Monday, October 12, 2009

On the Second Floor, Chapter XI

Day Nine

"Good Morning, Toto," I said to the spider, who clung to the corner of his tousled web, waiting for his next meal. Toto was a comfort to me, but I had begun to accept that he would very likely die soon. There were no native bugs to sustain him in the dome, and if there were any other stowaways to be found near the apartment, none of them appeared to have been ensnared in his trap.

And yet he lived, for the time being. I have no idea how long a spider can last between meals, but Toto was unquestionably a survivor. Impossibly tiny, ignorant of his ultimate fate, doomed by unavoidable circumstances; starving for the sole reason that it was my window where he'd elected to make his home. Was I responsible for the spider? In some small way I must have been, but I could think of nothing that I could do for him; so for the sake of my conscience I joined him, hoping that when the time came, if it did, we might not be alone.

I sat their that morning, on the grass outside my window, with the sun upon my face and my mind in outer space, as my surroundings seemed more concrete, and more illusory, than they ever had before. I was thinking, but in circles, reaching no significant conclusions but the most obvious ones; namely, what a strange state of affairs had brought this all about, to have brought me so far with nothing to show for it. With all that had been taken from me, I'd been given only stories and intimations to show for it; and only a hungry little spider to share them with.

I brought a book with me, but I only half-read it, being more interested in the idea of reading it, than in actually putting effort into the process. My desires had grown, multiplied beyond what was either possible or reasonable, but even as they did they decentralized, dislocated themselves from one another, and I realized at last that they were no longer a part of myself. I had only one desire now: to be wise and know the truth; to admit to myself all the things that seemed too painful to be true; to accept it, and to own the guilt that was surely mine.

"I don't know what I can do for you," I said to the spider.

I was tired, as usual, but I had slept adequately the night before. It wasn't the lack of sleep that tired me, but the notion that I had never really been awake, and had never put aside the beauty of dreams for the truth of reality. I had stubbornly insisted that they were one and the same, and I was tired from the effort of believing it. And worst of all, I had begun to believe that I might never, ever awaken.

I smiled. "Maybe I can't do anything at all. And maybe that's a sin. If I am incapable it must be because I've made myself that way. If I am powerless, then it's because I've never wanted power. If I am trapped, it's because I will not free myself." And he said nothing.

What was real? The grass, the sun, the beautiful things around me? They had never been real, ever before. The tower? What was real that could not be touched? I forgot them, turned my thoughts within myself, and considered only wordless impulses and indescribable emotions. In my weakness, I nearly fell asleep.

So I hardly noticed when Dayus arrived, though his entrance was accompanied by the typical noise of gears and beams. Until he was standing over me, I did not stir from my position, sprawled on my back like a child. I glanced upwad with a wordless greeting, and pretended again to read my book.

"It's good to see you again," he said. "We have very nearly reached our destination."

"Oh yeah?"

"We will arrive tomorrow evening," he continued, "as time is counted in this dome. When we land in the capital city, however, the local time will be closer to mid-day."

"That's good," I sighed, and rested my book upon my lap, no longer interested in pretending. "I'm tired."

That same look of concern crossed his face; he was warmer now, more personable. Of course, I thought, he's been working hard, doing whatever it is that he does. The journey was at an end, or it almost was, and he could begin to relax, couldn't he? Does he really care about me? Maybe he does, but why should he?

"Have you been unable to sleep?"

"No, I slept fine. I told you, it comes and goes; sometimes I just need a little help."

"Then there is an unknown, underlying cause to your condition. Have you made any effort to understand, or diagnose it?"

"Sort of. But I think I'm beginning to understand why I feel the way I feel now."

I got to my feet, slowly rising as I brushed the damp blades of grass from my legs. "By the way," I said, gesturing to the window, "this is Toto."

Dayus perceived the spider in a moment, then approached the window for a closer look. He had obviously never seen such a creature before, and so was naturally curious; he raised his hand, as though he wanted to touch him, but but I warned him of the spider's bite. Even I didn't know if this one was a poisonous type, but where spiders are concerned, it's always better not to risk it. He lowered his hand.

"I see. And this creature preys upon other creatures of similar size?"

"Yes. Do you see the web here? He waits for something to get stuck to the fibers, and then he pounces."

"What does it do when no prey is forthcoming?"

"Well...hmmm. I guess he starves. But he will keep on waiting, as long as it takes. And you know, on Earth, spiders are everywhere, so I guess it works enough of the time."

"It is fascinating," he said. "I am not a zoologist, but similar creatures are found on my world as well. Such a peculiar strategy, though..."

"It is fascinating," I agreed, "no matter how many times you see it."

"Jonah," he said, as his tone became serious once more, "the next several days will likely be very stressful for you. Are you quite sure you're alright?"

"I guess so," I said, growing ever wearier of his words of warning. "I'm only tired, is all."

"If it is not the lack of sleep that is exhausting you, it may indicate that something is wrong." How grave! I was in the midst of a spiritual crisis, and he thought I was sick. Whatever the substance behind his show of concern, it was almost touching.

"I'm tired of feeling the way I do," I said, putting as best I could my recent thoughts into words. "Every day I'm tired, or bored, or angry, because I'm always waiting. I'm waiting for things to change, to where they're just right, and I can jump in, and shake things up, seize control of my own life. I want to take control, I want to do all of those things. But, I'm too tired to jump."

"You want to wait, just like the spider."

"Huh, I guess I do." I turned to the corner, inspecting the little niche in the windowsill. "How do you do it, little guy? Everything just comes to you, and you just sit there, and cast your net, and take what it catches." What a life! "And nobody criticizes you for it, either! They say your web is beautiful, and nobody minds if you sit in it all day, as long as you keep it tidy, fix it when it's broken... I hope you realize how good your kind has it!"

"I don't believe the creature can understand what you're saying to it."

"I know." How best to explain? "Talking to animals just makes me feel better. They might not understand, or answer back," I said, as I turned my attention back to Toto, "but they hear, and sometimes, I just need to be heard." The spider was more active now, seeming to patrol his web with renewed expectations; perhaps he knew something that I didn't.

How odd we must have looked to Dayus, a man with no qualms about abducting innocent people for science. Could he understand what I said? Could he see himself in the spider's web, as I could? Was he a spider, or a fly?

"...I will not keep you long," he said at last. "I have matters elsewhere that require my attention."

"Big day coming up, eh?"

"Yes. When Elysia left port, there was some cause for anxiety at home. Due to the distances involved, I have not received any news of the situation, and I will not be able to until we decrease to sub-light speeds."

"What kind of anxiety?"

"A mere matter of politics. I am sure nothing has come of it."

"That's weird," I said. "I can barely believe you even have politics."

"But of course we do. I told you so yesterday."

"But your society is so advanced now. With my people, politics is a seriously ugly business, full of liars and cheaters who keep anything real from getting done."

"Politics do not often bring out the best qualities of any people."

"I guess not. But your people must have come far; you said you had a unified world government, right?"

"Yes," he said, "based upon the principles of knowledge, cooperation, and mutual welfare."

"Then whatever it is, couldn't be so bad," I said. "I'd like to see it; if for nothing else, than to be sure it really works."

"Not to worry. Before we left for Earth, I arranged an audience for you with our Chief Minister." My shock was apparent, as he continued, "I know you consider yourself a prisoner here, Jonah, but you will not live as such during your time on my world. You will be the object of study, yes, but you will also be an honored guest. Just as my comrades are our envoys to your governments, so shall you be received as your world's envoy to ours."

I stared blankly, humbled by the impact of his promise. I suppose I always knew this; how many times had he assured me that I had nothing to fear from my captivity? But it was real now, something to believe in. The waiting was almost over, the end fast approached, and a new time was about to begin.

And yet, as we said our goodbyes, and Dayus ascended once more to his celestial stronghold, I knew that it wasn't enough. I would play the ambassador, but neither he nor his Chief Minister would lay their secrets bare to me. So long as I was smaller, weaker, more foolish than they, the skies would be their domain, and the dirt at best my fiefdom. I knew what I would be told: "all that I needed to know," all that they, in their arrogance, believed that I could understand.

Initiative; I needed the initiative. I had it once, or I thought I did, but who knew if it was ever enough? It was certainly not enough to impress them. I had to be desperate, and I was; I had to be crazy, and I wasn't sure if I was or was not. But I knew I wanted to go up there, on my terms, and not theirs. As humanity's envoy to the universe, I could not settle for any less. But as for myself, I could only wonder whether I had it in me, to risk it all for the sake of pride, andpick myself up again if I should fail.

And then what should appear before me but a fly, a common house fly, another little stowaway; zipping to and fro as such creatures are wont to do. Perhaps he was disoriented, perhaps not, but in short order he made a fatal error - he was trapped in the spider's web. As he buzzed and struggled, patient Toto nimbly crept from his corner and began hisritual task, stunning the fly and wrapping him for easy consumption.

What were the odds? What a universe, where even an unfortunate spider could wait his troubles out, and find a meal a million light years from home!

"Toto, you are incredibly wise."

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