like it, and they go there to hold parties, and wild figures come out of the screen and dance with them.”

“Do many people go there?”

“Quite a number have gone. Not many come back and they mostly go there again and take others with them. There’s a community living there.”

All four writers were hanging their heads in shame.

“Don’t feel so bad,” said Kali, more kindly. “This sort of thing is happening everywhere. That’s why I’m here, to find out how bad the damage is and what we can do about it.”

“Can you do something about it?”

“We’ll see. Take me to the communications tower.”

But when they got back to the town a group was waiting to play music for Kali, and a feast was laid out on tables in the square, and the festivities, which were sincerely warm and cheerful, went on till evening. The writers were in agony but Kali told them they must learn to be more adaptable.

Seated at the same table as Kali was an old male who said he had been Dogson’s friend. Kali liked his face, and asked him if he knew what Dogson intended to do when he left the town. The old male nodded toward the writers.

“Don’t they know?” he asked.

“I think their memories of Dogson are congealed in what they wrote,” said Kali, hoping she was not being too tactless.

The old male smiled slightly. “He talked of visiting places associated with his ancestors,” he said. “He particularly mentioned an ancient town in the desert where a Tribeswoman he had great respect for was born.”

“Do you remember the name of the town?”

The old male closed his eyes and thought for a long time. Kali was afraid he was not going to answer. Finally he looked at her again and said, “I think it was Cynopolis. In what later was Egypt. I think that was it.”

Kali has never heard of Cynopolis; but it will no doubt be possible to find out where it is.

It was very early still when Kali and the writers made their way through the silent streets to the tower. There were smells instead of sounds, fresh cheese, a thickly flowering rose bush, manure from a stable. Even close up, Kali couldn’t decide whether the tower was indeed built of darker earth, dark grey mixed with the red brown, or whether it was what she knew was inside it that made it seem dark.

They knocked at the metal door, and a guard appeared and refused them entry. Kali decided not to waste any more time and ordered him with her whistle voice to open up, and he did so, terrified, standing aside as all five of them started up the winding staircase in front of them. They came out, at what would normally be third-storey level, into one big room that occupied the whole interior of the tower. The neat, old-fashioned transceiver intended for emergency communication with the outside world stood unplugged to one side. On the other side were two bulging, cobbled-together computers, both running rogue channels.

The three technicians, two males and a female, who had been lounging in chairs in front of the screens, jumped up and stared at their visitors in horror.

“How did you get past the guard?” one of them muttered.

“Do you know who I am?” Kali asked.

“The founder’s daughter,” said the female. “But we don’t recognize your authority. We have discovered a greater power, and we are serving it.”

“I appreciate your honesty,” said Kali, and she did. “But you are suffering from illusions. I am going to cure them.”

“You can’t,” said the female.

“Yes I can,” said Kali, “and if you don’t want to be badly hurt I suggest you come back to my side. If you are still able to.”

The technicians just stared at her. Kali plugged in the good computer and spent a moment tuning it to a strong source of guardian power and to the nodes in her own body. Then she set up a wave pattern and began bombarding the rogues, bracing herself as the power rushed through her.

The bad computers began to sway and shake and fly apart. The technicians were first frozen to the spot, then shuddered horribly too, more and more violently till they fell down and lay rigid, as if dead. The computers sputtered and collapsed. Kali ceased her attack. She felt exhausted, but knew she had been successful. The writers, who had not been affected by the waves, were nevertheless stunned and helpless with dismay.

“Wake up!” Kali said to them. “And don’t worry, these people are not dead. It will take them a while to come round and when they do they will have returned to their old selves. Come, there are things to do.”

They went back down the stairs. The guard was also lying stiff on the floor. Outside, Kali said to them “I want you to go to all the houses where you hear wailing, which will be many, and tell the people their friends and relations are not dead. Tell them as much else as you like. But first bring me a horse.”

Two of them ran off and reappeared quickly with a big white horse, already saddled. Kali mounted and galloped away in the direction of the pig farm. She had no trouble in finding the tracks between their stone walls. She knew the screens at the farm must depend on the computers in the tower, but she wanted to be sure her work of destruction was complete.

The pig farm was a wretched sight. The smell was awful, too, and the horse snorted in disgust as she rode up. The people there had evidently become so obsessed with the colonized screens that they were not looking after the pigs, and they had wandered loose not only under the trees outside but all through the yard and even the house, and everywhere was covered in pig shit. Among the shit were lying the bodies of all the inhabitants of the place, without exception as far as Kali could find, as she went through the house and outbuildings opening doors and peering. Most of them were simply stunned, like the technicians in the tower; but some of them were actually dead, so far gone in their assumption of alien reality that their bodies were unable to stand its violent withdrawal. Stranger, many of the pigs were dead too, though others were still snuffling around. Kali thought they must have swallowed bits of the computers like the barrio children in the Hub town. People would have to be sent to clean up as soon as possible.

As Kali rode back to the village on the obedient white horse, she felt at first quite pleased at the total success of her fight with the rogue computers of the valley. She was never happy with killing, but had come to accept it as a necessary part of her function in extreme situations. This place had been purified, returned to its peace and quiet as a model of the Renewal, fortified by a salutary shock against further temptation. But very soon she began to see the true dimensions of the battle. This place was one in millions of such isolated settlements, and if, with all its historical connections and related pride, it had succumbed to contamination, most of the others would have too. She could not possibly go to all of them. Not to mention larger towns and places that had chosen to be more directly connected. The situation was hopeless for single combat and she might as well give up now. It would have to be a universal solution, another miracle or nothing.

She was back in the streets now and people were running to meet her, though when she rode up to them they just stood and stared, as if overawed. She smiled at them and then they smiled back. In the square were the writers and the community elders (except, she noticed, one whose aura had made her suspicious the day of her arrival). Kali dismounted and told them to relax, the danger was past.

The first elder shook himself and said, “Excuse us, but we are still dazed. We do not know how to express our shame that this could have happened in our town, and our gratitude to you for saving us.”

“Have you no idea how the virus got in here?” Kali asked?

“There’s no one we feel prepared to suspect. Sometimes traders are let in. Perhaps one of them brought the contamination.”

“Don’t worry,” said Kali, seeing it was pointless to insist. “It will be all right now. Just send a group to clean up thoroughly at the pig farm. Bury the bodies and the bad computers deep in the earth with rocks over them, and keep away from the place.”

“We will do as you say.”

“May your peace last for ever. I will prepare to leave now.”

She went to her earth-walled rooms and they seemed more solid now. She looked out of the window, and the village was real and very pretty. She was overcome again by the nostalgia she had felt while reading her father’s story; and she rebelled for a moment at humanoid destiny, always longing for a reality of pure sunlight, and always having to deal with a further shadow.

Then she laughed at herself, and remembered she had to decide where to go next. Her conclusion that this kind of combat was useless, practically a waste of time, was a relief. It meant she was free to pursue less concrete ends, to try to understand what had gone wrong with the Renewal and where, if at all, a synthesis might be born. And since it hardly mattered where she went, she would use this freedom to try to follow in her father’s footsteps and find out what had happened to him. And that in turn might bring her back to a more solid sense of herself and her own life.

She got on to her transceiver and found out, after some delay, that Cynopolis is a tiny village in the Egyptian desert. The idea of Egypt, with the depths of its ancient history as a resonant background, is attractive to her. India has that too, but there is no need for her to go to India, full as it is of wise people interpreting events. What the tiny village may hold is a mystery, but that is attractive too.

She has called the Hub and told them of her decision. They don’t understand but they respect her. She has been in contact with Dharma and Dance, and they are struggling through dense jungle. Just as in Dogson’s account. Kali reminded them of this, and they laughed, and said at least they were prepared to deal with the insects.

She has been back, finally, to her grandmother’s house, in no hurry this time. She studied the pictures on the walls, Rosa’s own drawings, according to Dogson’s account, and was both moved and amused. She sat for a long time in an old wooden chair, and her grandmother’s ghost as a kind middle-aged woman came, very briefly, and smiled at her to give her courage. Her father’s spirit she could feel all around her in the room, and tears ran down her face for love of him. She has no doubt now that he is still alive.

The horses are waiting to take her to the end of valley.

Kali’s mind over the last weeks has been working on several different levels at the same time. On one level she’s still the guardian, talking to people she overtakes on country roads, or in the streets of smaller cities, probing their ideas and their knowledge of the double reality that is dividing the planet, giving advice or criticizing. She doesn’t tell them who she is, but her authority is palpable, she knows, and people listen to her. From the air she has looked down on territories that are supposed to be wholly given over to the Renewal, and they all have black streaks and stains like the ones she saw from the mountainside above her grandmother’s town. And the cities are worse.

And on another level she is full of wonder at the variety and beauty of nature. Earth has been given breathing space, at least, in many zones that were being sealed by humanoid activity, and she has responded with a resurgence of green in all shades and shapes. And the eternal elements, restless water, grainy earth, air tranquil and tormented, the fires in the sky, are all marvellous to Kali when she turns to them, as if she was discovering them for the first time. For so long she was shut up and deprived of them.

On yet another level, Kali’s mind has been unfolding a persistent and pungent waking dream. Little bits of it come to her as she waits for transport, or eats in a café, or watches the news on a public screen somewhere. It will be easier to tell it as a connected whole.

The evening of a day when Earth was much younger and greener than she is now, though she had already given birth to successive waves of long-lived creatures. Shadows on the soft floor of a clearing in the forest, where a mother wolf pauses, attentive to the first pangs of labour.

The sun has set but seems suddenly to return, as the sky flames bright again above the trees. The she-wolf is afraid, but she can’t run to seek the darkness of the undergrowth because at that moment her cubs press to be born. They slither out precipitately, five of them, propelled by her fear and, it would seem, their own eagerness; new and tiny as they are, their shining, wide-open eyes follow the golden body with its coruscating tail as it passes over their birthplace. The mother, reassured now, watches with them as it disappears; not long afterwards there is a searing flash in the sky and the earth trembles.

For days all the creatures of the forest live in fright at the rumours of fires coming closer, but then it rains, and they are safe. The cubs are strange and the mother treats them as if they were hurt. Their eyes don’t seem to see what she sees, and their strength increases much too slowly.

But the seasons go by and they rise on their hind legs and do things with their paws no wolf ever did before – mother wolf wears necklaces of flowers and lives in an ample cave dug out with sharp stones – and with their voices they make new sounds by which they understand each other, and join in praise of Earth, which is wonderful to them.

Kali is in Egypt now. She did not succeed in being incognito, as she had half hoped. At the airport itself she was recognized by a local guardian with whom she sometimes exchanged news on the web. But that had the advantage that she was well looked after, and was able to find out from friends of her friend that her father spent some days in Cairo, about ten years ago, but no one knows where he meant to go from there. No one had any idea, either, why he should have gone to Cynopolis, if indeed he did. Kali, however, escaped from the city (it has all the problems of her own, plus aching heat), added a camel to the various means of transport that have carried her lately, and came with a guide and provisions to this desolate place.

She is sitting in a mud hut, watching the wind blow the sand in swirls and mounds over the desert floor. There are only three huts here, and this one is abandoned. In the other two live peasant families who are ignoring Kali and who presumably cultivate the tiny oasis she can see not far away. Their way of life is so primitive that it’s impossible to say whether they were affected by the Renewal. Their past is also their present. At least there’s no temptation here from alternative timestreams!

The guide looks intelligent and several times I’ve seen that he wants to speak to me but knows I won’t understand him. Today I haven’t wanted to turn on a translation program. I will do so tomorrow as soon as I wake. The wind will lull me to sleep.

Kali slept too unguardedly, and was almost swept away by her dreams. She dreamt that the walls surrounding her were of stone and the furnishings of her room luxurious. There was shouting outside, many voices, and she got up, and descended a stone staircase from a terrace, and walked through paved streets, followed by a half-admiring, half-threatening crowd, to a square in front of a pillared temple. There a haggard man with wild eyes was preaching from a dais. She couldn’t understand what he was saying, though he began to scream and point at her, and she wanted to escape into the temple, but people blocked her way, all men, she now saw, and hostile, hateful. With a sudden transition she was in the big building, and an invisible force was holding back her pursuers. She walked slowly, in awe, toward the figure in the shadows of the sanctum, and as she came close she could see the face of the long-robed priestess or incarnated goddess, sensitive and beautiful and infinitely sad. Tears ran down the female’s face, and slowly she raised her hands toward Kali…

Kali had just woken, shuddering, and was adjusting to the vista of sand outside her hut, when the guide came in and handed her a cup of tea. She thanked him and wasted no more time in getting up and plugging in her transceiver so they could understand each other.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I had strange dreams,” said Kali. “Does it show?”

“Yes,” he said, smiling, “but I know that everyone has strange dreams here. It’s because of the ruins.”

“What ruins?”

“The ancient city of Cynopolis. We’re right on top of it here. Those rocks you see there are what’s left of the palace.”

“No one told me about that.”

“No one’s interested. It was too long ago. Only a few people looking for personal connections ever come here.”

“I think my father came once,” said Kali. “A brown-haired Tribesman type.”

“I know who it must have been,” said the guide. “I can see your likeness to him. He stayed for some time and I often kept him company. I was a child then.”

“What did he do here?” said Kali, waving her arm at the empty desert, which was beginning to shimmer as the sun rose.

“That year the ruins weren’t covered by the sand. It comes and goes.”

“So he walked in the streets and went into the temple…”

“In the streets, yes. There’s not much left of the temple. And he used to go and sit in the oasis, which he said must have been the royal garden, because of the terraces. He wanted to get in touch with someone who once lived here.”

“And did he?”

“I think so. He seemed contented when he left.”

“I suppose he didn’t say where he was going?”

“Not to me,” said the guide, with regret for her, Kali thought. “But he was very strong still. You can still catch up with him.”

Kali walked across the burning sand to the rocks that had once been a palace, and standing in the shade of the largest one she tried to make contact with her father or with the ghosts of the past, but the images that came were far less vivid than her dream. The sun was dazzling, malevolent, and she understood for the first time in her own body why humanoids had felt the need to overcome nature and started on the path to their repressive civilization. For a moment she glimpsed the great web of contradictory impulses, the infinite combinations of dark and light, welling out of the immemorial past, accompanied by infinitely renewed murmurs and exclamations of countless voices; and she wondered how she dared imagine she could intervene in any effective way in its motion.

She let the guide lead her to the oasis, and in its shade she passed the rest of the day, resting her mind and body, not thinking. The red sun going down over the horizon was a wonderful sight; and in the cool that followed she asked herself where, if she had been her father, she would have gone after this contact with the abyss of the past and the most primitive present one could find. She thought it would have been to the other extreme, to a big modern city – though one which would also retain in its fabric memories of the past. Sure she was on the right track, she cast about for any other clue and found in her mind the name of an old friend of Dogson’s from ashram days, a male she had also liked, who had decided to go to the European region as a teacher. She knew that if she didn’t try too hard to think of it, the name of the city he had gone to would also come to her.

The name did come, in the night. It is London. Accordingly Kali is setting out (she must have a destination after all) for London. She is also fleeing from this place, because her dreams on this second night were even more disturbing than the first. The stones of the town were trying to get up and find their places in the buildings, and she herself was as paralyzed as they were. Then there were buildings again, but they were full of pain. Under the heavy arch of a stone gate she heard the desolate moaning of prisoners in chains. As she woke, she said a prayer for their liberation, even at this late date.

Dharma and Dance have broken out of the forest into the Tribal domain. They didn’t want to say anything about the ruins yet, except that the challenge is tremendous. At least there’s no sand there, to cover everything.

ST.PAUL’S

LONDON

Never mind the journey. It was the mixture Kali is becoming used to of exhilaration and discomfort, worry and suspension of anxiety for the future. She spent a lot of time during flights and waits tuning in to the Navel and following what Dharma and Dance are doing. They had been afraid the forest might have overgrown the place, but the Tribe’s old spell,

as described in Dogson’s story, has held and within its boundary plant life is moderate. Most of the people’s houses had fallen down in the earthquake or since, but they have been able to repair several of them, building new roofs, for their group to live in.

The Temple is a different matter. The Temple, Kali has seen as she develops the connection, was the focus of a violent jolt to Earth, and at first sight is just a mound of stones spilling at its edges over the surrounding court. It will be arduous work turning those stones over to find the carved facets. Dharma and Dance chose strong people for their group, and they will need all the strength they have. But for all that they are happy. They say the presence of the old Tribespeople is overwhelming at times, supporting and guiding them. Kali has seen Dance dancing in the moonlight on the court, celebrating her encounter with a more pristine Earth.

Kali herself is living now on a boat on the river that flows through the city of London. Once again she was recognized by web contacts (her implants are hard to disguise) as she arrived; and kind people brought her to stay with them in this strategic place, from which they monitor conflicting forces in the city and intervene for the Renewal in any small way they can. She has told them she is looking for her father, and they are making enquiries. In the mean time she explores.

Her friends, Ernest, Dan and Victoria, have impressed on her that she must be very careful here. On the surface London is a tranquil place. People adapted quickly to the Renewal and many went quietly to the countryside. Street after street of old houses stands empty but still intact and sedate. Vegetables are cultivated along with the flowers in squares and parks, and produce from out of town is distributed smoothly. Workshops of all kinds function busily and well. There is a lot of music in the open air and in churches, and several of the old museums are still open. Kali has seen things there that make her dream. People are friendly and seem content.

But according to Kali’s friends, underneath all this, in the tunnels of the old underground train system, the rogue computers are running riot. And in the City, they say, the old financial district, there are whole buildings dedicated to reception of the alien timestream, a virtual extension of the severed past, as well as the headquarters of a group dedicated to the sabotage of our reality. Kali has seen people stride stiffly by like zombies in the street, unwilling visitors, she supposes, from their alien stronghold.

Kali is in no danger of being seduced by their projections, but she realizes that she herself is not satisfied either with the purged world of the Renewal. Too much has been left out. People have aspirations, which she in her privileged state has been able to fulfil, to travel, to communicate widely, to seek paths to further understanding. None of this is harmful or selfish. The evil empires of greed and cruelty had to be defeated, and they can’t be allowed to overflow into Earth again; but what was also implicit in their motivation, the desire to embrace more reality, to penetrate to the essence of things, cannot be repressed. In good or evil shape it will impose itself. The present situation is schizophrenic. Kali knows she can do nothing now but observe. She talks these matters over with her friends on the boat, and finds that in their own way they are coming to the same conclusions. She’s amazed at how cheerful they manage to remain, in spite of the total insecurity of the future.

A disappointment, though as the days went by it seemed more and more likely that the search for Dogson’s friend Chandra would be unsuccessful. Friends of friends had known him, and they praised his work educating people in the spiritual background of the Renewal; but he died some years ago, apparently of old age. They didn’t remember seeing with him anyone like Dogson; but that doesn’t mean Dogson never visited him. For his own reasons he might have been keeping out of sight.

Kali went to the street where Chandra used to live, and walked up and down outside the little house, now deserted. Chandra’s ghost came to greet her, kind and courteous as ever, and after a while Dogson came too, but not a ghost, a live spirit, and so strong that Kali felt sure he must be close by. Now wherever she goes she half expects all the time to see him, to hear his voice or feel his hand on her shoulder. She knows the tricks that the mind can play on itself when a wish is so strong, but she does not believe she is deceiving herself.

At the Navel they have pulled out some of the screens, terribly battered, but anyway they knew what would be on them. The last one remained free of wreckage, and the lines on it have become more pronounced, but it does not tell the future, unless the cloud in front of the striving figures represents the future. Stones with ciphers on them, or parts of ciphers, are accumulating on the cleared court. It’s too soon, Dharma says, to try to put them together. There is still a large mound of rubble to be turned over.

Today Kali saw a glum humanoid slip through a gap in a park wall and disappear on the other side, though the wall was low enough for her to see over. She followed him and found steps leading down into the underground. She thought of going to fetch her friends, but decided to take the chance to see what goes on down there and descended alone. After two long flights of stairs in semi-darkness, she came out on to a platform. At intervals, both on the platform itself and in the well where the rails still run, were screens spewing out images from the old timestream, their flashing and flickering the only light there was. Among the interlocking holographs of rock stars and their punk followers, similarly dressed humanoids were imitating their steps and gestures. Kali stood where she was; it was difficult to distinguish solid figures from projections and she didn’t want to cause offense and put herself in danger. Even so a punk male, apparently grey faced and red haired, stamped up close to her and stared at her head implants.

“Coming to join us, are you love?” he said, with no sign of recognition she was a guardian. “Great, get plugged in.” And he stamped off.

The scene on the screens changed to a luxurious office where executives were discussing the aggressive takeover of a rival corporation. This apparently meant little to the public in the station. They leant against the walls and imitated the gesture of drawing on a marijuana cigarette or sniffing cocaine, which seemed to have all the effects of reality. The light steadied and Kali could see posters (rock stars again) and notices on the walls. One near her caught her eye. It was a call to all able-bodied rebels to help in the campaign against the werewolves of St.Paul’s. “It’s time we got rid of them,” the notice said. “Deal a blow for our future.” The date for the confrontation was the next day. That is, tomorrow.

The executives smiled with bright white Kolgate teeth out of the screen (it was an advertisement) and the scene changed back to the rock band. The crowd started dancing again and Kali climbed back up the stairs. She had felt no danger, protected by the people’s ignorance. She was very sad.

The only thing to do with this day is simply to tell it, in chronological order. Kali woke with a vague but heavy sense of premonition about the day ahead. The boat had bounced in the night on the grey, rain-swollen river and her head and stomach were protesting. The reflection that such definite physical reactions had only lately become possible to her again did not at that moment comfort her. She was wishing rather for much more drastic powers than she’d ever had, like the power to order armies that had been common in the old reality, and she thought, “I am becoming seriously corrupted”.

Instead, she was going to walk, accompanied only by her three like-minded friends from the boat, into what promised to be a pitched battle between old-movie-copying hooligans, perhaps with the help of powerful anti-programmers from the City, and a pack of Earth’s oldest rogue sons. Having to choose, she was of course on the side of the werewolves, but would they recognize that? Besides all this, the sensation of her father’s proximity was even stronger today.

Victoria suggested a swim in the river to clear her head, and Kali said “Why not?” The water was so cold she got cramp and almost sank, and they had to pull her out. She had got her head connections wet and it took a while to make sure they were free of water; at least it was true that the shock had jolted her out of her stupor. Finally they were all ready at nearly midday, which Ernest said was the hour the confrontation was likely to take place. They lent Kali a jacket with a hood to hide her implants. It was not very far to walk to the old church, though it was in a direction, toward the City, that they usually avoided.

There were many more people in this part of the town, and many of them walked purposefully, with or without the zombie look. Kali recognized the signs of acceleration of time in proportion to humanoid density that had been one of the principles behind the dispersal that the Renewal had sought. There is a pace beyond which our perception of depth seizes up. At least in that, she thought, we have been mostly successful. We have given people space and they have responded by not filling it with too many new births.

“You are fantasizing,” she interrupted herself, “trying to escape. There’s something ahead that’s going to be hard to face.” At that moment they came in view of the great domed structure of St.Paul’s. On the square in front of it, figures dressed in a variety of outlandish costumes from the past were standing in groups. The weapons they held in their hands were primitive, wooden clubs or pointed railings torn from park fences. Screens at the sides of the square were transmitting images of battle. Kali recognized the actor whose contorted face filled from time to time the whole picture – Stallone, if she remembered rightly. The screens were not projecting; their aim appeared to be to rouse aggression in the would-be attackers, and Kali thought that whoever had organized this fight must know that werewolves are practically impervious to artificial mindwaves. No one appeared to pay any attention to her and her friends.

“Don’t be too sure,” said Dan, when she commented on it. “The minds behind this are not on the ground here.”

It was not long before someone in front gave a signal, and the crowd began to converge, yelling, on the steps up to the church portals. Kali and her friends advanced to a place in front, but to the side so they could watch what happened. Rapidly, several fierce, dark grey figures emerged almost nonchalantly among the pillars and threatened the attackers with bared fangs. The crowd fell back immediately, tripping over each other to escape. At that point a voice rang out, from all directions at once, over the square.

“Cowards!” it said. “How many times will you let yourselves be beaten by these animals? We’re losing patience. This time you press on or we’ll chase you from behind.”

This caused consternation in the crowd; and Kali’s friends looked grave. “They must have formed a government,” said Ernest.

“Ready, set, attack,” shouted the voice, and the crowd pushed forward again. Again the werewolves came out to meet them, and this time fighting was engaged.

But Kali lost sight of the blows that were falling around her because she had glimpsed, half hidden by a pillar but unmistakable to her, a familiar silhouette.

She dodged through the edge of the straining crowd, ignoring her friends’ shouts, and ran up the steps, slipping in behind the pillars and following the shadowy figure as it retired into the church. It turned, as if reluctantly, to face her, and no doubt remained at all. Dogson sighed with his whole body and opened his arms to her.

He smelled old and carnivorous and not too clean, but it was her father embracing her, and for a moment she came home to who she was and no trouble or danger could take away from her jubilation. She had found her father. Then he held her at arm’s length and the ravages of time and hardship in his face and body became visible. He had a similar reaction (her hood had fallen back), because he said, “I’m glad, daughter, that I didn’t know what was in store for you when you left home.”

“None of us knew,” Kali said.

“True. It’s been a harsh awakening.”

“But what are you doing here?” Kali burst out. “Why are you a werewolf?”

“Come” said Dogson, taking her hand and leading her up the nave. “We’ll sit down. I don’t have to go yet.”

Where are you going?” asked Kali, though she knew the answer.

“This is the end for me,” said Dogson. “For all of us here. We have decided. We are tired and our blood can do more for Earth now than our silly skirmishes. I knew you were coming,” he said, as they sat down in the choir-stalls.

“Then why were you trying to avoid me?” said Kali.

Dogson smiled. “I wasn’t going far, was I?”

“No,” said Kali, kissing him. “So why are you a werewolf?”

“I have a lot in common with them,” said Dogson. “My energy and theirs create a powerful field. Some of them are Tribesmen, you know, not the beast sons.”

Kali thought of Pewter, in the cemetery at the Hub city.

“Yes,” Dogson said before she could ask, “we’re in touch with your friends in the cemetery. They’re the only others left.”

“Why didn’t they tell me about you?”

“I told them not to,” said Dogson. “You’d have come too soon.”

“Do you kill children?” Kali asked, before she could stop herself.

Dogson laughed out loud. “No. I’ve helped kill some bad people. I’m a vegetarian myself though I smell of the bones they bring in here.”

Kali’s eyes had become used to the semi-darkness in the church, and she could see now that the floor was strewn with bones, some of them still with meat on them, and the wooden stalls they were sitting on were scratched and splintered; but there was a space like a sky up above them, and there were pictures which, though patches had fallen out, were still magnificent representations of humanoid beauty and heroism. It was a fit place for her father, if he wanted to hide, to live his last days. She fought back tears.

“How long have you known about the crisis that was coming?” she asked.

“Since I told my story to those young believers in my mother’s town and set out again. I knew there was a further step to climb beyond what we’d created.”

“Are we going to climb it or are we going to fall back?”

“Where are Dharma and Dance?” asked Dogson, instead of answering her question.

“You can’t see them?”

“No. You know I have limited sight.”

“They’re at the Navel. We believe there may be an answer in the ciphers.”

Dogson’s face lit up and suddenly it was beautiful. “Then there is hope he said. You have brought me hope.”

There was a roar and clatter at the door and a lone werewolf – a stooping, brutish-looking creature – ran up the nave toward them, followed by a crowd of people, made courageous, apparently, by victory. They stopped when they saw there was still another “monster”. Dogson gestured a question to the werewolf, and he made the cutthroat sign. The rest were dead.

Dogson stood up, as Kali had. They embraced quickly and he gave her his father’s blessing. He joined the stooped werewolf and they pushed the crowd aside and marched out together into the square. Kali leaned on a pillar and watched as they turned, completely calm, and offered their unprotected chests to their attackers; the biggest and strongest males stabbed them with sharp railings and they fell. The crowd cheered long and furiously, accompanied by the voice that seemed to be in the air around them.

As the people started to disperse, Kali cautiously joined the group still peering at the bodies. Dogson’s blood, deep rust red, oozed thickly through the cracks between the paving stones into the bosom of Earth. The werewolf’s blood was even denser and almost black. Kali knew their blood, like dark milk from far back in time, would nourish Earth and help her to sustain, as in an unbroken series of seasons, the further Renewal that she herself was just beginning to glimpse. She knew this understanding belonged also to her father, that the constellation of his vision would hover now over the world, a leavening element in Earth’s field.

She didn’t indulge herself in long contemplation of his body, but turned away and walked briskly back to the boat. Her friends were there, very apologetic for leaving her.

“We were recognized,” said Ernest. “The armed males who were forcing the crowd forward were manoeuvring toward us, and we slipped away.”

“And Dan was hurt,” said Victoria. “He was crushed in the crowd and sprained his ankle.” Dan had his ankle bandaged and looked ashamed.

“We thought you knew what you were doing,” said Ernest.

“I did,” said Kali. “You were right to get away.”

“What were you doing?” asked Ernest.

“I’ll tell you about it tomorrow,” said Kali, and she fainted.

Today the pain has come. Kali relives over and over again the joy of finding her father and the horror of witnessing his death, though through it all runs, now as at the time, a sense of inevitability. A logic beyond her perception brought her to this meeting with her father, at this time and place, to coincide with his end. Some things that were said grow more and more significant in her mind. Dogson knew she was coming. He was waiting for her. He knew long before she did that the reality of the Renewal would not hold. And yet it had to hold as long as she and others could make it for there to be hope that the way out was forward.

Kali wonders too about the experience that united her father with the werewolves. What does it mean to live so long, and to have pacted with death? Many distinctions must become meaningless, and only the vision of the spirit flowing unimpeded from the source would have any importance. The outlawed Tribesmen and their beast sons, the proof and fruit of their fall, were perhaps equally channels in Dogson’s eyes. And all of them fit companions for his leftover life.

Then Kali’s grief returns. The wonderful, mysterious creature who has now really died, loving Earth to the end, is also her father, the companion of her happy childhood and her teacher. She has wept a lot, and told the story of yesterday and many other stories of her life to her friends and they have been very sympathetic. It’s a long time since she’s felt so close to new people.

She has also let Dharma and Dance know of Dogson’s death. She announced first “Dogson is dead,” so that they would not have the false joy of hearing he was still alive, then she told them what happened. They were very sad, as much for her as for themselves; but Dogson’s approval of what they are doing they took as a blessing.

“He will be with us,” they said. He will.

In the afternoon Victoria went out to see what she could find out about the results of yesterday’s battle. The group had expected rejoicing but she found none. She went to the underground station where Kali saw the notice, and no one was there, except a dishevelled male staring at the empty platform. Victoria asked him what was going on, and he said the punk dancers were feeling bad now about killing all the monsters, and thought it would have been braver to make friends with them. They said it was something in their eyes.

“They’ll get over it,” said Victoria, to him and later to us on the boat.

We shared her cynicism, but thought it was not a bad sign anyway. Though, as Ernest pointed out, in the City the leaders would be feeling very pleased with themselves for getting the ignorant to do their dirty work.

Today when Victoria and Dan, who can hobble now, went off to get stores, Ernest came to Kali and said he would like it very much if she would be his partner. Kali was astonished. In spite of feeling much more personally alive lately, it had never occurred to her that someone could be looking at her in that way. And she likes Ernest. He is much younger than her, but she knows that wouldn’t matter. For a moment she considered it, and thought that in spite of all that was happening it would be nice. It would be a relatively normal life, two couples who understand each other living on the boat, keeping a vigilant watch on the balance of forces in the town. Hadn’t she decided that she herself could not do more?

But immediately she knew it was impossible. “In a way I wish I could,” she told Ernest honestly. “I don’t even really know why I can’t. I may be programmed against it. You saw my implants yesterday when you pulled me out of the river.”

“Aren’t they against the spirit of the Renewal?” asked Ernest, implicitly accepting her refusal but with no less affection.

“I no longer know any more what is the spirit of the Renewal,” said Kali, and realized it was true. “I knew I had to have them when they were put in.”

“Do you know what you do have to do now?”

Kali looked at him and sighed as the answer came to her. “I have to go to a very quiet place,” she said. “A sheltered place where people are occupied with their own thoughts. Where I will do nothing but meditate and wait to see how I’m to be used again.”

Dan and Victoria came back and looked at them questioningly. Kali could see they knew what Ernest had asked her and had hoped she’d accept.

“Kali says she has to leave,” Ernest said and they said “Oh”, disappointed. But when he explained what kind of place she needed, they all discussed, concerned for her, where she might go. Victoria had the best idea. Her sister is a nun of the old religion of these parts, and lives in a convent in a wild part of Wales, a region to the West. She is going to find out if outsiders are accepted for stays there.

This place is perfect. It’s an old building on high land where very little grows, so that it was solitary before the Renewal and has remained so. Kali is fed but no one disturbs her. All the women here are as dedicated to silence as she is. They have given her blankets and a big sweater and a raincoat, and she sits at her window with a view of moor and sky, or walks in rain or sun (rain-sun, sun-rain) over the springy ground, and rests her mind or listens to small movements that start far down in the depths of it.

THE BITCH

Some time ago Dance told Kali, excited, about a find she had made in what she supposed was Queenbitch’s house, not far from the main settlement. The house appeared to have suffered little violence, and was quietly crumbling away. In a hole in the stone wall and protected by a benevolent energy field, she found a timeworn book, written in strange characters.

“Dogson saw Queenbitch writing in a book,” said Kali.

“This must be it,” Dance said. “Our decipherers have made out it’s a personal story. They don’t have time to translate it. Shall I send it to you?”

“How?” asked Kali. “It would take too long.”

“A helicopter is coming,” said Dance. “We’ve prepared a landing place. One of our workers has hurt his back and we need to replace him.”

Kali wondered what Dogson would have thought of a helicopter landing at the Navel, on the Hill of the Head most likely. Would it have amused him?

“Send it then,” she said.

She was on the boat in London at the time, and later there was too much on her mind and she forgot about it. This morning someone brought a packet for her to the convent and when she opened it she found the book. She knows it will be a distraction from her present meditations, but her curiosity is too great. And who knows, there might be something helpful in it.

Here at the convent there are only two emergency transceivers, but Kali can beam the book to a powerful translator at the Hub. The head nun at the convent has agreed to let her try it.

Kali asked who brought the book, and from the description it must have been Ernest. Perhaps he hoped to see her, although he knows the rules of this place. Kali wonders if she will ever know love.

At the Hub they are registering so many outbreaks by now that they no longer hope to cure more than a few of them. Angela and Tomy were happy to dedicate some time to adapting the deep translation program to try to read the book from the Navel. To begin with it seemed it might not succeed, but slowly its power of recognition increased (there are two languages involved, although one is much less used than the other), and already part of the reconstituted text has been passed on to another translator to be made readable by persons.

It has been raining more here lately; sometimes the whole moor has been wrapped in mist for days, and Kali misses the tropical warmth she was used to. She wraps herself in her blankets and tunes in to the Navel, where Dharma and Dance and their colleagues are still sweating over the heap of stones. But there is not much left of it now, and the court is mostly covered in inscribed stones, whole or in pieces. Some sections have even been put together in a tentative order.

She has talked over more quietly with Dharma and Dance their reactions to Dogson’s death, and all of them agree that, painful though it is, they feel sure that an important part, which they had hardly known missing till it was found, has fallen into place in the design of events. The last screen has confirmed it; the figure that stands with Sirius before the altar in the engraving on the last screen but one is outlined radiantly now in the final scene, walking into the cloud of the future.

From the Hub they sent back to Kali the translated text of Queenbitch’s book (there is no doubt that is what it is), and the head nun kindly provided her with paper, stored since earlier times, to print it out on. Kali is half afraid of what it will do to her to read it, but it’s still raining and tomorrow she will give her day to it.

For the first time Kali understands what it is to be female. Queenbitch was not actually her ancestor, but Kali felt, reading her story, an umbilical connection with her. She learnt about the games and the pain of love, at a time when love was an image of the play of cosmic forces, and to be a woman was to represent half the universe, fertile, generous, capricious, fatal and endlessly creative. If Dogson had not been so young and Queenbitch so old when fate brought them together, Kali could almost feel indignant at his lack of understanding of her. But it’s clear now that he realized later how generous and courageous she was; at Cynopolis he must have relived his time with her and the stories she had told him of her earlier life. Kali’s own intuition of an abyss of time, with its joys as well as desolation, in that almost erased place in the desert, must have been deepened by her connection to both of them.

Queenbitch was also a kind of werewolf, in Kali’s understanding. She underwent the double pact with death. She lived by Earth’s slowest rhythms, and events as time went on flowed through her without eroding her substance. She knew that freedom and inevitability are the same thing. But she never let herself descend into brutishness. She maintained her own standards of sensibility and irony and independence. Of majesty. And she served the Bitch Mother.

Kali has not been religious beyond a momentary turning to a compassionate figure for help, for herself or others. It has usually been the male Moon Dog, because that’s the image she grew up with. When religion was discussed, she was inclined to say that it was an individual matter, and a person’s inner awareness and capacity to channel spiritual power more important than any figure of god. She had forgotten, if her early life in the world had ever allowed her to learn it, that the gods are part of our inner awareness, great force fields whose power is beyond individuality, but whose specific quality and beauty defines and illumines aspects of the universe as if they are vital organs in a virtual body, and who fecundate the persons they possess, shaping in their bodies and minds the same specific configurations, live connections to the whole.

As Kali read and assimilated the patterns of Queenbitch’s pride and suffering and art, parts of her own being came alive and began to shine, and behind this constellation of beacons in the body’s primordial time, a figure took shape, and advanced into the present, shimmering and jangling with the facets of its glassy power, till it filled her whole mental screen.

She lifted her head and opened her eyes, which she had closed as the images absorbed her, and the figure, the great Bitch Mother, was there in front of her, suspended in the room’s space with the view of the moor and a racing, turbulent sky beyond her. There was a crescent moon on her head, and her nose was long and fine and her eyes dark wells and a mane of tawny hair floated in the beams round her strong and supple body. She was old and young, fierce and kind, virgin and mother and ancient guide to the dying. She raised her arms and light dripped from them like phosphorescence and splashed Kali where she sat.

She sat for a long time, lost to herself in the luminous night of the infinitely wise and loving eyes and the play of light and dark in the figure’s aura, and when it faded Kali also drifted into sleep.

CONFIGURATION

News from London and from the Hub is very bad, or would be if Kali had still any hope of maintaining intact the reality she defended for so long. In London the area overrun by holograms from the colonized screens is getting bigger and bigger. Ernest, trying to take it lightly, said in his last message that he will know they have been overwhelmed when he is run over by a virtual bus. From the Hub, there are accounts of fierce battles in all the barrios now, and the latest fashion among the young there is electronic punk. There are north Atlantic cities – the ones where the Renewal was always most precarious – where people sometimes spend whole days submerged in the stream of the no-longer-past.

All the stones in the heap at the Navel have been turned over. Some of the ciphers will remain incomplete, because there are small chips and a quantity of dust where stones were ground and crushed together in their fall. But not much.

The decipherers have made a fundamental discovery. Several times a person who has been putting together a section of the puzzle has realized that the piece that she or he needs has already been used by someone else. Together they have worked out that that the ciphers can be combined in at least two ways. The one that Dogson knew, the arrangement in lines like writing on the wall of the sanctum, is the most obvious. The other possibility that they are glimpsing, a different spatial relation of the ciphers to each other, may encode the deepest secret of the Temple. They have decided to complete the linear arrangement first, and having interpreted that, see what happens to the meaning when they change the configuration.

It sounds good, but up to now they are not sure of any of the meanings!

Dharma and Dance are tired, but they refuse to give up hope.

Since she saw the Bitch, Kali is no longer dejected or confused about who she is. In one sense, she is a second-generation hybrid body that has been modified to perform a public service. And that is all right too, even if she has not succeeded in her intent. She chose it, it was her part in this age, which is part of a process where the end will be the completed revelation of the beginning. If there can be an end. Because Kali knows now she is also a servant of the Bitch, and knowing this she has felt her body come alive again, and she understands why people have often looked to her as a mother. (She has lived up to their demands; only for herself there was no mothering warmth or charm.) And beyond this, beyond and through the immense, divine, female shape, the created yin, in which she now fits, she can glimpse the uncreated, sexless, original spirit, pouring into the world. She is a piece of that, and it is aware of itself in her. This awareness is what she has to let grow.

She walks on the moors. She has discovered a rocky head, quite far from the convent, from which, when there is a clear light low in the sky, she can see the sea. She sits there for hours, watching the lights and shadows come and go on the slopes and ridges, listening to the sound of the wind in the heath and sometimes a lark singing. She does not believe that Earth will die.

At the Navel, the stones are almost all in place in their rows as they were on the Temple walls. Dharma and Dance have the small sketches Dogson made after his return to the ashram. His memory was not perfect, but they have been invaluable in putting together broken pieces and finding the order of the stones. They are all slightly different in shape, enough, when the edges are not too chipped, to make their placing certain. Kali can’t see it yet from here, but Dance tells her a slight glow is beginning to form around the ciphers, and a low vibration to hum in the ground under them.

The ciphers are not words but symbols of force fields, and the fields are in the stones. This much the interpreters have concluded. Their translation programs can do nothing with the signs, nor are they themselves able to deduce any linguistic meaning from them; but the presence of constellated energies is evident. When the pieces of broken stones are reassembled, their charges also revive. Two stones were very badly damaged, but those on either side of them seem to arouse their force. Dharma says that now the series is completed everyone in the group feels a kind of awe at approaching it. The dense mysterious atmosphere Dogson always felt in the sanctum of the Temple must have been produced by this energy. And by the Moon Dog statue, but we know that was taken away.

Tribal ghosts have been helping them all along, and many of them are attracted now by this reconstruction of the core of their sacred place. They seem to gather and hold rituals there, and the surrounding forest quivers in concert with them. Kali reminds her friends of the old interpretation of the ciphers, according to their studies with Dogson, that they represented the ordering principles of what was apparently chaotic in nature. Dharma and Dance are sorry they must so soon break the configuration to seek in another the ultimate ordering principle, beyond all difference.

They want Kali to join them. Kali knows she must and will – she will leave tomorrow – but today she will take one last meditative walk on the moor before getting involved in practical problems and dangers again.

There are two “visions” she has had in these last few days that she must record. They were not dreams, but more like some of the interruptions that used to come unbidden when she was tied to her workstation, scenes witnessed by a mind roving in time and space. She could almost live for the pleasure of such insights.

A Tribesman is sitting at the mouth of a cave. He is not old, although his face is lined and his expression is bitter. He turns and looks inside the cave, where a she-wolf is lying with a very young cub, and his face takes on a shattered tenderness. The cub gets up shakily and comes toward him, holding out its paw in an invitation to play. The mother raises her head and watches anxiously. The Tribesman overcomes his resistance and picks up the little strange-eyed creature, giving it his finger to bite.

           In the distance, beyond the palm-trees, the towers of Palace and Temple float in the heat haze. Here, a couple has just made love – her body is still tingling with the enjoyment of it – on the grass beside a pool. He sits up, anxious to continue to please her, and reaches for a flute. He plays, his body swaying as he finds a tune and a rhythm that accord with the luminous afternoon, and she watches the reeds and palms sway too with the breath of the music as she drifts into sleep. He goes on playing, his eyes fixed on her unknowing face with helpless adoration.

Although she’s going back to the heat, Kali has added a blanket to her luggage. She can wrap herself in it when she doesn’t want to be noticed, she can sleep on it, and its smell of the moor and the cold, clean convent is comforting to her.

She spent a night on the boat in London, still not overtaken by the City’s backlash, though her friends are thinking of moving it further upstream. They asked her if a resolution is near, and she said it probably is, but she doesn’t yet know how, or how quickly. They said “Come back soon”, though we’re all afraid that’s unlikely. Ernest said he’d be waiting in whatever fold in time his fate may put him!

Sitting on a bench in this blue-mosaic-tiled airport in the desert, waiting for engine trouble to be dealt with while the sand blows through the half-ruined dome and into the open engine (they’ve been flying low over the sea in case pieces fall off the plane and it has to become a boat), Kali thinks how little she does know about the future, hers or anyone’s. The plane may well crash. But she’s strangely happy.

The helicopter landed on the Hill of the Head, and Kali recovered from her nausea as, hand in hand with Dharma and Dance, she walked round the great stone and recognized the expressions on its three faces. Of course it is the Bitch, she thought. Those are her attributes. She caught Dance looking at her, and realized she had seen the new female awareness in her. They smiled at each other.

They all climbed down the path to the settlement (Kali remembered Queenbitch’s secret visits to the Hill) and Kali was introduced to the rest of the group. Apart from Eureka, a very small, fair female who was chosen for her genius at code-breaking, the rest of them could, Kali thought, if you took their clothes off, pass for the original inhabitants of the place. Except for the guides they are linguists and thinkers, but they are also tall, robust and inclined to be hairy, and their exposure to sun and dust through months of work on the mound of stones has left them looking weatherworn as well. They are friendly but preoccupied, as they have good reason to be.

They’ve recovered from their dismay at not being able to read the ciphers, but they now have to face the task of reconfiguring them, which, judging from the shock waves that went out when they put together three pieces in a triangular composition, will be actually dangerous. For now they are testing pieces for fit and laying them out on the ground (they have cleared more space beside the court) in the places they will apparently occupy in the new pattern. It may be something like a nucleus (a stone with concentric circles on it) with beams. Carefully polished corners on some of the stones may mean they are not fitted into the final design but are part of an irregular edge.

From tomorrow on Kali will devote herself to helping them find the pattern. This afternoon Dance took her to Queenbitch’s house. There is very little left of her fine furnishings and art work, and the yellow flowering tree in the courtyard has died, but her presence is still strong in the place. Dance, with an air of mystery, brought out of an almost airtight chest some peacock cloth she had found, and they wound its tatters around them, and danced on the polished floor of the entrance hall, with gestures they felt were dictated to them by arms and feet long gone from this reality. Remembering Dogson, they said a prayer to the Moon Bitch in front of the altar where her image, so confusing to him, used to stand. The house and its memories are at peace.

The moment of truth is approaching. All the stones are laid out in their final places. After a while Kali saw there was a complex relation between the position of the stones in the linear design and their places in the new one, and then the work went fast. The new shape is four rays that widen out of a square centre, the middle of which is the stone with the concentric circles. Eureka, in a moment of inspiration, scraped away what looked like scratches in the middle of the smallest circle, and found buried there a glowing red stone with a density they have never seen in a stone before. It could be, they think, that it came to Earth in a comet in immemorial times. It could be that these stones are all part of the comet, born nearer the beginning of time than Earth and astray in the universe till it landed here. Perhaps to be our salvation.

Kali has designed, and the helicopter has brought, compact computers which will register the charges created when the stones are pushed together, and send them out to all the master workstations at the Guardian Centres throughout the world, which in their turn will relay them to the smaller centres and the local transceivers. Community leaders, and support groups like Kali’s friends on the boat in London, have been alerted so that as many people as possible will be present in the centres when the contact occurs. Kali herself will be wired, through her chakra implants, to the most complex computer, in case the intervention of humanoid matter is required to make the charges effective on humanoid life.

Kali knows she may be destroyed by the charge, but she doesn’t mind. Her life has made sense. She has convinced Dharma and Dance of this.

Tonight the group is going to have a feast of the edible roots and vegetables they have found in the forest in moments off duty. Perhaps the same ones Sirius and Dogson ate together.

THE WOMB OF TIME

The whole group, except Kali who was wired and tied down in an upright hollow trunk like a throne, pushed the stones together, starting from the centre. It took all their strength and courage to go on, as the force fields locked together and the surrounding air and earth and their own bodies were rocked by waves of sound and light. When the last stones at the ends of the beams clicked into place, they fell on the ground exhausted and stunned. Except Kali, who had become pure mind suffusing the waves that travelled through her, with heightened clarity as they passed through her chakra nodes.

One day she will be able to talk about what she saw in that trance. Not yet.

After the vibrations faded, which took many hours, so that most people were able to receive the direct impact from the computers and all were affected in the following days by the microwaves that overflowed, no one could say what had changed but everyone knew that everything had changed.

The group at the Navel was no exception. They knew only that they felt a great openness and lightness of heart. At first they thought it was relief that their ordeal was over, whatever the outcome might be; but soon they began to realize that the love they felt for each other and for everything they saw, the desire to laugh at the slightest provocation and especially at anything resembling an obstacle, was something more fundamental than relief.

Dharma was the first to say it. “We’ve lost our egos.”

The others all stared at him.

“The waves loosened our attachments. The source has drawn us closer.”

“Then we should be able to see beyond mind,” said Eureka, “and I can’t.”

“We’ll have to learn to,” said Dharma. “We’re still dense. But the greatest obstacle to seeing has gone.”

The news from the Guardian Centres was bewildering as well. There had been devastation and some deaths when the evil screens and their holographed reality was bombarded by the charges from the Navel. But now it seemed that both timestreams had collapsed, or rather collapsed into each other. Past and present were overlapping in a most disconcerting way, and people got temporarily lost in time warps and folds; but things seemed to be getting sorted out without violence or anxiety. No one was trying to take advantage of the situation, everyone laughed a lot. The guardians had stopped trying to impose any kind of order, because the application of force was out of place, and the order was creating itself.

Kali went out with the first flight of the helicopter, returning to her starting-point at the Hub. Her friends there hugged her and invited her to try their new recipe for spaghetti sauce. Her room was as she had left it, nearly empty, but an inviting empty, not drab. Her workstation, they said, had gone of its own accord through various transformations between complex and stripped bare, and now seemed to have settled down to being a simple, if powerful, transceiver.

As the days passed, the city stopped swinging between past and present and settled down to an appearance half way between before and after the Renewal. This was a relief for city-dwellers, who had sometimes woken up in one apartment, eaten their lunch in another with the same appearance of solidity and appropriateness to them, and returned at night to the first one which, however, had an entirely different view. Some people had been shuttled between city and countryside, though mostly those who had chosen the country enjoyed more stability.

Kali herself was caught several times in an upsurge of the old timestream, standing on a street corner which was suddenly surrounded by dirty fumes and the grind and roar of rush hour (the singer in black with bruised eyes strode past her), or sitting on the balcony of a friend’s apartment when the trees in the park below started falling to the attack of a posse of chainsaws, or once, projected from a quiet suburb to an unrealized extreme of the Renewal, finding herself in a potato field between ruined walls. After the initial moment of bewilderment, the people round her relaxed and laughed, trusting that the reality most propitious to vision would shortly be re-established. People accepted all these vicissitudes with good humour, though as Kali knew they could be quite exhausting.

There was little traffic in the reconstituted cities, and no hysterical haste, and no violence. All over the world, the guardians heard, the same thing was happening. In London, the City was quiet and decent again, cleansed of its invading rapacious images. No big corporations had returned to their offices, nor was there again a stock exchange. But the underground trains were running again.

Kali went to the cemetery and found the computer carcasses truly dead, inert, home to insects and mice. She dreaded what she would find as she approached the caves; but the dead bodies of the werewolves, who had not survived the implosion, were lying all together in final fellowship and gave off a sense of deep peace. She wept a few tears, for them and for her father again, but sadness had become a natural phenomenon like rain, and didn’t touch her essential calm.

As the timestream stabilizes and as people begin to see what has happened to them, the fruits of this liberation from ego are beginning to show. Once collaboration has provided the necessities for existence, there will still be a lot of time left over to develop vision and its realizations. The cities are awaiting their transformation into utopian receptacles for humanoid life. Art and music will flourish. Abilities that humanoids have always dreamt of, communication in words and images at a distance, conception or avoidance of it at will, flying and travelling instantly over great distances, all without artificial aids, will become common reality as free mind discovers the effects of its leavening in the physical world. The possibilities are infinite.

For Kali herself, life has opened out. She knew there would be no further need of her implants, and Dharma and Dance sent her a doctor from India who was capable of removing them without damage to the tissues where they were embedded. No one will ever have to suffer such distortion of their body again. The holes are still not completely closed, but Kali knows how to look after them and they will heal in time. Then she will set out on her travels again. Resonating with the correspondences between her own body and the body of Earth, exploring the ancient memories that adhere to places, is, she believes, her greatest pleasure in this horizontal dimension. She will return to London, as well. Now she is free to find out where any relationship may lead.

There is the vertical dimension too, and the hours she spent with the Navel force surging through her opened up her connection to it so that only a little effort is required for her to penetrate it. She doesn’t go there often, because she wants to live this life, and see the ultimate light through the tissue of time. The endless well will be there for her when she dies.

Now she can tell it. As she was shaken and scoured by the force from the stones, as her spirit, which was not her spirit, clarified the waves, a vision was present in her, still and luminous in the midst of all the turmoil. A radiant Bitch child, whose name was Nirvana, was smiling at her from the source of time, and in her little, transparent womb Kali could see the seeds of all that is to be. She is the new beginning.

As there is a beginning, there must be an end. As the Bitch was born, she will also die, and be born again. As there is light, so there is shadow, and no day on earth, however luminous, will last for ever. The shadows will return. But with each turn of the wheel, the four-spoked wheel of time and space, matter and chaos, the shadows and the light will be closer to each other, more bound by love. And in the end…

I, Kali, if anyone is listening, announce that I am done with autobiography, and from this moment on enter into the adventure of my life.

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