Part 38: The Panopticon
The Seer's hall was tall and narrow, the ceiling high overhead textured like alabaster coral. At this time of night, its huge windows only served to reflect back its electric-lit interior.
The Seer itself sat unmoving on some low steps, dressed in a loose dressing gown. Its cylindrical head lay open like a brass flower, accepting the intruding tendrils of bright Sky Spider machinery that descended from a dazzling nexus clinging to the highest arch of the ceiling.
“The panopticon,” Remus said. “A telescope of sorts. It can see through space and time, across the stars and into the past and present - within the boundaries of the finite speed of light, naturally.”
I waved a hand in front of the glass lens of the Seer's single round eye.
“It's rarely here,” Remus explained. “In mind that is. Its body is always here.”
Una sniffed. “Who wouldn't like to pretend to be elsewhere, given the choice?”
I reached out towards the thin fingers of the Sky Spider machine. It was transparent, glowing - almost as if made entirely of light.
Remus said sharply, “I wouldn't-”
The skies are dark. Thick black clouds drift across the dull blue face of the sun and its larger, fainter, redder companion. The clouds are so pervasive, they extend down to the ground, leaving a ghostly trail of dust as they pass.
The dust coats everything, from the petrified stalks of long dead plants to the ruins of shattered stone spires, to the rags draped over the backs of the nomads as they trudge through the desolation in long caravans. They scrape at the dead soil with long fingers marked with deep burns, searching for what subterranean scavengers and untainted roots they can find. Slime-focused eyes that might once have glimmered with keen intelligence are now dulled with the monotony of an existence on the brink of starvation.
When a nomad falters and collapses, its companions regard it not with remorse, but relief. Relief that its shrivelled flesh has been released to sustain those around it for perhaps one more orbit of the volcanic moon.
“-touch that if I were you.”
I looked down at my hand. Remus' delicate fingers had carefully pulled it away from the panopticon.
“Sky Spider technology doesn't respect boundaries in the same way as the machines you're used to,” Remus explained.
Una glided up to my side, carefully keeping her distance from the bright tendrils of light. “So it just sits here, EON-3, for years on end, wandering the Universe with its mind's eye?”
Remus smiled beautifully. “Endless wonder and beauty.”
“Misery too,” I suggested.
Remus released my hand. “Darkness is a concept that only has meaning given the existence of light.”
I stared into the Seer's eye with ill-concealed jealousy.
“The panopticon is flexible,” Remus said. “It can accept more than one... 'traveller' at a time. I extend you asylum of a quite different kind extended by the Sky Spiders to your colleagues in the Select Committee. I can't promise you that our human minds can understand the mysteries of the Universe. I'm not sure how much the Sky Spiders even understand themselves. But it's quite worth it just to look, don't you think?”
Una glanced from me to the Seer. “And what if you don't come back for years?”
I looked at Remus. Our host just shrugged. “Everyone has a different affinity for the panopticon. This mechanical man, created for the sole purpose of learning, certainly has a far greater affinity for it than any human, but some of my siblings have stared into it for weeks at a time.”
“I'm not touching that thing,” Una said. “And I'm not staying in Unity City sitting on my hands waiting for you, Peregrine. People are suffering out there, and the nicer it is here, the more guilty I feel for abandoning them.”
Remus sighed. “Human suffering should be reaching its twilight years.”
“Once we die off, you mean?” Una said curtly.
Remus grimaced. “The Sky Spiders would discourage your breeding to the great extent you have before, but there is no reason that you should be excluded. It's just...”
Remus bowed suddenly. “I am deeply sorry, but I cannot be indiscreet. I will simply reiterate that if you wish to help the people of Fortress City, then that is indeed where you should go.”
Una nodded. “I'll leave in the morning. I wish you every luck in building your own society, Remus, although I don't think I'd ever be able to accept it as the actual continuation of my own.”
She turned to me. “Look into the panopticon, Peregrine. We both know it's what you'd want more than anything. But if you look into it for longer than this night, I won't be here waiting for you.”
She leant over to kiss my lips, and then turned to glide away.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: Does Peregrine look into the panopticon? For how long? Or does he have different priorities? And what's the deal with Fortress City? Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!