And they sort of hold together (I wanted to avoid the “write 750 more or less random words as wordily as possible” effect this time, but still without taking much time or with the internal editor very active).
For what it’s worth…
In London, it was a red beach-ball, thrown over the heads of the crowds of commuters coming out of the underground station early on a Monday morning, and kept bouncing up in the air for long minutes by a few hundred different hands. All brimming with warm and vulnerable cells.
In Lisbon, it was a broken crate of plastic-wrapped tee shirts for a popular Indy band, left by the side of a building.
In New York, it was the liquid dripping from a hole in a black plastic trashbag swaying in the grip of a shabby man walking from Harlem to downtown and back over the course of the day, stopping for sandwiches, occasionally muttering to himself.
In the high Arctic, it was an explosion, a large one, that flung a quantity of earth and snow and other things into the air, where it was picked up by currents and flowed down in a dissipating waves around the globe.
Any of these things, by itself, could have started an epidemic, sparked chaos, begun the end. None of them did. All of them, together, pushed something subtler over the edge, and a dozen people, initially scattered around the world, began to see differently.
They would talk about it, sometimes, later on, up in one of their satellites circling in the airless sky, or sitting a late watch with the humming patient machines in some sub-basement in a secret room under an obscure street.
“Was it just a coincidence?”
“Was it something that would have happened, had to happen, eventually, and that was just when the day that it did?”
“Did someone, or something, plan it, intend it, make it happen, in a way that, despite it all, we just can’t see? Even though as far as we know we can see everything.”
What do you see? Whether your eyes are open or closed, whether it is dark or light, chances are that you see just whatever photons happen to hit your retina, and then whatever labels the quite dark parts of your brain sticks on to them automatically, so you see a redness that is (probably) a box, and you see things that are (probably) your hands, and probably a bus, and most likely the street.
And, as far as anyone knows, as far as they know even, that is mostly all that any of them saw, either, before that day. Most of them (ten of the twelve, if you were to pin them down and dig into the question) had had times, more or less brief, flashes where they saw more in the world than that. Where things came together and impressed themselves on them in a different way.
But then so had thousands of others, even just that same year, and none of them went over the edge on that day, or on any day since.
No unusual contaminants leaked from that bag, or spun wetly from that bouncing ball, spread with those gradually and guiltily unwrapped shirts, or flew into the sky from the high Arctic. But they could have, and that potential spread, and those four webs of spreading potential somehow came together in a dozen points in the world, in a dozen people, and they changed.
Were there more points, more knots in that global web of spreading might-have-beens, where if there had been a person that person might also have been changed, Changed, and become one of the twelve. Probably there were. They would know, but they are not telling.
What is it like, to see the world directly as connected bundles of meaning? To see potentials and relations directly, rather than colors and shapes and probable labels? They have tried, some of them, to describe it and write it down. Four of them have even published books, but they are generally acknowledged to be opaque, more or less incomprehensible. Two of them are highly regarded as poetry, and one is still being analyzed as a possible cryptogram.
More of them have written, or crafted, or constructed, internal memos, stored in their own network of computers, available onto to each other. These may be more successful, although they are surely less necessary.
When you can see it directly, what need for words?
What would you have done, if you had been one of the twelve? It’s impossible to say, of course, without being one of them. Even knowing oneself deeply, as who of us really does, it’s impossible to say how you would have reacted, without knowing what you would have seen. And they are still not telling us, for whatever reason, just what it is that they have seen.
This was partly inspired, I think, by Embassytown, which I recently finished and keep meaning to do some sort of writeup of, and which is also the reason I posted that old micro of mine the other day.
Semantics everywhere! :)