Rolling by Peter Jerrim

Rodji's head rested in Lakremae's lap. She was stroking his brow. She looked worried.

'What happened?' he asked.

'I think we started a bit fast,' she said. 'Your brain got overloaded. How are you feeling?'

'All right...I think.'

'We'll take the rest of the day off. And from now on I think you should only work half a day at a time, on either piano or general.' Lakremae helped him sit up. 'I've put a scan over you and there's no permanent damage--we're lucky.'Rodji looked around him. They were on the dais, under the awning. 'How did you get me up here?' he asked.

'I used the emergency lift,' she replied. 'If you feel well enough you had better go into the tower and clean up. I'll organise some food.'

When they were eating Rodji said, 'Why am I starting on the piano and not working directly on the circumambient?'

Lakremae looked at him sharply. 'Now how did you know that already?'

'It must be the machine. I think I could tell you anything you wanted to know about the circumambient--and a lot of other things as well.' Rodji thought for a while. 'But, in a way, I don't think I know what I know--until something makes me think of it.'

'What else do you think you learned yesterday?'

Suddenly it was easy to answer. 'I learned to read. I learned the history of the cylinder. Spaceworld they called it. I brushed up on maths and started galactic navigation. A bit of biology. Oh, yes, and about your grandmother. I think that's all.'

Lakremae choked on her juice. 'No wonder you were acting weirdly. You sure do learn fast.'

'Well, it was simply your grandmother's theory put into practice, that's all. Pity it hadn't been tried before, though. Much faster and it would have killed me. Can I have some more egg-paste? I'm going to need extra protein--I think my brain's still turning a lot of the memory into permanent.'

Lakremae passed him the egg-paste, dumbfounded. Then she recovered and said, 'It's not going to take long at this rate. Are you up to a swim after your protein's gone down?' She stood and stretched and then, unexpectedly, slipped out of the silky pantsuit that she had been wearing. Her supple body gleamed in the light of the dome.

Rodji swallowed. 'I wish you wouldn't do that,' he said.

'So what?'

'Take off your...' He picked up the eating things and went to return them to the little tower.

'Don't you like to look at me?' Lakremae pretended to yawn. She stretched again.

'Oh, yes--I mean, no... It's just that I'm not used my world...'

'In my world I wouldn't either. Girls my age wouldn't even be allowed to talk to big boys like you. But with the two of us, I thought...'

'Put your clothes on. There's something else I want to see.' Rodji took the food tray back to the tower. When he returned he found her dressed and sitting hunched up in one of the cubicles under the awning. He said, 'Could you take me to the power chamber? I've learnt a bit about it but I don't think I'll understand it unless I see it for myself. It will help me understand better how to make the ships.'

'Aren't you smart enough to figure it out yourself?'

'Look, Lakremae. I didn't mean to insult you. The opposite really. It's just that, with all we've go to do...'

'All you've got to do. While you sit in that chair all day, I've go nothing to do. It's boring.'

'What about mathematics--numbers and things? I thought you were supposed to be good at that.'

'Oh, sure. I've worked hard enough to get this place going again. But it was left in pretty good shape, considering.' Lakremae jumped out of the cubicle and ran over to the dome and banged her fist on it. 'I've been asleep, you know, Rodji--snoozing, unconscious, resting--for a thousand years . I want to do something.'

Rodji smiled at her. 'Well, come and show me this power chamber, would you? I want to see it.' He took her by the hand and pulled her toward the tower. 'Please?'

'You crazy person,' she said, and burst into tears.

They travelled in a bell that left from the floor where Rodji had first seen the overhouse. But on the way she cheered up and said, 'If you really want to understand what you're going to see, you're going to have to suffer a lecture, Rodji Hardi, so listen carefully.'

'I'm all ears,' he said. 'Just don't go too fast, that's all. I haven't got one of those things on my head.'

'All right. Ready?'

He reached across the bell and squeezed her hand.

'One,' she began. 'Let's clear up a little misapprehension of yours. You're not going to make the ships. They're like flowers--I mean, they'll really look like flowers, too--but you'll grow the ships, you won't build them. Just like this big cylinder we live in wasn't built . It was grown too. Pretty smart, huh?'

'Pretty smart. But the bell's stopped. So let's have a look while you continue.'They had reached a large room to the west of the museum. Inside, floating just off the floor, was a transparent sphere, about thirty measures across, filled with sparkling bubbles and elliptical lights.

'Of course, there are many ways of producing electrical power,' Lakremae said, 'but--here's point two--electricity is only a byproduct of this chamber. This thing can't actually generate power. It transfers it from a source somewhere near the centre of the galaxy. Um, that's a bit hard to explain--you don't know enough maths. The most important thing to remember--and this is why we've got so little time--is that the power flow to Spaceworld is modulated by the people who live in here.'

'How?' Rodji asked.

'Point three, OK? It's directly related to the way in which people behave with one another and to the way in which they are , in themselves. Once someone stops thinking of what's best for others and puts herself and her own needs first then the transduction of the force is reversed a bit. You see, the people who were chosen to enter the inner world before the cataclysm were the people who everyone called holy --although they had to be well-trained, and be tough and fit too, of course. We thought they'd be the only survivors--apart from me, I suppose; and so it was essential that the direction of the transducer was maintained correctly. If there was anything bad the holy ones couldn't deal with because of all the problems they faced--it sounds as if the flood you talked about was a big enough problem for a start--then the bad would just get worse and worse, until the whole cylinder would go smoke.'

'That's a bit hard to believe. Although it's true that things have been going wrong in the inner world for a while. My sister, Copper, kept saying it was the Accusers.'

'Look at the sphere now,' said Lakremae. 'See those dull spots in it? I've checked through the records and they only appeared recently, in the last two or three years. I wonder if that's when your Accusers started up. I think that's why I've been woken, and why you have been brought here. Now that the wrong direction has started in your inner world, maybe with the Accusers, as you call them, there's no turning back. The process has gone too far. That's why we have to get everybody back home, very soon, while we still have time.'

'Hence the ships--the flowers,' said Rodji. 'You know something interesting? I wouldn't have got here if the Accusers hadn't driven me into that cave.'

And you wouldn't have been banished if you hadn't touched that skull,' said Lakremae. 'You would never have even found the skull if Ducki hadn't fallen down the waterfall...'

'And if Dad hadn't started digging.'

'Or if you hadn't found that harmonic chaos inverter.'

'If I hadn't found what?'

'Your glass cylinders are harmonic chaos inverters,' she said. 'Look, Rodji, are you ready for me to continue the lecture--point four?'

'I guess so,' Rodji said. 'I did learn a bit of physics yesterday.'

'Well, seeing you're so well-educated now, here's point four. The temporal-energetic reactions at the basis of events are cofeasible with particulate communication in the eleven dimensional virtual sea. It is this that enpatterns order into chaos and so, by telekinetic particulate mediation, its inverse can be achieved. Thought leads to events at first-hand. The cylinders are resonant devices that amplify this in the direction of decreasing local entropy.'

'What in the name of Mother God are you talking about?'

'That is, in this case, the increasing good of humankind.'

'Well, I get that, I suppose.'

'Thus the cylinders have a prime function with an unlimited number of subfunctions ranging from the mundanely technological to the spiritually advanced. At the very least, they enhance intuition and bring about happy accidents. After all, events only occur, in the strictest sense, if they are perceived.'

'Listen,' said Rodji, weeping with laughter, 'is there anything else? I haven't a clue what you're talking about. I thought you wanted to do things and not just talk.'Lakremae grabbed his arms and shook him. 'Course I want to do things,' she shouted, 'All you've got to understand is... This big cylinder thing we live in isn't strong enough to stay together by itself--not while it's spinning round so fast. It's made from honeycomb stuff that's only strong when it's getting plenty of energy. Now that people are being naughty in your inner world it's not going to work any more. All right? Understand?'

'Yes, yes. I understand.'



Two more six-day sessions saw Rodji close to finishing his time of learning and preparation. He was exhausted.

After his third rest day Lakremae took him to see the cockpit. It was on the other side of the cylinder, almost opposite the overhouse, but further north. It was like an immense funnel, its mouth flush with the base of the inner world. It descended and narrowed in a series of spectacular terraces to a transparent circular floor set in the outer surface of the cylinder. The stars could be seen from anywhere in the cockpit. This milk-on-velvet floor was the focus and base of its function: it had been a meeting place for the whole population of Spaceworld. Now that population was effectively reduced to two. They were on the floor of the world, standing on the stars.

'This is very impressive,' said Rodji, 'but why have we come here today? All I want to do is sleep.'

'You've been sleeping all night and half the day as it is. I've finished my work,' said Lakremae. 'I've told you before, it's pretty boring for me when all you do is learn on the machine and then sleep for the rest of the time.'

'I told you I need the sleep for protein deposition. Come on, I don't want to spoil your fun, but I've had it.' He sat on the floor. 'I feel like I could sleep for a thousand years now. Sorry. That wasn't fair...but you know what I mean.'

'That's why I thought you'd like the change of scene. It's quite inspiring here, if you care to look. My father... Sorry. That wasn't fair of me. I know you must be missing your parents.'

'It's all right,' Rodji responded, 'at least mine are alive. What about your father?'

'He was president of the meeting once--the seniors took it in turns, you see. It was about the time of our first meeting after we'd found out about the coming cataclysm. We sat for hours in silence before my father spoke. He had to have the understanding of the meeting first. There were over one hundred thousand of us there and we all knew our journey together had come to an end.

'When he spoke he said, "Friends, we have not come this far for nothing. Our ancestors left our home for the purposes of exploration and discovery. We have learnt much since then, and it may not die with us if, somewhere out there, the beings that have done this to us can receive and understand the messages we have already sent. But I believe we can fulfil a greater purpose now by the way in which we prepare for our death, and possibly the destruction of our present world. We can, in our acceptance, our hope, and our knowledge of the other, greater, life..."--Rodji!' Rodji was lying on the floor, asleep. 'Wake up!'

Rodji replied with a snore and rolled over, facing the stars.

'Well, at least you're headed in the right direction,' she said. 'Wake up when you're ready.' She walked to the white panels in the wall of the cockpit's bottom terrace. She opened one and, leaving it ajar, walked through.

It was some time later when Rodji, bleary-eyed and dazed, weaved his way through to her.

'Thanks for leaving the door open, or I wouldn't have found you. What have you got here?'

Lakremae looked up from where she was bending over a tube she had taken from a machine attached by cobweb material to the side of the room. 'I said I thought you needed a change. Well, I've brought the circumambient from the tower. Everything else we need is here. How do you like it?' She indicated with a sweep of her hand the comfortable way in which she had set up the room.

'All right, I suppose. Can I start work now?'

'I'm nearly ready. Why don't you have a look round the rooms down here? It's good how they had it set up for the preparation times, before the big meetings--information spheres, meditation cubicles and so on--plus a bit of history...'

'No, don't worry, I think I'll just...' Rodji dozed off again in mid-sentence, swaying on his feet in the middle of the room. Lakremae grabbed him before he fell and helped him to a seat. He nodded his thanks and tried to force his eyes open.

'I've finished my learning, Lak,' he said, 'but I need at least three clear, good days to prepare before I can start making the ships. And I need my strength back. I don't know how I'm going to do it. If I keep going like this I think I'll die. You've got to help me. I can play any of the music we need but I need quality...'--he started to drop off again--'quality time to compose-- only I can do that.'

Lakremae smoothed his brow. 'I didn't think you would fizzle out like this, just when we're nearly there.' She shook him. 'Wake up, Rodji.'

'I need help, Lak. Need help.'

'Isn't there some way you can hold on?' she asked.

'I dunno. ' be something...drastic.'

Lakremae gestured toward the white panels that lined the wall to the left of the doorway into the cockpit. 'If you're really sure, Rodji, I can take the away the tiredness for the time you need, but...'--her eyes shone with apprehension--'there is a price to pay if you use it.'

Rodji knew she would not tell him the cost and that he would inevitably take the risk and pay for the days they needed. He tried to imagine what she might have for him--some electrical apparatus, perhaps a drug--but his eyes began to blur and exhaustion hit him again like a wave of gravel breaking over his head. He collapsed on the floor and stared into the mist that had overtaken him. He could not think. The intensity of a lifetime's learning crammed into a few weeks had taken its toll. He felt nothing. Both fear and desire for action had deserted him. He could only accept what she had to offer. The consequences could not be worse than the predicament he was in. The words stumbled out of his drowsiness, 'Yes. Yes. I'm sure.'

On the edge of sleep he saw Lakremae go to the central panel and draw something from it and lay it on the floor next to him. Then she strode to another panel and returned with a drink canister which she pressed to his lips. A hot liquid seeped into him and he was refreshed enough to sit and focus his eyes.

'This will only last a few minutes but it will help you to stand and do what you have to.' Lakremae helped him to his feet. Rodji felt alert for the first time in days. He looked down at the object she had placed next to him. It was a circle, about the same size as a child's hoop and coloured a pale, pure gold. The circumference was a finger width, flat and thin.

It was simple and beautiful but Rodji had to say, 'So what? How can a circle on the floor help?'

'Pick it up.'

He bent down and touched it. It was quite rigid. One side lifted up a little when he pressed the other side into the carpet. It felt hard, almost metallic, but it gave no sensation of heat or cold.Rodji picked it up with one hand. It had no weight at all. He was about to see if it would float unsupported when his heart jumped. He had turned the circle so that he might see the other side was not there. From the other side the circle could not be seen. He tried to touch the invisible side but his hand passed right through it and felt nothing. Yet his other hand retained a firm grip on its hard solidity and sharp edge.

He played with the circle. He waved it around effortlessly; it had no resistance to the air. He shook it up and down rapidly, creating a shimmering golden blur. He wobbled it so that it alternately appeared and disappeared. Holding it visibly, he lifted it about chest height and carefully let it go. It hung, motionless in the air, gleaming and perfect. He walked around it was not there. He passed his hand through where he thought it was and felt nothing. He walked through where he thought it was, turned round, and he could see it, still hanging there where he had placed it.

Rodji laughed. He stood on one side of the suspended circle. By winking one eye and then the other he could make the circle disappear and then reappear rapidly. He grasped it and spun it hard. Just as he expected, a succession of shapes flickered in front of him. As the visible and then the invisible sides turned, a golden circle squeezed to a line, disappeared, and then reappeared as a curve on the forward side. The curve flattened and then blew into a full circle again before repeating the pattern, blinking smoothly and regularly before him. If you didn't want to lose one of these things, he thought, you would leave it spinning, otherwise it might disappear somewhere and you'd never find it. An image of the power chamber floated from his memory. The flashing lines and lights on the bubbles looked something like this. Many things Rodji had not understood began to fall into place.'Ready?' Lakremae said softly behind him. In his excitement he had forgotten about her. He was sure the circle would work for whatever purpose she wanted.

He turned to her, dazzled. 'What do I do?' he asked.

'Climb through,' she said.

'All right. You hold it for me.' Lakremae held the circle steady, just above the floor. Nothing had changed so far. Then he peeped around the circle from the side. His leg had disappeared. 'Well, obviously something's happening,' he said. He ducked his head down and stepped through.

He was standing on the edge of a forest clearing. A hundred paces in front of him was the long house.


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