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Generator [Volume Two]

Eternal Golden Light Gregory Zbitnew


Generator [ Volume two] Eternal Golden Light First eBook edition Š November 2011 ISBN: 978-0-9878862-0-0 1st paperback released - November 2004 ~ Edition of 750 Printed at Webcom (Toronto, Canada) ISBN 0-9686729-0-6 Published in Canada www.dreamlogiccorporation.com Cover painting: Nadina Tandy Cover Design: Dream Logic Corporation (Special thanks to Rich Katynski of Mighty Might Media for hardware support, and special digital effects.)

Knowledge is universal. Information integrated into this document has been derived from innumerable sources; both real and imaginary, then modified to suit the intentions of the narrative. The names, characters, places and incidents portrayed in this document, as well as data obtained from published scientific research, or references pertaining to works of literature, registered product trademarks, and so on... are not intended to infringe upon the proprietary rights of their author or manufacturer. Their inclusion is solely based on the fact that they are part of the reality which we all share.


For my parents: Joseph and Josephine Zbitnew who have been a source of encouragement during the process of writing this book.

... and always, for my son; Jaman Jules Orion Lloyd-Zbitnew


“Our lives began when the universe began, and will continue until the universe ends.” ~ Kropton Ernst, from ‘The Secret Wisdom’ ~ [ His thirty-third novel]


INTRODUCTION [August 13, 2024]

If it has been your fortune to experience a sunny day in Beijing, China, you will certainly recall the Golden Sun Pavilion, and the ephemeral rainbow refracted by its prismatic capstone which beams upon the dense urban sprawl and picturesque countryside. If memory of that wondrous golden pyramid truly exists, it is a result of the vision of Coraline Coventry; the remarkable architect, who, during a span of one decade, fully-immersed herself within sophisticated architectural software to conceptualized every feature of the structure's innovative design. Inspired by the processes of nature, Coraline Coventry has produced a remarkable succession of selfsustaining environments during her illustrious career; each characterized by their high-degree of complexity, and the distinction of being entirely energized by the sun. 'Eternal Golden Light' examines the people and situations which have been influencial in shaping the course of Coraline's fascinating life. Those who have read; ‘generator (volume one) floating-point’, will already be familiar with Coraline Coventry, since she was an intimate friend of the subject of that document; the German programmer, Jurgen Ernst, when the two first met as students attending the prestigious International Akademy of Technology in the Czech Republic ~ In this regard, it should be noted that the volumes comprising the ‘generator’ series may be read in any sequence, since each is intended to reveal a unique perspective on events which have begun to manifest themselves as forces of considerable importance in the current world. Although this document is presented in a narrative format, it is an account based upon extensive research, augmented with accurate information provided by the most reliable sources; the people named within the document. Visual and audio surveillance data have also proven instrumental in recreating an authentic record detailing the many incidents and conversations which have transpired. It must also be confessed that the immense effort required to prepare this document has been a most arduous endeavor; due to the difficult circumstances endured, and the limitations of resources. With apologies, it is hoped the reader will overlook any small errors, and recognize that the intention of this document’s purposeful arrangement is merely a modest attempt to further intellectual enlightenment. Search within the pages for meaning of significance to your own life. Ultimately, you will understand. I am simply the messenger: “I have a message for you! Truth always emerges from the darkness ~ The truth will set you free.”


TABLE OF CONTENTS

part one

I. THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHT II. CHILDHOOD III. WILLIAM COVENTRY IV. THE GOVERNESS V. BLACK AND WHITE VI. THE ISLAND OF DESTINY VII. THE MISTS OF HISTORY VIII. WHITEHAVEN IX. THE POOL OF MAGIC X. ROMANCE XI. INDULGENCE XII. AFTERMATH

part two

I. KATSCHA KRYZANOWSKI II. JURGEN ERNST III. RUJJIE BLADES IV. GIANT PLANTS V. A.D.K. VI. THE SUN KING VII. THE ORCHARD

part three

I. THE INCIDENT II. N.O.A.H. III. A TYPICAL DAY IV. GATHERING OF FOXES V. HERO VI. INDUSTRIAL PARK VII. WITH A GRACEFUL SWEEP OF HER ARM VIII. A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT DREAM IX. TUTANKHATEN+

part four

I. FENG-HUANG II. TREACHEROUS DRAGON III. LEGACY IV. UNIVERSAL MEMORY BANK V. AMARDEEP VI. SPACE STATION VII. NIGHTINGALE


part one

I. THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHT

Sun. Breathe. Spring was in the air. Coraline Coventry skipped over broad flagstone steps leading into a garden of eternal golden light ~ sparkling illumination ~ early morning dew gathered glistening upon the petals of gigantic sunflowers. Their broad-veined leaves waved in the gentle breeze to greet her arrival ~ heads full of seeds; black and white, radiating bit-mapped mandalas ~ faced toward the sun; always drinking in the light, always blazing with vitality. Solar joy! Everywhere Coraline looked she witnessed creation ~ Her eye was capable of taking in everything at once... ... She couldn’t remember when it had begun, and she didn’t know how it would end... It had been such a long, long journey... Laying in the tall grass, gazing up at the swaying sunflowers, Coraline observed the heavy traffic of large army-green ants crawling up the stalks, and the gleam of metallic bees humming through the air to land upon their enormous blossoms. The structures were alive! Always she had marveled at their ability to sustain themselves ~ Yet, how simple the processes had also seemed; air, light and rain, supplemented by nutrients from the soil, were converted into the energy the sunflower used to power its own internal organic structure, and further, provide support for an abundance of other creatures, which in part, were dependent upon it for their existence. Coraline panned her view up to contemplate the clear blue sky... not satisfied with its hue, she gestured; adjusting the intensity of the global light to a value of .840722 ~ to produce a deeper shade... The possibilities were endless. Every day was not like every other day; each was a new adventure. Intensely curious, Coraline continued drifting through the enchanted garden ~ exploring any meandering path revealed unlimited mysterious delights awaiting the awakening of her senses: the hollowness of a reed, the texture of bark, the tiny erratic markings insects had chewed away at the edges of leaves... Shifting her viewpoint, Coraline could become fascinated by the delicate designs made by the thread-like flowers of witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), climbing loquat, magnolia and


Russian vines layered over the lichens and moss growing between cracks of the crumbling drystone walls. The splendour of the grass, the luxuriant foliage of dogwood and Japanese maple, wisteria, moon daisies and the fiery glow of euphorbias. Pale blue lobelia, purple myosotis and clove carnations; a colour scheme rendered in the subdued spectrum of watercolour tones ~ colours which appeared as though they would dissolve in the rain ~ colours which gradually transformed throughout the day and during the course of seasons. Gusts of wind danced over the meadow, brushing aside trailing fronds of a majestic weeping willow to scatter patterns of dappled sunlight into its solemn shade. Bellissima; the greyhound, sleeping in the sanctuary of its shadows, did not awaken ~ legs twitching ~ she perhaps chased frisky field mice in her dreams; scampering throughout the patchwork chessboard of tilled fields and verdant pastures texturing the terrain beyond the ancient walls encompassing the Coventry estate. Dotting that rolling landscape, multitudes of grazing sheep were mirrored by fluffy white clouds drifting across the sky... floating slowly toward the desolate hills; those weathered sentinels no longer vigilant for the next invasion tempestuously tossed against the rugged coastline from somewhere across the vast grey sea where the distant horizon vanished ~ Bellissima whimpered. Coraline let it be. Her viewpoint navigated through lingering mists of dawn, along the wooden bench where, as a child, she had loved to sit and draw ~ dark green paint chipped and faded like a memory... past a weathered sundial; its brass gnomon casting time as a hazy shadow across an arc of inlaid Roman numerals spanning daylight hours... past stone cherub finials perched upon the walls... spirits which rustled and sighed amongst the topiary; copper beech hedges and dark green English yew ~ foliage trimmed into fanciful shapes or rendered as perfect geometric forms; cubes, cylinders, pyramids and various other polyhedra. Pausing within a grove of lime and cherry trees, beneath a canopy of naked branches, Coraline marveled at how they seemed to resemble gnarled fingers upraised toward the heavens ~ reaching out to praise the sun. With concentration,, Coraline compelled the barren branches to burst into leaf, blossom, then rapidly bear fruit ~ enjoying the opportunity to observe the way processes unfold as time elapses. Coraline sensed the energy flowing through plants ~ Natural forces had fascinated her as a child, when she would idle in examination of leaves under a spyglass in an effort to understand the manner in which they were able to capture sunshine. She had hoped that through thorough investigation she would perhaps even be able to determine how energy was transmitted through the plant's cellular networks; extending down the stem into the labyrinth of thick serpentine roots which burrowed deeply into moist dark soil ~ The scent of humus; rich with decaying leaves ~ Then as her position moved on again, the fragrance of lavender, or perhaps rosemary wafted in. Coraline inhaled aromatic nicotiana... sweet rocket (Hespers matronalis)... Lemon scented verbena (Aloysia triphylla)... Honey scented buddleias... Pungent evergreen (Osmanthus x burkwoodii)...


Once upon a time, Coraline was acquainted with all of their Latin names, although now, many were forgotten. The melodic song of birds emerged from within a semi-circular hedge shielding a sculpture of an open book resting upon a pedestal ~ The words inscribed upon the polished granite pages changed with every visit; each message a daily devotional ~ This day it read: ‘Pale bread and wine the colour of fire.’ “His faith enabled him to embrace death,” Coraline whispered to herself ~ Then images returned, as they often would; Jurgen Ernst's naked body quivering upon a mattress, lashed by the leads of thin black wires, opening his eyes just an instant before being blinded by the brilliant light of an explosion... Lost in thought, Coraline discovered herself staring absently at an abstract white shape which gradually returned to focus as a tender grouping of flowers. Perhaps the growing heat of the day had made her wonder whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of picking them ~ Just then, a white rabbit with pink eyes emerged from a hedgerow of hawthorn and holly... curiouser and curiouser... As it hopped along the path, Coraline had followed... gaining closer... until suddenly it disappeared into a hole beneath the wall which was far too narrow for her to follow. Panning her gaze, Coraline noticed a gateway nearby; secluded by dense bushes bearing white roses ~ which nature had painted red. The stone arch above the gate was favoured with likenesses of her ancestors. Their faces seemed a study in solemn expressions; their features eroded by the passage of time. The wrought iron bars were incised with St. Andrews Cross; a marking locals believed acted as a magical deterrent to witches. Lifting the latch, the heavy gate swung slowly open on rusty hinges. Coraline slipped through and escaped into the meadow beyond. Running free through tall grass... scampering across the small stone bridge spanning a narrow stream which meandered along the perimeter of the estate ~ Coraline could sense smooth flat stone under the soles of her bare feet, then soon, the coarser texture of worn pebbles embedded in soft clay as she skirted the edge of the stream where it widened to form a shallow pond. Cautiously, she crept onto a dilapidated wooden dock suspended precariously upon rotted, water-soaked pilings. Startled by the squeak of rusty nails, a large swan abruptly awoke from its slumber to momentarily consider taking flight upon its white, angel-like wings, before realizing it was not in apparent danger, and returned to lazily pleasure in aimlessly drifting along. Coraline rested upon the weathered boards to gaze at gentle clouds drifting across the surface of the tranquil pond ~ She had long become accustomed to the phenomena that everything within the environment would be mirrored by the pond, except for her own reflection. The sun was slipping from the sky. For some time Coraline rested her head upon her arms to contemplate a water lily floating nearby. Upon it sat a big rubbery bullfrog; all bumpy with a covering of warts, burping coolly in constant cadence, periodically puffing out its bubble-gum neck sack ~ Its complacent expression remained


inscrutable, its eyes open just narrow slits ~ As though it had existed upon that lily pad forever, and forever it would remain... Occasionally an erratic water beetle happened to carelessly row by... In an instant, the old bullfrog expertly shot out its long tongue like a sticky whip to grasp its hard brown shell, then rapidly retract it to devour the poor little beetle ~ Out of the cool water and into the frog’s tummy in the blink of an eye; only the radiating echo of ripples on the pond remained to indicate where it once had been. Coraline was reminded of a verse Jurgen had recited one evening long ago... During a casual stroll through the swampland; near the rooming-house in which Jurgen had stayed when they were students attending the International Akademy of Technology in the Czech Republic ~ The swamp had become a favourite place to explore; magically transporting them into a primordial past where they could be alone together in the moonlight... Coraline happily recalled a stanza of the poem Jurgen claimed to have composed as a child; "The marshland on a quiet night is a dark and delicious place. The summer moon burns brightly, amongst the twinkling stars which all seem to dance so merrily upon the clear black depths of space." Coraline closed her eyes and lost herself in the sound surrounding her; the water lapping against the dock, the reeds rustling in the gentle breeze, the tinkling sheepbells from the distant pasture ~ She believed herself to be in Wonderland; although she knew that all would vanish into reality, and she would return to being a grown woman again, when she had opened her eyes. It was night. Coraline discovered herself sprawled upon a thin mattress on the floor of her studio within the Golden Sun Pavilion; the harness tethering her bodysuit had gently released her like a puppet on its strings ~ It was not uncommon to collapse into sleep following a long session of deep immersion within digital reality; and just as often to awaken again feeling refreshed. Coraline unplugged her biosensors...


II. CHILDHOOD

It had been like a beautiful dream... The exhilaration of fragrant cool mist... guilty fingers briefly indulging forbidden pleasures... then clearing her thoughts... washing away her fear and desire; to cleanse her mind, as well as her body, and finally attain that sensation of liberation which customarily followed each extended period of confinement within the tight restraints of her bodysuit... Coraline stepped from the cylindrical shower enclosure like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis ~ innocent and pure ~ glistening with dew ~ gracefully swaying like a dancer under the gentle breath of a tropical breeze; the rivulets of moisture clinging to her smooth skin evaporated in the dry heat emerging from the nozzles. Her neutral-grey chemise dampened slightly as it caressed her nakedness... She felt mentally exhausted, yet her sensual, muscular body still seemed invigorated and alive. The soles of her slender, delicate feet alighted silently upon the heated flagstones to absorb the kiss of their comforting warmth ~ gliding barefoot amongst magnificent moonbeams shining through the kitchen windows ~ Coraline abruptly side-stepped an enormous cockroach which skittered rapidly across the stone-tiled floor; to avoid squashing it under foot. She continued toward a sleek plastic reservoir upon the counter. Her fingertip rolled over the smooth metallic button to dispense a small glass of fresh water; a new kind of water ~ cool, clear, odorless, tasteless ~ 100% pure! She noted the time on the microwave's digital display: it was 11:11 PM, Valentine’s Day, 2023... Several capsules were cupped in the palm of her hand, Coraline swallowed them, then slowly sipped her refreshment while gazing out the window; twilight ~ In the distance, large metallic drones patrolled the skies... Her spacious suite was located near the apex of the Golden Sun Pavilion ~ at an altitude of almost half of a kilometer above Beijing, China. It afforded a magnificent view; the tiny lights of the suburbs swarmed like fireflies glowing through the haze of smog, etching delicate patterns into the darkness as they encroached upon the distant countryside. Overhead, orbiting across the firmament of brilliant stars, the familiar face of an old friend whom she had first become acquainted with in the dreamy illustrations of a childhood picture book; the jovial, pie-faced, ‘woman in the moon’, eternally returning during the course of every month to watch over her again. Coraline shyly waved her hand to greet the full moon’s pleasant smile. Of course, Coraline realized it was just an illusion caused by reflected illumination from the distant sun; the appearance of her countenance actually consisted of vast low-lying regions which had flooded with molten lava almost four billion years before ~ when the Earth’s natural satellite was born ~ then had slowly cooled to form maria which consumed pale shadows in the barren cratered dust. Coraline could recall


some of their names; Sea of Tranquillity, Sea of Clouds, Sea of Nectar, Sea of the Edge, Ocean of Storms, Sea of Vapors, Sea That Has Become Known... ... And then, as it often would, some enchanted evening arose from the depths of distant memories ~ Once upon a time in the Czech Republic; a clearing within the dark forest of a mountainside crowned by an ancient castle ~ Under the constellations, huddled together upon a weathered log to ward off the chill ~ She would feel safe; Jurgen would tenderly cradle her in his arms, the vapour of his warm breath upon her cheek, the serene, majestic silver moon climbing the starry night to illuminate a magnificent panorama of the valley just beyond the precipice; the densely-wooded hills, the pastoral fertile fields and the small wooden houses clustered along the bank of that nameless river which slowly meandered toward Prague. During those silent nights she could clearly read his thoughts... And even now, Coraline believed, she could truly detect transmissions which his spirit manifested throughout the network ~ Sometime she perceived turbulent patterns of thought which fragmented into a swirling chaos as though the flow was a bytetream of neurons adrift in vessels channeling a sanguine sea. These signals, intermittent and often subtle, could occasionally become quite intense, yet, they would never achieve an intensity which equalled the sensations she had perceived when Jurgen still existed in the physical world; particularly, whenever he was thinking of her, or during other times when she sympathetically experienced the same almost unbearable suffering he had seemed to endure; fear, anguish, pain, desire ~ A barren landscape drifted bleakly with ice and snow ~ Strange machines sheltered under the curved ceiling of a rusted metal building ~ And occasionally, she was certain, Jurgen had entertained visions of angels... ... he had always remained a shadow upon her heart. Coraline sighed... It was bittersweet consolation to be able to recall details so vividly ~ Her own memory recovery sessions, it seemed, were progressing satisfactorily ~ Her memories were important; they gave her strength. What would she be without them? She had wanted to recall it all; she had wanted to feel human again ~ Her eyes closed tight... memories once lost were restored... uploaded from storage... flooding in at highspeed... filling her mind like air filling lungs... breathe... Yes, Coraline was pleased they had not vanished into the distant mists of obscurity... Familiar yet foreign... terrifying and thrilling... she had wanted more... sometime it seemed as though she was addicted to reviewing her recorded recollections, reconstructing fragments, reliving every moment ~ She had begun to see into a past which she had long denied herself, and recognize how those significant events had mapped a fantastic journey which unfolded throughout the stages of her life and clearly led to her present circumstances ~ The one true path; the fulfillment of her destiny. And Coraline was grateful that whenever she reflected upon these markers, that the vast majority reminded her of exceedingly pleasant events commemorating achievements of a remarkably successful career, rather than loom as ominous epitaphs to her share of heavy tolls which the path had also levied.


... The dull aching pressure as her brain expanded within her cranium during the data transfer; threatening to explode from the increased blood flow which nurtured her hyperactive neurons and acted as a radiator to cool the increasing heat... Coraline would often become delirious as though from fever... Then everything would turn white... When she had awakened, light-headed, and uncertain of where she was, everything would still seem so bright... The veins in her eyes throbbing... Her head pounding hard... Sometime Coraline would lean over and vomit into a pan; the acid from her stomach burning her throat and nose, the dry contractions of her stomach sending her into spasms... The pendulum, the roller coaster, her racing heart. Dr. Maria Kacheli had begun to personify this alternating cycle of pleasure and pain; she was the one who facilitated the splendid reception of joyful memories, which in turn, subsequently introduced the consequences of digital overload ~ Yet, the angelic vision of Dr. Maria Kacheli would never fail to appear whenever Coraline needed her most; to nurse her back to health... the doctor’s delicate hand offered her a cup of warm brown fluid which resembled mucus; yet tasted like strawberries ~ Coraline enjoyed the sensation as it flowed down her throat to coat her stomach lining... drifting in and out of consciousness... strange dreams... horrific nightmares... tossing and turning... bathed in sweat... sometime the full moon shining in the window, sometime filtered golden sunlight... Yes, Coraline had been grateful for the nurturing care she had received from Dr. Maria Kacheli; her personal physician from the medical staff of the Golden Sun Corporation. Dr. Kacheli had supervised all of Coraline's various medical procedures; including the painless implant operations which facilitated memory transfer ~ And the good doctor was constantly vigilant in monitoring Coraline's condition; making herself available at any hour of the day or night to offer treatment or advice. Maria would appear within Coraline's suite to administer injections or deliver medications which assisted Coraline in maintaining a strong supple body, and ensure that her mind remained at the peak of efficiency during all those many years they had known each other... Thus it was fitting that Maria was also the angel who had rescued Coraline in her time of greatest need, then remained a close friend to provide comfort during her lengthy convalescence. Coraline recognized that the progress of her rehabilitation had actually been quite remarkable, and that it was entirely due to the devoted attention of her friend, who, Coraline truly believed, was a modern incarnation of the legendary Florence Nightingale ~ Interestingly, the two women resembled each other in many ways; Maria was approximately the same age, tall and slim, and had similar facial features; so much so, that sometime Coraline had the impression she was gazing at her own reflection in a full-length mirror whenever they stood near each other to talk. While treating Coraline's breakdown ~ caused by the excessive demands of her work ~ it had been Maria who had seemed the most tired; her skin was pale and she always had deep purple shadows beneath her eyes. Yet, those darkened eyes radiated kindness and compassion ~ Maria had worried about Coraline, and


constantly expressed concern that Coraline needed rest... Through gentle insistence, Maria had also persuaded Coraline to make the decision to retrieve her personal memories which had been safely preserved in storage while the acuity of her mental capabilities were sustained at an artificially-enhanced level for several years ~ Experimental proceedures had gradually modified Coraline’s brain through the introduction of micro-organisms which effectively transformed it into a biological computer that could keep pace with the processors operating the complex digital code of the architectural software she used to perform her work. “I beg your peace...” Initially, following every session, it would take great effort to arise from bed... her nakedness cloaked in a silk nightgown... the camera panning to follow her unsteady footsteps from her bedroom to the garden on the terrace... kneeling in the grass to tend the plants... tomato vines on the trellis, lettuce, strawberries, peppers, eggplant, squash, cucumbers... weeding stray sprouts from undesirable locations... a time for reflection... a time for tranquillity to assimilate her recovered memories and ponder them until she had regained a sense of their meaning. “I beg your peace...” ~ Coraline appreciated Maria's polite interjection whenever she requested Coraline's attention... Although, for the moment, Coraline wished to remain within reverie to conclude her present sequence of thoughts: She recalled how difficult it had been for her to face the truth and acknowledge that she was unlikely to be able to design an architectural structure as magnificent as any of the previous accomplishments she had achieved during her illustrious career. Her mind could no longer sustain the degree of complexity those type of projects demanded, and she could no longer summon the will to subject herself to that level of intense concentration for such a long duration. Nor was there any real need for her to do so, since an emerging generation of talented architects were already clearly demonstrating a virtuosity with telepresence which equaled, or even surpassed, the abilities Coraline had managed to attain. Yet, she felt proud that, to a great extent, it had been her work which had provided inspiration for many of these young women and men to initiate their own impressive designs by manifesting a prodigious imagination and thoughtful social-consciousness. “I beg your peace Coraline, it is time for your exercise.” Maria had taken Coraline under her wing to guide her as her personal therapist and trainer. Coraline was grateful that Maria had helped to rejuvenate her body through conditioning and diet ~ To ease her state of mind, and enable her to regain her physical strength and muscle tone again, Marie had requested that Coraline return to the body harness to interface with the architectural software ~ This notion had disappointed Coraline, since in many ways she had considered it a return to the slavery of a body captivated in bondage ~ A return to the same prosthetic apparatus she had pioneered much earlier in her career ~ Thus, navigation of the dimensional


structures she fabricated, as well as the magical garden she remembered from her childhood, were once again facilitated by means of a harness suspended within the tethers of a gyroscopic frame; neutralizing the force of gravity, and providing her body with full 360-degree rotation about every axis. A network of haptic sensors woven into the fabric of her skin-tight bodysuit detected every subtle nuance of her physical movement, then translated these gestures into a corresponding action within the simulated environment. The sensitivity of the sensors provided tactile feedback by generating ‘solidity’ to even the most ephemeral of virtual objects; the caress of a blade of grass brushing against her knee, or the nearlyimperceptible shifts in current of a gentle digital breeze. Comfortable eyepads; fitting as snugly as a sleep-mask, provided stereo vision, while light-weight phones, surgically implanted within her ear canals, created a lush surrounding soundscape... Harnessed within the rig, Coraline sought solace within her own private solitude whenever she desired ~ How fortunate to be able to rejuvenate her spirit by summoning the cherished garden of her youth! And how wonderful that the quiet garden had provided an opportunity for her to sift her thoughts. As fantastic as Alice in Wonderland, the return of her earliest childhood memories had provided pure enchantment ~ Emotions actually experienced surfaced once again to impart pleasurable sensations of comfort and well-being ~ vivid recollections captured a time capsule of those pleasant days without end, when the innocence of childhood dreams and the simple loving heart she had once possessed were ‘twined in Memories mystic band’. To evoke a certain atmosphere or mood, Coraline could specify a particular date as the destination for her immersion into digital reality. In the twinkling of an eye, the processors transported her into an rapturously-detailed natural landscape faithfully recreating the conditions of that certain day ~ the weather patterns typical of the Lake District along the North coast of the United Kingdom ~ where she had enjoyed her youth ~ were authentically replicated from meteorological data recorded during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The cycle of seasons, the arc of the sun, phases of the moon and the position of the brightest stars, were accurately generated by algorithms within the program. And whenever she had emerged from the garden, refreshed, those intensified childhood memories created lasting impressions which lingered as she showered and dressed in a silken gown, then strolled barefoot upon the heated stones of the kitchen floor ~ the brilliant constellations, the silvery craters of a dusty moon, and the delicate patterns of tiny lights etched into the darkened countryside far below to illuminate the thin underbelly of wispy serpentine clouds drifting past her window... Coraline set her empty glass atop the polished marble table... It had seemed as though so much time had elapsed; all of those thoughts she had had... Alone, like a writer in the night, she glided into the spacious room adjoining the kitchen, guided by radiant fixtures which permeated the darkened living area with their soft light ~ The


walls were set to default white even though they could be programmed for any colour or pattern ~ Their barrenness ornamented only by a framed digital-panel displaying the animated image of a nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), perched upon a branch in the sparse forest, intermittently producing a rich flow of phrases consisting of liquid rippling tones with trills rising to a crescendo of loud flutey whistles. Coraline collapsed upon her padded recliner chair, then touched a button on her earring to summon Maria Kacheli. Instantly a life-sized transparent projection of her doctor appeared before her to watch over the next treatment session ~ Coraline fastened a sensor band about her head, then closed her eyes. Gradually everything vanished; her world, her thoughts, her senses... ... embryonic memories of those first sensations as a fetus within the womb; floating blissfully within the tranquillity of that vast primal universe which encompassed and sustained her, tethered by an umbilical cord to the oceanic rhythm which infused oxygen in her veins, and the distant thunder of the engine-heart which had comforted her. And she could remember that first arduous journey... a sequence of abstract fragments... the pain of pushing through the perilously narrow passageway... the undulating constriction of the mighty serpent which had swallowed her alive... moving from the darkness toward the light... emerging into the cool, over-exposed whiteness of a world inhabited by blurry shadowy shapes... a strange new world of experiences which flooded in with an invigorating rush like the air into her fragile lungs... the subtle harshness of antiseptic disinfectant overpowered the animal fragrances of anxiety and adrenaline... the saline bitterness of perspiration and blood... and that unforgettable roaring whir of sound! Daybreak, on the morning of February 2nd, 1985 ~ the ascending sun, the crescent moon and the morning star ~ father, mother and newborn radiant angel nestled in the tousled blankets of a bed in the maternity ward of the hospital at Whitehaven ~ the largest town within the region of Cumbria in Northern England. It had been her mother; Carol Coventry, who brushed away a tear to graciously smile upon the infant cradled in her arms, then softly voice the only name which she and her husband; Lewis, had been able to agree upon ~ once the ultrasonic scan had conclusively determined they were to expect the arrival of a healthy baby girl: “Coraline,” Carol had whispered, bowing to tenderly kiss the child upon her crown. It was not uncommon for her parents to apprehensively lapse into silence whenever they contemplated their beautiful child. Perhaps the reality of the situation had finally resolved itself into intense clarity: the realization that they were entirely unprepared for the responsibilities of parenthood since both still wished to remain actively engaged in their respective careers: Lewis Coventry had registered as a ‘corporate attorney’ upon the third page of Coraline’s birth certificate, while Carol Coventry had listed archeologist as her occupation on the form.


Although it could be considered an ordeal to excavate ancient artifacts with a tiny brush under searing desert heat, Coraline’s mother had discovered it was an experience incomparable with the physical exertion, and psychological trauma, of participating in the miracle of natural birth. Several days of hospital care were required to recover; not only from the exhaustion culminating her labour, but also from enduring the extreme physical discomfort and the accompanying hormonal changes which had precipitated constant cravings and wildly fluctuating mood swings throughout the seemingly interminable months of her pregnancy. These symptoms had continually increased in intensity every day following the morning wake-up call from Dr. Gordon Comstock; ringing up simply to remind her of her appointment at the Aspidistra Fertility Clinic that very afternoon ~ Oh how long she had dearly desired, as well as dreadfully fretted, the anticipation of that appointment which had finally arrived to apprehend the impetuous biological clock which was ticking like a timebomb incessantly compelling her to conceive. Once the pain had begun to subside, Carol had gladly lost herself within the sensation of tranquillity; perhaps one similar to that induced the previous summer when she had sought illusive answers in an absent gaze upon the sterile walls of the fertility clinic's waiting-room. The Coventrys were no stranger to the private sorrow of childlessness; in their late-thirties, they were frequently subjected to the pressure of hereditary responsibility, particularily from long-term exposure to the effects of advertising media ~ which ultimately caused an acute awareness of the impending forfeiture of menopause looming ominously upon the horizon. It was indeed fortunate that 100,000 Pounds of sterling were able to buy the Coventrys reproductive freedom. And while it had been Carol’s fervent hope to use one of her own eggs for the in-vitro fertilization procedure, that dream had evaporated under assurances of her specialist that chromosomal abnormalities were already becoming apparent due to her advancing age. Reluctantly, she had agreed to accept the anonymous donor eggs of a younger woman which were fertilized by Lewis’s sperm in a laboratory Petri dish. The resulting embryo was transferred to her uterus by a simple insertion through her cervix ~ Coraline was to be Carol's only child. Upon release from hospital, bundled against the falling snow, Coraline was whisked away to an estate in the country. The beautiful three-storey stone house ~ built in the early 1800s ~ had been renovated and remodeled to suit the taste of each of its owners. Over the years, its exterior had become completely overgrown with vines which climbed to the eaves along the top floor. Lofty windows peered out amongst the foliage, affording a spectacular view ~ which Coraline believed was surpassed by none in the kingdom ~ of an eminently distinguished rocky coast, which under the influence of uncertain winds, rendered navigation extremely hazardous for seafarers traversing the Solway Firth between the Isle of Man, the Scottish coast and the distant grey Irish Sea. And below, sequestered within a valley beneath the promontory, was a priory and cluster of buildings comprising the tiny village of St. Bee’s Head. These pleasing pictorial elements would remain a perpetual landscape composition throughout her childhood, since Coraline rarely strayed far from home.


Home sweet home... fond memories of her father wearing an apron on Sunday mornings, smoking in the kitchen ~ wearing his familiar tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbow ~ Lewis would take it upon himself to prepare his traditional breakfast; lean bacon and garlic tomatoes served with sugar-sprinkled apples and toast. Fresh coffee and the aroma of Cuban tobacco. The gritty residue in the ashtray, the aristocratic pose, the tapered cigarette holder habitually waved about like a magic wand to punctuate his lengthy cell phone orations: perhaps speaking with a CEO in Uruguay who was experiencing problems in her company’s Chinese manufacturing plants with recently installed software from Germany ~ Lewis Q. Coventry was always prepared to negotiate the evolving infrastructure of commercial litigation ~ His suitcases were packed, and he was ready to book a flight at a moments notice... Coraline's mother had also acquiesced to restlessness and soon resumed her own hectic schedule as well; plunging into the icy depths of southern oceans by submersible to recover relics from the Lost City of Mu, or hovering above the ancient site of Corinth in a dirigible to scan the ashes of the slain medusa of faded passageways which mapped out the systematic excavation of ruins; the foundations of the agora, temples and monuments ~ searching the granite base of the fountain of poetic inspiration in the expectation that magnetic resonance imaging would detect traces of the legendary iron statue depicting Bellerophon being transported to heaven upon a magical flying horse ~ attempting to verify historical accounts handed down from the Age of Wonders, which described a pendulous statue able to levitate by means of strategically-placed lodestones embedded within the magnificent wings of Pegasus. And so it was ~ during those interminable intervals whenever her parents would ‘jet-off’ around the planet in pursuit of their individual careers and personal Chimaera ~ that Coraline’s care would be entrusted to a terrifying succession of eager young nurses, quaintly-aloof nannies, and stern broad-shouldered matrons, who paraded through her formative years. For the most part, each had maintained residency at the manor for only a brief period of time before inexplicably vanishing ~ usually just when Coraline had finally grown accustomed to them. Sometimes, alone with the new ones, Coraline would witness their awesome transformation into vile villanelles, whose unsightly appearance and cruel mannerisms would not be out of place in those horrible children’s stories. Quiet, observant, sensitive, Coraline was perceptive of powers which could subjugate her and demand her complete obedience. Cognizant of being merely a pawn in a game controlled by the illogical rules of adults, she recognized that she could often become a convenient target for suffering the mean-spirited torments inflicted by her various guardians. Consequently, she became adept at intuitively predicting when episodes of anger or violence would likely erupt, then was usually successful in making herself invisible by discovering sanctuaries in which she could hide: beneath tablecloth lace in the ornate drawing room amongst the legs of empty chairs, curled-up like a cat upon a divan in the conservatory under the listless varnished gaze of dusty oil portraits ~ a rogue’s gallery of distant ancestors whose


memories were encoded within her genes ~ or camouflaged by the dappled pattern of a shower-curtain bathed in beams of morning light, remaining motionless until the sound of heavy footfalls on the wooden steps, or the aggressive clatter of pots and pans from the kitchen, had finally subsided. It was during the adventurous process of furtively seeking new hiding places ~ whenever a previous one had been discovered ~ that Coraline had chanced upon a narrow, dusty passageway once used for distributing heat throughout the old stone building. Even though she was small, it had been difficult to crawl through, since it was clogged with soot and skeins of sticky spider webs ~ Upon reaching a dead-end, and not relishing the prospect of having to scuttle in a crab-like retreat the way she had come, Coraline had been fortunate to notice a small ventilation hatch positioned just above her. Sliding aside the metal plate, Coraline struggled to climb up into a quiet chamber. The feeble illumination of her tiny flashlight revealed a curious collection of artifacts and relics ~ Within such a gloomy atmosphere she would not have been surprised to discover the bones of a human skeleton ~ The steep pitch of the low ceiling caused her to surmise that she had entered a sealed forgotten corner of the attic. Upon closer examination, markings on some of the archaic wooden cases identified them as possessions of a woman named Gretna Green. Coraline was thrilled to have unearthed such a treasure, having recognized the name of her infamous grandmother; about whom none among members of the Coventry family would ever discuss in conversation. Thus, Coraline had been extremely excited by the prospect of finally unveiling tangible evidence which could provide information about the mysterious woman. Among miscellaneous furnishings, a broken dressing mirror in an ornate goldleaf frame, a suitcase of musty clothing, and a diary with blank pages, was a particularly intriguing life-sized bust of Gretna resting peacefully upon a wooden crate. As Coraline crept about the white marble sculpture to admire the woman’s handsome features, shadows cast by the beam of her flashlight eerily heightened the sense of depth and dimension... Coraline recalled having thought it tragic that Gretna's youthful eyes, which she imagined had once conveyed the source of inspiration and magic, should have gradually seemed to turn to stone during the course of time... Abruptly, Coraline jolted upright in her recliner, and for a few moments remained uncertain of where she was ~ Immediately, the soft voice emanating from the hovering figure of Dr. Maria Kacheli coaxed her to return to a relaxed state so that she could continue with the session... ... At an early age, Coraline then recalled, she had instinctively discovered that adults were less likely to berate a child who appeared quietly absorbed in the contemplation of a book. Thus, it had become another essential method of weathering the turbulent storms of psychic turmoil which seemed intent upon eroding her identity. Naturally, at first, the objects lining the shelves within the oak-paneled library had seemed incomprehensible. Yet, starting with random selections of slender volumes ~ the others being much too heavy for her to carry ~ Coraline would gingerly rest upon


the ledge of the balcony window to cautiously open the cloth-bound cover ~ customarily releasing a spawn of dust motes to drift through the sunshine like the atoms of a ghost, since many pages had never before seen the light of day. Carefully peeling back the layers, the patterns upon the pages were revealed. Images were useful, but gradually she had been able to decipher hidden messages by recognizing how repetition of letters used in combinations created words which provided understanding of the text. It had become an obsession which at first absorbed her within editions of the upside-down comic world of Gustave Verbeek’s ‘The Terrors of the Tiny Tads’, and Windsor McCay’s dreamy ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland’, before eventually maturing into an acquired taste for ever more sophisticated concepts. In time, Coraline voraciously devoured a banquet feast of classic literary masterworks authored by; Dickens, Huxley, Joyce, Orwell, Shakespeare, Stevenson and Swift. Digested and incorporated into her thoughts, they had transformed her very being. The passages seemed to come alive as though she had unlocked demons captivated within the pages of an ancient Grimoire! Of course, she would never mention anything to anyone about the secret worlds to which she had been transported, especially her father, whose preference for sentimental ‘Hampstead novels’ ~ which offered the reader a reassuring moral framework with recognizable characters ~ invariably incited him to dismiss her choice of printed matter as the incoherent ramblings of poets, madmen and seers... “Pretty grim stuff, you know, socially objectionable, I dare say,” Lewis would declare whenever he had caught Coraline in the act of indulging the guilty pleasure of reading a work by these novelists ~ His anger would percolate near a boil while he admonished her choice of fiction: “Bah! Why would anyone dedicate themselves to the insignificant pastime of stringing together a few words of fantasy?” He would then hand her a copy of something like ‘Compensations’, explaining that in the book Ralph Waldo Emerson had written: “Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty.” Yet, Coraline had silently disagreed with her father's opinions, for within the subtle textures of the black and white print on hand-made Roycroft paper; in the initials and title page illuminated by sunlight through the balcony window, she had discovered that it was ALL there. She could read about people from distant regions of the world, learn about wonderful events which had actually happened, or glimpse into states of mind. Beautiful multicoloured tapestries emerged from obscurity: the quest for youthful beauty, the thorns of roses entwining a statue composed of stone, the deficiencies of an inbred aristocracy, the stretched-back skin, the symbols of power and appeal, the layers of history painted upon glass like light-brown mica dust runes etched into circuitry, before fading once again into obscurity. Those days bound in boards covered in limp chamois, silk-lined gilt, Japan Vellum... Turning the pages of another volume ~ On light Days; soft white paintings in bright atmosphere, on dark Days; the same paintings under subdued candlelight ~


And every day during her parents absence, Coraline eagerly anticipated their return. In addition to enthralling tales of exotic destinations, they would certainly bring her a few special presents, yet, the only thing she had intensely desired was simply for her family to always remain together... She would then release the caress of her knees and slip off the windowsill to place the book back upon the shelf. Crossing squeaky wooden floorboards toward the exit, she would superstitiously pause to trace a fingertip along the elegantly engraved initials of the tarnished silver cigarette case which always rested near the fireplace: L.Q.C. ~ The incantation of a spell; as though it were possible to evoke some remote physical manifestation through the power of concentrated thought and faith in a few symbolic gestures ~ Coraline believed she had often been successful in contacting her parents with messages urging them to come home. Oh, those precious times whenever her parent’s itineraries happened to coincide so they were all at home together as a family, then Coraline’s tension could subside into a clear tranquil pool of restful easiness ~ Their presence provided relief from her vigilant wariness of hired staff which she would customarily maintain throughout each day, and offered the possibility to escape for pleasant motor holidays into nearby Blackpool to enjoy the magical amusements along the Golden Mile; Pleasure Beach, Funland, Jungle Jim’s Adventure Park and the Undersea World... ... Tired from chasing butterflies through tall grass, Coraline would rest upon a blanket at the hem of her mother’s skirt ~ as though invisible ~ colouring her nose with the soft petals of a bright yellow dandelion while enjoying the quiet sound of her mother’s melodic voice, yet not fully comprehending the subtle nuances of the conversation; those sophisticated witticisms which prompted frequent gales of laughter from her mother’s audience who had settled at a table under a shady tree on the front lawn, to eat sugar cookies and daintily sip tea from porcelain glazed with pastoral scenes of Wales while casually amusing themselves with Tarot. And sometime, during certain evenings, her mother would invite Coraline into her cluttered studio to collaborate in the meticulous process of cataloguing thousands of insignificantly-tiny scroll fragments from some dusty Egyptian tomb. Yet Coraline had cherished these hours alone with her mother, since it afforded a wonderful opportunity to better understand her personality and characteristics, and most especially, to discover clues about what her mother’s childhood had been like. ... The warm comfort of lean bacon and garlic tomatoes on Sunday morning, the smoky aroma of Cuban tobacco, the texture of brittle papyrus, the smudge of dust upon her mother’s cheek, the gentle laughter on the lawn and the tender kiss upon her forehead when her father tucked her into bed. Coraline would smile up at him as he extinguished the candle flame, knowing she could rest assured that her slumber would be filled with pleasant dreams.


III. WILLIAM COVENTRY

When she opened her eyes, Maria was gone... Coraline wondered how long she had been dozing in the padded recliner within her spacious suite following her treatment session... Her eyes felt hollow, saliva dribbled down her chin... She stared vacantly at the framed digital panel upon the wall ~ The nightingale had fled the scene ~ Outside the window, her old friend; the jovial ‘woman in the moon', had traversed a considerable portion of the starry sky... Once again, her bare feet tread softly across the heated stone tiles upon the kitchen floor... Her medications were in a cupboard near the refrigerator; two whites, a red and a blue ~ the prescription of her personal physician would help her recover. Coraline ignored the call of the communication signal whispering in her ear as she entered the small greenhouse adjoining her kitchen ~ The transparent door slid open at the touch of a button ~ She inhaled the humid fragrance of lush vegetation; a variety of small plants yielding spices, herbs and fruit, were stacked in a cascade of hydroponic trays surrounding a plot of real grass covering the floor. Slender blades tickled her nakedness as she knelt to carefully select one of the succulent strawberries which had outgrown the concealment of its leaves in a lower tray. A drop of juice splashed upon her knee ~ the delicious tangy flavour reminded her of the crops her grandfather had cultivated each summer in a secluded valley in the Lake District near Windermere; since it was from those same seemingly endless strawberry fields that the seed stock for Coraline's little patch had originated... When she was about eight years old, her grandfather had returned to live at the Coventry estate. William ~ as he preferred to be addressed ~ was her father's father. For some reason, at the time, he had slipped into a despondent state within which he seemed resigned to spend the remainder of his days browsing through the shelved memories of his past ~ the future no longer of consequence. Yet, his arrival had been a blessing for Coraline; since whenever her parents would vanish, she could always rely upon his companionship ~ Soon, the close bond they formed would prove a magical elixir which also rejuvenated the spirit of the old man ~ William was one of the few family members Coraline would ever meet; the only other relative to ever visit had been her father's sister; the maiden aunt Matilda, who wore the purity of her selfimposed spinsterhood like a chastity belt ~ William had observed that, in rare circumstances, it was possible for a women to lose her ability to charm and seduce, and as a result, assume a perpetual expression as sour as sucking on a lemon... And, there were no living relatives on her mother's side of the family ~ Carol had also been an only child.


They had been happy times ~ Whenever Coraline recalled those amazing experiences shared with her grandfather, it seemed she would gain some new insight into their significance: From the beginning, Coraline intuitively perceived that William Coventry had intentionally cloaked the true intensity of his power by adopting a somewhat eccentric appearance; patched trousers held up by braces, ragged sweaters worn throughout the year, and laced leather boots which had tread many miles. His tall, thin body was severely bowed, his wispy white hair extended past his shoulders. Above his long white beard, his rugged, handsome face featured a slender nose, and prominent forehead and cheekbones, surfaced with wrinkled weathered skin of the same sundarkened texture as his gnarled craftsman’s hands. In Coraline’s imagination, William had attained an almost ‘mystical’ appearance ~ reminiscent of the wizard Gandalf from Tolkien's ‘Lord of the Rings’. Coraline noted that he perpetually seemed weary; as though from some eternal toil, yet, his cool green eyes had never lost the lustre of their clarity, and Coraline loved that he would frequently smile during their quiet conversations, while he listened attentively to everything she would say. William lived in the ‘guest house’; a small stone cottage covered in ivy and white roses. Its stone-tiled roof was sheltered by the unruly branches of several enormous apple trees among the ancient orchard along one side of the property. Inside the cozy kitchen, beside the blackened stones of the hearth, was a wooden table where they would sit and talk. Its tablecloth was an unstretched canvas ~ the only painting attempted by his dear departed Gretna ~ the crude naturalism of the pastoral mountain scene was disturbingly-interrupted by an amorphous blob, the colour of blood, which oozed like a stream of lava across the countryside. While her grandfather rummaged through his meager cupboards for a crumpled packet of sweets, Coraline would sometime amuse herself by searching for the many secret images the painter had hidden in the landscape. Other than providing the convenience of a place to sleep and a place to take his meals, William seldom spent much time inside the cottage. He preferred to engage in the activities occupying his days within the luxurious conservatory he had built onto the side of an old stone shed. Coraline could still clearly visualize the way arrangements of small stained-glass panels ~ inserted into clear greenhouse glass ~ transformed light into patterns of colour. Within William's glorious solarium ~ among flats of sprouting plants on tall wooden benches, citrus trees ornamenting green Chinese pottery, and carefully arranged gardening tools; secateurs, spades and rakes ~ were sculptures; in various stages of progress, as well as the canvases, the tubes of oil paint and old wooden easels with which her grandfather had first introduced her to the magic of art when she was still of a tender age. Occasionally, when Coraline would visit, they liked to play a little game: Coraline would strike a pose for William, who, sitting at his easel, would then pretend to quickly sketch her portrait. Despite making great show of creating broad pencil strokes and delicate flourishes of fine detail, in the end, the paper remained completely blank; a


tabula rasa representing the potential of anything Coraline wished to be that day. Often they would create a painting together ~ each selecting a brush in turn to add colourful lines and shapes to collaborative compositions. This exchange of silent communication provided merriment for hours ~ and had also produced very striking results. At other times, Coraline was content to nestle between broken springs in the cushions of an old armchair to watch William at work; always enthralled by the speed with which he was able to produce fantastic portraits of angels, flying saucers, or surreal landscapes populated by shapes of things to come. Although, by far, his most favored subject for the pictures were vivacious naked women ~ always depicted in provocative poses, gracefully resting against plinths or languishing upon risers draped in fabric to create the illusion that the strategic arrangement of props and lighting had somehow been staged within a professional photography studio ~ Coraline sometimes secretly wondered whether her own body would someday transform into one similar to the incredible forms which William had clearly envisaged. Recalling the white marble bust she had discovered in the sealed portion of the attic, Coraline had realized that the familiar female figure frequenting William’s finest paintings were modeled upon recollections of his one true love ~ the woman named Gretna Green. Coraline's innocent persistence had prompted William to poetically recount their exploits ~ the tea cup in his hand, trembling with emotion ~ a peaceful smile broadly beaming beneath his whiskers during pauses in his elucidatory musings of how a chance encounter in a meadow one afternoon had compelled William to impudently steal her away from her fiancee of the time, and elope to Scotland where they married. With great expectations, they soon returned to Whitehaven and settled into the blissful harmony of William's romantic estate by the sea ~ A grand house and land he had inherited from his father. In the beginning, all was sweetness and light. The young couple tended the orchard and dreamed of raising a large family. Naturally, it was not long before Gretna was ‘with child’. Yet, as fate would have it, within months of the birth of their son; Lewis, William was sent off with a camera to the front lines of World War Two to record footage for the newsreels ~ which in those days were projected in motion picture theatres before the feature presentation. Tragically, on his very first day of photography in northern Italy, William was seriously wounded when a bullet penetrated his helmet, and he was left for dead in the muddy trenches of Nervesa. Miraculously, regaining consciousness, the thin young man had managed to stumble and crawl through several kilometers of bombedout battlefields, past body parts and over rusted barbed-wire, to reach a dilapidated farmhouse which had somehow also survived the conflagration. The occupants; a compassionate elderly couple who grew olives, graciously dressed his wound and sequestered him within the crawl-space of their attic so he could evade detection from enemy forces patrolling the region during his lengthy convalescence ~ ‘Oh, what I wouldn't have given for a little bit of morphine to help ease the excruciating pain’... For over a year, William remained confined within the small dark loft, unaware that he had been officially declared deceased by the Home Office in London.


Intermittently applying daubs of paint to the canvas, William's voice quavered as he revealed that following the arrival of the formal notification letter, and a brief period of mourning, Gretna had apparently been swept off her feet by a dapper, smooth-talking, mop salesman from Liverpool who had won her heart ~ By the time William had returned home, their son Lewis had been abandoned to the neighbours, and Gretna had disappeared forever ~ William would never hear of her again... And subsequent to hearing the tale, Coraline would similarly wonder whatever had become of her grandmother. A bit of light-headedness from the pungent fumes of turpentine her grandfather used to clean brushes, combined with the soothing sound of his gentle voice, could sometimes lull Coraline into sleepiness following the enjoyment of an ample meal. It would be pleasant to curl up in the armchair then, and allow her gaze to lazily drift across the unfinished statues nearby. The sculptures were covered in dust ~ even though they were life-sized figures chiseled out of solid stone they seemed to have become invisible to William ~ practically forgotten... And of course, by then, Coraline had already discovered several overgrown sanctuaries sheltering his less successful ancient mythological figures ~ which he had discretely positioned about the grounds of the Coventry estate over the years in a veiled effort to dispose of them. William had been a prolific sculptor; his work graced gardens throughout the region, many of which he had also landscaped. Coraline would learn that, during his youth, William had attempted to utilize his talents to earn a living by depicting the likenesses of departed souls upon white marble headstones, then carefully inscribed their name, date of birth and death, followed by a succinct message ~ usually chosen by the loved ones ~ before hoisting the slab down to the local cemetery in the back of his war surplus Jeepster. Yet, it was only briefly that he had considered the possibility of pursuing this trade as a full-time occupation, since the thought of it depressed him. He was an artist ~ he enjoyed chipping away at stone, day by day, losing his objectivity by losing himself in the process of manifesting his own visions ~ and although he realized his sculptures were not perfect, he could only see their beauty. Coraline's father would confidentially express his opinion that the old man had ‘lost touch with reality’; since it seemed to him that William's mind was continually preoccupied with faraway thoughts. Yet, when Coraline mentioned her father's concern, William had only chuckled and replied that his ability to generate visions was really no different than his son's ability to generate money ~ adding that each offered its own unique rewards. For William, ‘art’ was a natural process which enabled him of bridge the gap between what he could imagine and what he could see, hear, touch, smell and taste. And more, it offered him an opportunity to explore complex thoughts and resolve emotional sensations in a wholly satisfactory manner. William stated that most found it difficult to devise methods of reproducing their ideas; since it usually required a lengthy period of deliberation and dedication to trace an evolving network of branching pathways before one particular concept ultimately emerged with promise of a tangible result ~ That was simply ‘too much bloody bother’


for William; he preferred the intuitive approach to connect with his muse ~ declaring that the ‘universal consciousness’ provided the source which faithfully guided his hand. He suggested that perhaps his son, Lewis, simply didn’t have the ability to tolerate ambiguity ~ to enjoy uncertainty without constantly seeking explanations ~ to appreciate the mystery of beauty. Perhaps, he conceded, Lewis had inherited his mother's unwillingness to seek reprieve from those banal scenes which have become the habit of creatures programmed by everyday life into believing that they should deny themselves any opportunity to experience the freedom of self-realization. “Bandleaders and undertakers; let them debate the end of the world. Those who are aware, await the resurrection. Rejoice!” William Coventry's passion for art was rivaled only by his love of nature ~ The beautiful gardens on the estate, which had so enchanted Coraline, were the result of his labour ~ During the long period recovering from his injury following the armistice of war, William had discovered a talent for tending plants, and gradually gained commissions to design the layout of gardens, lawns and ponds on many estates within a region roughly bounded by Workington, Keswick, Windermere and Ravenglass. He employed a dowsing rod to detect the natural flow of Ley Lines; the sinuous waves of telluric energy which mapped underground streams, and were created by geological fissures and fault lines embedded in the crystalline metamorphic bedrock, thus could modify the surface landscape in a way which was harmonious with these invisible forces, to generate a calm feeling of well-being. In time, William had acquired a reputation as a magician for his ability to summon the qualities of light in painting tromp l'oeil vistas of colourful flowering plants and in aesthetically arranging forms relative to scale and proportion to refine the flow of space throughout the compositions ~ Foliage was framed in such a way as to conceal certain elements from a particular point of view, or create optical deceptions revealed in the reflection of a pond collecting the overflow of a small trickling fountain. Paraphrasing Klee ~ his favourite painter ~ William would often say, “In the womb of nature, at the source of creation, lies the key with which all secrets are guarded.” William's knowledge was a gift he had presented to Coraline; wisdom which she recognized would one day provide her with the ability to enrich other people's lives. Although it was hard work, Coraline welcomed every opportunity to tend the garden with William. Through observation she would learn about various types of soil, how to sow seeds and plant flowers, and how to conserve fruit trees by trimming their branches with a small curved pruning saw. She would create humus from a mixture of compost, peat, and decaying leaves, she would weed the flower beds, and most particularly, she would enjoy dipping a metal watering-can into the wooden rain barrel so she could wander the garden like a cloud to spout rain on the tiny seedlings. While engaged in this pleasant activity, William would perhaps inform her that plants derived their most essential elements; carbon, oxygen and hydrogen from water and the air. He would explain that other nutritional elements needed for growth were also


taken up through the root system; nitrogen ~ a constituent of chlorophyll ~ was part of every cell, phosphorous was used in root development and promoted the ripening of fruit and seeds, and potassium assisted in providing resistance to disease. To augment the plant's intake of calcium, magnesium, sulphur, iron, boron, zinc, manganese, copper, molybdenum and chlorine, William supplemented the soil with an organic fertilizer he prepared from a blend of fishmeal, horse manure, bonfire ashes and seaweed ~ Ultimately, upon the death of the plant, these elements would once again return to the earth as part of the natural cycle. Always dedicated to his tasks, William was a tireless worker. His lips would never taste a drop of ‘spirits’ ~ He was fond of saying; “Their red nose; that's where their sin's show ~ the more they indulge in Bacchanalian pleasures, the more their appearance assumes that of a clown.” Even during the winters, with a few pieces of driftwood, or the limbs of old apple trees, crackling in the woodstove, and large snowflakes floating behind the dusty workshop windows, William would sit at his workbench, often late into the night, purposefully plotting the position of every stone, every hedge and every flower in the beautiful planting plans he drafted for the gardens that he tended. Nested within an array of wooden slots above his workbench, were the collection of coiled antique maps whose cartography detailed many of his imaginary worlds. Elaboratelycomplex flower beds illustrated in a steady hand ~ without the intervention of compass or ruler ~ became patterns staked out with pegs, the radius of arcs measured out with string, when it came time to plant once spring again returned. And while he worked, he would teach Coraline the Latin names of all the plants as though it were a type of game: Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus), Red Campion (Silene dioica) ~ Magnolia grandiflora, Rosa rubrifolia, Buxus sempervirens, Helleborus corsicus, Alchemilla mollis, and so on... And the names of birds ~ there were always birds in the garden; her fine feathered friends flitting here and there, singing in the trees, or hiding in the trellis. There were even a few wild pigeons ~ whose predecessors, back in the day, provided a source of fresh meat during the interminable winter. They still nested within the chalk stone walls of the cylindrical dovecote, although its wooden lantern ~ sheltering the hole accessing the top of its conical roof ~ had collapsed after enduring years of inclement weather. Skylarks darted past the black dragon weathervane, then swooped low over the meadow grass, their passage tracked by a tenacious merlin (Falco columbarius); a small hawk, not much larger than a blackbird. Harriers coming in from the sea. A stonechat (saxicola torquata) calling out from deep in the oak woods with a pleasant voice sounding like pebbles clinking together. And although rare, occasionally a hoopoe (Upupa epops) ~ a strange relative of the kingfisher ~ made an appearance, provoking gleeful laughter from Coraline and William. Similar to her grandfather, Coraline also enjoyed time alone to observe the natural environment. Under the faithful sun. The clear blue sky, a butterfly fluttering over tall green grass, a yellow-jacket chewing on a leaf. The thick brambles flourishing beneath a wizened plum tree. The domesticated elegance of the gardens and flower beds blended harmoniously into the relentlessly returning wilderness which Coraline loved


to explore. Like a timid forest creature, she had discovered the ability to tune her senses with a high degree of sensitivity. She could sense that it was safe to enjoy the restful woodland trails and indulge her imagination. Yet, danger seemed implicit in nature; clearly there were the predators and the prey ~ The night flowers of evil; creeping vines of Morning Glory which strangled the raspberry plants by dragging them to the ground and smothering out their light. The tiny civilization of anthills along the garden path which spread like a rash in dry weather... The hawks hunting down the doves, the quick brown fox chasing after the geese ~ Coraline could not imagine all of the threats which could possibly invade her sanctuary; sometime she wondered whether the wolves, the monsters and demons she had read about in fairy tales, actually existed. One day, in a meadow, Coraline happened upon the skeleton of a large badger. Its body had been eaten away by scavengers and ravaged by the passage of time; all that remained were shriveled tatters of desiccated flesh clinging to a collection of interconnected bones. It was fascinating to observe how the rigid skeleton had once supported the fragile components of a soft machine; the skin and flesh, the network of veins and nerves, the internal organs and the creature's brain. She had immediately recognized that the durable framework was analogous to an architectural structure ~ an insight which was the catalyst for a progression of experimentation which became a most pleasant obsession: Lost among the bushes beside a stream named Poe, or within concealment provided by some feature of the garden, Coraline continually immersed herself in the process of creating architecture from whatever materials were at hand; grass, leaves, twigs, stones, mud, bark, roots, flowers, and so on... then cleverly devised innovative methods of fastening the disparate elements together in order to create intricatelycomplex assemblages. Each project compelled her to return to the site the following day to build upon the foundation of her previous effort, and modify the original concepts in intuitive ways which enabled the structures to grow in a manner reflecting the patterns of her thought. And during moments of contemplation, she would become fascinated by the activity of tiny inhabitants which brought her structures to life; ladybugs in the parlor, a spider in the attic, and a big old slug in the basement. It was not unusual to witness the drama unfold as legions of shiny black ants stormed the front door while droning bees alighted upon skypads composed of leaves. These humble seeds, planted in her youth, nurtured her dream of constructing a ‘living’ building ~ which grew and evolved in a manner similar to a plant ~ one day in the future; when it would be technically feasible to realize the concepts in her imagination. ... Returning home with the final golden rays of the setting sun ~ the brightest stars piercing the veil of hazy twilight ~ she would witness the glory of the universe, and once again approach a State of Grace.


IV. THE GOVERNESS

Childhood had progressed through seemingly endless verdant springs, golden summers, misty grey autumns and cold white winters ~ each season a blessing. Innocence, the freedom of youth; time was meaningless... such, such were the joys. That is, until one wintry day in 1998, upon the occasion of her thirteenth birthday, when Coraline had intuitively begun to recognize a new stage advancing into her life. She squirmed nervously in anticipation ~ sitting uncomfortably upon a rigid wooden high-backed chair in the dining room. The pretty white dress her mother had bought her as a present was so new that the crinoline felt itchy and scratchy. Her hands fidgeted in her lap, her fingertips stretched to conceal a slight dusty smudge at her knee. She stole a furtive glance at her father sitting directly across the antique oak table ~ he seemed entirely unsuspecting of her impending transformation; calmly tamping tobacco into his pipe ~ as he customary would following every meal while he worked a crossword puzzle ~ Suddenly, the light in the dining room dramatically dimmed. Coraline caught movement out of the corner of her eye ~ she turned her head; it was the apparition of her mother slowly drifting through the darkness toward her from the illuminated kitchen doorway. Carol's long auburn hair and ghostly face glowed in the pale illumination of the festive candles atop an enormous cake ~ Having returned to her memory; it would always remain as vivid as a fully-rendered threedimensional scene. A faint humming sound grew more distinct until it gradually become recognizable as the tune to ‘Happy Birthday’. Her father enthusiastically chimed in once her mother had set the cake in front of Coraline ~ both parents were in fine voice; father a deep baritone, mother a tremulous tenor. Moments later, poised with a camera, Carol Coventry waited patiently while Coraline ~ who seemed mesmerized by the candle flames ~ carefully considered the wish she would make before blowing out the candles: if she could only wish one wish, what wish would that be? ~ The brilliant flash of the camera permanently captured Coraline's dreamy smile amidst corkscrew streamers of smoke spiraling upward to vanish in thin air... The birthday cake was her favourite; angel food, topped with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Sweet. Small coins, wrapped tightly in wax paper, were concealed within triple layers of icing... As happy as she was, the biggest surprise was yet to come, since after they had finished their cake, her mother had called out an unfamiliar name; “Clara!” The command had instantly summoned a tall, attractive woman who glided into the room as silent and as graceful as a cat. Her lithe body was wrapped in a beautiful


woven fabric printed with bold geometric patterns of triangles and squares, which extended from beneath her arms to just below her knees. The cloth clung tightly to her body, emphasizing the shapeliness of the young woman's fine feminine physique. Her slender neck and bare shoulders were adorned by a necklace of seashells and gold. Her beautiful face was sculpted with superb features; intense dark eyes, skin the colour of chocolate, and curly hair woven into natty dreadlocks which emerged from beneath the colourful scarf tied about her head ~ Coraline had also noted that her teeth were very white; since she had a pleasant smile. “Coraline, I would like to introduce Clara Voyee; your new governess.” Her mother then added; “Clara baked your birthday cake.” “Thank you. It was delicious!” Bearing a teapot upon a sterling tray, Clara had bowed to whisper something in Coraline's ear as she shimmered past. Coraline remained uncertain of what exactly had been said ~ perhaps Clara had simply wished her ‘Happy birthday!’ ~ She had immediately detected Clara's intriguing scent; the fragrance of some exotic spice blended pleasantly with the aroma of steaming mint. Clara set the tray upon the table, then poured a cup for everyone. “Clara, please join the party,” Lewis had requested cheerfully ~ although Coraline had been displeased to note a peculiar gleam in his eye while he leered at Clara's protruding bottom bent over to serve the tea. Lewis Coventry took a sip, then cleared his throat... Ahem... to announce that he, and her mother had decided that it would be in Coraline's best interest for her to continue to be educated at home rather than attend public school in Whitehaven ~ It was brilliant news! Oh how she had so dearly wished her parents would allow her to remain within her familiar sanctuary; the spacious house, the fantastic garden and the magical forest grove bordering the Coventry's large estate. Lewis explained that after interviewing many prospective tutors, they were indeed fortunate to have been blessed by the arrival of a candidate of Clara's qualifications; she had recently graduated from Oxford! ...Ahem... Lewis had then called upon Clara to say a few words... Her quiet melodic voice charmingly-captivated her attentive audience. Clara had begun by mentioning that at twenty-eight years of age, she had just been awarded a BA Degree upon completion of the three-year program in Human Sciences. She had enjoyed her studies since it had afforded an opportunity to explore a diverse variety of academic disciplines: sociology, anthropology, ethnic and cultural diversity, population growth and aging, genetic technologies, biology, physiology, demography, statistics, politics, media, law, and accounting. Her Final Paper had concisely outlined specific research regarding the uses of natural medicine in the treatment and prevention of disease. It was her express desire to utilize this knowledge to assist in discovering methods of alleviating the suffering caused by the spread of AIDS throughout the continent of Africa.


Clara's calm voice and cheerful demeanor conveyed honesty and friendliness ~ her words always seemed to ring true ~ And while she spoke, Coraline had carefully studied Clara's face; the small scar over her left eye, the lines in the muscles of her face suggesting tribal markings, thick lips, the slightly crooked smile, and whenever she had been surprised, or was curious or laughing, her eyes had seemed to open exageratedly-wide. Meanwhile, her gentle hands gestured with such subtle fluidity that Coraline would fully realize how expressive they were only when she paid particular attention to their motion. Clara had been born in Accra; the capital of Ghana ~ a small country on the southern coast of West Africa ~ known historically as the Gold Coast until 1957, when the country finally achieved independence from British colonial rule. For Coraline's benefit, Clara recalled many pleasant memories from her childhood; the enjoyment she had shared with her friends, tossing cowry shells to guess which would fall open or closed, or playing ‘pick-and-touch’ ~ a game in which the ‘picker’ grabs a marker then attempts to return to base without being touched by a contestant from the pursuing team ~ Clara proudly stated that she had been a formidable opponent, since luck was usually on her side, before mentioning with a wink that she had also been a very fast runner! When she was about twelve years of age, her parents had divorced ~ Clara admitted that it had been traumatic for her to have her entire world suddenly torn asunder ~ For the next six years she was obligated to divide the seasons between opposite sides of the Atlantic; precisely half of every year living with her father in his luxurious condo in downtown Accra, and the other half of the year with her mother in a driftwood beach-house near Black River, Jamaica. Enchanted by her intelligence, poise and charm, Coraline continually prompted Clara to reveal further aspects of her fascinating life, so that later ~ long after her own parents had stealthily slipped off to bed with a bottle of brandy ~ just the two of them remained at the dining room table. And as they spoke, Coraline sensed that Clara was also sincerely interested in the events of her life as well, and as a result, Coraline soon discovered herself divulging secrets which, until then, she would never have considered revealing to anyone. During her time at the Coventry home, Clara lived comfortably in a small room on the second floor. It was a private space which afforded an interval of solitude during the evenings; which Clara devoted to contemplation and writing ~ activities which she claimed had provided her great pleasure. A narrow window in the stone wall overlooked the garden. The interior was simply furnished with a bed, a dresser, a writing desk, a bookshelf, and an ornate golden bird cage suspended upon a stand in the corner. The worn wooden floor was partially covered by a Persian carpet, and several framed oil paintings by William Coventry decorated the floral wallpaper. Clara had screened-off the back portion of the room with a large ornately-embroidered cloth which appeared to depict a mermaid encircled by a halo of tiny sequins.


That Coraline would never be invited into the room had only served to intensify her curiosity about Clara's private life; since what is not revealed had always seemed intriguingly mysterious. As quiet as a mouse, Coraline would occasionally listen outside her door, yet would rarely hear anything to betray an unusual dimension in the pattern of solitary activity she had become accustomed to expect ~ perhaps low volume hip-hop or soul music tracks streaming from her Macintosh computer connected to the network. And although Clara had usually seemed happy and content ~ retiring early and rising with the sun ~ Coraline often detected a darkness which seemed to linger within Clara's soul, as though it had retained some shadows of the night. Clara revealed that what she had initially believed to be a reprieve following the academic rigor of Oxford, had gradually developed into an extended period of soulsearching; a time during which Clara was grateful for the sanctuary provided by the Coventry's home. She had felt welcomed as a member of the family, and although it was her responsibility to educate and care for the child, as well as prepare the meals and maintain the household, Clara had never thought of herself ~ nor had she been considered by the Coventrys ~ an indentured servant, since rather than being compelled purely by salary to perform her duties, her enthusiasm had instead seemed motivated by an innate tendency to ensure that everything was always kept orderly and neat ~ Like a cat, she abhorred filth ~ She effortlessly engaged her tasks with an ease and serenity which often enticed Coraline to pitch in; together they made soap, washed the laundry, tidied the rooms or gathered vegetables from the garden, all while enjoying pleasant conversation frequently punctuated with laughter. And Clara was an astonishing cook ~ She was at her best when she conjured up her favourite dishes from African and West Indian cuisine: Johnny Cakes and saltfish fritters, or curried chicken served with gungo peas in rice and a little ackee on the side. When it was ready, Clara would ring a handbell and instantly the Coventrys would appear around the dining room table ~ With the exception of William who preferred to take his meals alone ~ And as was customary before food was served, Lewis Coventry would close his eyes and bow his head toward his empty plate... a reverent silence would elapse... then quietly he would clear his throat... Ahem... to express a few words of gratitude to God for providing His abundance ~ While she listened, Coraline could imagine her father as a lawyer, pleading his case, perhaps as a means of appeasing the request which followed; beseeching the Good Lord to bestow a number of His blessings upon the household... Then all would commence the feast, and no-one would speak for some time; as chatter was replaced by the clatter of cutlery on plates. Although later, once their hunger had been satiated and the dishes cleared away, conversation would recommence in earnest while the family lingered over a game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’ or ‘Senet’, or perhaps tried to recreate spectacular scenes from the Seven Seas by solving a jigsaw puzzle. They would indulge these leisurely pastimes, sometime late into the evening, accompanied by pots of tea and platters of Blue Draws, banana bread or plantain tarts which Clara would magically ‘whip up’ ~ until too soon, it seemed, it was time for Coraline to go to bed.


From the moment Coraline opened her eyes in the morning, her lessons would commence. Her education had been derived from creative play: each day Clara would invent imaginative activities which involved Coraline in the process of learning about herself and the world around her. Every new experience expanded Coraline's boundaries, challenged her capabilities and nurtured her understanding. And as she integrated these perceptions into her awareness, Coraline was constantly amazed that the extent of her own knowledge had always seemed a small pond in comparison with Clara's vast ocean ~ realizing that whatever she had been capable of learning represented only a small fragment of what Clara had already known. It was not only Clara's formal education, clear mind, calm self-possession, and direct, honest communication, which Coraline had admired, she was also impressed by her other talents and abilities which were gradually revealed; particularly intriguing was that Clara seemed to possess a wealth of knowledge of things both dark and mysterious ~ In the beginning, Coraline had believed these attributes were some form of a natural ‘gift’ bestowed upon Clara at birth; since they seemed unlikely to be attainable by other means. A sophisticated sensitivity to her surroundings enabled Clara to intuitively understand the communication transmitted by plants and animals and insects and birds. She could foretell weather, read people's thoughts, and demonstrate other even more remarkable abilities, as shall soon become apparent... Clara was a patient guide during every stage of Coraline's development; never critical of error, and always encouraging Coraline to strive for greater achievement. Clara demonstrated that any skill could be cultivated if one devoted themselves to practice ~ and with discipline, it was even possible to create ‘magic’. She taught Coraline how to summon various small objects of her desire; simply by closing her eyes and concentrating intently until a comb, a penny or a few seeds would actually appear within her hand. Coraline was delighted, yet perhaps a bit skeptical; since it was not impossible for Clara to have performed some sleight of hand. “You must trust, and you must have faith,” Clara would often state, “if you wish magic to succeed.” At regularly scheduled periods throughout the day, Clara would assume a more formal aspect in her role as governess, by introducing Coraline to the educational program she had devised; one which holistically encompassed the mind, the body and the soul. The structure of these formal academic lessons often consisted of sequestering themselves upon divans within the small library at the east end of the house, and there, comfortably discuss a broad range of topics; mathematics, biology, chemistry, philosophy, and so on... Since Clara was clearly aware that Coraline's ambition was to become an architect one day, she had also developed several visual and spatial intelligence exercises to help Coraline improve her ability to interpret images, understand charts and graphs, solve three-dimensional puzzles, and evaluate many other abstract concepts which were a necessary part of the thought processes involved in designing functional objects.


During their intensive sessions together, Clara would teach Coraline how to communicate more effectively, improve her reading ability, understand the syntax of international languages, calculate complex mathematical equations in her mind, and learn how to recognize and remember the tonal patterns within the structure of music by practicing the piano and various types of drums. She introduced Coraline to meditation, gymnastics, yoga, dancing, and the kinesthetic of body language. She taught her to reason, to empathize, and understand her own moods. She created an awareness within Coraline of the many facets of spiritual, philosophical and metaphysical thought which have been recorded since the dawn of human history. And yet, while Clara could provide a solid foundation within each of these disciplines, it had remained for Coraline to learn how to access and discover further depths of the information on her own ~ and Coraline had an insatiable desire for knowledge ~ she was intensely interested in the mechanisms involved in every type of process. Perhaps most importantly, Clara had instilled a sense of optimism about the future, by explaining that; “It is only through awareness and knowledge that we may ensure our efforts are beneficial for humanity. And it is only through the perpetuation of goodness and love that we may ultimately attain liberty without the authority of a god.” “Amen!” William had muttered under his breath as he turned a spade of soil. The three would often work together on summer mornings; watering plants, pulling weeds, and discussing the patterns of nature revealed within the garden. As reward for their patience and dedication, they would harvest some of its abundant bounty; filling a wicker basket with carefully selected aubergine, carrots, zucchini and peppers, and some of the runner beans which climbed a wooden lattice. Coraline would gather herbs; she loved the aroma of silver thyme, rosemary, mint, bergamot, hyssop, chives, golden balm, and purple basil ~ although she often became distracted from the task of collecting leaves by observing the activity around her ~ Then a bright smile would shine upon her tanned face, and her emerald eyes would twinkle merrily ~ above the freckles bridging her nose ~ while she was entertained by the fascinating behavior of ants, aphids, ladybugs, caterpillars and hoverflies, or the moles, worms, slugs and snails inhabiting the vegetable patch... ...those creatures which lived in light and those which dwelled in darkness. The sun; a catalyst... ‘Propitious send thy golden ray, Thou purest light above!’... The dormant seeds signaled to birth ~ awakening from hibernation ~ the immortality of cellular life ~ the spiritual microbe ~ the transmigration of souls. Everything existed for the duration of time required to fulfill its purpose; to manifest its destiny ~ Then to decay; succumbing to the laws of gravity ~ returning again to the earth from whence it had once came. Everything was born out of the light ~ even the night. Yet, sometime the darkness frightened her. Sometime it seemed immensely powerful; overwhelming her like a silent black ocean seeping in through the cracks to


fill the depths of every space, threatening to engulf her with its limitless void, erasing her vision to leave her blind, and numbing her bones with its gloomy sepulchral breath which whispered the names of demons. On those particular nights, she was grateful that Clara would be there to provide comfort with the warm scent of her firm breasts, upon which Coraline would nestle her tiny head until the shivering had eventually subsided. Every evening, especially when she was serene, Coraline enjoyed the intimacy they shared when it was time for bed. After Coraline had scrubbed and dressed in clean pajamas, Clara would brush her hair with long, slow, graceful strokes ~ It felt so good to discuss her private thoughts and feelings, and even reveal some of her deepest secrets; which until then had been fastened by the heart-shaped lock of her diary and the golden key kept hidden beneath her pillow. Then, when Coraline had taken a few bird-like sips of warm milk and was tucked snugly under the covers, Clara would often lay nearby to tell her a story, or quietly sing a song, recalled from her own childhood. African folklore, Clara had explained, was a tradition in which concepts originating from ‘God’ were perpetuated as images and language from one generation to the next. Inherited knowledge preserved ancestral history and provided a method of understanding culture; the customs, the patterns of thought and the outlook on life guiding the behavior of every member within the society. Clara reminded Coraline that in these spiritual stories ~ which symbolically illustrated aspects of goodness and evil ~ the outcome was not important, since, inevitably, irrespective of whether the tale ended happily or tragically, the message was essentially the same: that we should all respect nature, and strive for beauty, joy and harmony in our lives by freeing ourselves from the influences of corruption, greed and envy. Tales of Anansi ~ the trickster spider in legends of Clara’s ancestral Ashanti tribe ~ caused tears of mirth from Coraline; since in every story, when Anansi encountered a turtle, for instance, or a tiger or a firefly, the poor little spider would always become entangled in a web of clever deceptions which he himself would weave. In one story, Anansi persuaded all of the other creatures to give up their wisdom; intending to cache it for himself at the top of a tall tree so that he would be the wisest in the land. Anansi announced, “I'm climbing a tree with my gourd full of wisdom”... The problem was that with the large gourd strapped to his underside Anansi was prevented from climbing the tree at all. His son, Ntikuma, noticed the predicament, and suggested that his father tie the gourd onto his back instead. Heeding this advice, Anansi easily scrambled up into the highest branches. Yet, before reaching the top, he had experienced the realization that his young child had been much wiser than he was ~ reminding him once again that he was simply still a fool after all. Thus, Anansi emptied the contents of the gourd to the wind, so that wisdom could return to the world... Clara's soothing voice, and the comfort of the soft bed at the end of another eventful day, would gradually lull Coraline to sleep... And every night before turning off the light and slipping quietly out the door, Clara would always whisper; “Pleasant dreams!”


V. BLACK AND WHITE

Night and day. And somewhere between; dawn perhaps dusk ~ a perpetual twilight tinted in the warm sepia glow of intimate recollections... It had been wonderful to experience the return of her memories ~ What a pleasure to be able to occupy her thoughts with her grandfather; William Coventry, and in particular, her care-giver, guardian and tutor ~ her influential governess; Clara Voyee, while Coraline tended the plants of her greenhouse within the Golden Sun Pavilion ~ Having ensured the hydroponic equipment was in proper working order, Coraline selected some angelica, fennel and lovage, before returning to the kitchen to store the herbs in small containers on the shelf, then climb the spiral staircase to the loft. She immediately collapsed onto the thick down comforter covering the bed within her luxurious suite in the clouds. The medication would soon help her to sleep... in the meantime, fingertips dreamily traced the worn gilded edges of a wooden picture frame near the bed... Coraline studied the way her reflection superimposed the image in the photograph... clearly recalling the view from the other side of the glass that distant summer morning, waiting patiently while her mother fidgeted with her light meter and tripod, then adjusted the aperture of her unwieldy antique 4x5 camera. When everything was to her satisfaction, Carol had triggered the shutter to capture a sequence of portraits of Coraline and Clara costumed in elegant white gowns, posing together theatrically, comically, before a dissolving limestone statue of Zeus in a clearing amongst dense foliage in the yard. With the final exposure, her mother had vanished into the dim red light of her basement darkroom, not to return for several hours, until she had dodged and burned a series of beautiful, artistic black and white prints. Her mother's photographs would preserve only rare moments of the many wonderful years she and Clara had spent together. From 1998 to 2002 ~ the year Coraline turned seventeen ~ their friendship had continued to intimately evolve. With the discovery of so many similar characteristics in their personalities, Coraline often enjoyed imagining they were actually sisters. And as she matured, she discovered that whenever both her parents were away from home ~ her father jetting-off around the globe to negotiate contracts on behalf of the Luxembourg-based Pisces Corporation, and her mother perhaps supervising an archeological dig in Ethiopia to unearth the fossilized remnants of, what many believed, were the first humans to walk upright ~ Coraline would intensely relish the opportunity to relinquish the sometimes stuffy conservative formality of her relationship with her parents in favor of the exhilarating freedom extended by periods of uninterrupted pleasure with Clara.


They would delight in sharing a casual solitude; enjoying the silence ~ communicating only when necessary through intuition rather than words ~ since, without even being conscious of it, Coraline had subtly acquired the attribute of being able to telepathically exchange thoughts with Clara. It was not unusual ~ while curiously exploring some distant region of the garden ~ to suddenly receive Clara's quiet voice; as though speaking close by, informing Coraline that soup was ready in the kitchen, and reminding her to wash her hands before coming into the house. It were as though she had become Coraline's guardian angel; watching over her, protecting her ~ If Coraline happened to stumble over a twisted root and scrape her knee upon a stone, Clara seemed to sense her pain, and would immediately contact Coraline to inquire if she could be of assistance. It was true there were many times Coraline had successfully postponed bedtime by encouraging Clara to engage in conversations which lasted late into the evening ~ the darkness enveloping them, their voices intimate, confidential ~ Clara brushing Coraline's long, auburn hair with slow, graceful strokes... Finally answering the question which had been forming in Coraline's mind: Clara had confided that telepathy was one of the charismata which everyone had the ability to attain; “All that is required is the initiative to hone the skill,” Clara had whispered as she tucked Coraline under the covers and kissed her upon her forehead before turning out the light... “Pleasant dreams!” During an intensive session at dawn every morning, and another at dusk every evening ~ over the course of several months ~ facing each other, positioned with perfect posture upon the carpeted floor of Coraline's bedroom, Clara had demonstrated how Coraline could enhance her perceptions through the disciplined practice of active meditation techniques. “Awareness can be considered to be comprised of four dimensions; sense, emotion, thought and spirit ~ corresponding to the archetypes key to understanding the great alchemists of the Old World; earth, water, air and fire.” Clara had advised her that; “In order to become a whole person, it is as vital to develop each of these components, as it is to find harmony in their balance.” Through Clara's patient guidance, Coraline had learned how to enter a state of pure awareness in which her sensitivity was attuned to such a degree that the voicing of their exchange of thoughts became crystal-clear. This inspiration, or magic, or enlightenment, produced a state of grace in which previously hidden layers of the world suddenly came alive, making it possible for Coraline to detect the subtle variations of energy within plants, understand the songs of birds, or occasionally receive images broadcast with the frequency of television directly from invisible waves. During these moments, it seemed, Coraline was honoured by a fleeting glimpse into the workings of the processes of continual transformation; attaining an understanding of the whole of truth within any particular detail ~ the larger pattern of creation revealed within tiny seeds, within the infinite universe of atoms, and emanating from the primordial dynamo; the everlasting generator within the soul of all things.


Some enchanted evenings, illuminated by gaslight under swirling stars, it felt comfortable out on the patio with the heat of a summer day radiating from the flagstones. While Clara curled up like a cat upon a marble bench nearby, Coraline sipped tea infused with a few leaves of cannabis sativa ~ a natural remedy customary on the island of Jamaica to help nervous children sleep. Always wishing these moments to last forever, Coraline would prolong the pleasurable experience by prompting Clara to reveal further details about her interesting life. Since Coraline's own geographic reality had never extended beyond the region of the United Kingdom known as Cumbria, she was enthralled by the exotic locations in which Clara had lived, and had always wanted to know more. The stories Coraline particularly enjoyed were the ones in which Clara would reminisce about similar occasions spent with her mother; those quiet evenings when they would ‘talk about life’... kicking back in rocking chairs on the verandah of a rustic driftwood shack near Black River, Jamaica ~ the home of Redeem Wayz; a recording studio operated by her mother's Rastafarian lover. “What is a Rastafarian?” Coraline had asked, wrinkling her freckled nose. “Rastafari is a religious movement which began in Jamaica during the 1930s. It followed the rise in popularity of Tafari Makonnen; a charming young prince (Ras), who ascended the Ethiopian throne to assume the title Haile Selassie; ‘Might of the Trinity’. His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I was the 111th emperor in a line of direct succession ~ through the House of David ~ which originated with a son produced by King Solomon's liaison with the Ethiopian sovereign Makeda (Magda) ~ more familiarly-known as the ‘Queen of Sheba’. An account of their romance is documented in several chapters of the ancient text; Kebra Negast ~ ‘The Glory of Kings’ ~ which incidentally, sheds light on many Bible stories; since it records similar historical events from an Ethiopian perspective.” Clara had then adopted a tone imitating the Queen of Sheba announcing to her royal subjects her intention of traveling to Jerusalem to learn the Wisdom of Solomon at his hand; “I am smitten with the love of wisdom, and my heart seeketh to find understanding. For wisdom is sweeter than honey, it illumineth more than the sun, and is far more precious than gold... So it is written in the Kebra Negast,” Clara had mentioned, “If you accept translation of the sacred text by E. A. Wallis Budge.” Urban dwellers, in particular, seeking an understanding of natural and supernatural forces, had sparked a revival in many folk religions and practices rooted in African traditions; Myal, Obeah; the act of healing ~ Their thoughts invoking Africa as their spiritual homeland. And naturally, reverence for Haile Selassie I as the living incarnation of Jah ~ identified as Yahweh in the Old Testament. Yet beyond that, Rastafari is a relatively individualist religious movement with differences tolerated in specific beliefs. Rastas keep a positive and care-free attitude toward life. The chalice... Their sacrament is the herb which the Assyrians called ‘Qunubu’, the Persians; ‘Konaba’ ~ the same plant which the Scythians had named ‘cannabis’... I may tell you more about all of that later, right now I want you to fly with me to Jamaica!”


Clara closed her eyes, then after some time smiled a glowing smile, “In the morning...” she sighed, “Light... feel the warmth of the sunshine.” “Breathe...” Coraline had also closed her eyes to allow Clara's description to transport her there ~ Soon she experienced the sunny warmth of Jamaica within her vivid imagination; the multi-colored hues of exotic wildflowers lining the riverbanks, the rustic fishing boats, the white-washed buildings, and the Colonial Great Houses dotting the countryside. Coraline could clearly imagine Clara as a tall, awkward teenage girl... exploring the wetlands which engulfed the small village of Black River... baiting crabs with Noni leaves (Morinda Citrifolia)... following the erratic flight of a Giant Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly... always wary of crocodiles meandering lazily through the mangrove swamp... movement scarcely rippling the surface of the coffee black water... their evil golden eyes scanning like stereo periscopes... watchful... snowy egrets flashing from the water at the last minute to take wing like a blur of white cloth... escaping into the sky through a hole in the canopy of dense foliage nearly spanning the river. “De wata is dutty so don't play inna it,” Clara mimicked the way her mother would impart advice, then added a tilt of the head and a waggling finger for further effect; “Yuh too fass and facety, pretty dawta... sum day yuh git inna big choble, seen?” Coraline opened her eyes to emerge from the vision as though rising to the surface from the depths of a tranquil pool... She could hear Clara continuing to explain that, naturally, since her mother was born and raised in Jamaica, she spoke in the tongue of the island; a charming language referred to as ‘Real English’ by the inhabitants, in which words were abbreviated and simplified to facilitate casual conversation. Clara described her mother; Vanette ‘Kalere’ Voyee, as a proportionately-tiny, stunningly-gorgeous woman, who for a time during her youth had established enormous popularity as an exotic dancer in the more glamorous nightclubs of Kingston. The magic she evoked through the sensual movements of her lithe, seductive body, never failed to arouse the members of her audience. And although it was an occupation which was neither emotionally nor spiritually fulfilling, it was certainly financially rewarding. In a few years, Vanette had managed to save a portion of her earnings to finally get out of the ‘entertainment’ business. Compelled by destiny, she had purchased a ticket to fly to West Africa; the homeland of the spirit of her Ashanti ancestors. As fate would have it, during the pilgrimage she chanced to encounter a handsome older gentleman with a successfully-established mattress factory located in an industrial park northeast of Accra... and the rest, as they say, is history... The record of events occurring during her parents relationship had charted a course which, in the beginning, had ascended gently toward the peaks of blissful harmony, and the pastoral splendors within those lofty meadows in which lovers may frolic. Yet, in time, as their journey continued over the mountain and into the treacherous


territories beyond, that romantic honey-coloured moon which once ignited their ardour had gradually tarnished to such an extent that its feeble light could no longer faithfully provide guidance along their way, and thus had caused their failure to negotiate many of the obstacles they would encounter, and ultimately prevent them from noticing that precipitous plunge into the quagmire of unfortunate circumstances which may befall any unwary traveler who has veered too far from the path. Following the traumatic divorce of her parents, Clara was obligated to divide her time between opposite sides of the Atlantic. While Clara loved both parents ~ and of course appreciated her father's financial resources ~ she much preferred living in Jamaica with her mother. They had always maintained a strong bond since they were much closer in age, and so alike in many ways. Not to mention that her mother also had some interesting friends which Clara found most intriguing ~ The real people, Irie!: minstrels wandering like shadows in the afternoon, seeking the coolness of a recording studio to escape the midday heat. Dropping booming beats of heavy drum & bass Rootz Reggae, then following the session, languishing upon canvas chairs conveniently positioned within easy reach of the grill ~ The uplifting sound of Bob Marley's musical gospel of love and global unity, or the talking drums of Nyahbinghi, gently wafting from the speakers, and the warm smell of Sinsemilla rising up through the air. That evening, Coraline recalled detecting a righteous fervor which had passionately gripped Clara's voice ~ as it was sometime impelled when the spirit had possessed her ~ Her eyes had become glazed as though enchanted in a trance; “In the morning... the rising sun... of the first day we discarded our shame... uncovered our genitals... and uplifted holy hands in worship... We offered the sweet savour of incense perfumed by spices and aromatic gums... and performed sacramental oblations to facilitate communion with the supernatural forces which exist on many levels and work in mysterious ways... Offerings of devotion... burning leaves in a gold incenser... inhaling the euphoric smoke... the ‘weed of wisdom’ which grew upon Solomon's grave... The burning bush which spoke to Moses and the ancient prophets... Seen? ... The ecstasy... the pure rapture of songs and chants producing melody in our hearts... Psalms... Spiritual hymns to the mystic fire... Forever burning... Fueling our inner light...” “The fire upon the altar is the messenger; the invoker. God is not yonder, but within! The body is the temple, the Earth is the temple, the heavens are the temple, in which dwells the spirit of God... The heavenly fire captured in our hearts and in the cells of every living thing... Even so, Amen,” Clara had added in blessing. Then, with head bowed, she lapsed into a long silence... Then, as though startled, Clara abruptly seemed to return to the mundane world of everyday phenomena ~ Standing somewhat unsteadily, she once again settled upon the bench, then calmly sipped her tea while gradually regaining those most discernible characteristics familiar to Coraline. After an interval, Clara timidly


confessed that during her youth, she had been a shy awkward bird; always perched inconspicuously amongst the group, always attentive to every word. Thus, enraptured by the impassioned political discussion and thoughtful conversation ~ no gossip upon their tongue ~ the impressionable young girl had been introduced to many wonderful and engaging topics which had seemed to awaken in her a more profound awareness of the world. Indeed, during relaxed evenings, listening to the musician's compelling exchanges, Clara had also gained important insight into the epic migration pressed upon many generations of her Ashanti ancestors. She had been moved to tears by the heart-felt empathy and compassion the musicians expressed in describing the plight of millions of men, women, and children savagely uprooted from their families and their African homelands, then forced to endure extreme adversity and barbaric cruelty as the ‘currency’ of a brutal trade. Entrepreneurial European masters, keen to exploit the seemingly-endless resources of the territories their ships had continually seized, greedily capitalized upon the ceaseless toil of enforced labourers to establish immense prosperity for themselves. It had been their fortune to be comfortably situated at the apexes of lucrative, self-sustaining trade-routes in which each side of the triangle proved to be substantially profitable ~ bales of tobacco and hogsheads of Caribbean rum shipped to Europe enabled the purchase of guns and cloth and pretty trinkets which were then exchanged in West Africa for the terrified captives loaded aboard ships bound for Spanish South America, British North America, and the many islands of the Caribbean. Clara had explained that the musicians' stories became the catalyst for her devotion to attaining as complete an understanding as was possible about the slave trade by referencing every historical resource in the library while attending public school, and later, as she had matured, ultimately compelled her to embark upon the study of Human Sciences by relocating to the United Kingdom ~ A destination she had selected for the fact the nation had been the epicenter of the slave trade during the epoch when Britannia ruled the waves. While attending Oxford, Clara's insatiable curiosity had compelled her to seek knowledge from every variety of arcane and obscure source. Her charismatic skill at social engineering, combined with persuasive perseverance enabled her to gain access to collections of personal correspondence dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, newspapers, port log books, Admiralty passes, Colonial Treasurers' accounts, shipping registers, and so on... Oh, the countless hours she had eagerly spent rummaging through vast accumulations of paper documents hermetically preserved within the dimly lit recesses of archives and museums in London, Bristol, and Liverpool! ~ Lloyd's Lists alone contained records of approximately 8,000 British slaving voyages; as well as an additional 25,000 voyages attributed to vessels registered in Portugal, France, Holland, Spain, Denmark, and the United States of America ~ And Clara would never forget the appalling atrocities tallied on the ledger lines of yellowed plantation records; each notation deciphered from dark splotches of ink raggedly scratched with a quill ~ each itemizing the horrific mutilations or number


of lashes a slave received as punishment for attempting to run away. The factual information Clara discovered had formed threads, which gathered together with strands from folklore, legends and myth, and from discussions with other scholars in the field, had gradually enabled her to weave a fabric in which the patterns were revealed. “Truth always emerges from the darkness. The truth shall set you free.” The contours of Clara's body caressed the sculpted curve of the white marble bench that sultry summer evening ~ Her slender, graceful neck ~ her head propped upon an arm to casually convey fragments of the encyclopedic knowledge she had accumulated during her diligent research; “The ancient tribes honored the tradition of their origin within the ‘Divine Land’ ~ the Garden of Eden described in Genesis ~ A beautiful place within which simple sea life first evolved into creatures that moved upon the land ~ nurtured by the tropical sun ~ millions of years ago, when even the sky was different. Following successive evolutionary leaps, they had discovered they were unable to return beneath the surface of the oceans ~ to the womb from which they had spawned ~ since they had lost the adaptation of being able to breathe underwater... As a matter of survival, they enhanced their capacity for intelligence; their innate instincts were continually augmented by a need to explore and understand their environment. Thus, some creatures learned to create tools by which to shape their world, and thereby attain freedom from being subjected to the unpredictable forces of nature ~ From this source, humanity eventually spread to every portion of the planet, initiating conflict between tribal groups and fueling competition in the development of powerful tools and weapons with which to become successful in obtaining comfort by gaining domination over their neighbours.” ... Coraline was always amazed that during the first few days following a memory replacement session, she could clearly recall every detail of a conversation as though it were actually occurring in the present. She was also aware that she analyzed its content more objectively than she originally had, since during the intervening years between an actual event and its reformation within her thoughts, a great many other experiences had happened in her life. Sometime it had been difficult to discern whether one particular event was previous or subsequent to another ~ In a way it hadn't mattered ~ She was happy for the moment just to be able to return her attention to listening to Clara's voice within the scene she vividly recollected; “The equatorial sun is hot. The humidity of Ghana's tropical coast gradually evaporates the further inland the breeze travels. Several hundred kilometers north of the Gulf of Guinea, yet south of the high plateau spawning the Black and White Volta rivers, my ancestors; the Ashanti, established settlements amongst the forested hills. Family groupings thrived to propagate subsequent generations which migrated throughout the territory seeking favourable conditions ~ always maintaining the


network of their blood bond to form tribal kingdoms. Ashanti perceptions were shaped by wisdom encoded in the cultural traditions of their time. They had no temples nor written scriptures; beliefs and values were communicated through the spoken word. They acknowledged the existence of a supreme universal force from which everything originated; Nyame ~ the Source of Infinite Goodness ~ And although they offered praise to their creator and preserver, no physical representations were made, since the people were aware that this great force remained invisible. However, they would offer sacrifices to a pantheon of lesser deities who acted as mediators and agents betwixt the Source and the people; hoping to sway their moods so they may provide some form of assistance; more rain, less rain, true love, a healthy child, and so on... As well, the people also possessed a strong connection with their ancestors ~ a deep devotion which enabled their spirits to be contacted for guidance and assistance whenever it was required.” Clara took a sip of tea, then scratched a mosquito bite on her ankle. “In Ashanti territory, there are two distinct seasons; from April to November torrents of rain hammer the ground to transform everything vivid green, and during the other portion of the year, the lands become arid and are inundated by gritty dust gathered in storms blowing across the Sahara. Some years, these winds deliver drought as harsh as a scorpion sting ~ with swarms of tsetse flies hallooing subsequent periods of famine and disease... In better years, when the cassava, yam and plantain were bountiful, even the youngest children were called upon to watch over abundant fields ~ chasing away devouring birds by throwing stones at them. The men, armed with clubbed sticks, knives and spears, hunted for bush-meat; grasscutter, bushbuck, lions, leopards, wild boar, elephants, hippos and manatees. They collected lizards, also forest snails, caterpillars and maggots to consume as food.” “Women carried the burden; the harvest, the wood and water, the milk and bread ~ babies cradled upon their backs ~ wading into the murky river to wash kente, then drape it in the sun to dry ~ sisters singing while rhythmically beating the cloth with their hands to remove the dust and dirt. Alongside the men, they cleared the natural forests ~ using a mattock to fell trees by cutting through its roots. They planted crops and weeded, skinned animals of their hide, ground beans and milled grain, prepared meals and nurtured young children ~ Their labour never ceased until the day they traveled to that village; from which there was no return.” “Each state was ruled by an Asantehene, who, in the tradition of divine kingship, was an elder selected from the clan to inherit leadership based upon his relationship to the Queen Mother’s relatives ~ Ashanti people believed children inherited their blood from the mother, and their spirit from the father. Since maternity is certain, a matriarchal hierarchy was the most practical way to track a child's lineage within a culture where, if a man were wealthy, could possess as many wives as he desired.” Then Clara had added in a significant tone; “And if a man were wise he would ensure they were always kept satisfied and well-fed.”


“The King oversaw the administration of his state. He made the rules, and his decrees were carried out by priests and enforced by bold, strong warriors. His soldiers were eternally vigilant in protecting the kingdom from invading bands of marauders, and also courageous in overcoming fierce opposition in distant lands while conducting their own commando raids ~ Eyes blazed red and teeth stained orange from kola nuts ~ adrenaline pumping through their veins from its amphetamines ~ Their powerful strength and their hunting skills amassed wealth for all of their people, and enhanced the prestige of their King, through periodic tributes of respect paid by tribes his warriors had vanquished.” Clara explained that the tributary system was similar to a form of taxation in which the currencies were kola nuts, gold dust and slaves. “Prisoners enslaved in tribute and law-breakers serving punishment for their crime, joined others, who in desperation, it has been claimed, sold themselves and their families into bondage as a means of settling debt. In Ashanti villages, slaves were treated humanely; protected from extreme cruelty by the customs of society. Slaves performed much the same tasks as free men and women, but were required to work much harder. Slaves had the right to be fed, clothed, and housed. They were able to marry amongst themselves, or with free people, hold property, and raise children. Although society asserted slavery was for life, it was not uncommon to grant the privilege of redemption. Yet, their status would never be entirely forgotten no matter their level of assimilation into the family structure, nor how high they advanced on the social scale.” “Society was governed by gold ~ Gold! A blessing and a curse ~ The mystical metal was abundant within the land and within the sand of streams. During the rainy season, soil eroding from higher elevations would distribute small flecks of gold throughout the river beds ~ filtered pure; polished by the friction of the current. Women and children panned near the bank, sluicing sand with water, picking out precious grains with a feather then depositing them into a snail shell for safe-keeping. The men excavated stone with an iron hoe to recover larger nuggets in narrow shafts tunneled ten to twenty meters deep. Beautiful, malleable and strong, the metal's enduring nature symbolized immortality to Ashanti goldsmiths, and served as inspiration while crafting resplendent royal regalia and sacred objects of devotion ~ Still, its gleam had also wrought horrific acts of violence by instilling avarice within the human heart.” “Numerous slaves laboured in the King's mines. Thus, the Kingdom continually increased its wealth by expanding production capacity. The workers also developed a strong agricultural economy; toiling to clear dense forests, then planting and harvesting crops. Through domestic service, they ensured the leisure of their owners was also much more pleasurable. The result of their efforts was that their masters had much more time to effectively establish administrative laws, devise systems of worship, and assemble a sufficient number of warriors to embark on raids.” “There is need for humility and servitude...” Clara had spoken the words in a whisper; almost as though reminding herself, then lapsed into contemplative silence...


In a moment, Clara's voice returned to normal speaking volume; “The Ashanti empire operated with an efficiency which the struggling nations of Europe would certainly have envied ~ During the Middle Ages, the northern continent was a scene of disillusioned chaos fomented by depressions, revolutions, schisms in the Roman Church, and widespread plagues of Black Death. In Asia, the Muslim kingdoms were much stronger; Islamic traders were active in West Africa for many centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. Caravans tracked across the Sahara, between the Gold Coast, the Mediterranean, and the Red Sea ~ journeying through Timbuktu to Algiers, Tripoli and Cairo ~ And further; there was a market in Arabia for black slaves, and for gold, ivory, ostrich feathers, millet and sorghum which the savanna region provided. In exchange, Arabic merchants delivered salt, copper, tobacco, dates, paper, tea, perfumes, mirrors, beads and carpets transported by camel trains.” “Eventually, the scent of exotic spice had also invigorated the European economy. With growing populations, it had become necessary for nations to acquire more resources in order to sustain themselves. The desire to increase trade motivated the advancement of shipbuilding techniques; designing ocean-going craft which could travel greater distances for a longer duration of time. Improvements in the knowledge of geography and navigation enabled early explorers to indulge their curiosity. Science progressed rapidly during the Renaissance. Capitalism ~ the monetary system whereby talent and ability, not origin and estate, were the qualifying factors for its aristocracy ~ grew dramatically following the invention of the printing press during the mid-fifteenth century ~ A machine that was revolutionary for its ability to massproduce paper currency, not to mention, print innumerable copies of the Bible. Paper fueled the crusade... So that when thwarted by an Ottoman Turk blockade of overland trade routes to Asia, the Portuguese royalty put their money to work by financing expeditions venturing south along the coast of Africa in search of an alternative route by sea.” “The first caravels, hoisting the banner of Portugal, arrived on the shores of the Gold Coast sometime around 1441, and for over one hundred years they remained the sole European nation trading directly with the region. Their fortunes ultimately attracted fleets of tall wooden ships from the Netherlands, Britain and Denmark during the late sixteenth century, anxious to grab a share of the wealth. For the next 250 years, all four nations fiercely competed for control of the trade; continually building forts and capturing those of their rivals ~ constructing the type of castles that had worked so well in Europe, keeping them near the shore for easy access to the sea. Pristine white beaches and turquoise blue ocean at the edge of the jungle ~ Fort Koromantin, Fort Metal Cross, Fort Apologia; fortresses stationed like sentinels every four to six kilometers along the entire coastline of the massive territory. Each fortress hosted a large garrison of soldiers, and a network of labyrinthine dungeons to hold the Africans delivered to them. The walls were lined with cannons and towering above the courtyard, the spacious, airy quarters of the Governor.” “The friendly, docile Fanti and Senegambians along the coast were the first to be detained ~ they were literally trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea; since


the only place to which they could flee was into the sparse forests further north controlled by the dangerous Ashanti. The Europeans were also intimidated by the aggressive Ashanti; noting they made less desirable slaves since they were willing to seek revenge upon their oppressors. As a consequence, mercenary traders found a more compendious, or ‘civilized’, method of procuring slaves ~ a difficult and distasteful occupation ~ In exchange for textiles and garments made of wool, silk and satin; for objects of brass, copper, silver, tin and lead, and for muskets and gun powder, and crossbows and swords, they persuaded Ashanti tribesmen to become allies. Yet, while inciting the Ashanti to wage war for the purpose of obtaining captives, the traders were also supplying their enemies ~ Divide and conquer; pit one tribe against another, use the arms race to establish bloodthirsty regimes ~ It was not long before the process devastated the indigenous civilizations, and strategically weakened any opposition to further European colonial drive.” “It was not powerful weapons, but the temptation of new products which had morally defeated some Ashanti. The pale demons had enticed them with pretty trinkets, taught them drunkenness and avarice, and convinced them that their omniscient Christian God provided credence to their venture. And under the influence exerted by palatial fortifications, those African warlords who had risen to prominence as Slave Kings, often demonstrated that they were thugs exceedingly more ruthless in exploiting their dark-skinned bothers and sisters, and looting and plundering the environment of its precious pure white ivory and its glimmering gold, than the Europeans had been.” “The bountiful riches of Africa were indeed intoxicating, thus the prospect of even greater fortunes assuredly provided impetus for Europeans to further expand the scope of their explorations. Amerigo Vespucci and Christopher Columbus boldly voyaged beyond the horizon of a ‘flat’ Medieval world, and miraculously returned with mysterious treasures which ideally catered to the luxurious lifestyles of the aristocracy. The pleasurable spices intensified their desire, compelling them onward to pillage the coastlines of every region then gradually penetrate inland seeking fertile environments alive with many other types of exotic plants. Territories once made known to explorers were soon settled in great numbers. Armed with weapons and a lifestyle which sanctioned the infliction of cruelty, the foreigners decimated the entire population of nearly every indigenous society they encountered.” “Oh Coraline, there is so much I could tell you; the history of the world is quite complex. For this evening I wish you would imagine just how terrifying the experience must have been for the slaves. Captured from their homes, hands tightly bound, and their mouths gagged, the men, women and children were marched for days to strongholds along the coast. Imprisoned within dank dungeons, waiting sometime for months for the arrival of uncertain fate. Likely they could not believe their eyes when the sinister craft sailed in; flying vast sheets of cloth which billowed from incredible masts which were taller than any tree they had ever seen. Imagine their perception of the motley crew of pirates, rogues and old salty dogs staggering onto shore upon a skinny pair of shaky legs ~ Horrifying bands of haggard, long-haired, sunburned men, dressed in foul-smelling garb ~ They must have seemed strange apparitions; ghosts or


demons or perhaps even cannibals, shouting in an incomprehensible language, while herding them with livestock whips to board the strange vessels ~ Most ships transported from 75 to 100 slaves per voyage. In the books of the ship owners, and the businessmen who financed the venture, a captive purchased for £16, would more than double in value upon reaching the opposite side of the Atlantic.” “Slaves endured a perilous crossing of seven weeks aboard the wooden ships ~ weathering ferocious storms and treacherous waves ~ seams of pitch leaking salty sea ~ beads of sweat ~ shackled in a dark hold by chains of iron which cut deeply into their flesh with every movement of the ship. The tasteless gruel like slop fed to hogs; the appropriation of nourishment performed by signals from a monitor, whose motions indicated when ‘the darkies shall dip and when they shall swallow’... Many would perish from inadequate nourishment or from exposure to European diseases; their bodies simply tossed overboard ~ scattering a pathway of bones and sunken ships across the ocean floor along the trade route called the Middle Passage.” “Equatorial winds and currents compelled the vessels directly toward the Caribbean; toward an archipelago of beautiful islands, and one gem in particular; a land of palm trees and pines, and cool clear water, which the original inhabitants, the Arawaks, had named ‘Xaymaca’ ~ the Island of Springs. The natives had lived peacefully in their island paradise for centuries until the arrival of Columbus, whose rotting vessel was driven ashore by a storm, stranding him and his crew on the north coast of the island for most of 1503 while awaiting rescue. Subsequent Spanish expeditions introduced sugar cane to the island, and forced the natives to grow and harvest it for them. The Arawaks were shockingly abused; they died from overwork, succumbed to infections for which they had no immunity, and sometime were even killed by torture in the name of sport ~ By 1655, when the English captured the island, the Arawaks had been completely exterminated. Consequently there continued to be a demand for capable, dark-skinned people, knowledgeable in the ways of agriculture, to work on their plantations.” “Cane was King ~ Saccharum officinarum L.,” Clara had winked at Coraline in acknowledgment of their infamous Latin naming game, which she had also adopted. “It is believed the bamboo-like grass originated in India where it occurs naturally along sandy banks of rivers which have changed their course ~ In Jamaica, sugarcane was grown year-round without rotation or rest. In twelve to twenty months from planting, some plants reached a height of seven metres. The harvest and processing of the plant required immensely laborious toil. When the stems became tough and turned pale yellow, the crops were burned to defoliate saw-edged leaves which could tattoo the skin with scars. Slaves spent endless days in the fields, bent over at the waist, hacking at the base of blackened stalks with razor-sharp machetes ~ The stems were chopped as closely to the ground as possible, since the root end is the richest in sugar. The stalks were crushed in large roller mills to extract the juice, which thickened within a hellish inferno of cauldrons tended around the clock. Once the boiling syrup had attained the right conditions, sugar dust was sprinkled in to precipitate crystal formation. The dried sticky brown raw sugar was hardened into bricks then shipped off


to refineries in Antwerp or London for processing, while a by-product; molasses, was sent to distilleries to produce a popular alcoholic beverage called rum ~ Many fortunes were made and lost in the frenzy for sugar; it were as though the entire enterprise became entranced by the opium-like effect of the aroma of ripe cane blossoms.” “The program of civilization pursued its goals, cane plantations flourished, colonial outposts expanded into villages, and always the demand for Africans exceeded the supply ~ Africans best-provided the skill and stamina to labour on plantations; Africans also understood the jungle, were experts in tropical agriculture, and immune to malaria and yellow fever ~ When the traders had decimated the Fanti, Ibo and Yoruba situated along the Gold Coast, they began to gather numbers of Ashanti to fulfill their quota ~ A slave was not generally spoken of by the name of the tribe from which they had originated, rather, since the Ashanti had been shipped from the slave port of Koromantin, they became known as Koromantyns. Because their superior physique had appeared suited to heavy labor, plantation masters perceived the Koromantyns to be valuable as workers ~ They had not anticipated the proud people would retain an indomitable spirit.” “It was apparent they were distinct from other African tribes in several respects; their language was more copious, their music livelier, and their dances more exuberant. Their introduction to a plantation had a profound influence upon the other slaves, who gradually modified their own traditional tribal customs in accordance with Ashanti culture. Even so, the Koromantyns often built their houses on a separate portion of the estate. Perhaps more accustomed to retaining slaves than being ones themselves, they generally disdained those who had resigned themselves to their fate and were too terrified to run away.” “The independent character of Koromantyns, combined with the ferocious tenacity of their ancestral heritage as warriors, compelled them to take advantage of every opportunity to gain their freedom ~ Ultimately, they would be responsible for inciting nearly every slave rebellion wherever they were captivated throughout the islands of the West Indies. Since their cruel masters considered them subhuman, they did not hesitate to devise horrendous tortures as punishment for any attempt to run away; branding them like livestock, nailing them to the ground with crooked stakes to burn them by degrees, or gelding their feet with an axe to permanently hobble them. Those who survived their ordeals returned to the fields to continue being worked like machines.” “Since respectable plantation owners and wealthy merchants were devout churchgoing folk, they truly believed their black-skinned captives ~ being descendants of Ham ~ were therefore eternally cursed. It was their firm conviction that enslavement would actually bring them salvation. Whips mortified flesh and their bitter tongue indoctrinated the Christian religion. The overlords attempted to convince slaves how fortunate they were to be living in a civilized world; their life redeemed from the primitive paganism, tribal wars and famines of their African homelands. They tried to break their spirit by prohibiting Africans from practicing their customs, and further


enforced the process of transformation by assigning them a new identity which labeled them as their master's property: biblical names, classical names, or common European names ~ to which the slaves would answer under fear of punishment. Yet, in secret, many continued to use their West African names; passing them from one generation to the next to preserve a record of their ancestral history.” “Faith in African traditions provided the strength to endure, the strength to bravely resist oppression, and the strength to remain free from the clutches of Bones; the King of Death, for a purposeful span of time. In offering praise, the ‘word’ was understood to manifest the life-force effective in everything. As hands form clay into tangible objects, the mouth shapes thoughts into sounds capable of invoking the hidden powers to influence events... Cleverly, their talking drum mimicked the ten sounds of the Ashanti language; chanting rhythmic phrases which recounted stories of inherited culture, or singing to lighten the heavy work of slashing at blackened cane with machetes, also covertly encoded communication under the watchful eye of their overseers.” Coraline wiped a bead of perspiration from her brow; it was a sultry evening. While Clara spoke, Coraline would sometime lapse into thoughts of her own ~ still retaining the thread of conversation at the periphery of her consciousness, yet pleasantly drifting along a stream of associations triggered by the concepts Clara had introduced. Coraline appreciated that Clara had invested considerable effort into detecting true facts amongst the many versions of events recorded throughout the course of history. And as Coraline often noted, Clara had also seemed to enjoy providing a context for the information she imparted. “In 1655; when the entire population of the world was estimated at 500 million ~ and Thomas Hobbes had recently published ‘Leviathan’ to express his theory that mechanistic man was a selfish individualistic brute constantly at war with others ~ British forces, at the bidding of Oliver Cromwell, discovered a way to break Spain's monopoly on the Caribbean, by invading the strategic island of Jamaica. An enormous armada of sturdy ships, commandeered by force, panicked the terrified Spaniards. Outnumbered and overpowered, their only recourse was to abandon their plantations and attempt escape to Cuba. Many of the slaves they left behind chose to vanish into the mists of the island's mountainous interior rather than become property of an unfamiliar master. These free Africans subsequently became known as Maroons; from the Spanish term ‘Cimarrones’ ~ ‘untamed’ or ‘savage’ ~ returning to the wild, Irie!” “The Maroons sought sanctuary within limestone caves secluded by dense foliage ~ Fresh mountain air, the atmosphere serene ~ The veil of tears which appear when the sky is crying hide many arcane mysteries, and cloak the movement of those who walk amongst the clouds. The hazy summit of the dream-like Blue Mountains rises 2,250 metres above the sea ~ a vantage point providing a bird's-eye view of the surrounding mountainsides, the sandy coastline, and an endless expanse of sea delicately textured with a rhythmic pattern of waves. The rugged tropical interior ranges the entire span of the island; 250 kilometers from the leeward end ~ in the west ~ to the windward end in the east. During the daytime, the warm incoming ‘doctor


breeze’ calls to deliver its prescription of abundant rainfall where the mountains intercept the clouds; spawning cool clear streams which feed waterfalls and rivers, and fill the cup of swirling gorges eroding the fertile terrain.” “Small bands of Maroons dispersed across the island, supplying themselves with weapons, tools and provisions by raiding colonial plantations ~ They struck with speed and stealth then retreated just as quickly ~ sometime accompanied by slaves whom they had persuaded to join them in their free African villages. The rain-forested hills provided an impenetrable stronghold for the rebel fugitives, from which, for nearly eighty years, they engaged an intermittent guerrilla war against well-armed British soldiers ~ Razor-sharp rocks, steep precipices, and treacherous sinkholes covered by layers of decaying vegetation ~ Dappled daylight camouflaged the labyrinth of winding pathways criss-crossing the jungles, and provided concealment from which to ambush any terrified redcoats who dared venture into the heart of darkness, and whose whispered curse would issue as their dying breath.” “It had been difficult for the Maroons to survive in the jungle; continually on alert and always traveling under cover of night. During the course of several generations they became demoralized by conflict and weary for want of peace. And when their need was most dire, it truly seemed miraculous to be graced by the arrival to the island of an Ashanti high priestess named Nyabinghi ~ The ‘Hidden Queen’.” ~ To more clearly associate her personal connection with the evening's topic, Clara noted that during the process of endlessly researching archival documents, she had also gradually unearthed the roots of her own family tree. Thus, she was proud to claim that she had been able to trace her own maternal lineage directly to Nyabinghi; having discovered a shipping record documenting her voyage to Jamaica in 1719 aboard the ‘Golden Rule’ ~ a Whitehaven ship in command of Captain Esek ‘Experience’ Woodcocke. “Folk history recounts that Nyabinghi's journey was compelled by destiny. In Africa, she witnessed boatloads of her people being taken away; none of whom ever returned. She had perceived it served a greater purpose for her to seek out those lost souls, long separated from the tribe, in the hope of being able to revitalize their spirit. Thus, with great bravery, Nyabinghi and several of her brothers voluntarily placed themselves in the hands of British masters to be transported to that distant land ~ Where, upon arriving near Jamaica, their was an explosion aboard their ship, which enabled them to escape captivity and vanish into the remote jungle hills. The Maroons she had encountered recognized her special powers; she was knowledgeable of ancient spiritual traditions and could perform the sacred rituals, and she was proficient in preparing healing remedies and casting magic spells. Most of all, the Maroons revered her inner strength and wisdom which always would shine forth to provide guidance and courage for her people.” “‘Queen Nanny’ ~ as Nyabinghi became known ~ was leader of the windward Maroons. She controlled a rebel town perched atop a mountain cliff overlooking the narrow winding trail climbing up from Stony River. Her brother, Cudjoe, became Chief of the leeward Maroons ~ They inhabited Cockpit Country; a forbidden territory the


British called ‘Land of Look-Behind’. “Nanny gradually reconstituted Maroon society to base it upon the customs practiced by Ashanti culture in Mother Africa. She encouraged people to speak Akan language so they could understand the songs and ceremonies and become instilled by awareness of their history ~ the veneration of ancestors, the customs of marriage, and the traditional methods of raising children, settling disputes, or simply dealing with the events of everyday life. And in the organized society Nanny created, when everyone worked co-operatively, there was more time to comfortably experience harmony and tranquillity together ~ During those peaceful times, the Blue Mountains truly seemed a bountiful paradise teeming with extravagant vegetation; coconuts, pawpaws, naseberries, ortaniques and star apples... the most famous woods in the world; ebony, mahoe, mahogany, rosewood, and silk cotton trees... Ferns, crotons and orchids. Bougainvillea, poinsettias and cactus. Parrots, parakeets, fireflies and hummingbirds. Lizards, crocodiles and snakes...” “The bush provided an abundance of medicinal herbs for every type of healing; physical, emotional, spiritual ~ Fits weed or fever grass, the balm of Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis), and the curative resin of Lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale) ~ the ‘Tree of Life’ ~ An ironwood so dense that it cannot float in water.” Clara had interestingly added that Nanny would customarily send young girls to pick plants used in rituals to evoke prophesy or expel demons. “Queen Nanny was a physically-small woman, yet her defiant spirit proved a formidable force while leading the Windward Maroons during fierce fighting which commenced in 1720 and continued for nineteen years ~ Her wiry waist girdled with knives in sheaths, her bracelets and anklets made from the teeth of British soldiers ~ Her fortitude inspired the Maroons to face each battle with courage, even though they were equipped with only machetes and swords they had stolen from plantations, and muskets filled with stones for shot ~ In truth, their greatest strength was derived from their faith that Nanny's sorcery would always protect them from harm.” “Meanwhile, the years of intermittent war had negatively-impacted business upon the island; forcing a considerable number of colonists to abandon their plantations. As a result, British parliament made a commitment to intensify their troop's campaign. Thus, guided by Mosquito Indians brought from Panama as trackers, a large contingent of infantry soldiers dragged swivel guns into the hills to destroy Maroon settlements and crush their resistance. According to legend, Nanny was betrayed and killed by Quashee ~ a slave faithful to the planters ~ sometime around 1734. She had taught the people to have faith and believe, and in the end, became a martyr in her heroic fight for freedom.” “For several years following the death of Nanny, the leeward Maroons continued their struggle under the leadership of Cudjoe, until finally a truce was declared. On March 1, 1738, both parties signed a treaty promising the western Maroons their perpetual freedom upon an allotment of 1,500 acres of land, in exchange for an end to hostilities. The Maroons were the first Africans to be granted freedom from slavery by


Colonial England ~ yet they remained subject to British rule. The terms of the agreement specified the Maroons were obligated to recapture and return all future runaways, and suffer the imposition of a superintendent permanently stationed within each settlement to maintain good relations between the Maroons and the British government.” “Nearly seventy years later, in 1807, Britain finally passed a law putting an end to the slave trade in all colonial possessions within its Commonwealth. Yet, abolition was a prolonged, complicated and ambiguous process; emancipation of Africans did not really begin in Jamaica until the 1860s, when indentured labour from India was imported to harvest sugar ~ bringing with them also a propensity for smoking ganja ~ In Africa, it was not until the Ashanti succumbed to British rule in January, 1896, that slavery was prohibited in the territory, and not until June, 1908, that it was officially abolished.” “With freedom, former slaves found themselves obliged to continue supplying labour to property-owners, as they had always done, except their masters were now called employers.” Clara sighed, “Human slavery existed before the dawn of recorded history ~ It existed in primitive and civilized societies, and in nearly every culture of the world. And perhaps it may always continue to exist in some form since it simply seems an inherent quality of our collective human nature... That is until technological innovation evolves servile labour systems further, and replaces every human worker with a machine.” Clara, who had been comfortably reclining, arose to a sitting position upon the marble bench ~ illuminated by gaslight under the swirling stars ~ took the final sip of her tea, then for some time appeared to study the pattern of leaves in the bottom of her cup; “When species are transplanted into a foreign environment, there are often unexpected consequences. Certain types of plants may breed like weeds and overrun native flora. Many diseases can be fatal if the host has no immunity for protection. In other species, violent tendencies may be exhibited in an effort to dominate those believed to be disadvantaged based upon some minor feature, such as the colouration of skin ~ A situation especially disheartening when marooned upon an island ~ one continual beach encompassing a verdant garden, and an infinitely-vast ocean beyond,” Clara ran her slim finger around the rim of her cup. “Lo and Beho! De mongoose get abder de sugar rat ~ but who get abder im?” ~ Clara's tone had indicated she was imitating her mother. In a moment, Clara's expression became more solemn: “Jah-Mek-Ya is still a tantalizing paradise for wealthy tourists lost in the hedonism of fun-and-sun resorts, flavored by the taste of rum punch and the pleasant hand crafts of the locals. They cannot see the pattern of injustice woven into the fabric. They are not aware of the legacy of Nanny’s resistance against slavery; the spirit of independence to remain strong, to stand firm in ones beliefs, and to take action in opposition against any unfair


system which exploits a great many for the benefit of a select few ~ Nanny's effort and achievement have always served as an inspiration. They remind me that true change can only be derived from perceptions within the mind ~ In time, good things come to pass.“ Sensing Coraline had become drowsy, Clara concluded her compelling lesson, then stood and stretched like a cat; “Come, it’s late ~ it’s time to scrub you and put you to bed, little miss sleepy head!“ While she ran bath water, Clara hummed Beethoven's ‘Moonlight Sonata’.

VI. THE ISLAND OF DESTINY

An intense electrical storm had raged throughout the night; the thunderous voices of gods had echoed across the sky, while torrential rain saturated parched ground. Coraline's eyes flashed open to stare vacantly into the creamy canopy suspended above her bed... revived from the depths of slumber by pure sea air raging through the open window, billowing the bedroom curtains wildly in the breeze ~ lingering flashes of visions from disturbing dreams immediately recalled only to just as rapidly vanish as faded images on a projector screen... a silvery moon... a crimson tide... the terrifying clash of pirate steel ~ it had certainly been a shock then, to suddenly observe small drops of blood staining her clean white sheets... The house was silent. Feeling faint, Coraline steadied herself along the edge of the bed as she moved toward the dresser... Her reflection captivated by its large circular mirror seemed pale and insubstantial... She settled to brush her hair ~ gazing at the still-life of cherished items gracing the weathered surface of her bureau: a locket from her mother, an engraved gold pen from her father, a tarnished framed photograph posing with Clara in the garden, the sheet of music she was currently practicing at piano, and her private collection of secret treasures stored within an extravagant sewing box ~ embroidered in roses and golden tassels, and perpetually watched over by a delicate porcelain angel who had allowed the powdery dust of time to settle upon her outstretched wings. This day, Coraline felt as fragile as that figurine, and her frailty frightened her. Still wearing her pyjamas, Coraline descended the grand staircase, bare feet treading softly across the cool marble floor of the main foyer, continuing along the corridor, past the guest hall with its vaulted ceilings and narrow windows with light


green trim, past the framed portraits, the signed furniture in the anteroom, the cabinets in the red drawing room, and the mantle above the dining room fireplace tastefully appointed with porcelain and silver dating from the eighteenth century, and everywhere, the ancient artifacts her mother had unearthed in archeological sites around the world ~ Sometime it seemed strange to Coraline that in all her years the furnishings of her house had never seemed to change ~ What date was it she wondered? ... the distant rattle of pots and pans intermittently interrupted the stillness... Recalling demons of past housekeepers, Coraline moved hesitantly toward the sound ~ wondering if it were possible for the dramatic nocturnal storm to have opened a portal through which, during her dreams, she had somehow slipped back through time... Upon mustering enough courage to sneak furtively into the kitchen, Coraline was immensely relieved to spy Clara washing dishes ~ bathed in a beam of light and positioned against a faded pattern of wallflowers papering the background of the pleasant antique scene ~ watching her slender muscular arms work the worn handle of the pump, wiping her brow with the back of her hand, turning to greet Coraline with a gentle smile... white flour powdering her nose ~ She had already prepared a plate of fried plantain, a tall glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, and a thick slice of dark rye bread smothered in honey waiting hot on the table. Coraline was unusually ravenous; perhaps it was the fresh air which had given her an appetite. While she devoured breakfast, Clara sat opposite, calmly sipping mint tea while gazing absently at a nearly-imperceptible rainbow fading in the sunshine as the distant rain had ceased ~ She sensed Clara was aware that something was occurring ~ Her cup settled into the saucer, she smoothed an unruly lock of hair which had tumbled across her brow, then her slender fingers dipped into the pocket of her apron. When they emerged, she clasped her hand to her heart for a moment, then reached toward Coraline to reveal an unusual polished green stone alighting upon the creases of her palm. Clara was smiling, yet her expression conveyed a measure of concern. “This figure symbolizes Akua'ba ~ Nature ~ the Primal Mother of the Ashanti,” Clara explained. “My mother presented her to me at the time of my first menstruation, the way she had been received from her mother.” Clara paused, momentarily uncertain of her words, then her lips trembled slightly as she simply said, “You would honour me by accepting this gift.” Clara's warmth still lingered as Coraline closely examined the subtle details of the carved figure ~ losing herself in the finer lines which defined features nearly erased from the surface of the stone by wear during a considerable passage of time. “Akua'ba provides valuable assistance during a young maiden's initiation into womanhood. Keep her near when you are dressing, adorning, and washing ~ these are powerful rituals in performing magic; when clear thought and strong intention are capable of initiating action.”


Coraline clutched the gift tightly in her hand ~ It had already seemed to be restoring her strength ~ She ran around the table and hugged Clara as tightly as she could, “Thank you so very much!” Clara kissed Coraline on the cheek, then asked with a wink, “Are you feeling adventurous today?” “Oh my gosh, is it Tuesday? I can't believe I had forgotten....” “Get dressed then, and come down when you are ready.” Coraline flew to her room to rummage through the closet; selecting a pretty new dress from among the many her mother had bought her. She could hardly contain her excitement at the prospect of driving into Whitehaven with Clara for provisions; as had become their custom every second Tuesday. A sweater, flannel skirt, boots and a heavy wool coat ~ a tiny black purse to carry her spending allowance. Clara would usually tie her hair with a ribbon like a proper English girl. While she dressed, Coraline gazed out her bedroom window on the upper floor... She watched her grandfather working in the garden below; his gnarled hands busy amongst raspberry brambles to gather the ripest fruit into a rusted metal bucket. As usual, William was accompanied by his constant companion; a wiry old greyhound who rested in the shade nearby. Bellissima did not bark, nor even open an eye, as Clara approached William for the formality of speaking about borrowing the Griffon ~ his old electric panel van which he seldom, if ever, drove; declaring he was of an age, having devoted many years of service to humanity, that it was only right and proper that he should be afforded the comfort of being able to stay put and now have all his worldly needs delivered to him. He smiled as he nodded assent to Clara's request ~ perhaps already anticipating they would return with sweet pastry and other small trinkets in exchange for use of the van ~ ‘They certainly would!’ Coraline had thought to herself; it was a pleasure choosing a gift for William, since they were always received with the joyful enthusiasm of a young child. And because she loved her grandfather so very much, she was always proud to be seen in the passenger seat of his rusted blue Griffon. People walking in the lane or leaning on the fence of their pasture would always wave; nearly everyone in the region immediately recognized the van. And if they hadn't ~ since William had long retired from the business ~ the weathered signs on both side panels modestly informed them with hand-painted lettering: ‘William Coventry’ ‘Garden & Stone’ Coraline fastened the buttons of her coat as she watched Clara unroll a garden hose to rinse dust off the van ~ The vehicle ran well because William was mechanically-inclined and maintained it regularly. Yet, Coraline had been interested


to note that the Griffon had been built in 1985 ~ the same year she was born ~ and although the condition of the vehicle had deteriorated during the intervening years, her own body had just begun to blossom into maturity... It was her dream that that when she was a little older, she would be able to take the Griffon for a drive on her own ~ William had already taught her how to steer, and how to start and stop; they had practiced several times in the narrow lane leading to the Coventry estate ~ There was no gear shifter; a flip of a switch on the dashboard selected either forward or reverse. With the gentle application of pressure by her foot upon the accelerator, the Griffon hummed into action then steadily increased in velocity... William had explained that the Griffon was a version of the standard Bedford van converted for electricity while being built at the factory. He had familiarized Coraline with its inner workings, which she had found quite fascinating; thirty-six, six-volt, deep cycle, chloride tubular-cell lead-acid batteries provided power to an enormous electric traction motor connected directly to the drive shaft ~ no need for silencers! Sophisticated logic boards controlled the circuits for the field windings and the armature winding of the motor. The processor was tucked under the bonnet in the place customarily occupied by an internal combustion engine in vehicles which needed to queue up for petrol. “I don't know what all the fuss is about, electric cars have been around since the late 1800's, yet whenever someone speaks of them, they make it seem like some eccentric idea!” ~ William claimed the Griffon had a range of about 60-75 miles, and that it consumed one kilowatt hour of electricity with every mile traveled. Then he had winked slyly while he mentioned; "Whenever you visit a friendly neighbour you can just plug it in for a charge.” It was indeed a splendid means of transportation; so silent and so clean ~The exhilarating motion of ever-changing scenery presented through the windscreen to observe! The freedom of the open road! Oh, how Coraline thrilled to each imaginative day-trip Clara had arranged! All of the exciting things they had seen together, and done! Leisurely rambles inland to explore the enthralling magic of the countryside; the weirs, heads, loughs and vales; the glens, heath, weald, beck and fens; the dales, the moors, the fells and the tarns, were all within range of the Griffon. The enjoyment of observing the wildlife of these environs through dainty folding binoculars; woodlarks, skipper butterflies, bloody cranesbill (Germanium sanguineum), sand martin (Riparia riparia), slow worm (Anquis fragilis), marsh frog (Rana ridibunda), small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae), and once, even an adder (Vipera berus). They had parked near the little church in Whicham one day, to ascend a narrow trail lined with brambles of roses... foxgloves and harebells... past a small farmhouse... over a stile... drifting up the valley as lightly as clouds over bracken and heather... parting the sea of Grass-of-Parnassus as they approached the kestrel buffeted summit... seeking a ruin of the Druids ~ the priests of Bronze Age Celtic tribes ~ Fifty-one slate stones; some two metres tall and weighing several tons, were arranged in a thirty


metre diameter circle. Situated upon a rugged, windswept hillside facing open sea, and exposed to countless seasons of inclement weather, many of the stones, unable to stand, appeared to have submerged into the north-eastern flank of Black Combe. Indeed, the ‘Swinside circle’ was locally known from legend as ‘Sunken Kirk’; since it was believed the Devil himself had caused the stones to sink deep into the ground in order to prevent them from being repurposed to erect a church... Yes, interesting events had happened upon Black Combe mountain ~ near the Vale of Deadly Nightshade and the Slough of Despond ~ ‘Famoused’ in the Chronicles of every ‘olde wife’ were tales of cattle kneeling in adoration, and bees awakening from winter slumber to hum in unison at midnight of every Christmas Eve... Some simple country folk were even convinced that during the wee hours it was possible to summon supernatural creatures; brownies, goblins and naked, hairy 'dusky' hob-thrusts, to entice them into doing a farmer's work in exchange for a bowl of thick porridge with butter ~ “Rustic superstitions become real when traditional beliefs are inherited by impressionable children,” Coraline had thought, “History becomes legend becomes myth with each successive generation ~ the fulfillment of a wish or the unleashed monsters which the sleep of reason produces.” Another day, off they would fly, away on a new adventure... Roaming the Roman Road for a considerable stretch along Hadrian's Wall ~ The monumental barrier conceived by Emperor Hadrian in 122 CE, some eighty years after the first conquests of Britain by Emperor Claudius, to provide protection against marauding bands of painted Picts from the wilds of Scotland who often drove toward the border in an attempt to raid their wealthy neighbours to the south. Hadrian's Legate in Britannia; Aulus Platorius Nepos, managed to bring the project to completion within the span of six years, employing legions of workers to quarry and lay one million cubic metres of stone. With these blocks they constructed ramparts ten feet wide and fifteen feet high, which traversed the crests of hills and crags stretching some 80 Roman miles from coast to coast across the narrowest portion of northern England ~ From Bowness on Solway Firth, to Wallsend on Tyne, a small garrison fort stationed at every mile, with two observation towers equidistantly positioned between them; establishing a network of vigilant outposts at intervals of every one-third mile for the entire length of the heavily-defended border. Thus, for nearly 300 years, centuries of soldiers continually manned this furthest frontier at the Western end of the Roman Empire until its decline depleted human resources and compelled retreat ~ Coraline was always amazed by Clara's uncanny ability to instantly recall historical dates, as well as numerous facts and figures... Coraline would wonder how many blocks it had taken to build such an immense wall ~ perhaps an amount rivaling the number used to construct the great pyramids of Egypt... They climbed a collapsed section overgrown with sod to stroll upon the ramparts. From the parapets, Coraline commanded a rather unremarkable view of desolate countryside ~ the endless wall sprawled like a sleeping serpent along the tops of low rolling hills so devoid of unique visual information that it wasn't long before she had once again lapsed into reverie ~ imagining the history which lay hidden


beneath the surface ~ so many eras and empires had passed; the wandering tribes, the Roman occupation, followed by Vikings, Jutes, Angles and Saxons... she had marveled that the remnants of many of those forgotten kingdoms were now merely scattered piles of broken stones. After an hour, their legs had grown weary, prompting them to rest. They returned to the dry grass within the crumbling shadow of the impressive fortification... growwwl... Oh!, how her stomach had rumbled: the fresh air and invigorating exercise had given her a healthy appetite ~ And no sooner than Coraline thought of it, than Clara suggested they eat lunch. She was prepared for every eventuality. Her rucksack, like a magician's bag, was capable of dispensing almost anything whenever it was required: a first aid patch, sketch pad and pencils, or at the moment; a thermos of hot soup, delicious watercress sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, and a tin of freshly-baked cookies. Another thermos contained licorice tea to assist with their digestion. While they rested comfortably ~ amusing themselves by watching the humorous antics of a red grouse struggling valiantly to crack open an obstinate seed ~ Clara revealed that, when she was receptive, she could sometime detect the nearlyimperceptible sensations which existed within a weathered stone wall, within the growth rings of a majestic oak, or the bronze of a tarnished statue ~ “Events which have occurred are known, history is imprinted upon the physical environment, actions from millions of years ago have left their traces in the sediments of clay which preserve their fossils, and in the formation of enormous coral reefs which build upon minute deposits to eventually become the size of an island. Ancient vibrations are evidenced by the patterns of atoms arranged within the substance of these natural materials, recording fragments of conversations, the ring of metal, or other extraordinary events which had transpired within those tranquil settings of those distant times ~ Simply, the atoms record information in a similar manner to the way in which electrons encode digital data within a computer storage medium. Seen?” Coraline could indeed recall moments in which Clara had truly appeared to gain access to hidden voices and visions recorded in wood or metal or stone; her gaze became transfixed by intense concentration as though unable to completely comprehend the information she was receiving, or perhaps had found it difficult to single out a particular voice from amongst a host of conversations ~ Yet, when the message had been received, Clara's eyes would sparkle and a broad smile of contentment would illuminate her expression. It had been due in large measure to Clara's influence that their journeys had also substantially expanded Coraline's literary horizons. Clara's passion for the classics provided impetus for their many sojourns through the Lake District; a captivating region which had made an effort to preserve heritage residences and the literary haunts of many authors of English Romanticism. Thus, Coraline had cultivated an appreciation of Tennyson and Keats, of Wordsworth's ‘Ode to Immortality’ and even De Quincey's ‘Confessions of an English Opium Eater’ ~ Elegant poetry and prose, epics imbued with fantastic philosophical and mystical symbolism, the explanations of which


Clara would patiently attempt to convey. And as the meanings had become apparent, and Coraline gradually grasped the deeper significance of such works, the world itself seemed to increase in substance, and in its complexity appeared magnificently beautiful. “The word is the communion; the flesh and blood of the spirit, the generator of new worlds,� Clara had once cryptically commented. With especially fond nostalgia, Coraline recalled traveling in the Griffon to the tiny pastoral village of Sawrey, where, once-upon-a-time, Beatrix Potter's innocent imaginings about a partially-clothed rabbit named Peter, and his friends Jerimia Puddleduck and Jeremy Fisher, produced adventures which had induced young Coraline to laugh, and yet at other times, sadly, had occasioned her to weep... sigh... The critical allusion that the beauty of the Lakeland fells had already impoverished the pens of poets as noteworthy as Wordsworth, had certainly intimidated Coraline in her own sporadic jottings. Subsequently, she would submit only the humblest of entries to the personal pages of her own dear modest diary ~ a small hardcover book, well thumbed and very worn; the pages illustrated by her imaginative technical diagrams of structures and devices, sketches of plants, and occasionally a neat grid of intricate handwriting. Even so, it was Clara, to a far, far greater extent, who was evermore the romantic ~ hopelessly addicted to those sweet stories about the tragedy of love! After all, it had been at her insistence they journey to Aira Force to see the fabulous setting in which the mysterious Emma had first met the knight, Sir Eglamore... The autumn woods painted in a palette of subdued colours... it was everything she had imagined... the narrow stone bridge arching above a silvery stream at the point at which it was suddenly transformed into a precipitous torrent... plunging steeply between gleaming walls of rock to collect in a frothy pond... accompanied by a dramatic roar... continually performing one final gesture before being unceremoniously dumped into the Ullswater... Letting nature take its course... A fatal attraction... as though somehow eternal rainbows glistening upon the misty vapours had compelled Clara to step onto the treacherous bridge, then had relentlessly lured her toward the edge with its promise of perhaps affording a vantage from which to better observe the rugged mosscovered boulders deep at the bottom... Coraline had been too afraid to attempt crossing the slippery rocks. She stood near the bridge with her slender arms wrapped around the trunk of a tree to avoid being swept away just by the force of the strong breeze generated by the falls... She recalled the poem ~ The young lovers had been separated before they could ignite the passionate flames of their smoldering desire. The gallant knight had been called away to the Crusades ~ indeed he would enjoin the Holy War in Palestine, Constantinople or Africa; wherever he could fulfill his solemn vow to the Church by slaying every Felaheen in those dusty lands afar ~ a dangerous mission, to be certain; to encounter countless foe equally merciless in devotion to their own true God, and just as willing to die for Him.


And so it goes... the seasons changed without Lyulph's tower, and as the years went by, the absence of her gallant knight continued to prey upon Emma's faithful mind. No rest from longing, grief, desire, no more tears to cry, alone exhausted within her chamber, the insomnia of fitful dreams promoted frequent nocturnal flights, to wander lonely as an airy apparition above the desolate waterfall. Alas, upon one such night, Sir Eglamore returning, lingered silently aside, captivated by her graceful movement in the bold moonlight, his fair dove gliding through dappled shadows cast by the falling leaves of wych elm, ash and alder... “Lo and behold! With your steady hand protect her Lord!” The brave knight had displayed no hesitation in clearly shouting out alarm; perceiving that his glorious angel had alighted uncertainly upon a toppling stone ~ Thus, tragically having awoken from her walking sleep, the immense joy Emma briefly experienced upon opening her tired eyes, slipped away like a veil to reveal the horror that there was naught but night beneath her foot... ‘Nothing could have been done to save her’, would be the eternal lament of heartbroken Sir Eglamore, who would expend his days in reverie as a hermit within a cave amongst damp rocks by the rushing torrents where his precious love was lost. Perhaps another tragedy, thought Coraline, was that the tranquil seclusion of this romantic scene had forever vanished, the way the beauty of many other legendary settings had also faded whenever their sites had become another roadside attraction ~ And although they had to pay an admission fee at the gate near the parking lot, and share this day in the company of several other bemused visitors from out-of-town, in truth Coraline had not perceived them. She had instead absorbed the sustenance of this wonderful environment to nurture her fertile imagination ~ Then suddenly noting Clara stumble because of uncertain footing, Coraline had impulsively called out; “Clara, please do be careful! Watch your step for goodness sake!” ... All those memories of past adventures had flashed through Coraline's thoughts during the time it had taken her to get dressed, descend the outdoor spiral staircase, and join Clara who was already waiting in the driver's seat of the recently washed Griffon parked in front of the house. Hmmmm... ... the faint whine of the engine ~ The driveway flowed into a narrow country lane, lined along both sides with low stone walls. Upon reaching the blacktop of highway A595, Clara stopped, checked both directions, then proceeded to turn north ~ Traffic was light, yet Clara, always a cautious driver, maintained the Griffon at a speed well below the posted limit. And since she was abnormally apprehensive of encountering 18-wheel Juggernauts ~ which buffeted the tiny van in their drag and threatened to pitch it into the verge ~ she had developed a tendency to always hug the outer edge of the left-hand lane. On this summer morning, Coraline anticipated they would drive directly into Whitehaven. Slumped in her seat she swiveled slightly to more attentively discern Clara's disposition ~ For some reason Clara had seemed unusually silent and intent


upon her thoughts; although it was possible she was concentrating upon the road ~ Yet, having traveled only a short distance from home, Clara suddenly swerved to exit from the motorway. Bolting upright, excited to see where they were going, Coraline immediately recognized that the destination of the winding trail was the top of Saint Bee's Head. It would be a suitable scene for the expressive gestures of a Chinese brush ~ In the hand of an experienced artist, the graceful scene could be rendered as a watercolour entitled; ‘The poet on the mountaintop’. To Coraline, the sensual undulating contour of the grassy hillside also suggested a blanket covering a sleeping giant ~ and although perhaps macabre, she would imagine that its lower limbs had been truncated violently by the steady pressure of continental drift during the eons since sand had turned to stone ~ sheared away, plunging steeply into the Irish Sea, to slowly dissolve into sediment beneath still waters calmly sheltered in the lee. How long would these blood red cliffs remain a testament to the mortal wound which had torn the unfortunate giant asunder ~ another two hundred million years, she wondered? Stone walls and hedgerows patterned the sleeping giant's blanket in a patchwork of verdant pastures; a checkerboard upon which played a multitude of drifting dots of white, and an occasional black sheep. And down in the valley ~ their dull slate roofs randomly facing every-which-way ~ the starkly-rectangular buildings of the settlement convincingly created an impression that a strange migration of foreign lifeforms had emerged from the sea through a narrow valley, and had made their stand clustered just up from the shoreline as if fear of wide open skies and the desolate hills had discouraged them from proceeding further. “You have quite an imagination!” she thought Clara had said... then; “It is nice to get out of the house!” Clara exclaimed as she had set the parking brake. “Hurrah for the sun!” Coraline shouted as she leapt from the van, skipping amongst grasses and wildflowers perpetually buffeted by a fresh ocean breeze, “The face of God which shines so bright, you cannot see it with your eyes!” Their trek slowed through patches of gorse scrub ~ checking their step as they approached the eroded edge of the sandstone cliff: “All the better to view the scenery, my dear,” Clara said with a broad smile ~ The lofty promontory; a conspicuous landmark for sailors, especially with a light-house thereon, presented a spectacular view. Banks of heavy rain clouds were retreating inland to the east, but in the distance ~ above the immense expanse of ocean between Scotland to the north and the Isle of Man to the west ~ they could clearly see that mists of fog were threatening to roll in... How tiny she had felt within this vast panoramic landscape ~ Then as she often would, Coraline had wondered why, of all the places in the entire world, had she been born here? How could she create something extraordinary from her circumstances, characteristics, and the time and place in which she lived ~ What was to be her destiny?


The interwoven geometric warp and weft of Clara's green kente robe ~ a rectangular grid motif divided into equilateral triangles; Kyime Ahahamono ~ the pattern of Ashanti queens ~ billowed like the bold flag of a new republic in the gusts of wind. Bare shoulders and a beautiful necklace ornamented with a glorious ankh blazed like a sun upon Clara's smooth dark skin ~ Clutching the scarf covering her head, whipping in the breeze, sipping on a thin marijuana cigarette drifting slithering serpents of smoke to vanish in the turbulence. Razorbills and black guillemots soared over coarse sandy beaches further along the coast where distant hillsides collapsed into the cold dark sea. Colonies of puffins nested in the ledges ~ watching a container ship set off over the horizon for a long voyage; perhaps transporting hazardous waste to the recycling plants in Africa. Coraline returned her attention to Clara, who was standing motionless nearby; a slender finger stroking her chin, an elbow resting upon the arm hugging her waist, gazing upon the tiny village clustered in the valley below. Clara spoke in a quiet voice which carried even in the forceful breeze: “This is not the same view which ‘Bega’ had surveyed upon her arrival in 650 CE: The vale had many trees then, and the ocean shoreline was much, much higher.” Clara had then paused as though awaiting her next download from a link to an external source ~ In the meantime, Coraline considered the unfathomable centuries which had elapsed between the time that Bega had first stood upon this precipice, and Coraline's present experience of it ~ How different the world had become, yet in many respects, how entirely the same... Clara had then resumed; “A remarkable document from that era provides an account of the habits of a small group of Celts who established a colony along this rocky coast for the purpose of gathering Wythe. The ‘Annals of the Four Masters’ was written at the abbey of Monesterboice, on the shore of the Emerald Isle, nearly opposite here.” Clara indicated the direction of the incoming fog. “It makes record of their harvest of dense willow thickets which nestled in crevasses at the bottom of these fertile havens. They worked hard to meet the demand back home upon the Island of Destiny, where Wythe was popular for the manufacture of noggins and other domestic utensils, as well as for weaving Currachs, or coracles; round wicker boats resembling large baskets, covered with seamless hides ~ Having no keel, the circular craft were as equally suited to riding large waves as they were to skimming along shallow rivers.” “It was in such a boat, upon a journey to this place, that a young girl ~ whose true name may never be known ~ had embarked upon a mission. According to legend, Bega was the daughter of an Irish chieftain. Since she was fair of face, the stout, sturdy woman afforded an opportunity for her father to diplomatically seek the influence which could be gained by skillfully arranging for her marriage to the son of the King of Norway. Unbeknownst to her father, an angel had previously appeared to Bega and had presented her with a bracelet marked with a cross; as a token of her betrothal to Jesus. Thus, having pledged her faith, and having dedicated herself to chastity, she was forced to flee the promised land to preserve her vow of never submitting to the love of a mortal.”


Although there was no doubt that Bega had been a kind-hearted and devoted spiritual woman; Coraline had presumed, in general, that when history was perpetuated solely through recollection and storytelling, facts had a tendency to unravel into fiction in order to enhance the narrative ~ unwoven and rewoven like willow wands. Naturally, Coraline preferred the romantic version of the legend ~ It was an interesting story, and she had enjoyed listening to Clara tell it once again: “... Thereupon, arriving in this region ~ which at the time was known as Kom-brogikâ or Cumberland ~ Bega had served as an anchorite, eventually forming a community which attracted several like-minded compatriots who had similarly decided to receive the veil. The women founded their cloistral clochan as a sanctuary to retire from the world; a retreat of solitude to meditate, to learn to control the mind, and explore the depths of feeling to a degree impossible in the turmoil of normal life ~ rapt souls resigned to their wondrous praise.” “Their solid, hive-like shelter was constructed of corbelled stone ~ each layer gradually shifted forward to form a wall which curved in a smoothly-tapered arc. At one end of the wedge-shaped pyramid, was a narrow rectangular door. There was a smoke hole in the ceiling, but the structure was without windows; since with a fire within, it could be kept warm even during the darkest depths of winter. As was customary, the convent was located upon the holy site of an ancient Druidic circle ~ the location of which related to the presence of pathways of sentient energy; the essence of the land revered by the megalithic people. The Celts, recognizing the parallels between their traditional customs and the Christian religion, had not found it difficult to make the conversion; central to the teaching of the Druids was the doctrine of immortality and reincarnation of the soul ~ a system of thought which provided courage to warriors whenever they engaged in battle, since their belief in immortality would absolve them of their fear.” “Records indicate the sisters of Bega's convent took shifts to perpetually maintain the sacred flame atop this headland ~ a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire at night. Belfires, which could be seen for great distances guided lost souls in wicker boats toward the settlement of wythe haven on the north side of St. Bee's Head. They kindled bonfires with wood from the nine sacred trees of Druidic folklore; oak, ash, hawthorn, hazel, apple, birch, alder, maple and elm ~ Performing a symbolic act of magic connecting earth and sky, to preserve the light until the Sun returned to triumph over darkness.” Clara explained that in order to instill better reception for the Catholic religion among Remnants of the tribes, fanciful elements selected from ancient Celtic archetypes were skillfully woven into local customs of the church; “In their hearts they still must have retained some traditions from their heritage. Thus, in pre-dawn darkness, perhaps they thrust a brand of dried sedge or heather into the roaring flames, then raised it above their head to purify the air... Slowly twirling in a circle as tribute to the obliging sun which sustained them with its glory ~ watching the approaching sunrise, awaiting the arrival of the ecstasy of a state of grace.”


With a gesture of her chin, Clara indicated; “That path down there, crossing black boggy ground and fields of small yellow flowers, has been trodden for many centuries; for within that small stone building at the end of the path, the nuns drew water daily from a Holy Well which previously was sacred to Celtic fertility goddesses. Their daily bread, and their faith, gave them the strength to remove their thoughts from suffering, and to endure many types of hardship. Their situation was very difficult; the climate was harsh, and they were constantly threatened by the fierce Germanic invaders who had arrived in waves during the two centuries following the withdrawal of Roman troops. Angles (from Schleswig-Holstein), Saxons and Jutes (from Jutland); roving bands lead by mercenaries anticipating retirement from fighting other people's wars to become overlords of their own private kingdom. These ill-tempered barbarians were slavish, dim-witted, narrow-minded brutes who cared only for their own personal advancement, thus were constantly engaged in war. They banished the Remnants of the Celtic population, including those which had converted to Christianity, toward the northern and western fringes of Britain, then finally forced them to retreat across the sea, back to the Island of Destiny.” “Threatened with extinction of any progress the Church had established under Roman rule, Pope Gregory I sent St. Augustine on a mission to Britain in the year 597 with a contingent of forty monks. Saeberht; the East Saxon king, had welcomed them, eventually allowing a Christian bishop to be appointed for his people. By 634, Celtic missionaries, taking advantage of the favorable religious climate, ventured back to England once again to spread the gospel. It was at this time that Bega had arrived from Ireland, encouraged to start a monastery by King Oswald of Northumbria ~ who converted to Christianity during years exiled upon the rocky Scottish island of Iona, waiting for his father to be slain in battle so he could return home to claim the throne.” “Their dwelling place; their convent ~ ‘where they sewed and spinned and lived very godly lives as got them much love’ ~ was also a sanctuary within which they had enriched their minds. Through diligent study of ancient philosophers and the classic works of scientific thought, they developed an understanding of history, geography, astronomy and mathematics, which enabled them to dispel the flights of fancy of many pagan superstitions and become more aware of those mysterious forces truly manifest in nature. They possessed the knowledge to turn sheepskin into paper, and paper into books, and thus pleasurably occupied their days in the deeply religious activity of faithfully translating Latin, Greek, and Hebrew text while transcribing copies which attempted to preserve the error-free purity of the Bible, as well as the scholarly works of Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, and so on...” “Within the sphere which their exertion would permit, Bega and her sisters abounded with beneficent acts of kindness and charity directed toward the sick and the poor. Venerated for her skills with healing herbs, Bega graciously tended to victims of illness, injury, famines and plague, often at great peril to her own life. Through devotion to prayer she overcame tremendous obstacles; transforming grave dangers into blessings of the greatest magnitude. She heard voices. She had visions. She performed miracles; she compelled seagulls to relinquish their prey and wolves to lay


tamely at her feet. She had obtained comfort from the simple realization that within the circumstances of every misery are the seeds of something profoundly Good.” “Dressed in a shift of white silk with red fastenings across her breast, a gold brocade surcoat, and mantle pinned by a brooch, Bega gracefully departed the existence of this world in approximately 681 CE ~ The final event of every life; the inevconvent to become a relic upon which oaths were sworn, while Bega continued to ascend the ranks to join the highest deities amongst the most holy of the heavenly Host ~ Alas, she would not reappear throughout the volumes of recorded history, until miraculously resurfacing more than one millennium later ~ resulting from the revelation that her remains lay entombed within a sarcophagus in the village of Harkness. Certainly, the inscription had read; ‘Hoc est sepulchrum Begu’, and subsequently, the sacred relics; including the saint's hair and teeth, when transferred to Whitby, were connected with several miracles which were reported to have occurred ~ ‘A blind woman recovered her sight and the dead jumped up and run.’ Clara had laughed... Sometime Coraline had thought her governess gifted with a perverse sense of humour ~ And while she was always delighted by Clara's cryptic comments; those tangential fragments of information which she frequently summoned, Clara often seemed unable to smoothly interject them into her communication ~ it were almost as though she were making passing reference to some of the intriguing sights which appeared upon the banks as she casually drifted along her stream of consciousness. “Inevitably, during the interval between Bega's death and the revelation locating her remains, the simple tale of a humble Irish woman who had chosen to share the burden of the sins of others, had gradually evolved into a legend of epic proportions ~ It seems the Story cannot be about a true person who lived an exemplary life, it must become a myth before it is believed ~ It does not matter whether a saint actually existed, it is only important they are venerated ~ Secrets return to the earth; there is no proof, only faith... So...” Clara viewed Coraline askance, then pursed her lips as she returned her gaze toward the village. “Ancient traditions, distorted by Christianity, make it almost impossible to return any trace of their original meaning. It is the same with the attributes of the woman who was canonized as Saint Bega V. The enigmatic St. Bee appears to have virtually the identical qualities and appearance as the mythical Bridget or Bride; the Celtic goddess who ruled the dominions of smithcraft, healing, fertility, prophecy and poetic inspiration. These were attributes Bridget herself had inherited in descent of the original fair-haired Iron Age maiden, who the ancients had called Elle... dressed in a robe of white... the purity of fire... torch light processions circling to invigorate the fields for the growing season... the stations of the sun... Her aspect is associated more with solar imagery than with the traditionally female moon... An ancient song was sung to Her: ‘Brigid, excellent woman, sudden flame, may the bright fiery sun take us to the lasting kingdom’. She was the mother of the land; associated with fire and water, the elemental forces, and the supernatural denizens known as the Elle folk... fairies and


elves... the ‘shining ones’... guardian angels... And in accordance with the requirements of worshippers in later times, ‘B’ assumed the guise of the warrior goddess Brigantia or Britannia; from which the name Britain is derived.” “Following Bega's ascension, the convent continued its course uninterrupted for more than 900 years ~ until the buildings, pillaged of valuable artifacts and looted of their treasuries, were finally destroyed by marauding bands of Danes ~ The sisters abandoned the ruins to flee for safety into the highlands of Scotland. The present religious house is supposed to have been rebuilt during the reign of Henry I, in 1120, by the son of Ranulph de Meschines; the Earl of Cumberland ~ a relative of the Conqueror. William de Meschines would restore the manor and rectory, and construct cells for a prior and six Benedictine Monks ~ a cruciform design, with the nave as its parish church and the cross aile as burial place. His charitable relief supplied the monastery with two bovates of land and one villein in Rottington, the tithe of fisheries, hogs, venison, pannage, and vaccaries throughout Copeland, and all the woods from St. Bees to Whitehaven. In reward for his pious actions, the burden of his taxes would be significantly reduced, as well they would perhaps provide some hope to William de Meschines, that his favorable gesture would one day be recognized through an indulgence of the Holy See.” “The priory managed this secluded cove, the haven of wythe to the north of the promontory, as well, had established tithes to lands upon the Isle of Man where the priors would become barons. It was a pleasant situation which continued peacefully over the next four hundred years, until 1539, when Henry VIII, declaring himself head of the church, abolished the monasteries throughout his kingdom by Act of Parliament and appropriated their land for the Crown; religious properties, which at the time, consisted of about one-third the cultivated land in England. Through public condemnation of the immorality of the monks and nuns, and the luxurious excesses of the bishops, Henry VIII was able to ease the conscience of friends of the Crown who purchased the land to round off an estate, or were granted them in reward for loyal service. Thus it was the Lowthers came into possession of a portion of the St. Bee's estate, as well as the tiny settlement which would become the town of Whitehaven.” The vast phenomena of mists had begun to settle upon the tiny village below, erasing it from view, and transmitting the dull chill carried with it in the air. Coraline shivered, so Clara had placed an arm around her to hug her tightly; “I will tell you that story shortly... for it is now time that we must go.” Coraline smiled happily as she enjoyed the comforting warmth of the closeness they had shared. And as they returned to the van, Coraline wondered whether the great affinity she always felt for St. Bees Head was due in some measure to one of her own ancestors who had perhaps figured into its history. Yet, the only things she knew for certain about her Celtic predecessors were that; her mother was the descendant of a rugged Irish sailor, and that her maiden name was Vates... Coraline had learned this information in the same way she had discovered how her parents had met ~ Carol Vates, who had been eighteen at the time, and recently graduated from Whitehaven


public school, was working as a waitress at The Silver Lion Cafe, trying to earn enough money to pay for her tuition at university where she dreamed of studying archeology. The answer to her prayers were manifested in the form of a stylishlydressed corporate attorney, who had arrived in the region to take possession of the modest manor after his father was briefly institutionalized. Lewis Coventry had been pleased to find a place where he could obtain some solace from the hectic hustle of defending financially influential transgressors of International Law. Lewis had first set eyes on the vivacious maiden at a church picnic, where sweet wine and his silver tongue had led to sexual intercourse that very afternoon; within a hawthorn thicket beside a gently babbling brook ~ It had certainly been appalling to discover all of the vivid details within her mother's diary. “Oh my!”, Coraline recalled thinking, “I'm glad that was not the event from which I had been conceived!”

VII. THE MISTS OF HISTORY

The thick bank of fog which had rolled in began to engulf the road. Clara drove extremely slowly, squinting to peer amid the mists as she continued her historical account of the only region within the entire world which Coraline had enjoyed her days. For her part, Coraline listened attentively; excited that information which furthered her education and broadened her awareness was always imparted within a variety of interesting situations... It was only five miles along A595 to Whitehaven ~ skirting the promontory of St. Bee’s Head ~ yet pleasantly, the journey seemed to last forever. “When you recognize correspondences between elements comprising a smaller system,” Clara had begun, “Then similar connections may also become apparent in the larger environment within which the smaller system nests. Of course, the reverse is also true, as is clearly evident within the patterns of a fractal, in which every element reflects some aspect of every other element to reveal ever-increasing complexity as infinite levels of detail begin to emerge... As a fragment of the hologram, I will tell you about the Lowthers, since their history and the history of Whitehaven have been inextricably linked ~ In the way that the life and times of certain families become archetypal of an era.” “The Lowther's peerage belongs to ‘the robes’, rather than the nobility of the sword. They were a proud race of singularly efficient men ~ since there is seldom mention of the women ~ who distinguished themselves in the offices of lawyers, politicians and ministers of the State for above five hundred years; from 1300 to 1800 there never sat a parliament which was not attended by a Lowther or a Lowther's favoured appointee


~ First rate in political patronage, they maintained their high standing by appearing staunch Royalists, while discreetly keeping one finger in the pocket of whomever was the King. In this way, ‘by little and little, partly by purchase and partly by other means’, they were ‘always lucky’ in advancing properties and utilities toward their own monopoly. Through intermarriage with many of the respectable families from Cumberland and Westmoreland, they were successful in drawing further manors and estates into the vortex of their House. Of the lands they leased they derived a residual stream of rents, and whenever their tenants exercised ‘the privilege of disfranchising their estates upon payment of twenty-five years' purchase’, the Lowthers' legal council would ensure the minerals, forests and game of those lands were always retained by the lord ~ a covenant which had remained a sacred relic dating back to the time of William The Conqueror.” “The Domesday Book records the deepest traceable roots of many British family trees; and in that document the heredity of the Lowthers can certainly be established in the aftermath of the Norman invasion.” Clara explained that Normans were Norsemen who had settled in Normandy, and who, during the course of just three generations, had not only assimilated the best of French civilization, but had managed to significantly improve upon it. “William the Conqueror, who succeeded to the throne of Normandy as a boy of seven, would be recognized as one of the fiercest fighters in Europe by the age of thirty-nine. He was an intelligent, judicial ruler who exercised real power within his dominions. By contrast, the tribal self-governments of the Saxons and Danes occupying England at the time were constantly in conflict; squaring off for battle by wielding heavy axes and throwing spears from behind a wall of shields. Thus engaged, they remained unaware that William had amassed a superior military force on the mainland; a large contingent of mounted fighting men and archers whose arrows were deadly in their long-range accuracy. In 1066, the Normans crossed the channel and rapidly swept through England, confiscating land occupied by Saxons and parceling it out among supporters of the Conqueror. They would subsequently devastate northern England in revenge for attempted insurrections to such an extent that this region remained fallow for the following two hundred years.” “To William's orderly Norman mind, the prevailing chaos of the Anglo-Saxon legal system was completely intolerable, thus he proceeded to systematically reorganize the country, manor by manor, to conform with Norman ideology. To set the tone, William erected castles throughout the land in order to establish a network of feudal baronies, each administered by loyal Tenants-in-Chief who watched over the lords of manors, who in turn directed the activity of their serfs; the labouring freeholders, villeins and cotters ~ ‘both bond and free, who liveth in huts or with their owne houthes or land’ ~ who primarily consisted of the peoples whom the Normans had conquered. William then set his men to the construction of a magnificent stone stronghold upon the north bank of the river Thames; a symbol of his power, a fortress for his defense, and a prison for his enemies. When work was completed twenty years later, the Tower of London arose to a height of one hundred feet and had walls so thick that no prisoner could ever hope to escape.”


“Commencing in 1085, William of Normandy sent his agents forth into every shire to assess the resources and productive capacity of all tenants throughout the entire extent of his demesne. The agents dutifully itemized the property of each habitation; how many villagers; how many cottagers; how many slaves; how many freemen; how many spokemen; how much woodland; how much meadow; how much pasture and how many horses, cattle and pigs they held; how many hides; how many ploughs; how many mills; how many fisheries ~ And the totals of what it was altogether worth ~ Not a single yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor axe was omitted from the inventory.” “The data, diligently gathered by operatives in the field, and tabulated by efficient clerks, was then translated into Latin by the principal scribe who compiled the Domesday Book. Once on file, investigators could quantify changes to property by comparison with previous documents for each estate, and adjust payments of tallage accordingly ~ All the while instilling fear that transgressors who would not pay the levy were to be denounced directly to the King. Every twelve months, the royal taxes were collected, causing no end to calamities throughout the land. It had even seemed to some troubled peasants that the faint prison-like contours of hateful Rome were once again shimmering upon the horizon.” The Griffon crawled slowly through clouds scraping across the land ~ a grey billowing mass which spun across the windscreen, trailing the glass with beads of moisture the wipers then smeared into a blur. The feeble beam of headlamps could not plunge far into the swirling abyss, yet Clara remained calm and continued to speak in a tranquil tone; “The Lowther family were among a privileged elite who sustained power through their claim of direct genetic lineage to the Norman Conqueror. Having established a modest castle near Penrith; not far from Aira Force, they were occasioned to serve appointments as warden of the west marches ~ functioning as administrators of a standing army along the northern frontier which kept eternally vigilant for marauding bands of Scottish tribesmen, as the Romans previously had. Effective in their duties, over the centuries, the Lowthers successfully managed to forge political links with each successor of The Royal Family.” “Sir Richard Lowther was knighted by King James I for the part he played in the intrigue regarding the plight of the King's mother; Mary Queen of Scots — For his services, the King provided Sir Richard with a considerable tract of land along the coast. The property ~ which had belonged to the priory at St. Bees prior to Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries ~ included the medieval village of Whitehaven which had then consisted of six or seven cottages, a collection of fishing barks, and a salt mine worked by monks since very ancient times. Sir Richard did not significantly alter the land while he was its lord, thus the forested property was inherited by Sir Richard's grandson in the early 1600's. While evaluating the salt mine, it had been Christopher Lowther's fortune to discover the presence of vast dark seams of coal, which upon further exploration, were found to lead to a motherlode located just beneath the hills surrounding the wonderful natural harbour. By 1634, Christopher Lowther had constructed the stone wharf ~ now known as the Old Quay ~ which loaded tough collier ships to feed the desperate demand of the rapidly growing city of Dublin, just


across the Irish Sea... At one time their ships had come to collect wyth, now they had arrived for coal.” The electric motor, as usual, ran very quietly, still, the Griffon had seemed to be scarcely moving ~ Coraline could see nothing through the heavy mists by which to gauge their speed ~ She returned her attention to Clara who continued to stare unblinkingly at the windscreen with her eyes open wide; “Yet, even with a wealth of coal, development in Whitehaven had not seemed to proceed apace with other flourishing regions in the British Isles. What it had needed was a heroic captain to guide it toward the achievement of spectacular prosperity ~ Such a man was Sir Christopher's son; Sir John Lowther ~ Having been serviceable in securing Cumberland and Westmorland for the Prince of Orange during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the prince, upon becoming King William III, had favoured Sir John Lowther in return by creating him as the first lord of the treasury. In rapid succession, Sir John was constituted vice-chamberlain to his majesty's household, privy counselor, lord-lieutenant of Westmorland, the Baron Lowther and the Viscount of Lonsdale.” “Coal and tobacco fueled his grand vision of transforming the sleepy hamlet of Whitehaven into an industrious mining boomtown. Secure in contacts through a network of influential political allies, father Christopher and son John became partners in a speculative scheme which they believed would attract the type of work force required to improve productivity in the mines, expand the harbour and increase shipbuilding capacity. In systematically implementing their grandiose plan, they were inspired by England's preeminent architect; Sir Christopher Wren, who had successfully realized some of his utopian concepts while rebuilding London in the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666. From this splendid last flowering of English renaissance, emerged the Lowthers decision to redesign Whitehaven as a ‘gridbased’ town; incorporating great expectations for a high density of settlement, which would turn a tidy profit by maximizing the number of middle class workers housed within a minimum amount of space. The essential unit of this architectural model for affordable mass housing was known as the Georgian ‘Town House’; named after a period when only the most die-hard Tories could pretend that the divine-right monarchy had continued with George I of Hanover, who had ascended the throne of England by Act of Parliament alone, and who during his reign could speak no language other than German.” The fog had begun to clear as the Griffon glided silently down the lazy grade into Whitehaven ~ past the ventilation housings of Duke and Wellington Pits, past vacant grassy hillsides which erased old tailings heaps and created indistinct trails where the railways and inclines had ran ~ to become lost amongst streets which had once been the dream of a glorious future, yet were now primarily an archival monument to a prosperous past; the entire town essentially having become a museum since the entrance to the last colliery had been sealed. Coraline watched the rows of Town Houses roll by; sloping slate roofs on cream-coloured four-storey brick tenements, joined end-to-end to create ‘terraces’ which lined the entire length of both sides of the


street to form unbroken walls. The divisions between them were thick enough to prevent the spread of fire, and sturdy enough to support the substantial weight of clustered chimney stacks. Coraline knew that to ensure stability of the structure, the sash-windows had been designed to be shorter on the ground floor, and taller and more elegantly expansive on the floor above ground level; which thus contained the most important rooms. The windows were shorter on the floor above that, and on the top floor, almost square. While Coraline supposed it true that these buildings must have seemed rather pleasant accommodation for their time, she had always found them to be as dreadfully drab as garrisons; their cornerstones reinforcing the impression of durability and security, the precise rectangular grid of the tiny panes of their window glazing were reminiscent of prison bars. Even gay arrangements of flowers hanging in baskets by their front doorways did little to enliven the classic facade of columns with a triangular capstone which replicated the appearance of the portal to an ancient Greek temple as the main entrance to every block. Clara stopped the van at the gates of a rather unassuming fortress still dominating the hillside, illuminated by a ray of sun as the mists dispersed. “Following Sir John Lowther's marriage to Mary Fletcher, he had arranged to purchase the largest house in town; this manor was first known as Fletcher's ‘Flatt’, then later as Whitehaven castle. While not the most elegant structure, the seat of the man who had become the Right Hon. Earl of Lonsdale, was of sufficient size to house the substantial entourage of employees which would serve him; the parkskeeper, hunstman, gardeners, butcher, porters, labourers, laundresses, husbandman, dairymaids, and so on, and so forth... The edifice also provided a superior view of the spectacular achievements resulting from his revolutionary vision; whenever Sir John Lowther deemed to gaze upon the rooftops of his thriving little town, and the harbour blazing in the dazzling sunshine beyond.” “As a prominent businessman actively involved in local matters, the castle's strategic location also afforded him the luxury of being able to keep tab on all traffic; since at that time, the cart track along the ‘great wall’ fronting his estate was the only road accessing the town. Surrounded by woody pleasure grounds, ornamental gardens, and a pair of huge Roman altars standing by the entrance, the castle also possessed several fine paintings by eminent masters of the period; including a ‘Hero and Leander’ by Guido, hanging at the hearth. However, Sir John would spend little time gazing upon the canvas once becoming Lord Privy Seal; a position he maintained in London until his death in July 1700 ~ at the age of forty-five.” “John's second son; Henry Lowther, third Viscount Lonsdale, would follow in his father's footsteps, also attaining a succession of influential offices with dignity and honour. And like his father, he preferred to spend his winters in the capital; drinking cognac, enjoying fine cuisine and slapping the backs of other powerful politicians. He would obtain reconnaissance from an efficient network of special agents who kept him appraised of the affairs on his estates through an exchange of letters every few days.


Sir Henry Lowther would die unmarried in 1750, and as was written at the time; ‘With this learned and affable gentleman, the noble peerage of the Lowthers have become extinct’.” “In 1755, Henry's nephew, James ~ upon waiting five years to attain legal age ~ inherited the sum total of the substantial legacy which the Lowthers had amassed up until that time; an impressive catalogue of earldoms and baronies, collieries all the way up the coast to Workington, and an impressive fortune of £2,000,000; which made him one of the richest men in the land. Through his mother; Catherine Pennington, James Lowther also succeeded his great-grandfather as the Earl of Lonsdale. And so it was, upon taking his seat first as a Member of Parliament at the age of twenty-one, the Earl quickly realized that his prodigious wealth would enable him to gratify many of his ambitions. Thus, descending like an evil branch of the family tree, James Lowther gradually became submersed within the corruption of his own greed, and hardened into ‘a contemptible little tyrant’ who was ‘more detested than any man alive’. Oh, what ‘Wicked Jimmy’ hadn't squandered to dominate politics in the North of England for the next twenty-seven years; exercising enormous influence upon elections to control nine seats in the House of Commons!” “While Sir James Lowther enjoyed a life of luxury, there was certainly no ease for the tenants laboring upon his land. Impoverished families often huddled in a single room with little sanitation, and used coal to cook and supply their heat and light. Their beds consisted of straw and a collection of old rags, while wind whistled rain and snow through the cracks to dampen the earth floor which became as miry as a sty. The stunted growth of children was due to nutritional deficiencies, and their emaciated condition made them susceptible to diseases; many suffered acute sinusitis from the smoky fires, tuberculosis was rife since they shared their houses with their beasts, and some became poisoned by mouldy rye grain which contained the toxin ergotamine ~ the fungus producing ‘crazy bread’. Weakened from their toil and difficult living conditions, scourged by famines and plague, people seldom lived forty years, and by then most were withered, toothless, almost blind and their hair had turned to grey ~ Only the churchyard offered any consolation of a resting place beneath a mound and stone.” “Since castles and manors were no longer needed to provide protection from the invasions of neighboring tribes, they functioned as storehouses of wealth, for landlords who always ensured that the greatest proportion of production was filtered off through rent and taxes. And during the long, bleak winters ~ when some families endured the darkness within their tiny cottages manufacturing carpets ‘rivaling those of Persia’ for ‘sixty to one hundred guineas each’ ~ grain and other necessities were gradually borrowed back by tenants, requiring another season's harvest just to pay off the interest on their accumulated debt. Thus through heredity, the children of the tenants were perpetually obligated by their master to continue working on his demesne. They would never be able to accumulate enough money to leave their tiny village, and besides, there was nowhere else to go; the entire country had become unified under the same regimented system to which they were enslaved.”


“Yet, in time, as James Lowther's iniquity continued to further devolve, and he became ‘truly a madman, though too rich to be confined’, all of his affairs gradually fell into a ruinous state. Upon the death of his wife Mary ~ daughter of George III’s favourite, John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute ~ the notoriety of Sir James dramatically increased in folklore of the region when he locked himself within his family's original castle, at Penrith, alone with the decomposing body of his wife; unwilling to accept her death for an interval of several months.” However, Clara had added; “All castles are steeped in legend, and some are haunted by ghosts, yet perhaps they are all just flights of imagination in which antiquaries sometimes indulge. Regardless of any economy of truth, it is indeed tragic that the man who once boasted of owning the ‘land, fire and water’ of Whitehaven, should become subject to long fits of depression which compelled him to wander aimlessly through the woods for days on end, abandoning his castles to suffer decay and his horses to roam wild upon his estates, and in the end, pass away without issue, ‘unloved and unmourned’. Thus, it was natural that those who lived in fear of this cruel man could believe him capable of spreading his reign of terror from beyond the grave.” Clara was fortunate to find parking; the narrow 18th century streets were not designed for cars. She pulled into the harbour lot at the top of Sugar Tongue, not far from the Beacon. Beneath the conical roof of the massive cylindrical lighthouse, a brilliant ray blasted through the windows encircling its top floor ~ a broad beam intermittently penetrating the fog just above town and illuminating the ancient fortifications of the well-defended harbour. In days of yore, the haven, it has been said, was able to afford sanctuary for one hundred tall-masted ships; not only from stormy swells, but also from enemy fleets. Within the protecting arms of the magnificent Old Quay ~ separating the inner from the outer harbour ~ sloops and schooners and brigantines berthed at Sugar Tongue to off-load their cargo of sugar and rum from New World plantations, or tied-up at Lime Tongue to fill their holds with lime northbound for Scotland. Sometime Coraline could truly imagine those distant days; the barren stone quays bustling with the traffic of wagons and porters... sail menders and rope makers hawking their wares... sailors seeking the pleasures of the sins... shippers and merchants discussing inventory... ubiquitous agents peering over their shoulder, calculating various levies and duties assessed to pay for harbour maintenance, lighthouse keepers wages, and of course a large proportion rendered in tribute to his Majesty the King... and stealthily, lurking in the shadows, the usual motley crew of beggars, pirates and thieves ~ as thick and just as unwelcome as the rats infesting the port... The images had then vanished like specters as Coraline's perceptions suddenly returned to the present. The harbour once again appeared exactly as it always had: the pontoon fingers of the Marina Berths ~ maintained at a constant level regardless of the fluctuating tides beyond the harbour locks ~ were burgeoning with the brightlycoloured pleasure craft of tourists. And silhouetted against the haze, a few rusty trawlers discharged rugged crews carrying their slickers and packs, talking and


laughing as they headed for an old hotel up the hill from the wharf... Coraline had recalled that, at night, when only the letters ‘H’, ‘O’ and ‘T’ were illuminated on the hotel sign, and the beam from the lighthouse dramatically scanned the harbour, only the tarnished bronze statue of the young boy remained ~ sitting upon a capstan, gazing out to sea, eternally awaiting his father's return.

VIII. WHITEHAVEN

It seemed Clara had remained lost in thought, sitting motionless, her elbow resting upon the steering wheel, her gaze settled somewhere in the distant mists... Coraline also occupied herself by staring out the front windscreen; watching younger kids jump up and down on skateboards trying their first rollover ~ the more experienced, decked out in droopy drawers and skewed-around caps sporting corporate logos, blasted by the arches to careen down graffiti-tagged inclines long ago traversed by wagons heavily-laden with coal... Then quietly, Clara's voice had continued to conjure up further details ~ perhaps recalling fragments of the information she had gathered for her research project while attending Oxford. “For a time, during the early 1700's, Whitehaven was the third busiest port in England ~ after Liverpool and Bristol. The legacy of increased demands for coal were the creation of a labyrinth of mine shafts deep underground, and eventually tunnels which followed coal seams several miles out beneath the sea. Hillsides were stripped barren of trees to provide planking for decks, keels and the forest of tall masts arising from the town's frenetic shipbuilding activity. Yet, the true reason for Whitehaven's continual economic growth was that for some time it remained in a favourable position to capitalize upon Britain's flourishing global trade.” ~ Clara had then turned toward Coraline with a significant look in her eye; “It is important to remember that the greatest developments in the history of mankind have often been purchased with the blood of slaves. Thus, perceptions of historical accuracy vary, depending with whom you speak.” Then Clara had added cryptically, “Let us also not forget, that ‘Huddled beneath the umbrella of slavery past, many find shelter from the responsibilities that come with freedom’ ~ or so says HezSez.” “During two hundred and fifty years following discovery of the Americas, the consumption of sugar and gold and cotton and tobacco fed a steady long-term rise in their prices ~ so too did the addiction of consumers also increase demand for more slaves to gather that ‘goode stuffe’ for them. Thus, western Europe flourished upon wealth provided by the New World colonies, and as the availability of profits mobilized


from this exchange of ‘commodities’ gathered momentum, venture capitalists became exceedingly eager to jump aboard the construction of bigger and better ships. With the backing of the Bank of England (established in 1694), enterprising businessmen invested in joint stock companies which gathered raw resources from one part of the world to exchange for finished products from another; codfish from Newfoundland for boxes of luxurious tea, or blankets and sugar traded for beaver pelts from the Hudson Bay company ~ It must have seemed to everyone involved that anything desired could be obtained from anywhere ships could sail, and that an enormous amount of money would be made, since the voyages were securely backed by the instruments of authority ~ agencies which the Rastafarians in Jamaica collectively label; ‘Babylon’.” Clara had leaned forward to rest both elbows on the steering wheel, then closed her eyes and pressed two fingers to her forehead; “In a document preserved in Her Majesty's Public Record Office, dated 27 September 1672, Sir John Lowther and Christopher Lowther are listed as members of the New Royal African Company. Its Charter was comprised of such notable personages as James Duke of York, Prince Rupert, and Anthony Earl of Shaftesbury, as well as a number of entrepreneurial merchants who owned their own ships and crews ~ and perhaps, were also interested in procuring a few personal slaves for their own homes. Yet, their effort was ultimately superseded with the formation of the British Slaving Company in partnership with the King of England, since the monarch had been able to obtain the exclusive right to supply slaves and maintain the needs of all British AND Spanish colonies through a contract negotiated with the King of Spain ~ Under the agreement, each king received one-quarter of all profits.” “With profits concentrated in the hands of an elite few, the tighter became their grasp on power. Those, such as the Lowthers, who participated in the system, were rewarded handsomely, while those without were left destitute to suffer in squalor. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the city of London played host to an increasinglyunpoliced population; a vicious, hopeless, diseased, gin-sodden lot, huddled in muddy alleyways and sleeping upon the floors of decrepit hovels. Those most able became prey of press gangs; rounded up to serve His Majesty aboard the everincreasing number of slaving ships. Conditions for the crews were little better than those of slaves. They would cast their lot with brutal captains and mates desperate enough to endure the hardships and dangers of the trans-Atlantic crossing, who worked them hard and disdained of the chore of frequently replacing those who had succumbed to dysentery, malaria, scurvy and sexual diseases ~ And yet another breed of bold adventurer had realized the opportunity of becoming master of their own destiny; by hoisting a black flag emblazoned with a skull and crossed-bones.” “Through control of seven of every ten transatlantic voyages whose currency was human cargo, Britain maintained its reputation as the supreme maritime superpower throughout the course of several centuries. In fact, the only check on her growth in trade was the inability of builders to construct ships fast enough. And since the Colonies were forbidden to manufacture finished products, all raw resources were shipped to England. Thus, the more slaves harvesting materials, the more products


were processed in England, and the more rapidly feudal cottage craft guilds were transformed into manufacturing empires dotting the landscape with factories. Capital provided the ability to invent and build new machines which significantly multiplied the output of a single labour source. Unlike the erratic unpredictability of growing seasonal crops, the assembly process within the factory was entirely controlled ~ The whistle of the steam engine was an advent of increased efficiency in accelerated production processes which we call the ‘Industrial Revolution’.” "One revolution begets another ~ and another ‘way of life’ comes to an end. The War of Independence, in 1776, created a new country called The United States of America; a brash young spawn of Europe which, once it had learned to stand upon its feet, immediately exerted full control over all of its shipping lanes and manufacturing plants. Thus, Britain gradually lost dominance over the precious trade preserving the lucrative prosperity to which it had become accustomed, and as its glory faded, the empire declined. It was then, perhaps relieved of the heavy shackles of guilt incurred by their individual complicity in profiting from the inhumane treatment of many generations of African women, children and men, that the freedom was finally created for citizens of England to exercise their moral and spiritual responsibility by joining the growing movement to abolish the slave trade ~ Although, for many more decades it remained acceptable to whip slaves and cut off their ears to prevent them from considering escape, since legislation had only prohibited their capture and their transport.” “The Bill to eliminate the brutal barbaric trade was first introduced to British parliament in 1807, but it took until 1838 before it was finally enacted into law. Certainly by then, many aristocratic families had attained great advantage from centuries of prodigious investments, and were securely ensconced within grand houses sited upon vast tracts of country real estate, or palatial flats in Blackheath ~ a fashionably-cultural part of London ~ building up impressive art collections from the insurance premiums obtained by underwriting slavers. And with all of their wealth to comfort them as they enjoyed their days, they could well rest assured that the continued prestige and success of their good name would be carried on through many future generations of their descendants; an ambiguous and fluid form of influence which functioned as though it were their bank accounts which perpetuated their genetic code.” “By the same token, it is also interesting to contrast their situation with the legacy of those Africans who had spent the same period operating as slaving kings and other agents of the trade, since these entrepreneurs seemed not to have squandered their profits in the sub-Sahara by building any significant commercial or political empires...” It had taken Coraline a few moments to determine what Clara had actually been suggesting ~ Her calm tone and demeanor sometime changed radically during impassioned discourses on the topic of slavery; when the anger which seemed locked away deep within her, could erupt violently to the surface.


“Throughout history, one group of slaves has simply replaced another; depending upon social conventions of the time and the economic and political climate ~ For instance, right here in Whitehaven, during the two hundred and fifty years which coal was extracted from the mines, children as young as eight or ten toiled long shifts underground; dragging wooden sledges shod with iron, loaded with coal which the men who picked at seams had carried upon their backs in small baskets called ‘korves’. The conditions were appalling, and there were many fatalities from cave-ins and the explosions produced by firedamp, and later from developments resulting from the experiments of Carlisle Spedding ~ the Lowther's infamous Mine Agent, who pioneered the use of gunpowder for breaking rock ~and in the process, had become one of the first victims of his own volatile new invention...” “Jurgen...” Coraline had whispered ~ uncertain why the name had suddenly appeared in her thoughts; since at the time it was a most unfamiliar name. Strangely, the name had been accompanied by a very real image; the vision of a partially-naked young man stretched out upon a mattress within a cold dark room. Coraline had experienced a foreboding chill as she observed that his body, and all the peculiar machines surrounding him, were strapped with sticks of dynamite. And although she had sensed it was immanent, the moment of detonation had caught her by surprise ~ Suddenly, a horrific explosion generating a pure white burst of light ~ Coraline had cried out... Then realizing she was still staring at the harbour through the windscreen of the Griffon, had quickly glanced toward Clara to gauge her reaction to her unexpected outburst. Clara's expression had remained calm, yet her eyes were opened unusually wide and diffused with an unfocused glaze; providing an indication that she was still deeply engaged within the flow of Coraline's thoughts... Then as though waking from a dream, Clara regained her usual countenance and spoke softly to soothe Coraline with her voice; “Do not fret my sweet child, I would say you have been blessed by a premonition; an indication of events which will one day be of significance in your life... Coraline, as you progress, you will witness many types of visions which you may sometime find disturbing, yet, it is important to retain them within your thoughts so they may prepare you for the fulfillment of a destiny when its appointment arrives. In time, you will learn to recognize certain circumstances or conditions from your premonition before an actual event occurs, thus you will be able to more readily accept the inevitable; since there is little likelihood of intervention.” Then Clara had winked as she added, “Still, there is always hope!” Clara had then begun to bounce up and down in the driver's seat to lighten Coraline's somber mood ~ brightly suggesting they ‘do lunch’ at the Silver Lion, as was customary on their journeys into town. Immediately, Coraline had savoured the recollection of that pleasant taste of deep-fried fish and chips served hot out of the oil, then dipped into globs of mayonnaise which she always stirred into a swirl with a dark dab of spicy-sweet HP sauce ~ The truck door slam echoed through the harbour; in the distance, gentle waves lunged silently against the old stone quay... As usual, on a weekday morning, there were very few souls about ~ Coraline had made an effort to


step quietly upon the cobble-stones as they climbed the narrow streets. And as she had on each previous visit, she had distinctly detected pungent aromas which overpowered even the briny fresh sea breeze. Whitehaven smelled of a town; a clustered settlement which had continually occupied a patch of land during the course of many centuries; decaying wood and ancient coal dust blended with the foul stench of rotted meat festering in alleyways, human excrement, and fumes from petrol exhaust and cigarettes ~ odors offensive to a nose more accustomed to the fragrance of flowers and the earthiness of uncontaminated soil. They strolled casually past the shops along King Street, keeping a curious eye darting amongst new items of merchandise purposefully arranged within the curiouslyquaint displays ~ 11:11 upon the clock ~ Behind the glass, local citizens had gathered in a teahouse to prop an elbow upon the table and exchange a bit of news and gossip about their neighbours ~ A cuppa and a bickie would let them carry on 'til lunch ~ “Elevenses is an old-fashioned habit with us Brits,� Clara had said with a smile. It had seemed an odd thing to say, since Coraline had always assumed that it was something everyone did at this time of day, all around the world. Clara's lithe body swayed gracefully; her subtle gestures communicated the pride in her ancestral heritage, and clearly conveyed a sense of innate dignity with which she lived her life ~ Wherever they wandered, her bright garments never failed to attract attention. It was not uncommon for young men to swivel their heads to gaze upon her in admiration, or whistle suggestively as she passed them by. However, upon encountering a certain type of person who seemed compelled, as though afflicted by some horrible disease, to mutter crude comments beneath their breath, Clara had always remained polite and acknowledged their bold stares with her disarminglypleasant smile. And whenever she deemed it necessary, would employ a manner of speech and delightful accent which was certain to work its charm upon anyone. Seldom would those impertinent eyes, focused so intently upon Clara, notice Coraline drifting along like a shadow by her side. While at first, Coraline had felt slighted, it had gradually become evident that her invisibility offered the considerable advantage of being able to impartially observe her surroundings without the constant need to interact with whomever she chanced to meet. In this way, she realized that it was possible to perceive many other things which had also become invisible; the events which people take for granted because they are so common-place, or the hidden layers of meaning within the subtext of an ordinary conversation. This was how Coraline had understood Clara's earlier comment ~ while driving through the fog ~ about the importance of recognizing correspondences between levels of detail within a pattern, and of how little information the surface revealed of what the depths may hold. Beneath the surface were entirely new perceptions, which, the deeper Coraline had penetrated, the stranger they could become. Sometime it seemed that examining the soul of the operating system which governed society in Whitehaven was analogous to attempting to observe the mysterious forms of life existing at the bottom of the sea;


small transparent creatures with no eyes, illuminating the darkness with a phosphorescent glow, consuming nourishment by absorption through their skin: ‘... old slappers... tough lads in michelin jackets... can't miss to aim a punch at... eating a packet of crisps in front of the dingy Gaiety cinema... speaking a dialect all their own; as gayn yam marra, totty gallachers, grotty totty, blotto totty... who can understand that? Snarling dogs... radioactive seagulls and pigeons with the rain coming down... tainted by the cooling towers of the Sellafield Nuclear Reprocessing Plant a few miles south along the coast... One of the few jobs in the region... The poor souls at BNFL were doomed... Who could blame them? What else were they to do?’ By listening attentively to snippets of conversations as they strolled past, Coraline had realized that Whitehaven was an insular environment, which in reality, truly supported the simple needs of its inhabitants ~ It had become the center of their known universe, and, as such, it was not difficult to understand why they could become mistrustful of unfamiliar concepts, or deeply suspicious of strangers roaming freely through the streets of their town. They were ignorant of the outside world since they had few reasons to ever venture beyond the limits of their province ~ providence would provide for them; their families, friends and acquaintances were here, and through service to their community, they were rewarded with credits to accounts from which small denominations of bank notes could periodically be withdrawn ~ Yes, paper currency was still in circulation during the time of Coraline's youth ~ Taken in by trade shops for the latest products, or redeemed at local markets which faithfully sustained them with a seemingly-perpetual storehouse of food. "Good!" Clara had commented as though talking to herself ~ Coraline arched an eyebrow, noting that Clara had been acting quite peculiarly this day... They sat at the counter of The Silver Lion. Fish and chips arrived wrapped in yesterday's newspaper, served with a side-order of mushy peas. Clara swirled the green mass with her fork while she gazed absently at the listless parade of life filtering past the restaurant window. Across the street a random collection of coloured papers fluttered in the breeze; handbills tacked to a cork-board near the chemist provided notice of items for sale, upcoming events, lost cats and dogs, employment opportunities, and so forth... It had been one of the notices, on that very same board, which had captured Clara's attention several years previously; when, upon graduating from Oxford University, Whitehaven had beckoned her as one of the stations on her pilgrimage to gather research for a book she had considered writing about the slave trade ~ Yet for some reason, on that distant afternoon, she had suddenly been compelled to answer the Coventry's posting seeking a governess to care for their young daughter... Clara smiled at Coraline who appeared absorbed by an advert on the telly promoting Good Golly marmalade; the jolly little black character dancing across the screen had a bumpy cartoon head, googly eyes, a great big watermelon-slice grin, and he was wearing a nappy bow-tie ~ Absently, Coraline dipped each chip in a uniform coating of mayonnaise and HP sauce before nibbling upon it quite daintily.


[Everyone coming into the restaurant seemed to call the only waitress working there by a different name.] Nearby, along the counter, a pair of large women, straddling tall stools, were enjoying a sumptuous feast of toad in the mole and plump, juicy Cornish pasty. Between mouthfuls, they engaged in animated conversation, speaking in loud, shrill voices without consideration for anyone around them ~ “Perhaps they are becoming deaf from previous conversations,” Coraline had staged her whisp... “... The first thing I am going to do when I get home is put away the ice-cream,” the louder woman declared. “Then I am going to pour myself a nice cold drink, and then I am going to sit... then I am going to sit some more.” Her friend appeared to agree that this seemed a sensible plan by punctuating each statement with an enthusiastic grunt of approval. Clara leaned closer to speak confidentially with Coraline; “Sometimes we fail to remember that the complexity of our challenges continue to increase in proportion to the advances in our level of skill. Ultimately, as we continue our solitary journey, it is always tragic to discover that as tempting as it is to become the victim of old familiar pitfalls, there are even greater temptations along the way.” Coraline was still considering these words when Clara had made an unexpected suggestion; “I hope you won't mind,” she had said, “It is necessary that we separate for a few hours, since there is an urgent matter which I simply must to attend to.” Coraline had been startled; during every previous trip they had remained inseparable. But before she could protest, Clara had continued, “Let's meet at the Secret Garden Tearoom at 4 o'clock; we'll buy some gooseberry tarts for William, fresh from the oven.” Clara had then tried to appease Coraline's alarmed expression, by adding; “Have no worries. All will be well. Here is ten pounds if you need it.” Clara had handed her the note, then bent to kiss her upon the forehead. “Just enjoy your adventure, and I will see you soon!” With those words Clara had vanished and Coraline was all alone ~ fidgeting nervously since she had now become visible to the two obese woman along the counter who glared at her disdainfully ~ Suddenly she had felt most conspicuous. The clatter of a tiny bell attached to the door announced her departure from ‘the Silly Lion’. For some time she stood on the sidewalk, gazing up and down desolate streets, indecisive about which direction to proceed, until she finally resolved to let her spirit be her guide. Drifting uphill, away from the harbour, Coraline remained puzzled by the strange calm which had descended upon the town; as though the arrival of the enchanted fog had lulled nearly everyone off to slumber within rooms hidden behind the darkened grid of panes in every window which reflected empty mists. Up Lowther as far as Catherine, she turned toward High Street, past pale creamy walls crowned by old slate roofs partially overgrown with moss, and ramshackle chimney stacks vanishing in the haze. Past the unremarkable house in which an infant Jonathan Swift ~ later author of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ ~ would inhabit between 1668 and 1671; while growing in age from one to four.


“Cinder Maid, Cinder Maid, shake the tree, Open the first nut that you see...” Coraline had heard the verses before rounding the corner to happen upon two young girls ~ approximately the same age as she was ~ both red-haired and freckled and wearing nearly identical brands of t-shirt and tattered jeans. Each were holding one end of a pink jump rope which now lay slack between them. Silently, the triangle stood frozen, gazing from one to another, until abruptly, one of the girls had yanked her end of the rope to persuasively drag her companion along behind her, calling back contemptuously over her shoulder; “We don't want to play with you!” “Don't mind 'em children, they're daft!” came a tender voice behind her. Coraline whirled around ~ The ghostly apparition of an older boy, wearing peculiar shabby garments thoroughly blackened with coal dust, gazed down upon her with sorrowful eyes. His handsome face was smudged with soot, his curly hair escaped a shapeless cap, hefty hands of raw-red meat, and lusterless eyes the colour of leadshot sunken beneath tired swollen lids. “Sith my appearance to thee is in resemblance of a spirite, thinke that I am as pleasant a Goblin as the rest, [and I] will make thee as merry before I part...” The pleasant spirite winked at Coraline conspiratorially then continued on his way. Coraline called after him, “Wait!” “Sorry love, cannot linger, my taskmaster awaiteth me at the depths...” The handsome boy's voice trailed off as he had drifted away. Coraline followed at a distance as he moved swiftly down the street ~ further along joined by a few other partially-transparent urchins who emerged from a narrow lane to greet each other casually, then spit into the dust. And soon, once her eyes had become accustomed to these spectral images, it seemed that everywhere she looked she could perceive them fading into or out of existence ~ In general, the figures seemed short; the adults not much taller than she was, and judging from their costumes and mannerisms, these scenes superimposed upon what she had always perceived to be her ‘present’ reality appeared to have been rendered from overlapping periods of distant time ~ Interrupted just then by a boisterous outburst of mirth from a tiny bearded man, dressed all in green like a leprechaun with a dull bowler hat and big gold buckle, leaning against a lamppost and laughing as hard as if he had just caught the punch-line to the funniest joke in the world. She was more curious than alarmed by this strange parade; this silvery thoroughfare passing by ~ Her only concern was to rub her eyes in case these scenes may vanish: sharp clouds of steam emerging from horses' nostrils... the staccato echo of hoof beats noisily clodding paving stones like a woman in high-heeled shoes... the


rumble of carriage wheels... aristocrats fond of chiffon in a wrist array, framed within ornate carriage windows, coifed in powdered wigs... fairy-tale heroines with chalky skin, elegant gloves as white as snow... the breath of scandal past rotted teeth... the fetid air... the sweat of horses whipped... the droppings hallooed by spectral flies... the bucket of eels balanced precariously upon the ledge... ‘Off with their heads’... that illusive glint of gunpowder... treason and plot in furtive eyes... the tortured skeletons weary in their daily struggle for chop money, sauntering by in hobnailed boots tread down at the heels... empty footsteps on cobblestones... an anxious woman wearing a long grey dress, a shawl and a kerchief... chipped and blackened fingernails... poor teeth and the horrific emaciated appearance of a long period spent malnourished... ‘Stand clear of the running board!’ Coraline had been tempted to shout as the woman veered from the curb and unwarily stepped into the path of a dray heavily laden with oak barrels of rum. Coraline kept walking; past the Wash Right Laundrette, kebab and pizza takeaways, the chandler and canvas works... Gliding upon a tessellated pattern of cray fish mirroring similar roundels of dolphins inlaid in the Duke Street pavement... And always more ghosts of ancient miners whose identities will never be inscribed upon any memorials to victims of mining disasters; even boys and girls younger than Coraline who had perhaps broken their frail bodies with pickaxes and hammers trying to shatter carboniferous chunks of hard black rock... The innumerable fatal explosions ~ fire and brimstone ~ Those eternally damned souls, who once were lost amongst the darkest seams of the deepest, dankest collieries, or remained forever doomed to wander in the vain attempt of returning home to families amongst the cluster of worker's cottages devastated when the ground had collapsed beneath them. Onto Tangier Street... Flush bankers strolled jauntily past Natwest, doffing their top hats as they entered frequently familiar haunts for a nice cigar and brandy while they read the morning paper... an office assistant dressed in a white rabbit coat hurried by muttering to himself, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late”... a dapper gentlemen on the corner winked at a young lady leading a little girl by the hand... a group of women gossiping over dirty laundry... the broad, flat features of rural folk knowledgeable in the ways of turning hay, winnowing grain, and topping and tailing turnips... the henwife... the char girls... the old crone sweeping with her broom... notorious mosstroopers rustling in the shadows and petty thieves pinching pocket change... attempting to evade the vigilant eye of a helmeted policeman pounding down his beat... the gangrened fingers of rugged tradesmen tended to by the tender beatification of an angelic nurse... The transparent black cape of a deacon wielding his fiery cross upon the stepstones of the cathedral... the brutal, ruddy faces of merchants... waxed mustaches... the viscera of cheap perfume... gunpowder... tobacco... and vinegar to wash away the dust... dripping gin and custard... crying and wheezing... the agony of bedsprings... barbarous privateers casting pitiless glances upon wasted waifs sprawled in gutters succumbing to the devastating effects of plague; ‘No better than feeding the fish at the bottom of Davy Jones' Locker’ ~ tosses half a penny... The old town of Whitehaven had never changed very much during previous visits ~


but assuredly, it had this day! The deserted streets had seemed to become quite crowded! ~ And it was just recently that Coraline had first become aware of certain subtle nuances in gestures and words which were intended to be understood only by adults. Yet, even the revelation that those signals conveyed veiled erotic innuendo paled in significance with the dramatic perceptions she had experienced that day ~ It had seemed so unreal! ~ While Coraline was never reluctant to accept challenging situations, it had been almost entirely too much to be totally overwhelmed by them. Pangs of panic had begun to palpitate her heart, compelling an imperative need to regain contact with someone from her own time... Yet, there were few ‘ordinary’ folk shopping that afternoon along King Street ~ everyday people leading regular lives; carrying greasy paper bags filled with black and white pudding from the butcher's, and perhaps purchasing items not out of necessity, but more as a reason to get out of the house and at least socialize a tiny bit ~ They paid no heed to the passion play of restless souls which they passed by; lingering in the misty shadows behind the veil of returning fog, or taking shape as movement in the glow of every light... No, the spirites were not unmasked by their mere mortal eyes ~ Perhaps a furtive glance over their shoulder, or a chill running down their spine, had provided any indication of the mysterious vapors they occasionally passed through ~ Quite likely one of their own predecessors! Trundling the sidewalk, wiping away the greasy traces of pork crackling which dripped down their chin, they seemed mesmerized by succulent joints of lamb, and the parkin cake and Yorkshire pudding laid out like a banquet feast in the market stalls. Coraline had approached tentatively, but they had taken no notice of her... Maybe... The sense of anxiety suddenly loomed that perhaps she had also somehow become discorporate ~ She had called out, “Hello sir, good day mum!” ~ Yet they still had not responded. Instead, they had turned away with wavering step to stumble over the cobblestones; “Off down the local!” mumbled the poor old sod with a big red nose. “Oh no ye ain't!” His short, stout wife attempted to steady his ambling gait by grasping his collar firmly in both hands. She berated him with her high shrill voice ~ words to the effect; “You lecherous lascivious louse, I'll give you a smack in the chops” ~ The bloke ad nothing to say for hisself, ramblin long e lagged behind, anging is ed in shame, yet once his wife were out of sight ~ bustling ome to her soaps on the telly ~ he made clean his getaway: off to the pub to join his mates... Cheers! Jolly time in the public houses lasted from early morning until late into the night; when gangs of howling youth smashed their emptied bottles upon the weathered stones of the quay. Disoriented by the mist and spectral forms, Coraline realized she had inadvertently passed into the realm of Shade; a neighborhood of most unsavory establishments, dens of thieves, and a phantasmagoria of morbid terrors. It was a part of town she would have certainly otherwise avoided. Oh, why had Clara abandoned her? She had never felt so alone. These small town streets no longer seemed familiar; splattered with graffiti tags, prowling with hungry dogs and plastered with posters for Nihilistic Teenage Angst. As soon as Coraline had willed herself to stay calm and avoid becoming frightened, she had heard Clara's voice speak to her as though she were right beside her:


“You know the truth, yet you are weak. When you break through the illusion, you become vulnerable to unseen forces. The secrets are difficult to attain; the guardians have many methods to preserve them.” Yet Clara was nowhere in sight ~ Just a couple of flamboyant sailors kissing each other on the lips outside an alehouse called the Black Cock. Inside, through the open doorway, Coraline could see that many of the customers enjoyed dressing up as John Paul Jones. An outrageously vulgar ammonia stench of urine, tobacco and beer stung her eyes, while the ribald chorus of revelers assaulted her ears with the screeching chorus from an old song by a band called ‘The Beatles’: “We all live in a Yellow Submarine...” they screamed at the top of their lungs, “Yellow Submarine... Yellow Submarine... C'mon, 'erybotty now...” Soon someone had chimed in on harmonica. One ~ two ~ three ~ four ~ five: the church bells were pealing at five of the clock... What? Was she an hour late already? Then as swiftly as her feet could fly, Coraline ran away toward the harbour, dodging ghosts down the street and angels beating their wings against the bars... slippery steps on the stones... afraid one of her glass slippers would be kicked off and sadly lost... light-headed she glanced higher... the spire of the steeple as she hastened past the church... the fog had begun to lift... ‘Mist behind and light before, Guide me to my father's door’... a tear of perspiration stung her eye... she ran until she could run no further... pausing to catch her breath, leaning forward, resting her hands upon her knees, then closing her eyes to quietly intone; “Change these back again to what they were, thou powerful enchanter, Time!” Coraline rubbed her eyes as she straightened to survey the scene ~ Happily, the apparitions had vanished! Instead her eyes were treated to rays of brilliant sunshine ~ A fantastic illumination which burned ragged holes through the metal overcast to once again transform her experience of the world by making clear the texture and detail which gave life its meaning ~ Revealing secrets previously obscured by heavy dull mists; perhaps the doubt and fear and figments of imagination she had projected there... 'Why should a beautiful day in Wonderland be tainted by a sinister touch?' Coraline had observed; imagining it would perhaps be something which Alice would inquire of herself in a similar situation. Then she continued running... China nervously rattled on saucers in the tea room on Queen Street and conversations abruptly came to a halt as Coraline ~ her clothing in disarray and her hair tangled with mist ~ burst through the door of the Secret Garden; an elderly ladies paradise ~ porcelain teapot and creamer, thenapkins, the plates of fruit and cookies and wedges of cake all daintily arranged on doilies reflected in the sheen of darkstained oak tables. Then gradually, like startled birds, hushed murmurs returned, fading in from the background, while the feeble tapping of a teaspoon against the side of a cup signaled the server for another refill. “That took a long time,” Clara said with a broad smile, “I've been sitting here patiently waiting for you to return. I have some exciting news!” Still shivering, Coraline sat across the table from Clara to notice that a steaming hot mug of cocoa and a plate


of freshly-baked cookies were already awaiting her. Clara was flushed, trembling with excitement: “I had a premonition that we would meet, and this afternoon all my dreams have come true!” Clara opened her palms and raised her face skyward before clasping her hands together in front of her to breathlessly describe every detail of the encounter: “... Then he said, ‘I was just about to go for an espresso, would you care to join me?’ Oh, how my eager heart was tempted by sensual curiosity, yet I hesitated discreetly; strictly due to the formality of social customs ~ I certainly could not allow my modesty to betray my emotions. Yet my resolve melted so deliciously when he smiled his handsome, boyish smile, and said in a voice so sweet; ‘Life is much too short not to take the chance to meet a most attractive woman’.” ~ Clara had been speaking so rapidly, and seemed so scattered, that most of what she had been saying sounded like nonsense. Then again, Coraline had not been listening very attentively, since she was preoccupied by enjoying the warmth of her beverage. Clara had to recount every detail of who said what to whom, how their gazes had interlocked, how they had clasped hands, how his pant leg had caressed her naked shin... She confessed that she could not stop thinking about him ~ Oh, how desperately she must see him again! ~ Coraline had never known Clara to act this way before; whatever had possessed her? And while Clara chattered away, Coraline realized that she still harboured some resentment that Clara had not been watching over her; that she had let her protection lapse ~ Yet, perhaps most of all, Coraline had realized how vulnerable she could be on her own; her experiences that afternoon had instilled some sense of doubt that she was fully able to actually look after herself. She dipped another cookie into the gooey chocolate syrup at the bottom of her cup. She vowed to herself that she would never mention anything to anyone about the spectral images she had seen ~ Perhaps Clara already knew ~ Coraline was not entirely certain ~ Although, when she had calmed herself, and her sense of perspective had shifted to adapt to the most orderly interior of the Secret Garden teahouse, Coraline had postulated that the incredible scenes she had witnessed that day could perhaps be attributed to a hyperactive imagination influenced by some of her recent literary readings; ‘The Story of Mankind’ by Hendrik Van Loon, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens, and ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte. After tea, Clara had seemed extraordinarily eager to return home... She hastily purchased some gooseberry tarts for William, briefly stopped at Tescos to load several cardboard boxes of groceries she had previously ordered ~ Then silently, speedily, the Griffon departed Whitehaven before darkness fell and the lighthouse held its sway.


IX. THE POOL OF MAGIC

“I have a message for you!” “The path you journey with an open heart and open mind will not lead you astray, seek you to become aware of the true purpose of your mission.” ... Coraline opened her eyes. She lay naked upon the coverings of her bed within the Golden Sun Pavilion, the sunshine warmed her body, her mind felt pleasantly dreamy as though her somniferous memories were a potent narcotic still lingering as a shadowy afterimage upon the blank walls of her room ~ She had always preferred the setting of default white ~ The purity of vacant space, free from the clutter of furnishings, provided a sense of tranquillity within the perfect order of its emptiness. According to Dr. Kacheli, Coraline had been progressing satisfactorily ~ Yet, one month had not seemed enough to completely recover from ‘the process’. She had been grateful for a pause in her hectic work schedule to reflect upon her perceptions of the past, and come to terms with lingering doubts, in order to undo the procedure which, once upon a time, had ultimately freed her mind of those memories which she could always recall with vivid clarity ~ Her formative years faithfully rendered in every subtle nuance of detail to recreate the person she had been and formulate the person she would be ~ Sometime it had been disturbing to return to troubled times, yet each experience was counterbalanced with beautifully-pleasant memories which had also enthralled her and comforted her as completely now as they originally had ~ It had been the realization that the trials and tribulations which had been most challenging were the ones which had also provided the most profound significance in understanding the reasons why she had pursued particular directions during the course of her life ~ The uncertainty, of the day she had been determined to dispose of her memories, had been whether her commitment to her chartered destination was so complete that she could dispense with the map. “The decision need not be irrevocable; it never need be permanent,” Maria Kacheli, her imminently trustworthy physician, would frequently reaffirm. As she rested upon her bed that sunny morning, within her purely-vacant suite, Coraline recalled having been tormented while first pondering the consequences of commencing her experimental treatment. The objective of ‘the procedure’ had been to attain a state of stability by minimizing the turbulence buffeting her life ~ Coraline had believed that once relieved of the burdens which encumbered her; those chains which anchored her to the past, that she would then finally be able to advance beyond her present limits ~ which to be truthful, Coraline had to admit, were limits she had


habitually established for herself ~ Then much more lightly could she continue upon her amazing journey to fulfill her destiny ~ Without longing for loved ones from the past, without regret for certain opportunities she had missed, without the daydreamy nostalgia which floated through her thoughts when she should have been concentrating upon her work. Then Yes!, she was aware, then she could be CLEAR! Yet, the dilemma, at the time, had been to discover some means of obtaining consultation in making her determination ~ If only Clara Voyee had been there! Clara would perhaps have casted about the tides and clouds, the stones and wooden lots, to observe those omens appearing in the patterns which could offer guidance to Coraline in making her important decision: Perhaps the message the signs revealed would be; “Follow your heart!” ——— Coraline covered her nakedness with an almost transparent sheet, then allowed her body to relax. She closed her eyes to savor the indulgence of her addiction a little further.... During the interval of several weeks which had followed their return from Whitehaven, all trace of those phantoms from the past which Coraline had envisioned, had also naught become but specters within her memory and her imagination. The irony, perhaps, was that as things had transpired, it was Clara who apparently had become the most afflicted ~ While Coraline had readily detected some profound change certainly manifesting within her, the nature of this change had at first remained quite difficult to fathom: Clara had no eyes, nor ears, nor sense for anything, but just to sit and stare. Her sleep, her appetite, and even her cheerfulness had begun to forsake her. Her disturbed thoughts were haunted without respite, and it was only through the will to remain incessantly active that she provided herself with any hope of prevailing over the gloomy depths of despondency which threatened to sink her spirit ~ Frantically flitting about in an agitated state; busily carrying water, washing the same laundry over and over again, seizing upon an archaic gnarled twig broom to frenetically sweep the kitchen floor ~ And her absent-minded mutterings had also seemed entirely distracted; “... He is far deeper in love with me now than either of the former times...” Miserably, each day Coraline would prepare her own meals; since her parents were away and she had not wanted to trouble William ~ And every night, before falling upon troubled sleep, Coraline would brush her own hair, with each gentle stroke wondering whatever could she do to help poor dear Clara ~ The flash of inspiration had arrived within a dream; it had suggested she become a spy, a detective, a secret agent... Thus, she had returned to occupy some of those familiar private places which had afforded escape from chaos in the past ~ at least those ones she could still squeeze into since she was no longer a little girl ~ Utilizing their concealment to avoid detection, she had craftily gathered fragments of scattered clues... Eventually, when


Coraline had resolved the courage to present her evidence, Clara had immediately been compelled to burst into tears and offer up a full confession ~ Admitting that her heart of hearts had indeed been captivated by the most handsome, intelligent, and financially successful man she had ever met... Yes it was true ~ Clara was totally, desperately and madly in love with Roderick Woodcocke! Coraline could only roll her eyes ~ She couldn't believe that Clara had simply flipped over the trivial pursuit of some well-groomed boy ~ It were as though she had become possessed by her obsession! “You must understand,” Clara had pleaded, “I recognize him as my soul mate; we have known each other throughout the eons! Coraline, believe me when I tell you that the tragedy we have suffered in every age has been the doom of overwhelming forces which have always conspired against us.” Her voice had then dropped to a whisper, “I tell you in strictest confidence ~ please do not breathe a word to a soul ~ that during our previous lives together he had been the captain of a slaving ship called ‘The Golden Rule’, and I had been his most precious cargo. I retain vivid recollections of how he kept me alive in his cabin by feeding me from his meager rations even while allowing some of his own crew to starve. Within sight of Jamaica, with the foul stench of scurvy breeding its discontent, the hold was unexpectedly breached by the explosion of a powder keg during an attempted mutiny. My brothers and myself washed ashore upon the wreckage, yet alas, the captain, mortally wounded lay upon the deck while the craft from keel to rigging vanished forever beneath the waves. And thus it was that our true love was also rent asunder.” “I have returned, like a moth to the flame, guided by a beacon, to finally realize the true objective of my research... The clarity of the path which has directed me to Whitehaven has finally been revealed! Oh Coraline, I should be so happy to have found him! But alas, our desire has once again been thwarted. This time there is reluctance caused by his family who are still steeped in a tradition of hatred. His father would certainly forbid him from having any contact with a dark-skinned woman. And so it is that Roderick insists he must remain compliant with their wishes, since he stands to risk inheritance of a most substantial fortune!” Clara dropped her gaze, then a few moments later, looked up like a shy child. “Truthfully, he is not fully aware that we have encountered each other many previous times during the course of our lives. I suspect that he can sense it; I can read it in his eyes. Yet, I need to make him fully realize the situation for what it truly is. How many more lifetimes will it take before we are blessed with another opportunity to fulfill our destiny; to make our world complete... To live happily ever after...” Clara wiped a tear from her eye, then pushed back her chair from the kitchen table. She had then added, wearily as she arose; “I admit I sometime doubt whether my perceptions are entirely certain... I desperately want him to experience the same intensity of feelings that I have for him; to feel the heat running through his veins, the eagerness to rush into my arms, to caress me, to become engulfed by the flames of passion, to be raised aloft upon the wings of desire, to soar beyond the wond'ring eyes


of mortals... Yet, in his heart, if he does truly love me... could it just be the wishes of his family which keep us apart? ... Is it possible there could be another woman in his life? No, I must assist him to advance in his perceptions and sensitivity. I must help him open his mind and his heart. He must realize the importance of making a commitment to be totally and exclusively mine... To overcome insurmountable obstacles, I know of no other method as effective as casting a Love Spell... A little bit of Obeah is what's needed to attract him as if drawn by a magnet!” With her decision apparently determined, Clara had then returned to sweeping the floor ~ without consideration that it was already without a speck of dust. One week later, a strange package arrived air-express from Jamaica. Clara signed for delivery and tipped the courier. She looked up at the ceiling; toward the grill of the vent behind which Coraline was hiding, and quietly requested; “I will need your help, please fast today and drink only pure water. I will come to you later.” She had then disappeared with the package into her room where she remained sequestered for the entire afternoon. That evening, with the setting of the sun, as usual, Coraline had prepared for bed. She brushed her long auburn hair while being serenaded by a nightingale perched outside her window ~ Philomela whose tongue produced the sound of water bubbling from a silver jar; a song of Love which triumphed over the bitter pain of a thorn touching its heart; a beautiful voice which the white Moon heard to forget the dawn and linger in the sky ~ It was then that Clara Voyee had drifted into her bedroom as silently as a ghost... Her skin had glistened with the damp sheen of a warm herbal bath from which she had freshly emerged; cleansed and prepared. Coraline had also noted that Clara was certainly wearing unusual attire; her head was wrapped in a white kerchief, knotted at the back, and her body was clad in a robe which she had fashioned from the sheet of a bed ~ Stained with several drops of blood? Only the candle reflected in the mirror of Coraline's dresser provided illumination, and in that dim light, Clara's impassive expression had seemed to mask an immense intensity lurking beneath its surface. Yet, the calmness of her voice had allayed any sense of uneasiness; “Nightime hours are allotted to incantations veiled in mystery; come with me and we shall find what is meant to be.” The summer night felt comfortable in pyjamas, the grass pleasant beneath the bare soles of her feet. The distant ocean engulfed the sun to ignite the sky with fire. Above which rosy atmosphere the brightest stars had begun to emerge ~ Down the garden path, Clara had led the way carrying a small machete. A dirty canvas sack was slung over her shoulder. Coraline watched her garments writhe and glisten like long snakes obedient to her rhythm ~ Past the climbing roses, verbenas, dogwood, Japanese maple, past statuary like memories of a distant time sculpted in stone, past the dovecote, wisteria, moon daisies, and the fiery glow of euphorbias, through the wrought iron gate and into the wilder, denser forest at the furthest edge of the estate. Of course, Coraline had been curious about what was to happen next, since until then Clara had always guarded her rituals with privacy ~ And it had seemed sensible to


take every precaution to conceal sacred knowledge from those unworthy, lest this treasure also become contaminated like nearly every one of nature's abundant gifts. They had continued in silence for a certain distance before Clara motioned Coraline to be still. Clara had dropped to her knees then, and crawled into the nearby bushes through an opening which appeared to have been burrowed by some type of small animal. Leaves furiously rustled, branches snapped, and Clara grunted quite loudly while she attempted to squeeze through the narrow passageway. Coraline had a much easier time following ~ Although, she had remained puzzled why she had never taken any particular notice of this clump of willows previously; so thoroughly had she explored the entire property ~ And more amazing, as her eyesight had grown accustomed to the incidental light within the dense thicket, was that Coraline had discovered a cozy clearing large enough to sit comfortably upon a gentle mound of grass which rested near a small circular pool ~ Its tranquilly had reflected the enormous waxing moon which skirted the arc of branches overhead, and mirrored the erratic movement of several brilliant fireflies which glanced through the shadows. Clara dropped her machete, lowered the canvas sack, then collapsed into the tall grass as though extremely weary. She leaned back against the mound and tilted her chin toward her chest. Coraline knelt quietly nearby ~ waiting while Clara rested ~ and soon her gaze was captivated by the perfect reflection upon the surface of the small pool... To her sudden amazement, Coraline realized that the pool, in actuality, was the basin of an old stone fountain which lay almost entirely submerged beneath the ground and filled to the brim with rainwater. At its center, just beneath the surface, she had been able to discern the projecting stump of a base plate; the mount upon which perhaps had once arisen a most graceful ornamental statue. Naturally, Coraline recognised that the fountain had been interred by her grandfather many years before, since she had noted his artistic style in several unusual symbols inscribed about the circumference of the rim. Following a long interval of silence, Clara appeared to suddenly awaken from her trance; her eyes glowed yellowish-red beneath her sunken lids, her movement slow and dreamy, and when her words were spoken they were as soft as though she were not really there. Rousing herself, Clara had crossed her legs to assume a straighter posture. She then withdrew a small vial from the canvas sack, and placed a few drops of pungent oil onto her fingertips ~ A concoction which, Clara had mumbled, contained trace extracts of valerian, aconite and belladonna ~ She had then anointed Coraline's forehead before marking her own. From the center of the application, Coraline had immediately experienced an intense tingling sensation which gradually radiated throughout her entire body ~ Her heart felt as though it were a soft machine engine pounding ever harder as its speed increased. Clara scattered sand and ashes to form a circle, then reached into her sachet again to withdraw an enormous beeswax candle which had been carefully polished to resemble the shape of a phallus ~ Its imposing size had instinctively compelled Coraline to draw her knees more tightly together! ~ Clara had then clasped the candle


between her bare breasts, where the front of her robe had fallen open, and spoke in a solemn voice; “Roderick Woodcocke, love me as I love you, desire me as I desire you.” She had then taken a thorn ~ chosen from a white rose bush ~ to slowly inscribe the words; 'COME TO ME LOVE' on the candle, then scratched her fingernails down its sides to decorate it with wavy snake lines before finally setting it upon the ground before her. Clara dressed the candle with love oil, anointed it with saliva, then with a spark, lit the wick to nurture a tiny bright flame to flicker into existence, saying; “I light this candle in pure love's name that your love will burn as brightly for me as my love burns for you.” ~ A tapering streamer of smoke danced enchantingly through the moonlight as though it were an ephemeral gossamer thread. Clara had then prayed; “Let our hearts be one. Amen.” Then from her canvas cutacoo, a bottle of clear liquid emerged. Clara had cracked open the seal to splash some into the magic circle upon the ground, then tilted it back to consume a substantial portion before passing the bottle to Coraline. Still kneeling tentatively nearby, Coraline's bird-like sip had confirmed that evidently she had every reason to be apprehensive; what at first taste had seemed icy-cool, had soon begun to burn like fire. With determined courage, Coraline had taken a second much larger gulp, then a third for good measure, then Clara had pulled the bottle from her hand ~ It wasn't long before the effects of this magical elixir had begun to make her feel a little tipsy. Settling into a similar cross-legged posture, Coraline had watched in fascination as Clara conducted a mysterious process ~ Noting that the contrast between her white robe and dark skin were even greater in the moonlight ~ At unexpected intervals, Clara had been considerate enough to offer short phrases as explanation whenever she detected that things were proceeding too ambiguously for Coraline: Next, at the center of the circle, Clara set a nkabere consisting of three sticks ~ a twig from the wizard's tree; bonsam dua, a root of akwamea taken where it crosses a path, and a small branch from the adwin ~ She sprinkled on a few bristles from an old sweeping broom then placed a piece of string on top; “The tie that binds.” Upon this collection, Clara set a brass platter into which she tenderly placed a piece of paper upon which she had previously written both of their full names ~ without lifting the pencil ~ to form a circle in which the end was joined with the beginning. Next, she positioned a pair of mated lodestones upon the paper, with the attracting ends of their magnetic polarities directed toward each other. To work the love spell, Clara addressed each of the roughly equal-sized stones by name; the pointed male she called Roderick Woodcocke, the well rounded female, Clara Voyee. She conditioned them with pure virgin oil then fed them a fine iron grit of magnetic sand to enhance their innate power. As though mesmerized by the candle light, Clara had muttered incantations from the Song of Solomon, and Pascal's Pensees #47, while continuing to slowly move the lodestones closer together until their edges had interlocked ~ Convex into concave, positive to negative charges flowing between the surfaces; “Spirit of Love, I do this work for love and only love. I am willing to receive all the love Roderick Woodcocke has for me, as I am willing to accept the degree of love I receive with grace


and tenderness. Amen.” Coraline had marveled at all of the exotic items a practitioner of sex magic needed to conjure from her trick bag in order to evoke the intentions of her amorous desires ~ Clara had then methodically arranged the following items around the circumference of the small brass pan; a few leaves of lettuce... the inner white coat of a bitter chadèk (citrus grandis)... some leaves of sweet-sop (annona squamosa)... a silver coin bearing the image of Queen Elizabeth... a compact mirror... a comb... a clove of garlic... cornmeal... sacred palm nuts... apple seeds... alligator's teeth... pangolin's scales... frankincense... feathers... a small packet of cinnamon Red Hots... a wooden four-leafed clover... a brand new spool of red sewing thread... and a pinch of table salt. And to this farrago of precious things useful for Obeah, Clara had also added several types of aromatic herbs, gnarled roots, and minerals inherently powered by ‘natural magic’ ~ Yet, the most essential items, had been saved for last; a button from her love's tweed vest and several strands of his golden hair ~ which Clara had surreptitiously collected during their encounter in Whitehaven. Clara braided the strands of his hair together with hers then placed it upon the love letter in the pan, along with his button, and her cherished amulet ~ A golden talisman in the shape of an ankh. “Spirit of Love, I do this work for love and only love. Give me strength to slay the meddlesome demon of lust ~ that cruel bloodthirsty monster.” Then, chanting incoherently and wobbling slightly as though possessed, Clara had snatched up her machete and wielded it wildly while her searchlight eyes slowly scanned her surroundings... Coraline had instantly fallen prey to the captivating beam, which froze her motionless with its intensity ~ Momentarily, she had been terrified by the malicious glint in Clara's eye as she had gestured for Coraline to open the palm of her hand. “The blood of the virgin!” Instead of slicing her palm as Coraline had almost been prepared to submit, Clara handed her a small honeydew cantaloupe. Clara's voice retained the rational reliability to which Coraline had become accustomed as she relayed the following advice; “Observe but do not intervene, do not judge and do not question. Keep your peace, keep love in your heart... No harm will come to you... Remember as much as possible of what is about to happen... Seen?” ~ Then slowly, delicately, she sliced through the hard rind with the razor-sharp blade to illicit a few drops of nectar to consecrate the alter. The delicious fragrance of ripe melon sweetened the air. Coraline licked her lips. Clara set down the tool, then withdrew yet further ingredients concealed at the bottom of the bag ~ Ritual fabric bundles decorated with ribbons and feathers containing magical substances derived from the medicinal plants originally transported to the New World by slaves; afema (Justicia flavia), Damabo (Abras precatorius), the bark of the odum, a creeper called hamakyerehene, leaves of aya ~


chosen when they are seen quivering on the tree even with no wind to shake them ~ a bodom (so-called aggrey bead), and a long white bead called gyanie. Clara ignited some of her tiny bundles and their oil-cloths glowed like mantels, releasing a pungent smoke which stung Coraline's nostrils. Clara had then vigorously shook sacred rattles to emit a shower of sparks like tiny shooting stars... fireflies... a silvery sliver of moon... the resurrection of the Dead... the guardian spirits of venerated ancestors taking possession, inhabiting consecrated objects, their distant voices emanating on the airwaves... breathe... sigh... an ecstatic howl... a cry filled with tears... the droplets radiating intersecting patterns of concentric ripples rapidly skimming away from their point of origin across the mirrored surface... slender fingers dipping into soft clay at the edge of the pool to daub on forehead, heart, and genitals... the sheet opening... the mechanism of trance possession, her tone becoming throaty, more aggressive ~ Coraline had been shocked by profanity suddenly issuing from Clara's lips, moaning; “Uhmm, I want your cock in my pussy... Oh yes lover stay hard...” ~ The exaggerated gestures of her raging ‘wild spirit’... spasms... perspiration soaking her robe, flattening it to her body... invoking the incessant rhythm urging the horse of her possession onward, seized and completely ridden, whipped into a frenzy, violently thrashing, her frenetic tongue darting in the foam at the corners of her mouth... the orgasmic fragrance of her rapture filling the air with its sweet perfume... building in intensity... “Ke-ke-ke-ke-ke-ke!”... Then suddenly Clara collapsed like a rag doll, and her head had flopped to the ground with a dull thump — Some time elapsed before Clara had unsteadily arisen from the ground ~ weaving like a growing plant, she shed her robe as she gained her feet to stand skyclad against the night... her brown nipples hard like rose buds... a humid oasis occulted between her thighs... eyes open wide... reaching out in slow motion to pluck subtle threads of an invisible spider web like the strings of a harp to compose an inaudible melody... enraptured, her body softly swaying, Clara had begun to sing; “I have been celibate, I have abstained, I have resisted all forms of temptation...” ~ Upon catching a glimpse of her reflection within the magical pool, Clara had abruptly stopped singing to clasp her hands then slowly kneel to speak with the image; “Ancestors from the other-world, please favour me with wisdom. Look upon me, your humble servant who worships and adores you, and know that I serve only those who serve you. I have yet to pass beyond all suffering; I can still be hurt. Nurture me, guide me, bless me, heal me... I am your vessel. Generously redeem me from being a beast so I may again become a woman. Lend me courage, clarity, tranquillity and strength of character. Teach me to respect myself.” ~ Coraline truly detected the beaming ray of love from Clara's heart as she had intoned; “Love is compassion, love is immortal... Love is the law, love under will.” While Clara had been speaking, a gigantic dull-brown centipede had crawled out of the moist loam near Coraline's knee. Its armor-plating shimmered in the candle light as it rapidly scrabbled across Coraline's lap before coming to rest upon the back of her hand. She had immediately recognized it as the common British centipede; Lithobius forficatus, thus she did not flinch nor try to brush it away, afraid that it might bite her... She had been relieved that in a few moments it had scuttled away to vanish in the shadows.


Upon returning her attention to Clara, Coraline had heard her mention something to the effect that; spells, like prayers, clarify thought in order to communicate Will to others ~ With virtuous concentration then, Clara had proceeded to continually repeat a question as though it were a mantra; “Will you come to me Roderick Woodcocke, will you come to me my love? Will you come to me Roderick...” ~ After considerable time, Clara had paused, took three tips from the bottle, then commenced to recite long strings of incantations in a cryptic language which was not Latin, so that a small round flat stone ~ which she had previously chosen from the sea ~ had miraculously levitated as though hoisted aloft by unseen angels before it had returned to rest upon her outstretched palm... She breathed upon the stone and it blazed to life with pale blue fire... Imagery began to emanate upon its chameleon surface texture... Then cautiously, Clara had lowered the stone into the pool of water, and the entire surface became the display... The interface between the visible and the invisible; a portal to the otherworld ~ The oracle of divination; A mermaid with green eyes beckoned from the darkness of its infinite mysterious depths... subsumed with compelling seduction... then emerged to move upon the face of mystic waters without cognizance of its own identity... pure devotion... the flame of the candle burning brightly... the sun and moon orbiting between day and night... blackness reflected in the shining mirror... white molten wax dripped onto its surface so the shapes may be interpreted; read as omens from swirling patterns similar to radiating arms of a spiral galaxy cradling its infant civilizations ~ Clara had bowed her head to implore the shimmering reflection in the starry pool to grant the following request: “We seek to foresee the future...” “I have a message for you!” The wondrous sound it made spoke as the music of distant waves; “The path you journey with an open heart and open mind will not lead you astray, seek you to become aware of the true purpose of your mission.” “I seek to become aware, reveal to me what is true,” Clara had requested. “Will my lover come to me; will he love me with all his heart?” “Yes your lover will come to you. He will love you as you will.” “Hallelujah!” Clara had rejoiced; clasping her hands together and breaking into dance ~ Then suddenly realizing that Coraline was there, she had seemed to become aware of her nakedness. She covered herself modestly while she had crouched to wrap herself in her previously discarded robe. “Now you glimpse into your future, Coraline,” Clara prompted, nodding toward the pool, “Tell me if you see anything?” “No, I see nothing but the sky and wild fell,” Coraline had replied, then momentarily, excitedly exclaimed ; “Yes... yes I see a little castle, far, far away.” “Thither you are to go,” spoke Clara, “And thither you are to dwell, for it is thither you


will find your own true love, and perchance reunite long-separated souls also distanced by time.” ‘Thither?’ Coraline had frowned ~ The image of the castle upon a rustic mountaintop had appeared to be from distant medieval times ~ The prominent fortress commanded a view of the surrounding valley; densely wooded hills, pastoral fertile fields, and a tiny village huddled at its base which consisted of a cluster of wooden houses scattered along the bank of a meandering river... Then the vision had begun to change, and the image of a young man appeared ~ His face was rather handsome, although, his countenance appeared tired as though he had been working very hard. His almond-shaped lids drooped slightly over cool steel-grey eyes, his dark mustache tapered to a denser patch covering his chin, and his longish dark hair was wildly unkempt. Coraline was intrigued since she had somehow instinctively recognized this fellow; it were as though they had met somewhere before ~ And for some reason it had seemed she could recall that his name was Jurgen... As charmed as Narcissus had been, she bent toward the water to study the flickering image more closely ~ Her own nymph-like reflection merged with his as though mirroring each other's soul; her blushed cheeks, her ivory neck, freckled nose and parted lips, were so glowing of health and exercise, that by comparison his image had seemed dulled of its color and its vigor as though consumed by a cherished flame. A tear had then fallen into the clear pool to disturb the silvery image with an echoing ripple ~ Yet, Coraline had wondered, had it been her tear or his? “Love and Destiny are merely sets of possibilities with which our actions determine whether they may be attained. The mating we seek may well be one of harmonizing our feminine and masculine sides. Understanding the nature of polarities is essential alchemy.” Coraline took another big gulp of ‘fire’ ~ Her eyes watered as she exhaled a cloud of fumes ~ The atmosphere seemed to become tranquil; similar to the calm following the aftermath of an intense storm ~ Coraline could readily imagine her and Clara sitting in the shadow of a mango tree on a warm Caribbean night... The lushness of verdant foliage, the earthiness of humid soil ~ The fragrance of life... Clara retrieved the bottle ~ She seemed to be coming down from the euphoric heights of ecstasy ~ resting relaxed in the deep grass, her hand caressed the bottle. In confidence ~ since it had seemed certain secrets could be revealed ~ her voice then spun an ephemeral thread like the smoke tapering from the candle burning low... at times drifting away to become nearly inaudible before gradually regaining clarity with volume, as she illuminated some wonderful details of her indoctrination into the occult art of Obeah... “... To learn how to gather roots, leaves, bark and seeds, and to faithfully memorize all of the sacred recipes for preparing potions which remedy nearly every type of illness, requires at least three years of dedicated study by the novitiate... Most important to the skill of extraction is the development of a thorough understanding of the toxicity level of each plant. What may destroy one life often saves another; since some poisons, in small doses, are the only cure to expel the powerful, dark, parasitic


spirits of bacteria and viruses which inhabit a human host, and which in themselves are just as deadly as a lethal dose of poison if left untreated... In Ghana, there is a proverb; ‘No child is born with its teeth,’ Which means we all improve and advance. Yet, it takes time. It is difficult to grow. Since, the more we advance, the more difficult our challenges become.” Then Clara had drifted into more pleasant reverie; “I had a lover in Jamaica. He was a big strong black man named Ti-Jean Petro. Some folks called him a charmer, a myal-man or obayifo ~ Let me tell you girl, he sure put a spell on me!” Clara took a swig from the bottle then passed it to Coraline. “Whenever I watched him passing by, I had always been curious about him ~ since many said he was blessed with the hidden knowledge of making potions for a love charm or a curse, and that he knew all about duppies and how to capture shadows. One morning I finally got the courage to venture up the twisted mountain trail to his isolated cabin in the woods. It was a long and arduous climb and I was frightened by the sound of wild dogs barking in the bushes. He greeted me enthusiastically and seemed quite pleased with himself. We spent the afternoon inside his tiny cabin drinking tea and smoking spliffs. While we were talking he selected an amulet from the large collection hanging from a spike driven into the wall.” Clara had fingered the golden ankh suspended upon an elegant chain about her neck. “Spell-bound by its tempting beauty, it swung gleaming before my gaze, suspended like a pendulum, shifting back and forth, its momentum gradually, inevitably, succumbing to relentless gravity... The amulet had fallen from his fingertips then, and dropped toward a bucket of rag-water near the table; “If this love be true, do not falter in thy grasp.” He had spoken quickly, yet by the time he had, the golden ankh already lay clasped tightly within my hand.” “When I was a young, my precious hope was that my treasure should remain intact until the day my true love arrived to share our destined journey.” Clara stared up at the moon perched above the tips of the dense thicket which seemed to devour the sky ~ The night had increasingly grown as dark as pitch. Absently, her gaze returned to Coraline, “Some may call him a charmer, yet I call him a trickster and a thief; because that night, by the time we had fallen asleep, he had craftily stolen my virginity ~ I know I should be shocked and outraged that he used his spells on me, but truthfully, I've yet to have experienced another quite like him. That night I learned it is permitted to profit by the good fortune and happiness which Divine Spirits can provide ~ It pleasures them immensely to render services to those whom understand their nature, and know how to attract them... The next morning, after a meagre breakfast, he hastened me upon my way, offering to speak with Maman Brigitte; a woman who could teach me about magic. Then Ti-Jean instructed me to not look back or speak to a living soul, and warned me never again to return until I was invited.” “I went home, and during the next several days, attended school as usual. Then on Saturday I sensed that I had been summoned by the leaf doctor; Maman Brigitte. Maman was a recluse who lived past the graveyard in a spacious cabin overlooking the town. Since I had never seen her before, I did not know what to expect. I remember being very nervous when I first knocked upon her door; trembling as I stood there


holding a paper bag filled with the groceries I had brought her as a present; some tobacco and coffee, chocolate, avocados, shallots, red peppers, feta cheese and olives. Soon, a tiny woman with long, wispy, grey hair emerged, and although seeming very sprightly, she supported herself with a staff intertwined with sacred serpent lovevines ~ Odomankoma or Cuscuta americana. And as I would discover was her habit; she had been puffing on a hand-rolled cigarette:” “You wish to gain access to the most impenetrable of mysteries,” Maman Brigitte had chuckled through a cloud of smoke, “Enter the gateway to the unknown herewith, come inside my dear.” “From the moment we met, I realized I had found a most reliable guide; a woman who would become a trustworthy friend, my mentor and my spiritual mother. I was sixteen ~ about the same age as you ~ and the reason I had so desperately sought assistance was because of the strange phenomena I was experiencing in both my dreaming and waking life; which once it had become evident, had continued to increase in intensity ~ It had seemed possible that I was possessed by demons, or perhaps had even begun to lose my mind. There was no-one else with whom I could speak because I was afraid they would not understand. Of course Maman immediately recognized the situation, and reassured me that I had been naturally blessed by a very special gift. She agreed to teach me how to direct my energies and visions toward achieving useful results. In exchange, I would help with chores around her small farm; tend the garden, gather eggs, and harvest the ripest fruit from her orchard, which I would deliver to the market every weekend on a bicycle which had a sidecar resembling a large produce basket ~ Coasting down the hill in the morning with a heavy load and returning in the evening with a pocketful of change; of which Maman would always reward me a portion.” “Every few days, early in the morning as the sun was rising, I would return for further instruction ~ Maman taught me which herbs to add to the water when I bathed, and which foods I should avoid so I could cleanse my body. From her I learned the practice of meditation, with which I could purify my mind and spirit by refraining from certain types of thoughts ~ No distractions, desires, fears ~ Was it truly possible?...” Clara's voice had trailed away, then returned; “Sometime during our sessions, Maman would enter a trance which allowed her to be taken possession by the Vodou lwa; Brigitte ~ Li soti nan anglete ~ ‘comes from England’,” Clara had translated ~ Descendant of St. Brigit ~ St. Bee ~ A manifestation of the Celtic ‘triple goddess’ of poetry, smithcraft, and healing.” Coraline had been surprised by this information, since it had enabled her to see more clearly the deeper connections which had brought Clara to the barren northlands on her amazing journey. Coraline took another sip from the bottle. Clara had continued; “There are inherent spiritual principles shared by every religion; ‘A great tree has many branches’. As the ancient Celts had before them, Obeah and Voodoun practitioners readily experience the world as a magical place


and believe in the indestructibility of the human soul. There is respect for all manner of hidden things in the natural world. Since, by establishing contact with these unseen forces, we are able to learn to use medicinal plants to cure illness, and strengthen our community through the tremendous power of faith. And in this way, diviners called Vates, can interpret omens by watching the flight of birds, the behavior of animals, and the patterns of flowing water... ‘With the ebb, with the flow; as it was, as it is, as it shall be’.” “Maman Brigitte taught me that the divine presence is eternal and that it is constantly in flux. It may be understood as the totality of relationships between the atoms of every molecule which comprise the substance of all material existence and all states of being. It is a complex web of nested networks in which each reflects both a lesser and a greater scale. There is no place within the cosmos which is not ensouled by its vital energy. It is revealed as the architect of inexhaustible abundance. It is the force inhabiting the Elements; water, earth, fire and air... The sunshine and rain which sustain fertility and growth, the forests, the hurricanes, and the spirit of healing streams. Its force is evident in the motion of planets which ultimately reveal the course of human destiny. And of course, since it is manifest within each cell of every living being, the transmission of its patterns endow us with our biological inheritance; it is the sculptor of our body, and the author of our characteristics. It also thus enables us to channel the energy of venerated ancestors, who had lived an exemplary life; spirits which are perceived as sensations, or sometime arrive in dreams, to advise us of what we need to do.” “In a sense, Obeah practitioners are true chaos-magicians since our art is based upon directing energy inherent within natural systems to fulfill a specific objective. To master the power, one must first become the servant of magic; then anything may be demanded from the forces which are not contrary to their nature. Love is the law, therefore whether magic is cast for lawful or unlawful purposes, remember, there are always consequences. Since energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only transformed from one state to another, it is essential to be aware that whenever movement or disruption is caused within the natural flow, somehow, somewhere, there must always be a return to equilibrium. Thus the magician must bear responsibility for her actions, and accept that all rewards must be earned and all punishments must be endured... Heaven and hell are temporal to this existence. This is the place of testing which the ancient Egyptians called Duat. To pass beyond this judgment is to enter Amenti where the eternal dwell.” “Obeah teaches patience, calmness, respect, order, and an acceptance of whatever life may bring. Obeah may be a crooked path, yet with dedication it leads to the highest degree of attainment. Each ordeal, each sacrifice, each trial and tribulation provides profound insight by which to grace your spirit with understanding and wisdom... It is important to live every word... In West Africa, the spoken word is referred to as ‘water and seed and blood in one’. With awareness, the Word will breathe sacred passwords to unlock the life-force effective in all things, and bestow their influence toward achieving a desired objective. Magical spells unleash powerful spirits, therefore,


depending upon how they are directed, they may either provide a cure by dispelling disordered equilibrium, disharmony and chaos, or deliver a curse to a particular individual by summoning torments to visit upon them... Recognize that those who employ the knowledge, wherewith they have been enriched, for evil purposes, abuse their privilege, and may find themselves accursed. Since evil imposed upon the unwary may recoil to strike with reflex current and sickness could ensue...” Clara's voice had trailed off again, and her head had slumped toward her chest... In a few moments Clara had become alert then focused her attention intently upon Coraline; “Demons arrive when you are at your weakest, so you must always find ways to remain strong. Beware those malicious tricksters which prey upon our fears, or lead us astray by seducing us with sweet temptations... All hell breaks loose when the sleeping dragon awakens... This is the greatest danger of being human... Fortunately our guardians watch over us while our conduct remains worthy; guidance always arrives when it is needed, sometime in the most unexpected forms. Remain true and clear, and you will be redeemed by the divine presence which provides us with salvation.” The candle had burned down to nothing but a waxy puddle, and the sky appeared to be growing lighter ~ suggesting that, against all reason, a new day would soon dawn. Clara appeared weary as she had gathered her ritual items and returned them to her canvas sack; “Each morning, at the end of the session, Maman Brigitte would smile and say, ‘Nah be late fi school, listen di teacher’. She would kiss me upon the forehead, then away I would run, down the hill as fast as my skinny little legs would go.” Clara laughed as she recalled the scene ~ her laughter had a very pleasant sound. Coraline had stretched to adjust to her Procrustean bed; hosted within her luxurious suite in the clouds ~ at the apex of the Golden Sun Pavilion. ‘It is so difficult to remember all of the details...’ Her eyelids had slowly closed then; vanquishing insomnia as she drifted toward sleep... ‘Pleasant dreams,’ she thought Clara had said.

X. ROMANCE

The endless cycle of repetition: the world revolves, darkness gives way to light... ‘Warmth and brightness will return with the renewal of the hopes of man. No... Yes... Very nice, very nice’... Born into the light we must perish in darkness; the sun must also set ~ That is why the land to the west of the Nile was called the Land of the Dead... Getting started once again, this is the hardest part.


... The following morning, and the next as well, softly singing ‘You are my sunshine’, Coraline had thoroughly scoured the garden, yet had been unable to find any trace of the secret grove, nor the magical pool in the basin of the old stone sculpture ~ Coraline could still recall the faded inscriptions around the rim as though examining a photograph within her mind; markings which seemed to have been made by little tracks of strange birds walking through wet clay, or perhaps an artistic attempt to replicate the crude pattern of lines and holes gouged and scratched onto sticks and bones by Ice-age hunters over 20,000 years ago ~ Perhaps a method of counting days between phases of the moon ~ Coraline had observed examples in the specimens carefully catalogued and warehoused within her mother's archeological storeroom in the cellar. While Coraline had searched, the only things which had seemed unusual were; a robin landing upon her finger to speak a few brief words, a mysterious black cat which had vanished with a grin, and an abandoned nest high in the barren branches of a dead elm... Ivy covered the stone archway framing the heavy oak door... William looked up with a bemused expression as Coraline had entered his workshop ~ He had been hunched over his journal, scribbling with ink and quill, lost within pleasant reverie ~ His opus was a large folio volume exceeding twelve hundred unnumbered pages which entertained William's propensity for sesquipedalian didacticism. Within reach was the head of an antique wooden mannequin numbered with territories mapping out the domains of phrenology which he had just been contemplating. He dipped the tip of the quill in water, quickly wiped it clean with a cloth, then turned to cheerfully greet her; “Miss Coventry! Come give your grandfather a great hug.” Coraline had flown to tenderly embrace him ~ As always, she had been comforted by his masculine musky scent reminiscent of eucalyptus, his scratchy white whiskers tickling her cheek, and his quiet voice whispering in her ear; “What seems to be the matter child?” William had always been the one in whom she could confide her deepest troubles ~ Not only would he never betray her trust, he had also possessed the wealth of wisdom acquired with age. And although Coraline would have been grateful for her grandfather's assistance in understanding the difficult situation Clara seemed to be going through, Coraline could not break the vow of silence about any secret which Clara had previously vouchsafed with her. William had nodded knowingly, then wandered over to the bookshelf to peruse his collection ~ Rubbing away dust with his fingertip to reveal names of various volumes; ‘Grimorium Verum’, ‘Grimorium Goethiav’, ‘Albertus Magnus’, ‘The Black Pullet’, ‘Secrets of the Psalms’, ‘... or, Long Lost Friend’... Eventually conjuring up what he had been searching for: a massive anthology of poetry by the English Romantics. With the heavy tome under one arm, and Coraline's hand held lightly in his other, he had lead the way into the adjoining conservatory where the sun was much brighter for reading.


The vibrancy of the plants indoors had seemed much more vivid than life outside. They grew with more vigor and were induced to assume more idealistic forms through William's nurturing horticultural care ~ Giant flowers which spanned the breadth of Coraline's outstretched fingers, pleasantly-arrayed symmetrical branching of leaves, and the cornucopia of exotic fruits and vegetables arranged within the still-life tableaus were perfectly composed for reproduction in oil paint. He had selectively gathered a particular number of each insect species, and had imported them into the enclosed environment to pollinate and patrol plants in order to protect them from the presence of pests ~ Coraline watched a beautiful pale blue butterfly sink its long tongue deep into the cup of a nearby flower; perhaps it was a Morpho didius. Even the structure of the conservatory had seemed organic, as though it had adapted in response to the inclement north England weather which it had endured since the middle of the twentieth century: the glazed panels elegantly bowed between the ridge of the roof and the stalwart stone plinths which supported it. The columns were capped by wonderful iron cornice brackets which William had forged to resemble acanthus-leaves ~ The stresses which were maintained had also gradually distorted the angle of tilt of each gabled crown of the two canted bays ~ along both sides ~ so that growing gaps in the grid of glass panels required periodic patching to be performed by the application of a daub of fresh caulking with a long-handled brush while balanced precariously atop a stepladder. The haunting values of brush-strokes had faded over the years to achieve the effect of abstract Gothic stained-glass. And as usual, the atmosphere had been enlivened by a somewhat unpleasant sound emanating from the golden bell of William's hand-cranked Victrola ~ The dog on the decal of the phonograph cocked its ear to listen to ‘His Master's Voice’ ~ Coraline recalled her grandfather mention that his particular model; VV-XIII, built by the Victor Talking Machine Company, had been available only in the colony of Canada ~ pity! ~ Yet, by an unknown thread of events, it had arrived upon the shores of the United Kingdom some time during the roaring twenties ~ A decade which William had once nostalgically described as a long party following World War One... ‘With the sobering realization that all of the money was gone,’ William had said, ‘festivities had come to a halt with an almost total collapse of the stock market. The crash spun into the hangover depression of the dirty thirties; when lands turned to dust, crops blew away and jobs were very difficult to find. Interestingly, the economy did not show many signs of recovery until the war machines had geared up for a second World War ~ Then had the ominous specter of the Holy Roman empire loomed much larger and bloodier than before...’ According to instructions printed on the paper sleeve, the steel needles were designed to be used ONLY ONCE; ‘To be discarded after every play’. Since William had been unable to find a supplier, he used the same needle on his Victrola for many years: Beethoven soared scratchily through the greenhouse cathedral... “The tarns and fells throughout the Lake District are still infested with the lonely outposts of lost souls — Poets!” William had chuckled as he slid aside a flat of


sprouting sunflower seeds to rest his book upon a table. With a twinkle in his eye, he continued; “In a region like ours, the isolation of a harsh winter serves to encourage one's reading habits. It is also an introspective time of year, during which many young literati have found compelling topics for their own humble musings. Indeed, over the course of a century, many from this region had put pen to paper, and made a name for themselves throughout Europe, and even around the world, with the creation of a novel type of ‘nature’ poetry... Particularly the ones with means,” William had winked. “Of course, romantic poetry is truly of much more ancient origin; it goes all the way back to howls and moans and grunts and screams which had inevitably ensued whenever a primitive boy had courted a primitive girl. It is purely the mating ritual; the biological imperative of every species to increase its population ~ And there are few temptations more difficult to suppress!” Coraline had sat atop a wooden box, listening intently, intermittently doodling with a fine sharp pencil on sheet of craft paper; as usual lately, sketching ‘futuristic’ buildings which had resembled tall leafy plants. “Out of the fantastic imagery of the brain, cities and temples, beyond the art of Phidias and Praxiteles... beyond the splendour of Babylon... Lord Byron,” muttered her grandfather, cautiously prying open the cover of the antique volume to reveal delicate yellowed leaves book-marked by pressed flowers, and pages gloriously decorated with woodcut prints or intricate initial capitals. “Ahem...” William had dramatically cleared his voice before proceeding to read aloud portions of Keats 1819 ‘Ode to a nightingale' ~ A meditation upon the eternally pure song of ‘Thou light-winged Dryad’ ~ Then an excerpt of Wordsworth's ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’; ‘Though nothing can bring back the hour... Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower...’ These had formed a prelude to several other brief passages which William had apparently selected at random ~ Coraline had found the moody poetry morose regardless of which hand had penned the fiction. After only a few, it had become irritatingly-obvious that each line of every poem would rhyme with the very next. Even the phrasing felt uncomfortably cloister'd by an awkward usage of contracted words ~ Each line seeming to fall stumbling o'er endless melancholy stanzas. Yet, it was the poems oft' recurring themes which distressed her most; epic tales plotting heartbreak and the consequences of outrageous fortune... peculiar twists of fate... sweet allegorical dreams set within an abundance of exotic locales... the recalcitrant mind tormented by fascination with the occult... each noble protagonist; whether saint, lover, or murderer, driven to the brink of madness by days spent fully indulging in grief... attempting to silence inner demons with near lethal doses of laudanum... then awake all night to write their dreadful melancholic poetry. Coraline had dearly wished that at least some would occasionally shed a little light on the more humorous aspects of life, instead of obliterating them with the ominous darkness of their own destructive obsessions. Perhaps, she too, had also desired a little more substantial revelation emerging from veiled allusions that the Victorian era had been such a wildly erotic affair ~ If so, why must the Romantics have necessarily repressed portrayals of passionate lovemaking 'neath cloaks of heavily-ornamented allegories ~


Coraline trembled slightly, realizing that tantalizing prospect was quite a scandalous thought. “What was the name of that fellow?” William muttered again, scratching his grey head, “The one who wrote ‘Flowers of Evil’... Why can't I remember his name?” Then having recognized that Coraline had been reticent in her appreciation of the verse, William had perhaps been prompted to provide her with some tangible evidence attesting to the significance of the Romantic movement ~ Although it had occurred well before his time, William's age had created the impression, in Coraline's mind, that it was a period which he had actually lived through ~ He would speak of it so glowingly as though of memories from his own childhood: “Romanticism was indeed a revolution; a revolution of passion over reason... Of the heart ruling over the mind. The liberation brashly shattered the classic formalism which had so enraptured the Age of Enlightenment: Those rational thinkers who had convinced themselves they were emerging from the ignorance of the Medieval darkness which had eclipsed so many centuries, to finally experience the dawning of a new golden age enlightened by science and reason. Everything seemed in a spin over the enormous impact which Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation had as an influence upon those increasing numbers who cherished the ability to read. Scientific experimentation and philosophical writing became fashionable throughout all strata of society, and of course flourished most intensely at academies where the intellectual elite, advocating free inquiry in the pursuit of knowledge, were frequently able to disseminate their published findings quite widely. Their scholarly notions fervently kindled an interest in discovering the means of obtaining other keys which unlocked the laws of the universe, inspiring the never-ending progress in knowledge, in technical achievement, and even in moral values by which to alter the nature of humanity for the better. In theory, they reasoned, it was entirely possible that all of God's Laws governing nature and society could be made accessible with the application of a sufficient measure of effort: Thus, they had called upon their brightest chaps to, figuratively, put their heads together, and have a go at cracking the code.” “Naturally, at the sound of that, the Romantics just blew a raspberry! They rejected the ‘truths’ of common sense! They praised those unconscious aspects at the root of the psyche; mystic intuition, passionate hysteria, the melancholy nostalgia for childhood, and the richly-imagined pastorals of pristine nature which had existed before the arrival of the Industrial Age. They exhibited a vast preference for emotions and dreams over the stolid absolutes of mathematical logic. They were idealists who conceived of physical reality as constructed entirely of mental phenomena. They cared not for the incident of light, the anatomy of an eye, the refinement of optical precision. And a future designed upon a systematic examination of the past totally contradicted their romantic sensibilities. They were novelists, poets, artistes and philosophes who in all sincerity and complete honesty had sought to experience the fullness of truth in everything, entirely by opening their simple hearts... ‘To thine own self be true!’ They would shout, firmly in agreement with Rousseau's observations that cultured man was


a degenerate and the history of civilization was a complete betrayal. Already heavily burdened by those precious hierarchies sanctioned by the Church and authorized by the State, the Romantics were therefore wary of a whole new set of rigid rules imposed by the mechanics of Science.” “Thou shalt not break the law of gravity!” her grandfather mockingly hissed. William's wheezing laughter had drawn Coraline out of her solemnity ~ Startled, she had realized that the lines comprising an ephemeral double pyramid hovered above the landscape in her sketch ~ It was actually quite an intriguing concept! Hmmm... Still coughing softly into his handkerchief, William continued; “Ultimately, the fact that their writing, art and music garnered immense popularity certainly justified their rebellion. Indeed, it was the prosperous economy that had made it so. Individualism had become an attractive proposition; particularly for those fortunate to have inherited wealth to indulge their cultural appetites at leisure. Deep forests and mountain trails no longer presented perilous hazards, the country wilds throughout most of Europe had become safely civilized. A weekend jaunt was just the ticket to pleasurably ponder the picturesque views which nature had presented, with a lunch basket and a gallon of wine... An eager escape into the pages of a popular fantasy novel to follow adventures of terrified heroes and heroines in the clutch of frightening mystical forces... To pander entrepreneurial paintings in a free market to sympathetic connoisseurs willing and able to pay for their work... To decry dull complacency and the decaying morals of political and religious authority as midnight pamphleteers, and above all, to achieve the Romantic's highest goal; that of having one's dream taken as reality by others.” “Romanticism had not consisted of perfect execution, but rather an insanity of spontaneous leaps of inspiration similar to the anarchy of natural evolution. Worldly happiness before religious salvation! Instead, a religion of Nature. A return to that veritable paradise which lovers of birds and flowers idealize, the one considered irretrievably lost once certain religions sanctified the worship of sacrificed martyrs as the only stairway to heaven...” William had wagged one finger for emphasis; mocking the stern preacher ~ Which had made Coraline a trifle nervous, since whenever her grandfather had seized upon the topic of religion, his tenacious tirades could sustain their grip for the duration of several hours. “They were heretics!” William had threatened to scream, “Postulating that there is only one immanent force exerting its influence throughout the material universe... Inherent in all things... and that everything added together could essentially be summed-up as one universal Soul. Obscenity and blasphemy! This notion made no sense to aged reasoners. They dismissed these flights of fantasy by precipitating flights of paranoia instead. This tactic had agitated Romantics with actual fear of very real censors who were employed by those authoritative incorporations which had invested most heavily in promoting their particular brand of deity. One, which had


appeared to the Romantics, to deem it rather undignified to become mired in the mortal poverty of this mundane coil, and instead preferred to operate from a marvelous temple beyond the distant clouds, where acting as final arbiter in the accountings of all earthly sins, ultimately determined who was worthy to be selected to amuse themselves with a stroll about the grounds of great blue heaven... Subsequently, upon publication of their little chapbooks, the Romantics were frequently forced to flee, hopefully to some exotic exile, as a means of escaping the ignominy of being condemned to perish in a pyre fueled with copies of their own works.” “True Romanticism was that movement which suddenly had awoken from the anarchy of dreaming slumber and the drama and strife of a turbulent life to discover the blissful harmony which may only be enjoyed when one's heart is truly infused with the divine. Liberty and freedom of thought, the Holy Grail: without limits, transgression is no longer possible. That is the spirit; infinitely better to the hopeless despair of realizing the folly of placing blind faith in an elusive construct of the mind, only to forget the sequence of passwords which must be recited before the treasures may be redeemed. For you see, they remain unaware that what they perpetually seek outside themselves, will only truly be found within.” Grandfather Coventry had slumped forward in his chair and lapsed into silence as though his energy had finally wound down as the music already had on his handcranked phonograph... Coraline was not entirely certain what all this talk of god and politics had to do with romantic love. The subject which she had been most interested in tactfully inquiring about ~ Modestly, without asking forthright; for she was a maiden of fair manners ~ Yet, also of that tender age when one's body begins to crave the physical happiness and intimate warmth of engaging in sexual activity ~ William had suddenly lifted his head, and his mouth formed a silent ‘oh’, as though sympathetically recognizing the nature of her thoughts... “Aha! That's it; Baudelaire! ‘Flowers of Evil’. Baudelaire, you can't go wrong with Baudelaire... The haunted stare of eyes blackened with no desire of sleep... The faint Victorian complexion as though remedied by leeches... Tiny drops of opium upon the sleeve of a tweed jacket... The paranoid disposition from the fear of fate... The young attractive second-cousin... All distilled into volumes which have become precious gifts. As I recall, his words may perhaps provide a spell to soothe afflicted love. It's not in this book,” William said closing the cover of the large volume before him, it's up here, he declared pointing to his temple; “His poems were banned by French censors way back in 1857.” ~ William had begun muttering ‘Afternoon Song’; “No Philtres could compete... your potent idleness... mastered the caress... That raises dead... your back and by your breasts... By your languid dalliance...” ~ Skipping the portions he had forgotten, then moving on to more sweeping passages of ‘The Jewels’ ~ “Something in this manner though I can no' longer quote it rightly,” William had apologized in advance. “Ahem... (clearing his voice)... She lay thus, abandoned to love... smiled... caress... my ardor arising deep and fragrant as the sea, mounting toward her as toward a pale


cliff... Polished with oil, undulant like a swan, arms and legs, thigh and loins, passed serenely before my clairvoyant eyes; her belly and breasts, fruits of my vine. Hovered, more seductive than Fallen Angels... the trouble in repose which my soul lay... the crystal rock where... it had been enthroned... (regaining his train of thought) Hmmm... The lamp had resigned itself to dying. The hearth alone illuminated the room, each time it heaved forth a flame, a sigh, flooded her amber skin with blood!” “Whew! Pretty heady stuff!” William had smiled as he softly ran his fingers through her hair. “Love is a many splendoured thing: there as many types of love, as there are types of beauty, and each are differentiated only by the slightest degree of subtlety.” He had directed Coraline's face upward to see more clearly into her eyes. “Love is dangerous. In many cases, secrecy is involved. Treachery also... elusive bonfires and clandestine affairs which are the bane of fools.” William had sadly shook his head as though speaking from experience. Rising from the chair, he made his way to a stack of recordings stored in paper sleeves upon the shelf near the Victrola. “To celebrate romantic love as the most exalted of human sentiments is to surrender to irrational, self-destructive passion as tragic as the fate which has previously befallen many heroes and heroines. Be aware that Destiny always arrives to intervene between lovers; since naturally the day will come when the widest portion of the deep commitment must be spanned or drowned ~ or swum as Lord Byron had done, in imitation of Leander, when he braved the channel at Troy...” William had added this cryptic afterthought while he gingerly fiddled to slide another brittle wax ‘Gram-OPhone’ recording onto the felt-covered platen. Slowly he cranked the handle on the side to somehow store up energy in invisible springs inside to drive the gears of its mechanism. “The scales of balance arrive to determine your choice of destiny: to make the commitment to either fully share your love with just one other, or to continue on alone. The choice is never easy...” William stooped down to blow some dust from the recording then carefully lowered the needle into the groove... “Either way, it is not the mind which suffers second thoughts...” Her grandfather had become mesmerized by a beautiful waltz; shuffling in slow lazy swirls as though the watering can which he had just plucked off the bench had now become his dancing partner ~ It had seemed a sensible time to make an exit ~ anxious to check up on Clara ~ Coraline gave her grandfather a hug while he kept dancing, leaving with the promise that she would return later to bring him a mug of hot chocolate... “With marshmallows,” William had dreamily called after her.


Coraline skipped back to the house, where it appeared that Clara had been working in the kitchen all morning, brewing up a new potion ~ It had been going on all week; the kitchen had become a frightful mess. Everywhere were glass bottles and jars of various sizes jammed with small pieces of bark or leaves or seeds, labeled as to their ingredients: Timacle, Osua, Marabeli, Pega Palo ~ ‘Roots and herbs from the Dominican Republic w/ potent aphrodisiac qualities’ a note on the label had read... “Please put that down Coraline; look but do not touch! This is a very dangerous spell!” ... Cubeb berries, orris root, vervain, lovage, magnolia, Queen Elizabeth root, rose hips, orange blossoms, five-finger grass, absinthe, dill seed, Canada snake root, licorice stick, patchouli leaves, fennel, carrots... It was difficult to tell which ingredients were for love potions and which had spiced the soup simmering in a black cast-iron cauldron upon the stove. Clara had seemed unusually talkative and speedy; every movement rapidly exaggerated ~ always sweeping ~ whenever brittle twigs or berries tumbled to the floor... Coraline had calmly guided her to a seat at the table, then put on a kettle for tea... Clara dried a few tears, then composed herself to confide in Coraline that lately she had become entirely preoccupied with thoughts of marriage. This was meant to be; she had always known that. The man which destiny had chosen had now finally appeared. And now that they had found each other, she would do whatever it took to be forever together, Amen. She claimed she would willingly sacrifice her present life, would it preserve even the tiniest ember of their essential love, for eternity, for longer... Oh how she had prepared for this ~ How she had already suffered! She had remained pure in thought, and had abstained from sexual activity for far too long. Hours of solitude had compelled her to instead engage in extensive examinations of her deepest fears and desires, then attempt to fulfill those sources of emptiness and insufficiency which she had discovered within. Clara declared that she had often derived happiness during her meditations by repeating a mantra which went something like; “It does not matter to gratify our desires, greater is what cannot be obtained.” ~ Or words to that effect. Coraline could not remember a time when Clara had seemed so tired and so nervous. Lately it seemed she had begun to wither away from her fretting and her worries ~ Sometimes Coraline could smell alcohol on her breath... It had seemed tragic that Clara, who she had always admired for her intelligence, strength and wisdom, could so easily become victim to the charms of love. Perhaps it had seemed a tragedy because someone so beautiful deserved to be complete ~ as though perfection itself were flawed ~ ‘How can you feel saddened by that?’ Coraline had then questioned herself, ‘We all strive to attain a higher ideal, that is the nature of the human condition... The weather of our ways; the storm or sunny skies... the joy and pain... always changing... never ending... a story without beginning...’ When Coraline returned from following the stream of her thoughts, she had noted that Clara had been humming a tune... And as she similarly had during previous occasions, Coraline received the distinct impression that Clara was not just capable of


being able to read her thoughts, but to telepathically influence them as well ~ To create a topic of conversation, Coraline had casually inquired what type of concoction Clara had been preparing that morning. Clara winked and humorously cackled like a crow, softly offering; “A potion which proves a provident impetus in fortifying the ardor of love; a magical elixir, which I have just so happened to acquire a small sample directly from the veterinarian who lives down the lane.” She had presented a glass vial, no larger than her thumb; “Horse breeders administer this hormone to studding stallions to sustain their prospects of passion. One half this quantity ensures a man stays encouraged for a good fourteen hours or more.” Clara had set down the vial to once again become absorbed in her relentless kinetic activity; preparing certain quantities of herbs on a small piece of cloth which she had then folded into a bundle. She spun a piece of thread off a spool, measured it, then cut it... “I begin with Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.” ~ With each name Clara had more tightly bound the charm bundle, then knotted it to keep the thread from unraveling, saying; “Should something wicked this way come, may this be a match for it...” Coraline slipped away from the kitchen without notice ~ It had seemed an absurd day for grown-ups! Something was in the air ~ Having climbed the stairs with the intention of retiring for a brief rest in her bed, Coraline had noted that the door to Clara's room remained partially ajar; a most unusual occurrence, since Clara made it a practice to ensure that her door remained locked at all times... Hovering perfectly still... Listening to the faint sound of Clara rinsing glass jars in the distant kitchen... Coraline remained intrigued by the indistinct shapes she could vaguely discern beyond the doorway; beckoning her with their mysterious allure ~ What harm could be caused by having just one little peep inside? Yet, each step she had gained into the fragrant abyss compelled her to take one further... The room was inhabited by silhouettes; even bright daylight was unable to penetrate the heavy curtains with more than a glimmering tone ~ Coraline bumped into a small table, and a piece of metal; perhaps a spoon, had clattered to the wooden floor ~ Coraline had caught her breath and froze... then listened attentively for the sound of approaching footsteps... A statue coming to life, she crept forward again toward what her eyesight had perceived to be a small lamp beside a desktop computer. With the flip of a switch, the room was revealed in the dull glow emanating from a cloth lampshade. Initially most apparent, was all of the paper! All of the information! A considerable quantity of printed material was strewn along a table opposite the windows and tossed willy-nilly into a number of cardboard boxes; books and pamphlets and photocopies highlighted in a bright pink fluorescent marker. A fourposted bed angled out from the corner, and next to it, a folding dressing-screen was decorated with a brightly-coloured naive painting of a mermaid which slightly resembled Clara. At one end of the room was an elaborate altar. A quincunx had been drawn in chalk on the floor ~ One of the boards had seemed a bit loose; perhaps items were hidden beneath it...


There were a stack of romance novels on the desk near her Macintosh computer ~ At the top of the heap was ‘Soulmates’. The caption beneath the women's ripped bodice ended with the words; ‘... I would marry in a heartbeat!’ A hand-painted wooden bird nearby ~ carved with its feet firmly planted forward and its head arched over its back ~ had seemed to be studying the pulp fiction collection with a great measure of interest ~ Yet, Coraline had been far more curious about the historical documents: There was an actual ‘The London Chronicle’, Vol. VIII, No. 569, dated 1760, and ‘The Annual Register’ from August 1st of that year. Print-outs of ship’s logs and colony ledgers rubber-stamped from Kew Public Records and Whitehaven Archives. Atop another mound, was a copy of letter written in Kingston Jamaica on November 11, 1719 ~ Coraline stooped to randomly read some of the highlighted text on the page: ‘... in August, the two ships arrived at Fort Metal Cross. The gleaming white-washed slave castle is situated amid a palm tree oasis on the sandy beach of the African Gold Coast. Captain Esek Woodcocke's ‘Fury’, was accompanied by the ‘Golden Rule’, with his son, Roderick Woodcocke at the helm...’ ‘Aha!’ realized Coraline ~ As she had suspected; Clara's story was true! ‘... the ships loaded with a great many ‘Negroes’, embarked for the West Indies... Within sight of the Jamaica coast, the ‘Golden Rule’ was foundered by a massive explosion caused when kegs of gunpowder had detonated within its hold. ‘Fury’ arrived forthwith to lend assistance. Few survivors were recovered from amongst the burning wreckage, many in very poor condition, yet a number of slaves had been seen to escape.... The events precipitating this unfortunate tragedy will likely forever remain unknown; perhaps an act of sabotage by rebellious slaves or a chanced accident attended by a wayward spark. It is speculative to assume mutiny could be involved... ~ Captain Woodcocke was tremendously grieved over the loss of his dear son.’ Eliciting the truth had seemed an awesome endeavor ~ After careful examination of significant facts emerging from the investigation of overwhelming evidence; no source to which access was possible having been neglected ~ It was clear that Clara had succeeded in arriving at the conclusion that one of the survivors of that fateful voyage had been her earliest traceable ancestor ~ The greatest of all her great grandmothers; the Ashanti priestess, Nyabinghi, who would later become Nanny of the Maroons! Yet, Coraline could not help but wonder whether the story would have ended differently had young Roderick Woodcocke not attempted to gain the love of a beautiful slave at the expense of his crew's provisions. Shifting a pile of paper slightly, Coraline happened to uncover a document which Clara would likely cherish most in her collection; her personal diary! Coraline handled the well-worn cover of the small journal... She had come this far ~ the chance may never present itself again ~ she simply must look inside! ... No... What was she thinking? The bond of trust which existed between them would certainly be compromised, after all, she had already transgressed an acceptable level of snooping into Clara's personal privacy by entering her room.


‘Why must I be so curious?’ the author of that thought had frequently asked herself. The sound of an automobile horn outside ~ ‘Woof!’ ‘Woof!’ ~ Bellissima; William's usually sedate greyhound, had begun to bark quite wildly! ‘Awhroo!’ Coraline switched off the light and had been about to sneak into the bright hallway when Clara's footsteps had become increasingly apparent ~ running up the stairs! Having realized she would not make it to the doorway before being caught, Coraline had plunged into the darkness to crouch behind a potted palm just as Clara bustled into the room. The overhead light came on, then Clara had continued directly behind the screen to quickly change her clothes... Believing herself concealed, Coraline was surprised to hear Clara's soft voice emanating from behind the painting of the mermaid ~ Requesting that Coraline be a dear and run down to admit the caller, then suggest that she also accompany the young gentlemen into the parlour and there offer him the refreshment which awaited him in a silver chalice made ready upon the kitchen table.

XI. INDULGENCE

“My dear! What a pleasant surprise!” Clara had appeared a fantasy as she descended the cascade sweep of the broad main stairway. The undulating shapes of her muscular body were jungle cats camouflaged beneath the merest transparency of her long, white-cotton dress, her untamed breasts challenged the provocative landscape as daunting snowy peaks. Even more miraculous than her change of attire, was that Clara had also somehow managed to entirely transform her spirit ~ Once again she had become vivacious and had appeared most relaxed; casual in speech and quite at ease in manner. Only to Coraline's acquainted observation had the betrayal been the slightest hint of heaviness still darkening her eyes. Roderick Woodcocke had arisen stiffly from the Victorian chair upon which he had been lounging within the parlour; “I say... You look splendidly divine!” Roderick had gallantly taken Clara's hand to greet it with a tender kiss, then he gracefully presented her a bouquet of blood red roses. Clara had smiled charmingly as she accepted them while still lingering above him upon the step. “If you are ready my love, then let us away! Our steed awaits yonder.”


Turning with a flourish, Roderick had then passed the empty silver chalice to Coraline ~ Capturing her eye with an almost wanton stare, and a row of pearly-whites as even as piano keys set in an emboldened grin; “Thank you my love, that was most refreshing. I admit that I have an acquired tongue for sweet wine which is, how shall I say ~ still a trifle young.” Coraline had blushed most healthily; the blood rushed through her veins like gasoline, threatening spontaneous combustion, as she had struggled in vain to regain command of her furiously beating heart ~ Yet, how it had thrilled her, and very much frightened her, to suddenly become the attention of a predator wolf whose gleaming feral eyes were so menacingly seductive. Clara had smiled, “Coraline, would you please do me the favour of fetching the lunch basket from the kitchen counter?” Coraline had been happy for an excuse to mark a hasty exit ~ She practically ran all the way to the kitchen, and not until safely inside had she stopped to regain her composure. She dropped into the chair upon which Clara customarily sat, to realize that it was now herself who trembled... And suddenly, she had also become perplexed to note that the kitchen was neat and tidy with everything nicely tucked away; the exact opposite of the way it had been no more than one-half hour earlier ~ Sigh ~ The interval they had patiently endured before Clara had made her grand entrance... Coraline had calmed herself to breathe more slowly and deeply as she relived the memories ~ Roderick had seemed a perfect dream; as though snipped from an advert in a trendy magazine. His smart fashion was just the latest style, and he was so handsome; pale blue eyes, rugged jaw and a perfect nose... He had quickly quaffed the contents of the silver chalice to slake his ferocious thirst... making complaint against the oppressive heat of the sultry afternoon, and that confounded greyhound... Then he had allowed his gaze to roam appraisingly over Coraline's form and linger about her most intimate of regions... Casually making an occasional inquiry about some aspect of Coraline's life as though to gain some intimate familiarity. For her part, Coraline had remained entirely flustered. Whenever she had attempted to respond, she had simply seemed to blurt out the most awkward nonsense. As a result, the brevity of her replies had continued to become even briefer until the point was reached at which their conversation had effectively ceased to exist... Then, for the longest time, she had divided her consideration between his tousled blonde locks, and his big white Mustang showcased outside the front window ~ The powerful American car had sounded very loud while it had idled in wait for someone to come to the front door and call off the infernal hound! ~ Coraline could not recall Bellissima ever barking at anyone before, but on this day she had certainly made quite an awful racket... ‘Oh! The lunch basket!’ Coraline had glanced about ~ it was on the counter. Nearby was a tender note which read; ‘Soup on stove! Love you ~ Home soon. Clara.’


Coraline had watched them from her bedroom window; they kissed briefly as the top of the convertible folded down ~ Then the automobile had rocketed away in a cloud of dust... Up the lane, onto the country road a short distance, then into another lane to quickly come to a stop ~ Coraline had been puzzled: they certainly had not traveled far! ~ With Clara leading the way, and Roderick toting the lunch basket, they had scampered up a hill into a grove of trees. Curious to find out what was happening, Coraline hitched the greyhound to its line so that it would not follow her, then flew off in their direction... The engine of the Mustang still plinked from heat as she passed by to climb into the unfamiliar forest ~ It had not been dense; the trees were widely spaced, but there were so many of them... She had noticed that eerie silence always in the forest from the baffled sound... She scoured the ground and foliage for traces of their passage... Suddenly spying a flash of white glowing between black slats of the tree trunks just ahead... advancing cautiously... creeping as stealthily as a mouse... Coraline hid within a thicket of bushes not far from where the couple had spread a leopard-skin blanket in the tall grass of the secluded meadow ~ Then she knelt perfectly still so as not to make a sound. ... deeply dramatic sunlight upon leaves changing to autumn colours... lush golden grass... white teeth like animals... laughing... enjoying drinks... a flirtatious wink... rose petals scattered upon the printed blanket pattern... Clara stood... pulled back her long black hair as though in challenge... spoke awhile... then slowly disrobed. Her naked body had looked beautiful ~ her firm round breasts were of a slightly creamy tone, her nipples as dark as chocolate. Her curly pubic hair was an untamed jungle which claimed the muscular slope of her lower abdomen, and her navel was the setting for a sparkling jewel... Young Woodcocke had needed no encouragement to also remove his clothes; tall, fair-haired, shining-faced, his manliness was apparent. They had embraced against the backdrop of forest in a scene from immemorial time. Then they scampered through the grass like innocent children; chasing the other to catch them and wrestle them to the ground, tumbling entwined ~ Pale skin seeking darkness, dark skin seeking light ~ Coraline had found it fascinating to observe their mating ritual from her undetected vantage. Emerging from golden waves of meadow grass, the castaways sprawled upon their tiny leopard-spotted island to laugh, and once again refresh themselves with beverages. While they kissed, Clara grasped hold of Roderick's member to rub her hand up and down its length as though washing a zucchini ~ Roderick had seemed to enjoy the sensation; as was evident by his ability to continually increase its size. Soon its bulbous tip had swelled enormously. Clara had then taken it into her mouth and had begun to suck upon it... After some time, perhaps tiring, Clara had fainted back and parted her legs to submissively relinquish the cherished flower within her fertile oasis. Although Roderick was a fine upstanding young man, he seemed to have difficulty in gaining admission to Clara's private entrance. It certainly had seemed at first that he may not be able to penetrate the tightness of her fancy, yet through gentle persuasion he had struggled to insert it little by little, slipping slowly back and forth until he was absolutely sweltering by the time he had managed to coax its entire


length all the way inside her ~ As Coraline observed the strange process, she had been afraid that he would do Clara some damage; instead, it had seemed to be doing her a great deal of good ~ Exciting her gently and exquisitely, his insistence had continually elicited enthusiastic encouragement. As the rhythm had increased in speed, his fuzzy tennis balls had soundly smacked Clara's writhing bottom with every furious thrust. “You know what baby? That just feels so good!” Grunting and moaning like rutting animals; emitting inhuman shrieks and roars... the screams of ecstasy, the agony of delight ~ As though terrific forces securely locked away had suddenly been unleashed... His muscular shaft had frantically plunged to forbidden depths to slay the savage beast... the sword of steel melted in the fiery forge... testing each other's skin with teeth... ruthless nails clawing blood-stained lines which resembled whip marks upon his back... punishing her wickedly... begging for mercy... no... she was crying out for more; “Oh yes, oh God yes, give it to me harder, faster...” “Look out baby, here it comes, I'm firing the cannon!” Coraline watched with amazement; imagining what it would be like if the things she merely observed were actually happening to her ~ She experienced strange stirrings; complex sensations which she had found difficult to interpret. Clara had gently rolled Roderick onto his back ~ Perhaps allowing him to catch his breath ~ It had been quite unexpected then, that Clara had pounced upon him; “Now it's my turn!” she had exclaimed ~ Grasping his bent knees as though the neck of a white stallion, she had straddled him... her tongue moistened her thick parted lips... moaning... she had closed her eyes, then over and over she had impaled herself upon his bold erection to the fullest extent... “I am going to make you stay up there until you come,” Roderick had teased with a goofy dazed dreamy smile. Clara had at first seemed frustrated ~ Perhaps it had been awkward for her to gather momentum because of his size and the sweat glistening their bodies... Then sitting taller in the saddle, she had been able to slam her muscular body down, riding his post with unbridled passion, polishing its horn to a lustrous purple sheen with her cozy muff, sustaining a frenzied motion, driving relentlessly like a thoroughbred racing for home; “Ohhhhhhh! ... ohhhhhh!” Clara had shouted, “Yeah baby, yeah!” Roderick had laughed and urged her to slap her own buttocks if she wanted the horse to go faster. Clara immediately presented the incentive to urge her mount to persevere with an exceeding amount of relish: Whap! Whap! Whap!


Dripping with perspiration, back arched, erect nipples pointing skyward, Clara had finally surrendered to the overwhelming sensation exploding deep within her like a powder keg, ravaging her body with a massively-intense orgasm... leaving her body quivering with spastic shudders as though charged by a mysterious electrical force ~ Spent from her exertion Clara had collapsed upon Roderick Woodcocke's hairless barrel chest where he had allowed her but a few moments of exhaustion; “Oh you come so sweetly love.” “The darker the berry, the sweeter the juice.” Most eager to continue, Roderick bent Clara over to mount her from behind. ‘Woof!’ ‘Woof!’ “Bellissima!!!” Coraline had cried out ~ Since she had been the first to see the greyhound flashing by ~ The dog had ignored her call; locked in on target it had furiously continued to bark at her quarried prey ~ Clara attempted to shoo the dog away from Roderick who danced around covering his privates to protect them from the fiercely snapping jaws. “Coraline, come away from there, this is not for you.” She immediately rose to follow him because she knew his words were true.

XII. AFTERMATH

“Bellissima!” Lewis Coventry had summoned the dog. The greyhound gave off the attack to heed her master's call; returning with her head slung low and still emitting an occasional growl. Coraline followed her father; who walked on quickly ahead ~ She was still puzzled by his unexpected return, and his most inconvenient arrival in the meadow. Trembling with excitement and fear from recent events, she tried to imagine what her father would say to her. But he continued home without speaking a word or turning his head to look back.


Alone within her bedroom. Coraline had sat upon the edge of her bed, staring at the scene out the window which had become so familiar... Perhaps one hour later, Roderick Woodcocke's white Mustang had roared up the circular drive, and the dog went crazy again. She could hear Clara berating Bellissima, asking, “What has got into you girl?” But the greyhound did not stop barking until the mustang had disappeared. The front door closed quietly, and she could hear her father's solemn voice addressing Clara in the distant parlour... Coraline could not hear clearly what was said, and soon their voices vanished; having retreated into her father's study. Coraline had crept down the steps ~ Noting two empty wine bottles in the lunch basket resting at the foot of the stairs. The voices were still muffled ~ With her ear to the heavy oak door, Coraline could only hear her father whenever he had spoken loudly, and all she had heard from Clara were a few occasional sobs. “... A few stolen moments of passion are not worth a lifetime of regret... Your conduct is entirely unacceptable... frolicking in the meadow... imagine the innocent eyes of that fine young girl having to witness such a spectacle! ... I do not believe there is any hope for redemption... I am sorry, but on these grounds, I must formally dismiss you. You will pack your belongings and vacate your room within twenty-four hours.” ‘May God have mercy upon your soul’ ~ Coraline had retreated mere moments before Clara had exited the study. Quietly closing the door behind her, Clara had dabbed her eyes then abruptly turned to consider Coraline ~ immediately suspicious of her attempt to act as though she were just coming down the stairs. Clara retrieved the lunch basket then motioned Coraline to follow... Once again within the familiar comfort of the kitchen, Clara had sat at her usual place to wipe away her tears; her facial expressions subtly mirrored the passage of many different emotions running through her thoughts. Then at last she took a deep breath and sighed; “Coraline, I certainly apologize for my behavior. I know that what you witnessed must have seemed a somewhat shocking display. Roderick and I were ‘making love’ and there is nothing wrong with that. What is unfortunate is that we were foolishly indiscreet; I blame myself for surrendering so completely to passion that I was not more sensible.” Leaning closer, Coraline had whispered; “I found what I had observed to be most exhilarating; it seemed a wonderful experience... Did it not hurt to be penetrated by a sexual organ of such an awesome size?” Clara softly replied, “In truth, a most delightful pain.” Then Clara arose to put away items from the lunch basket, and rinse out the empty plastic containers. “And yes I think the spell was worth it,” she had replied to Coraline's unspoken question, “Roderick Woodcocke has finally proposed to marry me!”


Coraline ran to her, they embraced. When they had separated, Clara looked into her eyes and asked, “Why is it that the happiest day of my whole life has also to be the saddest?” Coraline had not replied since she knew the question was not intended for her to answer. “In the Akan language of Ghana their is a proverb about the mythical Sankofa bird: ‘Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi’ ~ which may be expressed as: ‘It is not taboo to return and retrieve whatever has been forgotten’. Life ahead of you, a legacy behind you ~ By examining our roots we should gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward into the future ~ The greatest danger is to fall in love with the past; to indulge in tantalizing sweet nostalgia ~ As the little bird says, ‘We can always undo our mistakes; whatever has been lost, forgotten, forgone or stripped away, can be reclaimed, revived, be preserved and perpetuated’. It may take many lifetimes, but perhaps truly that is the nature of Destiny... ‘Ntesie-matemasie'; I have heard and kept it.” Once again, Coraline recalled the carved wooden bird she had spotted in Clara's room which had appeared to browse the covers of romance novels stacked alongside her Mac ~ The bird which faced backward and carried a small egg in its mouth ~ Perhaps symbolizing the future... ——— Coraline emerged from the sheets of her bed to slip into a plain white robe. She wandered into the kitchen for a glass of water ~ a new kind of water ~ What was the time? ~ Maria would be contacting her soon about her treatment session... It had seemed as though she hadn't had enough sleep to really determine her decision; she felt tired and somewhat confused... She washed down several tablets with half a glass then sat at the table, cupping her chin in the palm of her hand, and gazing at the small conservatory adjoining the kitchen within her Golden Pavilion suite. Her thoughts seemed sketchy, as though their logic still lingered from dreams: ‘Some of us know; we don't know... we know the path which we have been chosen to fulfill... sometimes a vague indication of direction, but the precise location of the destination always remains intangible... the ocean of our desires... treacherous reefs of fear... a beacon shrouded in fog on a mysterious coastline looming on the undaunted horizon.. we sail on in a vessel constructed of stout oak... yet our hearts grow weary of the journey... to find land; a safe haven to shelter storms becomes increasingly significant... perhaps this is an easy way out...’ She thought that she had heard something... ‘nothing’. ‘Sometime she had thought that she hadn't wanted to live anymore... she had accomplished all that she had set out to achieve; all of her childhood dreams, all of her professional ambitions... there were always new challenges with which to present herself; to exceed, to transcend, whatever... where did it lead? ... she had never had


sexual intercourse... truthfully, it had always seemed somewhat distasteful; so primal and so vulgar... she had not wanted to be mauled by a ravishing beast... she would much prefer to merge her soul and experience eternal bliss together with her lover... Jurgen Ernst... perhaps that was why she had continually pushed him away; she had been afraid of his animal instincts... naturally, what else could she have expected?... the fraud of civilization is that we are all just animals wearing clothes... yet, wherever she looked, others had seemed content with their lot in life, while she continued to simply maintain that sense of emptiness about her... now what?... just keep going!’ ------------ “Coraline!” ‘Love... that radiant vision of longing and contempt... drawing her soul into the hollowest vacuum... hovering over dissonant fragments gathered from that experience she had known as life... and which, with dedication, could be pieced together to form a completeness... like trace elements she could taste in impure water... like insincere words from a compadre or friend... like an empty sky pouting up a storm... why should they try to poison her?... how cruel could they sometime be?’ ------ “Coraline!” ‘There was a reason for her unhappiness... it was merely her perception of how things sometime seemed... no-one understood her like she understood herself... there was no question that she would have to walk her path alone... just accept it and move beyond it... forget about trying to please them; they would never be truly happy and they would never fully understand... if they had half a chance they would dig their claws into her and drag her down with them... she knew that living here with Sun gone was the reason she was most unhappy. Do you understand?’ Coraline had asked herself. --- “Coraline!” 'Work... escape... just keep going... perpetual motion is the key... don't take time to dwell upon the sadness and misery ~ of your life or anyone else's... join in with the swirling vortex... ethereal, vulnerable, eternal... pure intensity capable of moving beyond... or capable of pulling you down... entrapping your spirit like a Nightingale in a cage... perhaps the psychologists were right; what she had needed most as an infant was to be nurtured by a suckling teat... She was sitting in the empty kitchen, there was no one else around. “Coraline, this is Dr. Kacheli. I wish to speak with you.” Modestly adjusting her robe, Coraline had removed a small piece of white plastic from her pocket, propped it against the drinking glass on the table, then adjusted the angle of tilt ~ The card could receive and transmit both visual data and sound... The image of a pleasant, plain, dark-haired woman...


——— “Hello... Earth to Coraline...” Her father's face angled in front of her view. Startled, Coraline sprung back from the table nearly falling out of her chair. Lewis was perplexed; “I've been searching all over, and calling you for the past five minutes. Why the devil didn't you answer?” “I was daydreaming.” “Look at the state you're in! Look at the condition of your clothes! This is just another demonstration of Clara's transgressions: voodoun, black magic, mumbo-jumbo ~ It should not be a hobby for anyone to play with evil forces.” “That is not true daddy!” Coraline shouted defiantly, “Clara has always been an angel... I love her very much and it is beastly that you should treat her so!” Coraline burst into tears then; after the overwhelming stimulation of recent events, and her valiant effort to balance them all harmoniously, the rivulets had flooded their banks with the realization that she had not actually managed to balance any at all. “I'm sorry sweetheart, it's just that... that woman has me so upset! She refuses to acknowledge that I am still the master of this house... I wish that I was not so angry because I have some wonderful news for you!” Lewis coughed into his fist, “Ahem... I do not intend to boast, yet I must remind you that your father is an internationally recognized solicitor who has proven ‘monumentally influential’ in defending Pisces Corporation against the vicious attacks of predators in several media-saturated cases. And it so happened, while winding-down in Luxembourg following the most recent trial that I had been invited to shoot a round of golf with Sam Harriton, the president of the ACB ~ Alliance of Corporate Benefactors ~ a subsidiary of the Pisces Corporation, and the educational advisory board for the prestigious new International Akademy of Technology which is being developed in a majestic castle within the beautiful Czech Republic. I understand that it is still enjoying extensive renovation for its scheduled opening next year; in the fall of 2003. Yet, the Akademy, as they call it, is already becoming renown as one of the premier educational institutions for elite students anywhere in the world.” “That has set the introduction to this matter, now let me proceed to the most pertinent specifics... ahem.... And so, in speaking with Sam while playing our match, he had graciously offered to wave the admission qualifications to ensure that you are near the top of the list of students eligible to attend!” In response, Coraline's jaw had dropped. “It is culture which broadens one's horizons; the tradition of many past generations of aristocratic youth who have refined their education on the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, before returning to Britain fired by enthusiasm for classic architecture and design. This


will be an excellent opportunity for you to meet intelligent new friends; other talented young girls and boys from many different lands. And I am certain that the knowledge which you gain from notable instructors will be of great assistance to you in realizing your full potential ~ But enough, I know you have had a difficult day. Take time to give it some thought. I'm sure you will agree in truth you have been presented a most splendid opportunity.” ‘The recurring ‘truth’ was that her father had seemed completely unaware of always reinforcing the master-slave relationship’ ~ Coraline ascended the stairs. She had paused before Clara's room... tap...tap... tap... Perhaps she had knocked too timidly upon the door since Clara had not responded ~ Clara would remain confined within her room until sometime the next afternoon ~ Coraline had maintained a vigil; laying awake and listening to the sounds of Clara packing, or at times, it had seemed, softly singing, then eventually, a very long interval of silence... Then finally once again the activity had continued... “Coraline?” ‘Perhaps,’ Coraline had considered ~ All these years later ~ ‘It was possible that Clara had arranged the whole scenario as an instructional lesson... a significant departing gift... Perhaps she had needed to complete her mission before she could be free... Yes, that was it; perhaps she had sacrificed herself indeed!’ “Coraline? This is Dr. Kacheli, can you hear me or are you experiencing some difficulty with your connection?” “No, I'm here Maria. Hello!” ‘... A daydreamer who had employed her skill to become one of the most accomplished architects of her time... Yet, it had seemed, at the time, it were these wistful dreams which provided the greatest interference to her capability of attaining a higher level of performance in her work ~ A series of treatment sessions had incrementally off-loaded her most distracting memories; the specialists were consulted. They were technicians who knew how to attune her mind to the specifications desired... ‘Just clear up a bit of the clutter, tidy away dusty old nostalgia, and streamline through-put to/from the spatial and visual processing portions of her cerebral cortex’... Thus, the treatments would exponentially increase her efficiency by enabling her to work faster, smarter... The process was not irreversible; former memories could be restored...’ “Sorrow not over what is lost, the Sankofa bird would say.” Roderick Woodcocke had pulled up in his white Mustang to whisk Clara away ~ After she had kissed Coraline upon her forehead, Clara's parting words were: “Don't breathe a word to a soul.”


part two

I. KATSCHA KRYZANOWSKI

“...a tabula rasa," Katscha had said as she popped a couple of packets into the microwave ~ tonight it was her choice; spinach linguini. She set the timer for two minutes. Preprocessed; food preparation was clean, quick and easy... “A blank slate; a theoretical condition proving the existence of absolutely nothing,” Katscha had laughed. “I don't know why they persist in trying to teach me such absurdity. I don't think I am cut-out for psychology, philosophy, or any of that egg-head stuff. I don't really know what I am cut-out for! Most of it just goes in one ear then, like totally, goes out the other. My dad must, like, sometime have regrets about sending me to the Akademy... I have none ~ In fact, I'm having fun; there are plenty of cute lonely boys here!” Katscha was exceedingly verbose; it would not matter about the topic, she was never at a loss for words. She was a big strong Polish girl, yet her effected ‘California’ expressions had often made Coraline twist and shout in agony ~ It was just another example of the counterpoint of opposites which maintained the attraction between them. Katscha was Coraline's sole room-mate, so it had become customary to eat supper together at a tiny table amidst the substantial clutter of their common room. Their surroundings were in constant flux; nearly every level surface was a disarray of electronic components, piles of paper, books, clothing, make up, empty coffee cups ~ the remnants of a chocolate cake. Coraline had conceded defeat long ago in her attempt to maintain a clean and tidy space, and she had grown weary of repeating; “This place looks like the bottom of a bird cage” ~ It had been three years since the young women had arrived at the Akademy, and had first made their introduction when assigned to share the same suite; two compact bedrooms, a bathroom, and a small kitchen adjoining the common area. The dormitory was situated within an ancient castle which had been renovated to provide accommodation for students privileged to attend the prestigious educational institution. The castle perched atop a small mountain in a secluded valley of the Czech Republic. Whew! It was nice to rest and enjoy a relaxing meal... When the microwave had beeped, Katscha removed the packets, then dropped one onto each plate ~ served piping hot. As usual, Coraline's contribution had been to excavate two clearings in the debris heaped upon the table... “Where are my snakes,” Katscha had shouted for some inexplicable reason as she hyperactively bustled about... returning from the


bookshelf brandishing a novel in her hand; “You know, I've read, like, only this much, but I already know how it will end; the prince is going to return to rescue her in time!” ~ “Katscha please sit down to eat!” ~ At first, Katscha had difficulty in understanding Coraline's Cumbrian accent, just as Coraline had also experienced with Katscha's Polish tongue, yet, Coraline's lack of comprehension had not in any way diminished Katscha's verbal flow ~ Her teenage years had been spent in a wealthy suburb of Krakow, the youngest of six sisters and five brothers; ‘The tiniest bird must chirp the loudest to be fed!’ ~ And it had been in Krakow that Katscha had gradually acquired an impressive vocabulary of ‘American English’; primarily by watching television, reading romance fiction and listening to popular music... “... and eating chocolates!” Katscha had shouted, then had quickly added; “Sorry, I guess that doesn't count,” upon realizing she had inadvertently shifted the topic of the list to: ‘Things I Most Enjoy’. Naturally, as a result of close quarters, they had endured the intensity of fluctuating interpersonal relationships as they continued to learn more about each other. Periods of pleasant intimacy alternated with periods of abrasive friction; maintaining a familiar pattern as time cycled through seasons and phases of the moon. “Do you believe is possible that people who never think of sex?” Katscha innocently inquired ~ Her fluency in English would quickly deteriorate with consumption of wine. As Coraline had tried to frame a response, it occurred to her that she never thought about sex ~ Of all the things she never thought about, sex was definitely one of them. She blushed, wishing they could communicate telepathically so they wouldn't need to speak of such things... For the most part, Coraline had to admit that she enjoyed having Katscha as a friend. Sometime after dinner, Coraline would welcome a brief respite from the stress of constant deadline pressure, to just sprawl on the furniture ~ such as it was ~ turn on some music, light a few candles and just talk about stuff girls like to talk about ~ that is unless they had forgot to unplug the phone ~ then it usually would not be long before some drunken boy was on the line calling for his '‘little sweet potato’, or his ‘darling darling darling’... as though he had quite forgotten Katscha's name! It had gotten to the point that Coraline had become extremely apprehensive about picking up the disgusting thing; since inevitably these boys would say; ‘So hey... who is this... what are you doing tonight?’, while she politely waited with the caller until Katscha had come to the phone... ... Coraline could still hear her excited voice behind the bathroom door. The toilet flushed and Katscha had come rushing out tugging at the elastic waist-band of her panties. She disconnected the sleek black phone with a touch of a button, then began screaming at the top of her lungs ~ Remaining flustered until she eventually attempted to compose herself by sitting down to spill the beans... “Rujjie Blades has asked me out! Do you believe?” ~ With that, Katscha had jumped out of the armchair and flew about the room.


You cannot win if you challenge fate : fate is a formidable opponent... Yes, Coraline believed fate had intervened in bringing her and Katscha together; what else could be believed but that Katscha had been materialized by unseen forces for the express purpose of providing Coraline with life lessons; teaching her patience, tolerance, and compassion ~ Katscha could be sweeter than honey when she was happy, yet could turn as bitter as sour milk whenever she became upset. And she could also be so stubborn; unwilling to concede that she could ever make a mistake ~ and sometimes... so exasperating... Despite their contrasting personalities, Katscha had been Coraline's only true friend at the Akademy ~ Although one second year girl, a fellow Brit named Belisha Beacon, had been persistent in her annoying attempts to gain Coraline's attention ~ The fact was that Katscha had been the only friend Coraline had ever had who was approximately of the same age; they shared similar difficulties in their lives, and since Katscha responded to these difficulties in such a vastly different manner, Coraline could also learn, practically first-hand, whether these approaches afforded resolution or simply compounded the situation with further problems ~ As a close bond developed, their friendship had gradually mimicked characteristics similar to the type of relationship common between sisters ~ It wasn't love, so much, as a matter of mutual necessity, yet perhaps that is all that love is after all. In Katscha, she had discovered a companion upon whom she could rely, and one who never placed undue demands upon her time ~ That most precious commodity which Coraline required to completely immerse herself within her studies ~ And yes, Coraline was grateful; she had recognized that Katscha would often willingly sacrifice some of her own time to supply Coraline with a little more. Katscha was the one who prepared most of the meals, did the laundry, and took care of all routine maintenance chores. In return, Coraline offered a sympathetic ear to whatever emotional dilemma had been troubling her. During three years together, Coraline had finally understood the reason Katscha kept repeating certain situations over and over again; it was her desperate need for acceptance. Although Katscha was intelligent, her pleasant face, her charming personality, and her voluptuous body, were her most valuable assets in maintaining popularity with the boys; the only pursuit to which she had ever devoted herself with passion. Short, well proportioned, her full, heavy bosoms attracted those types of boys who sought comfort in being nurtured, and who perhaps responded to the subconscious temptations of her soft fertile belly and moist dark field which they had fervently wanted to sow with their wild oats. Typically, these ‘relationships’ ranged from finding herself parked in a van by the river with that crew of young rogues from the Akademy rowing team, to winding up in the hayloft of a barn with a big strapping farm boy who had taken advantage of her after a couple of drinks... “So many handsome and intelligent boys not like home in Krakow!” Sometimes Coraline could just not bear to listen to it ~ “Wouldn't it have been better to...” she had often begun, then allowed the sentence to remain unfinished upon realizing that her words would be of no avail. Instead, Coraline had resorted to


periodically imparting subtle motivational hints intended to encourage Katscha to work harder and to achieve better grades ~ Katscha's study at the Akademy involved conducting research into topics related to Genetic Engineering. Since social interaction would often take precedence over class work, her rating had remained only slightly above average ~ Katscha recognized that if she could manage to graduate from the prestigious Akademy, it would tremendously benefit her career, but she was also aware that with the number of students entering the market every year, her prospects for work did not look promising. So rather than resign herself to returning to the job she had held prior to entering the Akademy; manually keying lists of email addresses into endless databases, she had claimed instead to have been using her time to refine her allure so she could snag one of these promisingly-talented young men. Coraline sometime watched her in operation from the window of the castle; surrounded by a group of boys in the courtyard below ~ Excited and happy, Katscha would laugh and taunt them with her cleavage, or tease them with a fleeting glimpse of her naked thigh ~ Blatant displays which occasionally encouraged conspicuous erections ~ She could have led them around on a leash... ‘Your kisses are a drug, your mouth the urn/ dispensing fear to heroes, fervor to boys’; ‘Hymn To Beauty’ by Baudeliare ~ Instead she would casually pass them up, allowing them time to consider advancing a more attractive proposal; hearts and flowers, a cleanly-groomed appearance, or a willingness to demonstrate their high credit limit. Their reward, they were aware, was to gain access to her garden and sample the forbidden pleasures of her practiced skills; making them come, then making them hard again, always leaving them wanting more ~ And she could always imagine innovative ways for them to pleasure her as well; she knew how to make them earn their orgasm. A true hedonist, Katscha would party hard with the crowd. The kids in the valley always seemed to have some stuff; white cross Methedrine, orange triangles of Dexedrine, ‘black beauties’, coke. Coraline preferred to stay clear ~ she had witnessed their effect: like insects feeding upon the soul... harbingers of doom... Inevitably, while they had fueled Katscha's fantasies they were also instrumental in intensifying her terror of being alone. Sometime they tossed up an almost impenetrable barrier which prevented Katscha from reaching out, or from being reached; unwilling or unable to confide her true intimate emotions or reveal her most deeply hidden secrets. Coming down, crying in front of the television for no apparent reason, staring vaguely into space, or indulging an eating binge which could last an entire week ~ Coraline had wondered whether it was subconscious sabotage for Katscha to insulate her body with a protective layer, or perhaps make herself appear less desirable, as a retreat from the spurious affections of men ~ Katscha would not say... Thus, Coraline watched hopelessly as one form of self-destruction followed another; a cycle phasing through chastisement, dieting, anger, and ablutions performed as penitence, before returning with an even greater appetite in her quest for sex... Then, having spent some time preoccupied in this seemingly-pleasant pursuit, eventually her seductive skills would once again meet their match; the victim of effectively succumbing to persuasive powers which were greater ~ In the middle of the


night, Katscha would straggle in, crying, and blubbering some disjointed tale about drinking until curfew in the village tavern, seeking shelter in some farmer's house, who after having her upon the kitchen table, had chased her out complaining that her sounds were going to wake his sleeping wife and children ~ ‘Those peasants couldn't feed rude pigs with such appalling manners’... not like a certain gentleman: Oh! To listen to her praise the wonders of the magnificent Rujjie Blades! Of all the relationships Katscha had endured, Coraline was most concerned about her infatuation with Rujjie Blades ~ ‘Ruj’ was dangerous, and Katscha had fallen under his spell. He had also seemed to derive great pleasure from indoctrinating her into the unique philosophy of some vague religion he had founded, then taking advantage of her trust ~ It would be fair to say his words were not often disposed in compensation of the truth ~ Yet, his powerful charisma had successfully convinced Katscha, and reputedly many other young girls and older women, that to be fondled in a lewd and lascivious manner was a sacrament of communion ~ Rujjie had whisked Katscha up to his garret/temple to perform an exorcism which he claimed would banish all of her feelings of impurity by indulging them to the maximum. They had locked themselves within the candlelit darkness of his room for three days and nights subsisting upon a variety of chemicals, several gallons of red wine, a box of cigarillos and an enormous glazed ham, all the while brainwashing her with patient explanations that in reality it was merely her imagination which created any impression they were engaging in improper conduct; “Everything is fine... relax... enjoy the sensation... doesn't it feel good? Praise yes!” No! Coraline could readily see through Rujjie's transparent facade. Thus she had tried to encourage Katscha to overcome her desire by demonstrating evidence with which to convince her that Rujjie was simply using her: was it fair to say that he had not called her for over three months, and during the interim had not Katscha herself frequently admitted that she had observed him in the company of other women? And to make the situation even more complex, Coraline was certainly aware that Rujjie was also obsessively infatuated with her; there were times when she could sense him stealthily pursuing her through the drafty corridors of the castle as though she were his elusive prey... and yet, as repulsive as he often seemed, Coraline had been surprised to discover she sometime also felt an attraction; there was something about a rebel, or ‘bad boy’, which she found somewhat intriguing. Although, she felt safe, since it was inconceivable that she could ever become his conquest. No! Coraline could readily see through Rujjie's transparent facade. Alas, it would be fair to admit that Coraline had never even kissed a boy. Although, it was not uncommon ~ while enjoying a meal in the cafeteria, or wandering aimlessly through the courtyard gardens ~ for her to be accosted by male students attempting to entice her with provocative insinuations intended to express their ardour. The sweet eloquence of their most charming words characteristically bestowed each feature of her radiant vision with flattering praise; highlighting her delicate almond-shaped face, her long auburn hair, her beautiful emerald eyes burning with the tranquil intensity of


polished gems, the childlike innocence of the nearly inconspicuous freckles bridging her nose; and her calm confidence and graceful poise which was projected by the movement of her tall, trim, well proportioned body ~ Indeed there had been other qualities which had captured the attention of the boys ~ and with Katscha's help she had clearly begun to recognize the sexual anxiety lurking beneath the surface... And with the girls, it was often worse; those enviously-viscous ones who possessed a keen sense of competition would attempt to ostracize her socially or intimidate her with physical threats, believing she was a push-over, since Coraline was quiet and had seemed demure. Although, any reservation Coraline had in engaging with either girls or boys ~ regardless of whether the encounters were pleasant or not ~ in actuality, had been that they presented a great distraction to her ability to concentrate upon her studies. Thus, Coraline had never made an effort to meet any of the students, and whenever propositioned or confronted, she would speak politely until an opportunity presented itself for her to graciously escape. Naturally, under these circumstances, it had been difficult for Katscha to subtly employ her talents as matchmaker ~ Although, when it came to love, she eagerly accepted any challenge. So, unbeknownst to Coraline, Katscha operated as a clandestine cupid, skillfully intriguing Coraline about a young philosopher she had met one night down in the village. His name was Jurgen Ernst. Katscha had described him as a tall German boy, rather handsome ~ his long dark hair could use a trim ~ then proceeded to thoroughly appraise his intelligent thoughtfulness, polite manners and many other pleasant qualities. He lived in the village, Katscha had said, and apparently, he was a very talented programmer conducting research into Artificial Intelligence ~ As if to notarize her statements against Coraline's reluctant refusals, Katscha eventually admitted that she had already checked him out through her network of social contacts ~ The majority of her friends had agreed that Coraline should meet him. The greatest challenge perhaps was that Jurgen was as reclusive as Coraline often was. Discreetly lurking in the shadows, observing every interaction and every nuance of mannerism, Katscha had followed Jurgen like a ghost through the corridors of the castle, and she had also staked-out the house at the edge of the village in which he rented a room. As a result of her recognizance, Katscha had been able to discover many interesting things about Jurgen's behavior, including his propensity for phantasmal wanderings through the village and swamps under the pale moon light. Yet, Katscha had simply attributed this eccentricity to being a means of taking exercise to remedy insomnia caused by the angst of his poetic soul ~ And if, while on these excursions, he had happened to appear suspiciously anxious as he stealthily crept about, it was merely that he was attempting to evade detection of police patrols occasionally roaming the countryside to enforce the curfew ~ After all, every citizen was certainly aware they could be arrested if discovered out of doors between one and six A.M. ~ Once the village had fallen silent and all the streetlights had turned black.


By examining the patterns which seemed to emerge from Jurgen's activity, Katscha had hoped to be able to anticipate his movement. Speaking with his rooming-house neighbour; Gus Grass, in a village tavern before returning with him to spend the night in his bed ~ tantalizingly situated right across the hall from Jurgen! ~ Katscha had learned that Jurgen preferred to work at home on the powerful computer he had built. And since she had already known that Jurgen would rarely journey up the hill ~ on his comical blue Cezeta scooter ~ to attend a few lectures, or more often, inexplicably disappear into the bowels of the castle's mysterious dungeon where Katscha was afraid to follow, it had, therefore, been quite unpredictable for Jurgen to suddenly begin to frequent the Akademy's computer lab ~ hunched over a keyboard, nearly immobile, glazed eyes staring at the flickering screen ~ Yet for a span, by becoming his regular routine, it afforded Katscha a fortuitous opportunity to hatch her plot! In order to maintain surveillance, Katscha sheepishly admitted, she had gone as far as sexually favouring the system administrator; a wiry fellow named Brak Danych ~ also hailing from her hometown of Krakow ~ who, in exchange, had agreed to notify Katscha's pager whenever his watchful eye detected Jurgen in the vicinity of the computer lab, or by chance had happened to monitor any of his network activity ~ Brak had relinquished his status as a student to gain permanent employment as a supervisor at the Akademy; his demented signature was scrawled over the line at the bottom of every one of Jurgen’s permission slips... “Hey, that's what friends are for!” Katscha had exclaimed one evening while firmly brushing Coraline's beautiful hair, as though the brief statement could possibly justify the fantastic extent to which Katscha had gone just to set Coraline up on a date. Yet, it seemed the explanation had been sufficient to influence a shift in Coraline's irresolute heart ~ Or perhaps, Coraline had only gone along with Katscha's plan for the sake of putting an end to the stalking and intrigue perpetrated by her misguided friend. Thus, accessorized with several fashionable modifications to her Akademy uniform and a reticent application of make-up courtesy of Katscha, Coraline had arrived early at the computer lab. Settled comfortably into a workstation with clear line-of-sight to the entrance, she had keyed her password to log-on to the network... Then, while she had sat there wondering what to do, Coraline had re-evaluated her situation: Katscha had suggested it would be a perfect location for her and Jurgen to meet, and she had boldly encouraged Coraline to take the initiative of introducing herself to him whenever the opportunity was present. Yet, while Coraline waited, the plan had very nearly unraveled ~ She had become so engrossed in her research that she hadn't even noticed Jurgen enter the dimly lit room... It was almost midnight when she had first detected quiet sobbing. She scanned her surroundings; there were few others in the lab ~ Endless lines of the letter ‘R’ scrolled down a nearby screen: ‘RRRRRRRRRRR...’ because a student had fallen into deep sleep with his face pressed against the keyboard ~ Coraline had wandered through the lab, curious to discover where the sound of the crying originated ~ There! Sitting at a workstation in the corner, was a boy who seemed to match Katscha's description, although it had been difficult to reliably ascertain, since his face was buried in his hands and there were tears streaming down his arm.


Coraline had circled around behind him to curiously approach ~ The lank locks of his long dark hair gently bobbed to the rhythm of his weeping ~ She had peered above his bowed head to read the headline of the faded newspaper page displayed the screen: ‘Scientists Die in Mysterious Crash’ ~ She could not read the body text from where she had been standing, although she could clearly discern the image of a young man and woman in the halftone photograph accompanying the article. The beautiful Asiatic woman had a patch over one eye like a pirate. The couple were standing atop a stairway near the open doorway at the tail of a propeller plane. In the background, the runway appeared surrounded by a broad valley and rounded hills covered with tropical vegetation. Judging by the clothing and hairstyles, Coraline estimated the photograph had been taken sometime during the 1950’s. That incessant sobbing... He had sounded so hurt; lamenting as though someone had wounded his soul ~ She had gently placed her hand upon his shoulder to timidly ask; “Are you okay?” “Momma... why did they have to die?” he had whispered before crying more forcibly. “It's all right,” Coraline had repeated softly. “It's all right.” Compelled to wrap her arms around his shoulders and clasp her hands against his chest, she lightly pressed her forehead to the back of his head to note that his damp hair had a slight musk scent. It had felt pleasant to hold him tightly ~ Coraline had maintained her tender caress until the crying had subsided and he slowly sat upright ~ Released, he awkwardly fumbled with the computer, then stared into the blank screen for a few moments to compose himself while he wiped away his tears. Finally, when he turned to meet her gaze, his face had actually appeared quite tranquil and serene. “Thank you for comforting me,” he had said. “That was very kind.” Coraline's heart had began to flutter when she realized the tall, handsome boy was also sensitive and polite. Rare! Why had she never noticed him before? And why, having encountered him for the very first time, had he seemed so very familiar? ~ It was a peculiar sensation ~ Perhaps it was a premonition that their destinies were about to become intertwined in some significant way ~ They had stood in silence for several moments, staring into each other's eyes, uncertain what to do... Nervously, she had introduced herself; “My name is Coraline... Coraline Coventry.” “Jurgen Ernst.” ‘So it was him!’ Coraline had self-consciously extended her hand in greeting; and with the gentle touch of his fingertips, Coraline had fervently wished that Jurgen would guide the back of her hand to his lips to plant a subtle kiss... she had waited with anticipation.


“You are incredib-ibly beautiful...” Jurgen had stuttered. Seeming surprised that he had spoken the words aloud, Jurgen had become flustered ~ He glanced anxiously at the clock; it was almost midnight ~ He quickly gathering up his portable deck, pencils and a notebook then tossed them into his worn blue knapsack. He let out a sigh. “I really must leave... Thank you, I'm feeling better.” Then he had begun to walk away. “Wait, I want to come with you,” Coraline had called softly after him. Jurgen had paused, then turned to smile and nod his head. The two drifted through the empty corridors of the castle without a word, and soon were standing in the lamplight of the snow-covered courtyard. The sky was black and the stars were cold and bright. A chill was in the air ~ Coraline shivered ~ Jurgen took off his coat and draped it over her shoulders. “Gallant knight,” Coraline laughed. Jurgen studied the ground. “You live in the village don’t you?” He had met her gaze again then nodded. “I live up there.” Coraline had pointed to a narrow illuminated window high above in the stone wall of the fortress. “I’ll walk with you to the entrance,” Jurgen said, offering his hand. Water from snow melting during the day had frozen into sheets of ice. Holding hands, they skipped across the treacherous terrain on stepping-stones formed by clumps of brittle grass and patches of snow which made a crunching sound beneath their feet. They had lowered their heads to brave the ferocious wind... Coraline appreciated the silence... It felt comfortable to share the experience of the cold night, just as they had shared a few moments of intimacy within the lab. She had sensed that he felt the same way ~ They seemed to be communicating without words! Oh! She could be so eternally happy to continue walking all the way to the North Pole! It was a wonderful sensation! Was it Love? Too soon they had arrived at the heavy oak door barricading the entrance to the women's dormitory. They took shelter in the narrow vestibule to catch their breath. Coraline could recall that when she had begun to remove his coat to return it to him, that Jurgen had reached out to assist her, then impetuously grasped the collar and


drew her toward him. Coraline had not resisted, yet unwilling to surrender, had been entirely uncertain of how to respond. Jurgen had intuitively understood the meaning of the tentative expression in her eyes ~ Rather than kissing her on the lips, he had kissed her briefly, tenderly, upon her forehead, then without another word, had turned and walked away. Coraline had watched until he was out of view ~ He did not look back.

II. JURGEN ERNST

Night had fallen ~ Sometime the darkness frightened her. Silent stars glistened like the eyes of a multitude of night birds perched amongst the canopy of branches within an immense cosmic grove; mischievously twinkling or winking out whenever they were masked behind a veil of those unseen clouds within the inky blackness which had already shed evening tears to stain the castle walls. No footsteps echoed off the damp paving stones across the courtyard, only the sound of leaves rattling in the gentle breeze and the flickering ghostly blue glow of television dancing in a few tower windows provided any indication that the entire world had not fallen under a sorcerer's spell of quiescence. It was a frequent impression ~ since Coraline customarily stayed awake most of the night ~ that these scenes had merely appeared inert relative to her own internal momentum. No memories or dreams to interfere; her thoughts focused upon whatever project engaged her, entirely unaware of the passage of time, stopping only when she was ready to drop from exhaustion. That's when the darkness became apparent, as did the emptiness it held ~ An abysmal void which threatened to engulf her while it consumed her from within ~ Sometime she was able to dispel the flood of darkness by recalling some of the bright memories she pleasantly cherished; particularly fond remembrances of the many wonderful times she and Jurgen had enjoyed together: Where could she begin? With love... certainly she had never experienced that foreboding sensation of overwhelming emptiness until she had fallen in love. Not even during the aftermath of Clara's departure had Coraline truly experienced the loss which occurs with the absence of true love. That dependency, that addiction to live and to be lived for by another person ~ which had always seemed even more intense in the middle of the night. Previously, her life had lacked the contrast of such extremes, since until that moment she had always remained independent and self-reliant; solely


responsible for her decisions ~ Attempting to attain the impossible and willing to embrace the consequences ~ Yet, once true love had entered the scene to forge its gentle bonds, the maintenance of those links which tether kindred hearts had become a compelling and consuming task ~ And one which had often caused great pain. The desire for contact, the fantasy of pleasure, and the fear of loneliness were names of some of the specters which fluttered against the windows of her dormitory during the brief span from dusk to dawn. Coraline trembled... Curled up in an armchair, she had tightly hugged her knees as she recalled an evening long ago ~ just after she and Jurgen had met ~ when seeking rest following a stroll, they had alighted upon a marble bench beside a pond reflecting the castle, to sit in silent contemplation of each other for some considerable time. There, watched over by statues of stone angels; the Angel of Grievous Death and the Angel of Blessed Death, Jurgen had proposed that Coraline someday construct a virtual paradise in which, perhaps, they could always live together in immortality. It was a romantic fantasy, and a very naive suggestion, yet one which had compelled Coraline to gently, briefly kiss him upon the lips. It was then that Jurgen had first told her that he loved her... At the time, Coraline had sincerely been uncertain how to respond. Standing to stretch, Coraline lit another slim white candle, setting its base into the accumulated molten tears of many wax sentinels which had previously expired upon the stone windowsill. She rubbed her tired eyes, yet the view from her window persisted; one entirely similar to many others she had observed at that hour of the morning ~ Would Jurgen still be awake? ~ How often she had wished to gaze upon a lantern glowing in the window of his room! It was unfortunate that her view had instead faced toward the interior of the fortification; the courtyard gardens protected within the enclosure of the tall stone walls, and the ancient palace, tower, residences and storehouses which had been converted into the International Akademy of Technology. Curiously, the more Coraline had attempted to understand Jurgen, the more enigmatic he had seemed. That was why she often thought about him; she was intrigued by his complexity. On the surface, it would be fair to say, his appearance and demeanor did not justifiably indicate the full measure of his depths; he dressed unremarkably ~ just like everyone else, he had not cut his hair since arriving at the Akademy; it was long and straight and black, and years of staring into a monitor had produced constant dark patches beneath his eyes, which prompted him to wear sunglasses outside during the day. Tall and thin, he walked hunched over as though experiencing considerable pain. He kept to himself, never seemed to sleep, and often his serious expression would betray his obsessed with the ideas which constantly preoccupied his mind, yet, Jurgen would be quick to laugh whenever someone had told an unusual joke or had made a clever play on words. ‘Ah yes!’, Coraline sighed; they both had been young and idealistic, private and intense. Throughout their lives, their deeply inquisitive nature had enabled each of them to gather considerable empirical wisdom through observation and


experimentation. Thus, contrasts between their unique experiences had created individual perceptions which were satisfying to share; enabling them to jump quickly past preliminary concepts to more fully explore interesting intellectual terrain ~ Yet, somehow each had also managed to concentrate fully upon their projects; perhaps it was the pleasure of knowing that, at certain times, they could gain respite from their effort to spend in the comfort of unconditional love. It had seemed like the perfect relationship. Days cycled into nights, nights into days, turning into weeks then months following their first encounter. During intervals, they met for morning coffee in the cafeteria, and frequently in the evening for a casual stroll under the stars ~ Coming to rest upon their favourite bench near the reflecting pond watched over by the blank eyes of stone angels. Jurgen had later introduced Coraline to a small clearing in the forest just below the castle which afforded a panoramic view of the tiny village and the nameless river winding through the narrow valley below. Alone together under primordial moonlight, intimately perched upon an enormous fallen log, they would discuss metaphysics, the universe, the nature of design... but they would never kiss... “You must remain strong. You must conquer your desires with discipline. Only then will you achieve a higher awareness.� Coraline had also begun instructing Jurgen in the practice of meditation; teaching him how to relax and clear his mind ~ Frequently they retreated into the privacy of a small room available to students for quiet moments of solitude as a respite from hectic schedules; the narrow openings in the stone wall had long ago accommodated cannons positioned in defense of the castle ~ They sat facing each other upon cushions on the bare stone floor. Gradually, over the course of many sessions, Coraline had demonstrated how they could effectively communicate with each other within a meditative state; developing an ability to read and understand each other's thoughts, and in time, occasionally experience the exquisite pleasure of being able to enter into the other's being by becoming attuned to the frequency of their energy vibration... During customary late night walks, or in the castle corridors, they discovered that with intensely-focused concentration they were able to beam messages to each other like wireless portable decks ~ Although, it had always remained evident that Coraline was much more proficient in this ability than the degree which Jurgen had attained. For the most part, Jurgen did not feel compelled to communicate either telepathically or verbally. Whenever they were together, he seemed quite content to enjoy the sensation of just basking in her presence. Yet, should he become swept up in the passion about a certain topic, Jurgen could be very eloquent, continuing for quite some time until it seemed he would suddenly regret unleashing his internal monologue and once again lapse into a kind of dreamy introverted silence. Although Coraline was a patient listener, she occasionally found it frustrating when his voice had faded away; since, as he spoke she had wanted to learn more about his ideas. Thus, perhaps as a result of curiosity which could not be satiated, she had been


prompted to probe his mind more deeply through telepathy. And while Jurgen attempted to guard his thoughts, Coraline had often caught glimpses of the darkness within his soul ~ And it was this darkness which occasionally frightened her. She had tried to understand. Perhaps she had hoped to find some way to help him gain release from the demons which tormented him. His demons were from the past; a past which Jurgen had inherited ~ Not only the phantoms encoded in his genes, but also those set loose to freely wander throughout the world upon his grandparent's tragic death. It had been so difficult to learn the truth ~ He seemed perpetually uncertain about whether the fragments of historical information he had discovered were based in fact or fiction ~ Jurgen tumbled through digital files like dominoes; he was intrigued by a wide variety of topics. He voraciously consumed vast quantities of text from every knowledge-base which his skills enabled him to access; “I'm simply attempting to piece together enough information to roughly sketch out a few conclusions by which to more completely understand the story,” was how Jurgen may have phrased it. Fortunately, Coraline had begun to recognize symptoms of the danger ~ She believed that Jurgen had developed peculiar fascinations with certain subjects which had caused him to become misguided in some of his beliefs. The numerous pulp science-fiction novels authored by his father; Kropton Ernst, had certainly been instrumental in distorting these perceptions. One unpublished novel in particular ~ a manuscript which had awaited Jurgen upon his arrival at the Akademy ~ entitled; ‘Invisible Waves’, was purportedly a ‘fictional biography’ of Jurgen's grandparents; Cameron and Adda Stark, in which the reality of the narrative was enhanced with creative speculation. Yet, Jurgen had believed every word. Thus, his grandparents ~ who had vanished mysteriously more than one quarter of a century before Jurgen was born ~ had become the guiding spirit which fueled the development of his work. He had begun to dream of resurrecting their ‘reality simulation’ program, and he was obsessively-intrigued by the concept of an anti-gravity device, as well as many of the other fantastic inventions attributed to the Starks throughout the 350 page novel ~ When Coraline had read ‘Invisible Waves’, she could not believe that anyone would try to pass off as literature such badly written nonsense. Despite her objections, Jurgen had firmly believed that some type of sacred knowledge was encrypted within the code; cloaked in metaphor and ‘science-fiction’ symbolism ~ or understood by reading between the lines. He maintained that the thinly-veiled saga merely appeared to be a figment of the writer's imagination. To corroborate the data, Jurgen had spent months exploring countless obscure network locations, collecting hidden fragments of information here and there, and assemble all the files which referenced the Stark’s activity or even only briefly mentioned them in a tangential way. It had been by discovering specific, detailed files ~ securely locked away ~ that Jurgen had gradually confirmed that his father's novel had indeed concealed some very significant information. Almost by analogy, it had documented the futuristic experiments which the young scientists ~ his grandfather and grandmother ~ had conducted for the US military; while basing their operations out of


a quonset hut stationed within a most remote region of Iceland. As well, it outlined the strange circumstances surrounding their deaths ~ on November 11, 1959 ~ when they had reportedly attempted to defect to communist China aboard a charter DC-3. On that fateful flight the propeller plane had encountered an intense electrical storm, developed engine trouble then disappeared into the Yellow Sea. No wreckage had ever been found ~ What Jurgen had discovered always made him wonder what could never be revealed. Meanwhile, Coraline had clearly recognized the effect this preoccupation had upon his personal relationships and also upon his work. Jurgen had been pushing himself to the limit, and the pressure continually intensified. Often he seemed tired, and seemed never to eat or sleep ~ Perhaps it was that his spirit had gradually grown weary of what he called; ‘the gloomy atmosphere’ of the Akademy. By the beginning of his fourth and final year, Jurgen desperately began to devise some stratagem which could expedite an early release from his contract. His final assignment was to successfully develop a commercial application for his faculty advisor; a stern disciplinarian named Master Bronchev. The astute scholar may have become wise to Jurgen's increasingly erratic behavior and recognized the urgency of placing him within the industry before his talent and reputation had begun to diminish in value as a revenue generating asset for the institution. Thus, following negotiations with this advisor, it was mutually agreed that Jurgen was to leave the Akademy in November, 2007. In this regard, Master Bronchev had assigned a talented young programmer named Ruza Blazhek to assist Jurgen with his project... It was all that Coraline could do to insist they enjoy some travel through the countryside to provide a bit of refreshing leisure; explaining that it was also beneficial for her research since she was inspired by designs found in nature. Jurgen displayed reluctance at first, then hesitantly invented excuses, yet once convinced and underway, he would thoroughly enjoy the experience ~ She was always amazed that, at any time he had wished, Jurgen could arrange permission to use one of the Skoda electric cars which the Akademy allocated for student use: vehicles intended to convey students to universities, museums, research labs, or conferences and symposiums... Naturally, instead of driving to a metropolitan center, they chose to transport themselves beyond the map to some isolated location where there was not another human soul around. Away from the Akademy Jurgen became transformed, shedding the darkness which had burdened him to generate brightness and warmth. He seemed to bear his height with dignity and was reserved rather than aloof, and he would behave himself by rarely launching into one of his notorious soliloquies. Each excursion lead them further afield: into the Beskydy mountains in Northern Moravia or the glacial limestone lakes of Sumava ~ A red blanket on the green grass, his thin face looking up into the sky, grey eyes searching for patterns in the anonymous autumn clouds, the wind blowing through his long dark hair ~ Coraline was always taking photographs. One day in the Ash Mountains they wandered for miles through a narrow valley near Praded Peak. Coraline had been fascinated by birds, and constantly scanned the landscape with a pair of binoculars, or the


viewfinder of her camera, to identify nearly every species she observed. Tired from the hike, they had rested upon a large flat rock beside a narrow stream. Jurgen's face had flushed with a healthy glow from the exercise and fresh air, the lank strands of his dark hair moistened with perspiration... His portrait had looked so handsome in that setting; so vigorous and alive ~ How often had she gazed upon that photograph mounted with a magnet on the refrigerator door in her dormitory kitchen? Memories ~ How she had longed to see him again! That afternoon, sitting together beside the stream, Coraline recalled that Jurgen had impulsively leaned forward and tenderly kissed her upon the lips, then had withdrawn his face a short distance to await her reaction. She had certainly surprised him, and admittedly herself as well, by returning his challenge with passion! An eternity elapsed during that brief interval while the world stood still... One lingering kiss then another... Kisses sweeter than poison; a confection Jurgen seemed to crave like an addict after the isolation of being a hermit... His gentle hand firmly caressed the muscular firmness of her naked thigh, then his fingers continued to glide over her skin as they solicitously approached the forbidden zone... Coraline had released a gentle moan as his touch nestled within the warmth of the narrow seam along the front of her tight hiking shorts... It also soon became clearly evident that Jurgen had grown fully erect; urging against the fabric of his trousers like the thrust of a knight's lance... prepared to conquest any obstacle barring access to the holy grail of every healthy young man... Oh! how she had also been tempted by the pleasure of unifying their bodies ~ Upon that rock in the warm sunshine by the stream ~ An overwhelming sensation she could not even imagine; the sensation of enveloping him while he completely enveloped her... her breath came heavily... Coraline had not forcibly pushed him away. Rather, she had guided his hand toward her lips to kiss his fingertips. It had felt so nice when Jurgen's palm had caressed her cheek then and his fingertips had brushed through her hair. “Dear sweet Jurgen, we must not give in to temptation, not now...” Her voice had trailed off with a glimpse of his tragic eyes; which still harboured anguish and lustful desire. “I will always love you,” Coraline had wrapped her arms around his chest to hug him very tightly. On subsequent travels, after the sky had grown dark and the battery reserves were drained, they had waited out the night parked in a forest or a farmer's field, wrapped in blankets, thinking pleasant thoughts as they gazed up at the Milky Way. Or should it have been raining, they retreated inside the vehicle; one cramped under the steering wheel in the front seat, the other stuffed into the back. And should it be very cold, they would sleep sitting up, snuggled together; Coraline's apprehension overcome only by a greater need for warmth ~ Completely inexperienced, she had secretly felt frightened by the enormous size of Jurgen's erection which threatened her when aroused. Sometime she would react by becoming upset ~ to make the situation clear ~ reminding Jurgen that a basic human urge; driven by the unconscious desire to reproduce, was an inferior surrogate to the purity of spiritual love. Jurgen would fidget


restlessly until he had finally found a position which allowed him to sleep... Coraline wondered whether Jurgen's personality shifts on these occasions were the result of his regaining possession of the spirit of Marcel Planchette ~ a man, Jurgen claimed, was an instructor of Metaphysics at the Akademy. Jurgen often mentioned that his dear friend Marcel ~ and Marcel's pretty wife Angelique ~ had been the most gracious hosts whenever he roamed out to their distant house following a maze of boggy trails through the bottom of the valley where the land had absorbed the sluggish stream. At other times, Jurgen had attended Marcel in his workshop; a renovated dungeon lost within the bowels of the castle where Marcel apparently engaged in the manufacture of automaton mannequins. And within those gloomy environs, Jurgen added, Marcel had thoroughly indoctrinated him in the knowledge of metaphysics, alchemy, Tao, tarot, and other arcane subject matter. Subsequently, Jurgen acknowledged that Marcel Planchette had faithfully served as an indispensable guide ~ Jurgen's enigmatic explanation was that Marcel had demonstrated an awareness of the true nature of Jurgen's quest, thus he could often reveal fortuitous messages which Jurgen was able to fully comprehend only upon arriving at his next destination ~ “A jigsaw puzzle in which the largest pieces were the size of sentences.” ~ Alas, Coraline had also observed that along with these vital mystic insights ~ which, like a Muse, could truly assume forms which provided essential information whenever it was required ~ Jurgen had also acquired an insatiable appetite to explore things dark and sinister. An unwholesome fascination, yet one which had never entirely transformed Jurgen into a monster or an impure creature who was not worthy or deserving of her love ~ Coraline had recognized that the demon of lust was usually the most enticing; “Our spirits are enfleshed in bodies to both challenge and chastise us," she had once admonished Jurgen. On certain occasions, it had truly seemed Jurgen's words had been delivered by another voice; as though Marcel were actually in the car with them ~ Yet, Coraline preferred to believe that the actual source of these ‘mystical’ influences could much more likely be attributed to the programmer which Master Bronchev had assigned to assist Jurgen in completing his graduation project: a young Muscovite named Ruza Blazhek; a.k.a., Rujjie Blades. The two students shared a cramped ‘office’ within a tiny stone room with no windows on the third floor of the castle. Intimacy was their only option. Working together as partners for almost one year ~ literally back to back ~ they had co-written an application which they had code-named; ‘Faith’ ~ The software product would ultimately be renamed upon commercial release by the marketing people at ACB under the international trade name: GuRU™. What Coraline had gradually discovered with Katscha, Jurgen had realized more quickly with Rujjie, that their personalities could be complimentary as opposites; Jurgen was order to Rujjie’s chaos ~ A neatly-arranged work area versus an avalanche of clutter which threatened to engulf the room. A punctual set of routine hours versus a flexible time-frame. A casual well-groomed appearance versus a mockery of a school uniform modified and desecrated until it had become almost unrecognizable. It was this contrast, this polarity, which generated energy. Friction,


tension, sparks fed the dynamo fueling the drive to keep each other motivated; not merely to complete the project by the delivery date, but to create the best software application they could possibly imagine; one infinitely better than anything currently on the market. The combatants emulated chess masters in their vain attempt to attain dominance during their marathon coding matches, each challenging the other to hone their attributes to achieve a successively-higher level of skill, or endure the implied humiliation of being vanquished by their superior. Strategy and tactics; the probing of defenses to seek out vulnerabilities, the insulting taunts of macho posturing and witty double-entendres, the cunningly-baited traps to snare their unwary adversary, and so on... until ultimately, hopefully, victory ~ The loser buying the winner round after round of tankards down at the Screaming Virgin! First impressions, though often misleading, are lasting. When Coraline had first met Rujjie Blades, she could not decide whether he reminded her more of the Honey Buzzard (Pernis apivorus) or the Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) she had photographed in the East Slovakia Lowlands ~ The only reason she had knocked upon the door to his dormitory room was because Jurgen had called to say that was where he would be, and she had grown weary of waiting on the marble bench in the courtyard for almost one and one half hours for their previously-scheduled rendezvous to travel to the country. The tiny circular stone garret appeared not to have been cleaned, nor to have even seen a ray of light during the three years of Rujjie's occupation. Dead air reeked with the foul odor of fermenting garbage and stale tobacco smoke. All of the tall, narrow windows had been covered by thick dusty curtains, casting perpetual shade... Oh how his darkness had terrified her! ~ And indeed, Jurgen had also seemed to be caught off-guard; sitting in the shadows, his peculiar uneasiness caused Coraline to wonder whether he had not perhaps smoked a little hashish with Rujjie just before her unexpected arrival. On the road; once their journey had gotten underway, Coraline could clearly perceive the transformation which had transpired, when, apropos of nothing, Jurgen had suddenly confessed to believing it necessary for one to occasionally embrace the darkness ~ To experience life to its fullest, he had exclaimed, one must boldly indulge its pleasure and vices to the maximum. One must continually doubt, then reaffirm one's faith on the path to spiritual fulfillment, so that when one's body awakened to the ravages of pain and one's vision had clouded in haze, one could witness an eternally more glorious revelation in the complete evaporation of the illusion with the radiant return of day ~ Coraline had recognized these notions as symptoms of the persuasive influence of Rujjie Blades. She abhorred these aberrations of misguided muddling into which Jurgen sometimes stumbled; frankly, they made her quite angry. She much preferred to share her time with Jurgen when he was rational and level-headed ~ Since, whenever he was in an agitated state, she would always be much too timid to confront him... ... And then Jurgen would again speak of Marcel Planchette; partially turning toward Coraline, resting one knee casually upon the front seat, alternating his attention between the road and Coraline's eyes, delivering eloquent soliloquies as though truly


reciting esoteric knowledge imparted by his mentor... What was to be believed?... Coraline had trembled. Curled up in an armchair, she tightly hugged her knees ~ Katscha had just returned; Katscha was the medium, the messenger, the deliverer of reliable reports of rumours which circulated as currency amongst her vast network of friends ~ An intelligence mission which had continued to include her personal ongoing investigation of Jurgen Ernst as well, since, despite her success in acting as the catalyst in finally bringing Coraline and Jurgen together, information Katscha had subsequently discovered had shifted her intention toward undoing that immense amount of previous effort ~ Katscha had arrived to sternly warn Coraline once again; “There is something strange about that boy, and I'm going to find out what!� Of course Katscha had already made inquiries regarding Marcel Planchette at the Administration Office. The clerk she had first spoken with had been unable to find any record of an instructor by that name at the Akademy ~ Although, another woman behind the counter had hinted confidentially that some instructors assumed a protected identity as a means of ensuring some measure of anonymity for the privilege of benefactors who generously remunerated them during their tenure to train potential future employees of selected corporations, or involve students as assistants in proprietary research projects. Regardless of whether Marcel Planchette existed or did not exist, Katscha had remained highly suspicious of many of Jurgen's extracurricular activities. From data generated by her own observations ~ combined with those of her fellow operatives who had agreed to keep an eye on Jurgen whenever they encountered him ~ Katscha had pieced together some puzzling fragments of a mystery; the status of which gradually seemed to become legendary. During meals in the cafeteria some students entertained themselves with tales of Jurgen Ernst; illustrated as a pale creature, cloaked in darkness, who roamed the lowlands under the light of the full moon to exhume the bodies of recently dead humans or to victimize live animals in order to conduct his evil experiments. Of course, Katscha had naturally assumed these stories were exaggerated to enhance their dramatic quality. In reality, they turned out to be not far from the truth. Jurgen had been detected wandering alone through the swamps at night; to visit a notorious house down the valley inhabited by squatters ~ Young Bohemians from the village who considered themselves artists and poets because they liked to drink booze, smoke weed and build crazy sculptures from strange junk. Unannounced, covered in mud and wearing a pair of night vision goggles, Jurgen had also often appeared at the cluster of budas at the edge of the village ~ Small subterranean huts in which each family engaged in a friendly competition with their neighbour to see who could make the best wine and consume the most of it. And eventually, the villagers had no longer even been terrified when Jurgen had casually dropped by their humble homes as an uninvited guest for an evening. His pleasant company seemed to encourage his hosts to ingratiate themselves with second helpings of roast pork, rye bread, cabbage and dumplings. After dinner he would customarily sit in on a game of


Stovkahra, drink a few glasses of powerful home-made wine, and perhaps flirt with some of the farmer's daughters; sometime spending the night! Coraline had preferred to believe that Jurgen’s disheveled appearance and general decline in personal hygiene; hair unkempt, uniform wrinkled, sometime even forgetting to brush his teeth, was a consequence of his discovery that writing the code for FAITH had been much more difficult than he originally had anticipated... Sleep, awaken again, return to work; that had been the cycle... Whenever they met for breakfast ~ which for Jurgen usually consisted of several cups of coffee ~ Coraline had often expressed concern that his relentless schedule was wearing him down. He was losing weight and seemed constantly to have dark patches beneath his eyes. Typically, Jurgen would cryptically explain that; ‘the devil is in the details, and that devil would spare him no rest’. Coraline was aware that the pressure and stress on Jurgen kept intensifying. Even though he had denied it in front of Master Bronchev, he could not deny it to her. He had admitted his desperate need to escape the institution, and the village, but knew that it would not be possible until he had been able to demonstrate results; it had been imperative to make the software work. He had come too far, there was no turning back. And in that regard, Rujjie’s participation had become essential; Jurgen could not complete it on his own, especially within a compressed time-frame ~ The walls were closing in... Still hugging her knees, curled up in the armchair, Coraline daydreamed about that relationship which had consumed so many days ~ Failed romance or bad timing? ~ Coraline had sighed... “What are you so glum about?” Katscha had called out loudly, bustling around, popping a couple of food packets into the microwave ~ Supper would be ready shortly ~ Katscha set the timer for two minutes; clean, quick, easy... Coraline wasn't hungry. She had wanted to continue dwelling upon the thoughts which had preoccupied her; she wanted to blame herself for not allowing Jurgen to get too close ~ Perhaps she had merely wanted a companion who she could trust ~ If only he had not found it was so difficult to manage the sensation of lust which had seemed to course through his body like pure testosterone ~ Perhaps the shifts defining the boundary of their friendship threatened to disrupt the passion each had committed to advancing their autonomous pursuits... Perhaps she had taken it upon herself to resolve the situation for both of them since she had greater willpower and stronger determination. “Be careful what you wish for,” Katscha had chimed-in from the kitchen. Well, Coraline had certainly gotten her wish! As a result, she had also been able to allocate the majority of her time to achieving goals which she had set for herself in developing her own projects. She had worked very hard. Yet contrary to Jurgen, the more intently she focused upon her tasks, the more relaxed she would become ~ Studying the architectural theory of the Masters, collaborating with other students to


fabricate a perceptual apparatus which she had conceived of to assist her in interacting more dynamically with the dimensional software she used to model her dream structures, exercising in the small gymnasium every day, practicing meditation, and in her free time, continuing to learn several languages on the networked computer in her dormitory room: French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese. She had also been allocated her own private studio; a small, perfectly cube-shaped room located near the summit of the Ivory Tower; the tall cylindrical white-washed tower rising high above the castle. One narrow window faced toward the village ~ Out near the swamp at the western edge was the tiny house in which Jurgen lived... Coraline sighed... All of those things she could have said... Life is a paradox... The silent stars still glistened like eyes of a multitude of night birds perched amongst the canopy of branches within an immense cosmic grove; winking mischievously whenever masked behind the veil of unseen clouds which had already shed their tears. No footsteps echoed off the damp paving stones. Leaves rattled in the gentle breeze. The flickering ghostly glow of television danced within a few of the windows of the castle tower... Katscha had gone out... Coraline's unopened food packet lay upon her plate. The warm rays of a candle traced paths through the room; ricocheting off reflective surfaces, absorbed by denser textures, or shielded from penetrating into the sheltered shadows which objects had retained like memories. Coraline followed the paths to their source; moving toward the candle in the window so that she could illuminate gold ink upon the parchment in her hand. She would not need a few moments to discern the identity of swirling letter-forms heavily encircled by swooping wings and tails of ornate calligraphy, since she had already memorized the handwritten message; ‘Your cordial attendance invited. Gala Ball. 8:00 PM, November 11th, 2007. Pearl Salon. Formal attire requested.’ Throughout the days of early November, Coraline had inevitably concocted intricate romantic notions of a memorable evening each would cherish forever ~ Vividly imagining delicate vases brimming with pale pink roses and a dark oak table laden with a banquet of pheasant accompanied by brazed asparagus and roasted almonds served upon a bed of wild rice. Enjoying their intimate conversation, they would sweetly sip ruby wine from gleaming crystal, then later perhaps, dance across the polished marble floor; swirling amongst the ephemeral projections of prisms suspended like gorgeous fruit adorning the elaborate branches of enormous chandeliers ~ gleaming gems which splashed rainbows across the contours of the frescoed ceiling like schools of minnows vanishing and reappearing as they darted through the elegant interior of the castle's ballroom. Then as midnight approached, they would glide out onto the balcony to catch their breath, leaning upon the stone railing, finally returning their gaze from the spectacular moonlit valley to search each other's eyes ~ Lingering moments before tenderly embracing ~ An unspoken farewell; gentle kisses remaining upon their lips until they should meet again... ... the orchestral music faded and the twinkling stars seemed to vanish...


Behind that ephemeral veil passing between wishful fantasy and wistful reality, Coraline could clearly recall their final encounter ~ It had occurred one sunny afternoon within Coraline's small studio near the conical peak of the Ivory Tower. She had invited Jurgen up to unveil her recently-allocated space which rewarded her the privacy of isolation to experiment with the innovative architectural software she had conceived, and had assisted in designing, which implemented haptic sensors attached to her body to locate their virtual position within dimensional space to facilitate navigating and constructing a structural model in terms of movement and perspective on a human scale. Yet, Jurgen had subdued Coraline's excitement by trumping her accomplishment with the casual announcement that FAITH had been delivered; which meant that he had finally fulfilled his contractual obligation to the Akademy. He hinted that he had been able to gain confidential information which indicated that he was about to be recruited as an employee of General Synthetics Corporation, and would soon be leaving for Osaka, Japan... Coraline had been dismayed to realize that he was free to travel to any distant island of his choice... Of course, as Jurgen had prepared to make his exit, Coraline had coyly reminded him about the Gala Ball in the Pearl Salon to be held upon the following weekend... Yet, at that very moment, she had unexpectedly received an ominous premonition engulfing her with an overwhelming sensation of sorrow. “It will be our...� Coraline's voice had vanished; her expression clouded with sadness. Jurgen had held her in a tight embrace; his warmth permeating her. He had gazed deeply into her eyes... penetrating her soul. Softly then, he sweetly parted with a tender kiss as gentle as a butterfly alighting to anoint her hand with a lingering trace of dew. Silently... Snow was beginning to fall. Coraline glanced at the phone the way she often would whenever she had expected Jurgen to call ~ There was always hope... Although the telepathy they had cultivated between themselves remained strong with her, she had realized that it was not an ability which was shared to a mutual extent by Jurgen. She had hoped that he could detect her signals, or her focused concentration in attempt to will him to contact her ~ Yet, he had not called, and as the days slowly elapsed marking the approach of the gala affair, so too had her spirit ebbed ~ Her previous joyful anticipation gradually transformed into somber melancholia. He was leaving ~ It could be so perfect; such a wondrous ending to this chapter of their young romance fairy tale ~ And she had convinced herself that she had been ready to relinquish her body to him! Oh the heat and distraction of the images which had flooded into her mind in anticipation of that moment, nauseated her and thrilled her 'till she was quite ready t' swoon... She had


wanted him to love her with his soul before he could love her with his body ~ That look in his eye when they had parted ~ Yes, she was ready! She had absently smoothed the crease of the folded card, then returned the invitation to a small wooden box in which she kept her treasures. Still wearing her nightgown, Coraline perched upon the dormitory sill, her chin cupped by her knees, rocking slightly, subtly shivering, the candle burning low... Her pale reflection in the darkened window made evident recent changes which had transformed the familiarity of her facial characteristics; an expression of her recent sleeplessness and anxiety ~ caused by the heartache of lost love ~ were evident in her demeanor. She ran her fingers through her almost-masculine closely-cropped dark hair to rearrange its chaos. She appeared tired, she noted, there were dark patches beneath her eyes ~ A hard, faraway stare had replaced her usually tranquil contemplative gaze, yet her eyes remained clear and bright. She attempted to smile but unable to sustain it, her mouth returned to a somewhat calm neutral expression in which her lips seemed tight and tense. Coraline wiped a tear from her cheek with the edge of her finger... It was true, her anxiety level had increased lately, draining her, drawing her into a negative emotional spiral which had seemed to drag her down with its gravity. She had no appetite and could no longer concentrate on anything except her fixation on the possibility of speaking with him once again. Exhausted, solace was not to be found even nestled amongst the blankets of her bed, since whenever sleep arrived, it had consumed her ~ Coraline had clearly recalled a recent dream: The solitary journey of a night traveler, a lonely bird awakening to the smoldering chill of the ashes of dusk, to bleak horizons cloaked in heavy grey robes, drifting mists like phantoms seeking out the warmth of human love... Yet all about was naught but swirling tormented limbs, agonized faces bearing the countenance of the damned, and the plaintive moaning bitter breeze stinging the tongue with sulfur... It were as though darkness itself had been cast adrift to eternally wander this valley of lost souls... With trembling fingers she had tried to rekindle the flames... The candle flickered to life... It had seemed only for fleeting moments they had enjoyed the comfort of each other's company... Coraline sighed... If only she could escape her mind, she thought, if only she could master the inner strength to accept the truth; to recognize that the story was unfolding as it should despite whether or not it was the way she would have preferred it to be revealed... Her only escape had become a tiny pill which assisted in facilitating sleep; yet she had seldom used them since she was leery of the dangerous side-effects with which the synthetic pharmaceuticals could modify her behavior. “It's not the need for demons,” Katscha said, rubbing her eyes as she emerged from her bedroom, “Some of us are meant to find sadness instead of love. Some of us are meant to follow a path which leads somewhere no-one is expected to travel... That is the tragedy of destiny... Have you been awake all night?” Coraline nodded.


“I'll put some coffee on,” Katscha said, scratching her butt. ... the candle flame, her lonely vigil at the window; Coraline had become the spirit visiting Jurgen when the tiny village had fallen silent and he lay awake in his empty bed... During the final days leading up to his departure, Coraline could sense Jurgen frequently thinking of her. She could clearly detect signals, particularly at night when Jurgen struggled in vain to expel the images conjured up by his thoughts ~ Not only vivid memories of many pleasurable experiences they had shared would return to haunt him, but his hopes and dreams for the future had also contributed to his torment. Awake in the darkness, frightened and alone, or suppressing the painful longing to see her again ~ It was so hard... Jurgen had recognized that it had not seemed possible to make the commitment to establishing a relationship together; at the time, each had consciously decided to make the intense pursuit of their individual careers the highest priority in their lives ~ Perhaps such was nature that cruel fate had intervened to separate the pathways of their journeys ~ Star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet... They were both so young; he was twenty-two years old, and she was twenty-one, yet still... Coraline realized that Jurgen still held to the faith they would be together once again some day. Tuned into the turbulence of his insomnia it would often be difficult for her to sleep as well; the intensity would keep her awake well past the time he had fallen asleep so that sometime she would even join him in his dreams... And she could still see his sad, wise eyes hidden behind strands of hair, and she could still see his face that changed like the seasons continually throughout the day, and she could still smell his scent, in her thoughts ~ “I don't deserve this... I love him... I'm afraid,” she would sometime catch herself whispering. Jurgen had packed his belongings into a small suitcase which he could carry with him to the other side of the globe. He had bid farewell to his friends, and had been thinking intently about her as he stared at the screen of the cell phone in his hand. He knew she was waiting for his call ~ and he had desperately wanted to reconnect with her ~ yet he also realized that it would only rekindle the desire he had gradually allowed to dissipate during the past few weeks... Perhaps weaken his resolve; his will was not that strong... And besides, he did not know what he could he say that had not already been said... Once again the day had time-lapsed; the morning sun obliterated by heavy clouds which had rapidly moved in to blanket the sky, the darkness descended silently, and outside the window, snow had begun to fall ~ It was like a scene from ‘Dr. Zhivago’. She could sense Jurgen waiting at the train station. Beep... beep... beep...


Coraline let her cell phone ring several times so as not to reveal her anxiousness, then had calmly answered... It was Katscha calling from The Screaming Virgin where she had spent the afternoon with some friends ~ She had sounded intoxicated, her voice distorted as she shouted above the noise; “I hope you're getting ready... Have you heard from Jurgen?” Coraline had apprehensively glanced at the elegant evening gown Katscha had designed and sewn for her; empty pleats of deep green material draped in a casual posture as though awaiting in patient repose upon the sofa... “I'm not sure if I should go. I don't really feel like it...” “Of course you should. You and I are going out tonight, and we are going to have the time of our lives!” Katscha had jubilantly responded. “I'm on my way... see you soon!” Coraline admired the reflection of her naked body in the bedroom mirror ~ During the three years she had attended the Akademy, her youthful body had transformed into vibrant womanhood. The plumpness of her tummy and the knobbyness of her knees had undergone metamorphosis as her body matured into svelte streamlined proportions; her muscular arms and legs had been toned by a rigid regimen of exercise in the gymnasium three times daily. Her breasts had ripened like fruit on the vine; pale white skin with rosy pink nipples. Her auburn heart of pubic hair slipped into the tight envelope of her cotton panties ~ Then Cinderella had stepped into the beautiful gold-laced gown and glass slippers her fairy godmother had blessed her with... What was she doing? This was not how she had imagined it... She had wished to be together with Jurgen, happily ever after ~ Yet, it had seemed that at midnight the spell would be broken, and the handsome prince may perhaps forever vanish without a trace. “Life does not stop living; what’s done is done,” Katscha had tried to sound reassuring as she instructed Coraline how to apply make up so that her face could regain its childlike innocence. “This is a night for celebration!”... The only thing Coraline could celebrate, it had seemed, was the uncertainty of her own future. Yet, she had been willing to try... “Let's go!” They had run toward the castle across the courtyard laughing and shouting like children, careful not to slip upon the ice... giant snowflakes tumbled from the sky, illuminated by street lamps... their formal gowns billowed in the evening breeze. Katscha had slowed to catch her breath, puffing hard, her cheeks flushed. Coraline ran back to her, “C’mon, lets go”, she had teased. Katscha smiled, “Go ahead, I’ll catch up,” but Coraline shook her head, tucked her friend's arm under her arm, and the two proceeded together. Walking slowly, arm in arm, Coraline had realized that soon their paths would also diverge, the way her and Jurgen's had, as each chartered a course toward their own destiny.


III. RUJJIE BLADES

“Jurgen Ernst... Jesus Christ!” Coraline had immediately recognized the voice responding to her question. “What do you want?” Coraline had spoken loud enough to be heard through the heavy oak door. “I wish to speak with you.” “No, not at this time of night. I am...” “Open the door, it's urgent!” The voice which at first seemed casual and witty, had become demanding. Reluctantly, Coraline slid back the bolt and triggered the latch ~ Rujjie Blades darkened her doorway; silhouetted against the brightly-lit corridor ~ Coraline stepped back as his awkward shadow sprawled across the threshold into the darkness of her tiny room, at the same time, she surreptitiously tapped a small pad strapped to her left thigh which had dramatically increased the illumination of the room ~ As she had hurriedly adjusted the opening of her robe, she noted that the perspiration glistening her body had begun to pattern moist stains upon the fabric of its fine blue cloth. Coraline spun to give the room a quick inspection ~ Attempting to perceive it through Rujjie's eyes; to ensure there was nothing he shouldn't see ~ As mentioned previously, her studio, located within a cupola near the apex of the Ivory Tower, had been allocated to Coraline in order to facilitate the research project which would also fulfill her obligation to the terms of her student contact with the Akademy ~ Just as Jurgen had recently done ~ The studio was simply furnished; a powerful computer and a thick mat covering the stone floor, strewn with a visor, haptic gloves and motion sensor pads. One single narrow window faced directly toward the tiny house which Jurgen had occupied when he had lived in the village... Rujjie swaggered in, sniffing the air, his hard boots scuffed the stone floor as he curiously-investigated the room. “That is a delicious fragrance... What is it, musk?” ~ Rujjie was a bit of a rogue ~ And a bit of a rocker in his appearance and mannerisms: the attitude, the long hair, nocturnal clothes, the khaki surfer shorts, running shoes, the tech, all sporting independent logos from the fringes of underground hacker aesthetic. A pair of tiny silver earphones emerged on thin wires from the golden crucifix hanging upon a chain about his neck ~ Suddenly he did a little pirouette, then from a standing


position collapsed heavily onto the mat; “Oooffff!”, he had exclaimed. “Not much padding!” Rolling onto his side, he had burst out loudly with deep laughter. Coraline bent to gather the delicate equipment; to move it away from where Rujjie had sprawled upon the mat. As she straightened, it was apparent he had been studying her derriere. “It is hot in here; it's not just me!” said Rujjie with a mischievous grin. Coraline gestured for him to be less noisy, then closed the door until just a crack remained. “What is so important that you must disturb me?” ~ Feeling chilled that so much heat had escaped the room, she adjusted the thermostat on the small portable heater, then sat at the end of the shelf, lifting her bare feet off the cold stone floor to tuck them snugly beneath her. Rujjie appeared relaxed on the mattress; laying as he had fallen, “I was concerned about how you were holding up since the departure of our dear mutual friend. I assumed you have been grieving. I can't believe it has only been three weeks, it seems like so much longer... Winter is almost upon us.” “I am fine, Rujjie. I miss Jurgen very much, but I am trying to continue on the best that I am able.” “Well... It's just that whenever I have phoned, either your message is on, or Katscha has intercepted the call. So tonight I just said, what the hell, I will drop by to inquire if a friend may perhaps lighten your mood.” His charming voice, and confidently-handsome appearance, did nothing to allay her suspicion that Rujjie had ulterior motives for his visit. And directly she was able to ascertain that perhaps the true nature of his intentions had been to cast doubt into her mind. Since Rujjie had begun by insinuating that she had been naive about the kind of person Jurgen really was ~ Implying that she should not be mislead about the purity of his integrity, insisting that Jurgen had not lived his life entirely as a saint. As her friend, Rujjie claimed that he had hoped to convince her that in some way she should consider it a blessing that Jurgen had finally vanished. He had then inquired whether she was aware that Marcel and Angelique Planchette were not real people, but merely figments of Jurgen's overactive ‘literary’ imagination. Of course, that perception had confirmed an impression which Katscha had often attempted to convey, and one which Coraline had long been reluctant to accept ~ So convincingly had Jurgen carried the Planchettes in his thoughts that Coraline could also sometime clearly visualize them or sense their presence when she and Jurgen had engaged in telepathic communication. And often, when they spoke, Jurgen proudly provided updates about their activity; whether it was the research project which he had assisted Marcel with by utilizing his programming skill to endow the experimental human-like robots Marcel had fabricated in the dungeon of the castle


with an ability to process and communicate ‘information’, or at other times, vividly describe the Planchette's house near the swamp, where, within the attic, Angelique had painted a magnificent portrait of him as ‘The Hanged Man’ from Tarot... Yet, during the entire time Coraline had known Jurgen, he had never introduced her to them, although sometime, with a quizzical tilt of his head, he would claim that he was certain that he already had. Melted snow slid down the window like diamond drops... Repetitive samples of ‘basshouse’, from another studio down the hall, came pumping through the crack in the door ~ Which she had inconspicuously maintained slightly ajar as a possible avenue of escape ~ Her guardian Katscha was out partying somewhere and would be difficult to contact... Coraline could smell him, she returned her gaze from the door to notice that Rujjie had made himself even more comfortable; he had now discarded his black leather jacket and flannel-plaid shirt to sprawl across the mat in khaki shorts and a t-shirt with ripped-off sleeves promoting a band called ‘Aaanus of Satan’. His loose violet-black hair draped over his naked shoulder to partially obscure an ominous tattoo of a manta ray gracing his entire upper left arm. With a flick, he tossed his hair back to gallantly offer Coraline a swig from the half-filled bottle which had been concealed inside his jacket. Coraline politely declined by briefly shaking her head, then once again returned to remaining perfectly still ~ Her posture straight, her hands clasped in her lap, and her knees tightly together like a statue of the Virgin. Rujjie guzzled the brandy, then screwed the top tightly on the bottle. He continued in a low, raspy voice to relate how ~ about one year previously ~ Jurgen had taken up the habit of occasionally stoking a pipe with a little bit of hashish to explore the labyrinth of subterranean passageways connecting the chambers beneath the castle. One night, flashlight in hand, he had apparently stumbled through a crumbling section of wall to chance upon a cache of arcane mystical and occult texts sequestered within one of the vaults. Jurgen had surmised they had been deleted from the collection of ancient books which had once gathered dust on the shelves of the library included in the purchase of the estate... Certain types of knowledge can be dangerous when imparted to the unwary; the information may open doorways which are then impossible to close... Perhaps Jurgen had reasoned that it was better they had been locked away rather than endure the risk of consigning them to flames. Rujjie revealed that Jurgen had then gradually made a nest for himself amongst the clutter of debris within one of the former dungeons ~ A stone room, with shackles still rusting upon the wall, which had served as a storeroom for an assortment of junk remaining from the castle's restoration; metal shelving lined with broken sculptures, medieval weapons, bird cages, archaic plumbing fixtures, and so on... as well as discarded acetylene tanks, caustic chemicals and some tools used by the workers. Jurgen had rigged up a bright halogen lamp suspended from the center of the ceiling to hover above an old armchair. There he would sit, often late into the night, perusing dusty tomes, seeking answers to many questions he had about spiritual matters ~ He would follow pathways to their conclusion, often getting lost along the way, as he gathered pearls of the wisdom which had been revealed; all that would come to pass!


He would document his journey in a small notebook, then eventually fall asleep ~ He would never contemplate driving his Cezeta scooter down the mountain after curfew; since a patrol cruiser was usually parked to keep watch over the lonely road between the castle and the village ~ while the officers sat in the front seat, playing cards and drinking vodka until the sun returned. Rujjie lit a cigarette, looked for an ashtray, and seeing none, decided to flick the ashes into the cuff of his heavy sock. He sympathetically shook his head as he confided that Jurgen had seemed to have no other source to consult, thus, he had convinced himself that the information which had been revealed, and the situations he had experienced, had occurred during encounters with a very real loyal mentor and trusted friend ~ Perhaps Rujjie fancied himself an amateur psychoanalyst, since he had then advanced his own personal theory, that; ‘Marcel Planchette’, in actuality, could be attributed to an alternative persona which Jurgen himself could sometime assume ~ A distinct set of characteristics which maintained a separate existence from the entity with which his friends were most familiar ~ ‘A Jekyll and Hyde type of thing’, Rujjie had offered by analogy ~ And Angelique, Rujjie had believed, was perhaps Jurgen's muse; an inspirational spirit which reveals itself through many appearances and guises. Rujjie had lowered his voice to explain that she had also represented Jurgen's female, spiritual, intuitive aspect which could enter into conflict with the rational logical mind Jurgen prided himself on his capacity to use in controlling processors by programming them to do whatever he required of them. Rujjie blew smoke into the air... As if to dispel any misconceptions Coraline may still have, he proceeded to enlist evidence to support previous statements. For example, it had been Jurgen's contention that he was wont to wander at his leisure through the swamps under the starlight to visit Marcel and Angelique. Rujjie then stated that he had also explored the valley, and had been unable to find any trace of the ‘Planchette's’ house, although, within the vicinity, he had discovered an abandoned building located in secluded woods, which was frequented by young Bohemians from the village who used it as a party house. Inside every room were a wide variety of plants that tended to be neglected; growing in a state of unrestricted freedom and causal vulnerability ~ the way nature had intended. The attic appeared to be an art studio; holes in the roof dripped rain onto unfinished paintings, and partially assembled sculptures which awaited completion another day. Out back, Rujjie found a shed filled with an assortment of antique junk the artists had collected; movie projectors, sewing machines, mannequin torsos, a rusty moonshine still, and so on... While he talked, Rujjie held the filter in his fingertips until the dying ember had finally burned itself out, then he tucked it in his sock. He explained Jurgen had contrived the character of ‘Marcel’ ~ and to a large extent the attributes of his appearance ~ from descriptions Jurgen's landlady; Mrs. Boshovsky, had provided about her own deceased husband; Milleck ~ Milleck had apparently fallen off the bridge while staggering home from the budas one morning, and had drowned in the river ~ Cursing Milleck's many follies and personality flaws had been a popular topic of conversation for Mrs. Boshovsky; who seemed to occasionally enjoy a bottle of wine in


Jurgen's room during the midnight hours. Coraline had been aware that Jurgen had indulged in sexual encounters with his landlady, even though he had never mentioned it. And Coraline could sense that he had felt deeply ashamed. At the time, she had reasoned, that perhaps frustrated by his unrequited desire to make love with her, Jurgen's will had weakened and he had succumbed to temptation ~ He was young; it was natural to feel the need for intimacy and to have the desire for physical love... Suddenly uncertain of her own thoughts, Coraline immediately returned her attention to what Rujjie had been saying: “... roam the village and surrounding countryside whenever there was no moon. Under cover of darkness, Jurgen would strap on night-vision goggles, enabling him to become a voyeur; able to watch the activities of the villagers without ever being observed. Sometime he would amuse himself by arriving as an uninvited guest at a home where people had gathered for a feast; simply to enjoy a home-cooked meal. The village folk always regarded him with a blend of reverence and fear, since to some, in fact, Jurgen had actually assumed the identity of Milleck Boshovsky in their superstitious peasant minds. And they would also never refuse their hospitality whenever Milleck's ghost appeared in the stone cellar of their buda to drink their rich dark wine, even though he often entertained his reluctant hosts for hours by dramatically reciting epic poetry he had memorized ~ in fluent French!” Rujjie laughed. “And it never mattered how late it became; since whenever Jurgen was possessed by ‘Marcel’ he could become invisible; enabling him to easily elude the curfew patrols. While Rujjie spoke, Coraline had wondered whether Jurgen, by remaining discreet and incognito, had discovered much deeper truths about the world than those illusory perceptions apparent on the surface. Digital or analog, it seemed, he explored the world the same way ~ Hacking through reality to get to the essence at its core... What was to be believed? At least Rujjie had waited until Jurgen had left the village before he had made his move ~ At least he had showed some loyalty. Ha ha ha! Listen to that laugh... and that breath! Whew, he must certainly enjoy smoked herring. Coraline could not see what the other girls saw in him ~ Although, she had recalled Katscha gesturing to indicated the size of his manhood. Yes, she could see it sleeping like a dangerous snake camouflaged by the pattern of his khaki shorts ~ She spoke calmly and sat modestly so as not to threaten provocation from its potent venom... Coraline had recognized that she was at an advantage with her intelligence; if she was able to control her thoughts and not let them wander toward the margins of fear and desire. It was clearly apparent that Rujjie Blades was infatuated with her. Coraline had occasionally sensed him stealthily pursue her through the drafty corridors of the castle as though she were his elusive prey. He was a cunning predator, suave and seductive, and when he smiled that disarmingly-roguish smile, it was so cool it made her tremble...


“... pleasure on one hand, pain on the other.” Rujjie's arms had gestured to simulate a scale. “Maintain balance and life becomes a splendid proposition. Do you not also agree?” Coraline had not been paying attention, and was uncertain what he was referring to. When Coraline had not responded, he continued, “Everything in moderation, except perhaps moderation itself,” Rujjie laughed. “Harmony is the key to happiness, or so the wise old sages have said. But there are just as many levels of harmony as there are levels to Dante's Inferno. It is a matter of discovering the perfect frequency which balances our mood, and satiates our appetite at any particular time. One day it may be birds and flowers in a meadow, and the next a taste for the sinful pleasures of love. Would you not also agree Miss Coventry?” Coraline could only picture Clara and Roderick writhing like animals on the leopard blanket in the tall brown grass ~ their glistening bodies forming interlocking black and white shapes, one dominant, then the other, flowing like the symbol yin/yang... Jurgen would have spoken about binary duality... “It's a beautiful dream. Harmony.” Coraline raised her eyes from the contemplation of her hands to once again meet his gaze. Had he been reading her thoughts? She studied his eyes in an attempt to understand the hidden message. They glimmered and laughed, they were black opaque like the guarded eyes of a card player. “You know, I also miss Jurgen very much,” Rujjie solemnly confessed. “In Jurgen I had finally found someone who was my opposite in a harmonic way. His strengths were my weaknesses and the obverse was also true. We compensated each other, we balanced each other, at the best of times we comprised a perfect unity which was greater than the sum of the parts. I am certain that you felt an even more powerful bond uniting you with him.” While he had been speaking reverentially and quite passionately, Coraline had wondered if perhaps he really did have a heart, or whether the scheme had simply been another ploy to gain her confidence. And then, yes, at last, Rujjie had arrived at the true purpose of his visit when he had admitted; “I am curious to consider that if we both had a similar relationship with Jurgen, then perhaps you and I may also be alike in some respects.” Coraline, sitting as stiffly as a statue, had responded as a matter of fact; “I don't think that you and I are alike in any respect.” Rujjie had laughed heartily. “You cannot be rigid; you'll never learn if you continue to resist novel experiences. Life is not written in the past. Forget the past, remember the future. Let's enjoy this time we have!” Not receiving any reaction, Rujjie threw up his hands in exasperation and sat up on the mat. “Persist not in your folly Coraline, when pleasure is at hand. Now is the time to


indulge your senses while you are vibrant and young. Do not live to have regrets when you have withered wondering what would it have been like to climb the peaks of ecstasy.” Rujjie finished off the brandy, set the empty bottle on the floor, then arose shakily to his feet to slither into his clothes ~ Coraline had remained frozen in a pensive pose as Rujjie approached the door. He stopped and turned toward her, leaning closer, his breath reeking of alcohol, to quietly intone; “I'm warning you because I love Jurgen like a brother, and also because I love you too. Beware, because he might not always be the man that he appears to be, and I don't want you to get hurt... Here is my number; give me a call anytime you need to talk.” Rujjie stuck his card into a crack in the stone wall. “Goodnight.” Rujjie smiled. “Pleasant dreams.” With a wink, he slipped out the door ~ Slicing through the night like the shadow of a blade.

IV. GIANT PLANTS

On the morning following Rujjie's nocturnal visit ~ coincidentally, as though it were a sign ~ a small parcel had also arrived with a rap on the door of Coraline's workspace; a flat, narrow package postmarked Honolulu, Hawaii. Carefully opening the wrapping, Coraline's interest had been piqued by the discovery of an elegant cardboard jewelry box from the airport Duty Free shop. Inside, stuffed with puffs of cotton, a stunning necklace floated amongst the clouds; alternating red and black bands of ocean coral strung along a delicate golden chain. Next to the treasure, wound up tightly into a tube, was a scroll of paper from Jurgen's palmtop printer. Coraline uncoiled it to discover that it was a lengthy letter Jurgen had composed during his final night in Hawaii; gazing upon the black and silent distant ocean, the palm trees surrounding the electric blue swimming pool twenty floors below, and the preying mantis perched upon the balcony railing under constellations suspended across the heavens. The letter had begun passionately; with poetically romantic passages tenderly expressing his love for her... telling her how much he missed her now that it seemed he was so far away... suggesting that their separation was meant to be... believing that some day they would be together... claiming that he would continue to hone his telepathic skills so they would always remain in contact... yet, gradually the prose mysteriously deteriorated into a rambling account of his recent adventures on the island of Lanai; where, apparently at the request of his new employer; General Synthetics, Jurgen had toured a secret compound where a strange scientist named Professor Zinthrop and his motley crew were engaged in research aimed at


genetically enhancing the size of bees... Jurgen exclaimed that one the size of a parrot had perched upon his shoulder! The letter had concluded with a cryptic reference to his grandparents: a scaleddown printout of the newspaper page Jurgen always carried as a file on his notebook computer ~ Jurgen had modified the banner headline spanning the page above billowing light grey clouds in the black and white photograph taken at Wheeler Air Force Base in Hawaii in 1959; which captured Cameron and Adda Stark standing near the open doorway at the tail of a DC-3 propeller plane, surrounded by a broad valley rimmed with rounded hills covered by dense tropical vegetation beyond the tarmac ~ The original caption announcing: ‘Scientists Die in Mysterious Crash’... had been modified to read: ‘Jurgen Stark Departs for the Orient’. ~ Coraline presumed that Jurgen had performed the crude digital manipulation to acknowledge their shared insight into an obscure fragment of information which few people were cognizant of at the time; back in 2003 ~ Appropriate, since Jurgen had sent the present just before boarding a Jumbo Jet bound for Osaka, Japan. Staring out the window at Jurgen's house... Coraline dried away her tears, still contemplating the contents of the letter in her thoughts... ‘Giant bees?’ ... Perhaps Jurgen had indeed flipped out in Hawaii, perhaps he was drunk, perhaps the stress he had endured at the Akademy had finally caused him to snap ~ Yet, Coraline believed in him; she could believe his words were true... “Giant bees for giant flowers!” Coraline had then exclaimed... suddenly making the connection with her own work ~ Since childhood, the structural models for her design concepts had always derived from forms found in nature. So it was an interesting co-incidence that Jurgen's letter should introduce the concept of gigantic bees at that pivotal point in the evolution of her work when she was just beginning to explore the possibility of designing an enormous highrise tower which emulated the structure of a sunflower... Giant bees, or some type of insect-machine would be ideal for the building's construction and continued maintenance, since Coraline imaged her sunflower to be powered entirely by solar panels built into the cells of its large translucent green leaves which branched off at intervals along the stem, up to the giant head ~ Horizontally level; facing straight up to the sky ~ Providing a spacious observation deck which the inhabitants would access by traveling up the elevator from suites within the building's stalk... Perhaps that was why he had sent that message. Jurgen had always appeared interested in discussing concepts related to her research work. During moonlit strolls upon the castle grounds, Coraline would regularly update him about her project's progress. He seemed particularly intrigued by her development of a unique interface for the architectural software she had designed. Coraline had collaborated on the devices with another student at the Akademy; a pretty, dark-skinned girl from Tunis, named Maya Djebar. Maya specialized in the design of biomedical prosthesis which were intended as replacements for damaged human limbs, nerves, organs, and so on... Maya had developed the wireless motion capture sensors which Coraline attached with velcro at her ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and elbows ~ and Maya had developed the haptic pads on the gloves


which Coraline wore to track the position, speed, and pressure exerted by her fingertips. Both students had been pleasantly surprised by the satisfactory results obtained during Coraline's initial testing of the devices. The freedom of movement enhanced the experience; an accurate representation of her anatomical proportions projected her presence into the dimensional architecture to gesturally-manipulate the computer-generated environment from within the structure... Since Jurgen's departure, Coraline had again chosen to seek solace within the comfort of her work ~ It was a brilliant escape from care and worry to immerse herself for hours within the pleasurable activity of designing architectural models ~ Slipping out of her robe to stand naked at the center of the mat, sensors attached, she would strike a pose reminiscent of the famous Leonardo da Vinci (1451-1519) sketchbook drawing depicting the Golden Section ~ The sacred mathematical proportion of 1 : 1.618 which manifests itself within an infinite variety of forms throughout Nature; in the shape of sea shells, in the branching pattern of leaves, and in the arrangement of flower petals and seeds... Coraline assumed a pose similar to the encircled figure in Leonardo's sketch; standing with her posture straight and outstretched arms perpendicular to her torso ~ This was the password the processor acknowledged to initiate another session ~ Immediately she was inside! Her visor displayed crystal visualization of realistic digital depth, which continually updated her viewpoint by tracking the motion of her head. Sensors built into the mat delineated the boundaries of the environment. Scale was relative; by touching her pinky finger to its opposable thumb on either her right or left hand, Coraline could scale her size up or down like Alice in her Wonderland ~ or Gulliver during his Travels. In this way, Coraline could work on the model with her head in the clouds, or shrink herself down to modify the interior of a room at human scale or smaller. Beads of perspiration glistened upon her body from its movement and the heat of the room ~ Coraline preferred to work without clothes; discovering that even the lightest material seemed to produce drag and resistance to the fluidity of her movement ~ And although her perception was able to fly throughout the environment, Coraline could not experience the sensation with her body, since she was unable to break free of the bond of gravity ~ Yet, it had remained a convincing illusion within her imagination. Other than vision, the only other sense which truly interacted with the environment was her ability to touch the surfaces she manipulated as well as feel their texture ~ A process facilitated by force-feedback pads embedded within the fingertips of her gloves. Coraline recalled that those early crude devices had significantly limited her ability to interact with the software ~ Especially by comparison with the profound immersions she would later attain in her career (as we shall discover), when rather than navigating by tracking sensors and voice command, she would evolve her telepathic abilities to communicate directly with the processor through the power of her mind, and thus employ remote-perception to see, hear and touch the objects within the virtual environment ~ Yet, while attending the Akademy, Coraline's primitive equipment had been suitable for her to engage in construction of a model for her first architectural


design competition. Based upon preliminary concept sketches, Coraline had been chosen as one of the finalists, and consequently had entered into direct competition with other bids submitted by several well-established architectural firms from around the world ~ To have been selected for nomination was a prestigious achievement for a young student, and naturally, her Masters at the Akademy; the instructors which advised Coraline and assisted in guiding the course of her studies, were very proud of her ~ Coraline remained acutely aware that the deadline was less than six months away; in June, 2003 ~ She had considered all that she had been through to get to this point, yet so far still to go... Perpetually preserved within virtual reality, each devilish detail had always seemed to consume a tiny portion of her schedule as the project cumulatively expanded in dimension. In the glow of virtual light, Coraline had contemplated the beauty of her conception towering above the Neva River, and the Baroque extravaganza of urban architecture in Saint Petersburg, Russia ~ Every building, sidewalk and tree in the city were accurately-rendered using maps compiled by satellites which continually scanned the surface of the planet ~ As could be expected, the structure of Coraline's first major project, naturally, had resembled a gigantic sunflower; its broad, dark-green stalk tapered subtly as it arose to a great height; its diameter encircled by unevenly-spaced portals shielded by clear bubbles which glistened like tiny drops of dew on a late summer afternoon. On its branches, fully-open translucent leaves cast diffused soft green shadows upon surrounding streets. And its apex, its enormous flower-head; tilted skyward to form a level surface, was capped by a clear seamless dome protecting the gardens and parks which supplied its inhabitants with food, as well as a pleasant environment in which to enjoy leisure. The central column was to be composed of concrete, with lightweight metal frames to support the leaves and the array of large bright-yellow petals encircling its crown ~ Yet, it had truly seemed alive! ~ It had been Coraline's vision to design a structure which also emulated a plant's ability to efficiently cycle air and water, and sustain itself by collecting sunshine which it converted into energy ~ Ideally, the electricity would power its internal mechanisms, as well as produce a surplus to support an abundant number of citizens in the immediate region who would, in part, become dependent upon the tower for their existence ~ A self-sustaining system which recycled organic material to provide supplemental nutrients for the soil, and carefully filter items imported into the environment to minimize contamination ~ Security would be ensured since the tower would be accessible only through an underground network of passageways deep at the root of the structure. Coraline's viewpoint traveled through the rendered streets to consider the nuances of the structure's form, and the subtleties of its shading, from a mobile vantage point ~ Pausing to look about her surroundings, it appeared she was approximately the same size as the numerous immobile human figures which the processor randomly populated the environment with to provide Coraline a consistent reference in determining relative scale. Amongst pedestrians, bicyclists and cars in the intricatelydetailed scene, all motion, except for her own, remained suspended ~ The streets


were silent ~ Nearby, on the sidewalk, a young couple struck dramatic poses while they perpetually waited to collect grocery rations from a securely-fortified market. Behind the bullet-proof glass, a figure in the aisle remained transfixed in the act of selecting a product from the shelf, while a few others waited patiently at the checkout counter. The sunflower had loomed larger as she quietly approached its base ~ Although the tower dominated the skyline, Coraline had been pleased the design imparted a sense of freedom by rising above the oppressively-dreary rectilinear blocks formally positioned upon a traditional grid... It had been her vision, that one day, with the construction of additional giant flowers in the vicinity ~ in which each subtly varied in appearance from the others ~ the creation of an aesthetically-pleasing organic arrangement would gradually evolve to function more efficiently as a community ~ The towers would receive information from above ~ data signals relayed through a sky full of orbiting machines ~ communicating with each other and exchanging resources like the polyps of a coral reef. Not satisfied with the hue of the sky, Coraline had gestured to adjust the azimuth of the solar light, then the factor of atmospheric density, to produce a more delicate shade of blue... Coraline loved the way sunlight shone through the cellular structure of solar collectors integrated into the surface membrane of its broad leaves. The photovoltaic panel arrays would unfold in the morning as the giant flower awoke, then track the parabolic path of the sun as it arched across the sky to optimally gather energy. A network of veins were imbedded in the leaves ~ thin wires which incrementally grew into cables of increasingly larger diameter as they carried juice through the branches and down the stalk to the generator deep underground ~ The giant flower would be autonomous in efficiently distributing energy; either directly from collected light during the day, or obtained from storage batteries throughout the night... As Coraline had gazed up, pleasant memories returned of how enormous the plants in her garden at Whitehaven had seemed when she had been very young ~ And she was also reminded of the insatiable curiosity she had possessed during her childhood; when it had seemed imperative to deliberately examine every object and take time to patiently observe each magical process of nature. Her youthful inquisitiveness had initially led to a deeper understanding of the properties of such common materials as; twigs, grass, leaves and mud. She had immensely enjoyed the process of discovering various properties of these components, and determining which materials were best suited to specific applications, then devise techniques of fastening the materials together so she could fashion intricate fantasy structures in the wooded garden near her house. And while Coraline had always found more pleasure in construction than destruction, it had indeed been fascinating to observe the way in which entropy assisted her fabrications return to nature through the process of decay.


Thus, having acquired a vast amount of empirical knowledge, and having matured considerably in her thought processes, Coraline had enjoyed being able to employ advanced technology at the Akademy to more fully realize her conceptions ~ In particular, she had become intrigued by the possibilities of modular structures which adapted to the needs of its human inhabitants and functioned as autonomous selfsufficient systems; structures designed to produce enough food to sustain themselves, import a minimum of additional resources to support its growth, and dispose of waste in containment areas where vehicles would transport the material to recycling plants out in the industrial zones. Positioned beneath the flower, Coraline had increased the parameter of time to cycle rapidly through periods of day and night so that she could observe the dynamic interplay of light and shadow upon the time-lapsed city ~ The sun emerged like a phoenix from the bonfire of dawn to hurtle across the sky, vanish into dusk, then swirling stars appeared, accompanied by the rocket of a high-velocity moon ~ Abruptly then, Coraline had selected a preset to jump-cut her perspective to a location near the apex of the tremendous tower... A height from which she was able to discern the effect of the shifting illumination upon the grid-like pattern below her; the lengthening and diminishing shadow which flowed over the contours of the environment suggested that it had been cast by the gnomon of an enormous sun-dial... The solar panels folded and unfolded... The pattern continually transformed as her focus shifted to take in a broader perspective... Then darkness once again, and the patchwork of tiny lights which emanated from the concrete sea engulfed distant horizons where nature had once stood firm... ——— “Good morning Coraline!” said Dr. Maria Kacheli; floating as a projection at the foot of the bed within her suite at the apex of the Golden Pavilion ~ Coraline had not realized that it was already that early; had she been awake all night? They had spoken for a few moments; Maria had advised her to prepare for her next session, then had disappeared. Pure morning sunlight had filtered in. Coraline tiptoed over the warm granite between her bed and the vanity. The reflection in the mirror appeared tired; skin tinted slightly green, a bit of deep purple around her eyes... She reasoned that her skin was so pale because she did not get enough sun... She had been working hard... She drifted onto the enormous terrace adjoining her bedroom; the sound of a few birds, the whispered breath of wind from the ventilation system ~ The morning dew had not evaporated, it was still cool. Coraline had drawn her robe more tightly about herself... Suddenly remembering the way Jurgen had draped his coat over her shoulders on the evening they first had met ~ and the gentle kiss upon her forehead... From habit, she had absently checked the condition of several of the plants as she strolled by, then leaned against the railing to gaze down at the spiraled layers of terraces stretching away far below. The building was constantly alive with light pedestrian traffic twentyfour hours per day ~ The residents worked whenever they desired, with the provision


they satisfy their weekly quota... Clouds ignited by the morning sun burned behind the angled sky of glass... And surrounding the Pavilion, a spectacular view of Beijing. Coraline had turned from the railing to once again observe a terrace which was simply arranged within a traditional balance of Asian aesthetics ~ Hydroponic gardens fed by a network of plastic nutrient roots ~ She would periodically tend to maintenance chores, and at the time, usually select a few fresh vegetables, herbs and spices to enliven her bland diet of subsisting upon tasteless high-protein tablets. Flowers grew along the stone path... Yet, instead of following it, Coraline had glided barefoot over an undulating surface covered with live grass to advance toward a shallow circular pool submerged within a small grove of willows. The pool remained a tranquil mirror which would sometime frame her reminiscences, or provide indications of the future, or most often, its calmness would simply float away the tensions of her work ~ She had much preferred to wander the terrace than lay awake under her sheets whenever insomnia had troubled her mind... That was how the flat surface of the white quartz bolder, upon which she rested, had attained its polished luster. As usual, Coraline contemplated the bronze statue nearby ~ The life-sized figure of a naked woman posed gracefully with her arms upraised to support a substantial brass globe ~ Gazing upward, the statue's gentle smile signified a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment... Yet, the world she held aloft, over the course of time, had become dull and tarnished. Vines encircled her legs and body to conceal her nakedness with strategically placed leaves. The feminine proportions of her arms and breasts gracefully balanced the immense stress exhibited by her torso ~ The cherished work had been her inheritance from William Coventry after he had passed away ~ It had been cast when she was a young girl of seven or eight, and had been one of her grandfather's proudest achievements... Coraline had always marveled that William seemed to anticipate the transformations he had imagined Coraline's body and face would undergo once she had matured into womanhood ~ And as Coraline often noted; the resemblance was remarkable.

V. A.D.K.

Reclining in the living room of her Golden Sun Pavilion suite, attended by the projection of Dr. Kacheli ~ The digital nightingale framed in the panel upon her wall ~ Coraline breathed slowly and deeply... Then a brilliant flash of light as the memories came streaming in; an overwhelming sensation which caused her entire body to tremble with shock ~ Initially she had felt nauseated by the flow... Then gradually,


calmer... And although perceiving her body continue to violently shudder, she had discovered solace within her mind... Coraline recalled being on cloud nine following the exciting news that she had won the architectural design competition! In addition to the substantial financial award, her prize, incidentally, had also implied being able to finally satisfy her obligations to the Akademy ~ Her design for the residential/office complex, when finally completed, would tower approximately 111 meters above St. Petersburg, Russia ~ Based upon the organic form of a sunflower, it had been the first of its kind, yet ultimately, her design would become supremely instrumental in influencing many subsequent projects throughout the world, and also to mention, spawn an architectural period known as Naturalist Style ~ During her career, Coraline would remain largely unaware of the many ramifications her unorthodox approach would have upon the development of self-sustaining living environments. Yet, at the time, of course, she had realized that her work was of significance, especially since many prestigious firms had immediately begun courting her with attractive offers of a comfortable studio and access to all of the professional resources she would require to assist her in realizing the project. Thus the Akademy, in consultation with Coraline and the solicitor representing her; Lewis Coventry ~ her father ~ were quite successful in expediently negotiating a lucrative contract during the summer of 2003, with the firm A.D.K. ~ [Architectiv Design Korporation] ~ based near Amsterdam in Holland. It had been a most dramatic ordeal to separate from Katscha; needless to say, a tearful good-bye ~ For almost four years they had been like sisters; sharing the same small dormitory, their lives, their dreams, their joys, their sorrows... They had even begun to share certain mannerisms, expressions of speech, and truthfully, Katscha had gradually seemed to emulate Coraline's appearance; styling her hair in a similar manner, and wearing the same type of clothes when they were at home together during the evening. And unlike the aftermath of her separation with Jurgen, Coraline had convinced herself that she would maintain much closer contact with Katscha. Upon her release from the Akademy, Coraline had returned to Whitehaven to visit her parents for two weeks ~ As had become customary during her regular mid-winter and mid-summer breaks from studies... That is, of course, until she had met Jurgen Ernst! When, for some reason, her parents seemed to approve that she had preferred to spend her vacations with her mysterious gentleman-friend rather than return home ~ In fact, her parents had often expressed their anxiousness to fly to the Czech Republic to meet Jurgen in person at the earliest possible convenience ~ Yet, it would never seem convenient, since Coraline remained uncertain about the status of their relationship... And also, Jurgen had seemed abnormally resistant to the prospect of meeting them. Jurgen... Jurgen... it was always Jurgen which preoccupied her thoughts... and induced pangs of emotional emptiness which sometime seemed to consume her hollow heart.


Coraline could clearly recall the orange-hued darkness slowly settle over Amsterdam on the evening she had arrived. Several directors from A.D.K. were at the airport to meet her. They graciously offered to introduce her to the city ~ What a night that had been! ~ Coraline was in the mood to celebrate and Amsterdam was certainly the place to be! The whirlwind limo tour became a blur of memories: the endless canals which radiated from the old town center like the calcified concentric rings of a human coral reef shaped by the ebb and flow of technological and economic currents during the span of many centuries... Three meters under the North Sea... Crosscut by a network of bridges and narrow connecting streets... Colourfully-painted tall slim buildings aligned like eccentric walls... Another bottle of champagne... The house in which Anne Frank had penned her diaries... Florins cascading into the tills of burghers... Lingerie-clad women gossiping and doing their nails in showcase windows along red-light district streets... An Opel Kadett... An organ grinder with a monkey performing a cunning array of stunts... The aroma of hashish from a late-night coffee house... Wharf-rats the size of cats... It had seemed an amusing theme park populated by a vast assortment of vibrantly-enthralling characters! A.D.K. world headquarters was situated approximately twenty kilometers outside Amsterdam, nestled within beautiful countryside ~ As Coraline had discovered when she foggily awoke the next morning. The complex consisted of five interconnected solar-powered buildings of various sizes and geometry, constructed of material recovered from the demolition of an abandoned warehouse in Rotterdam ~ Each component had been refurbished, yet still retained intriguing industrial textures... The rural location of the company had been an important consideration in deciding that A.D.K. was the company she wanted to work with; since Coraline had no desire to live and work in a major urban center ~ It was nature, not the human-made world, which had inspired her creativity and sustained her spirit: It was her muse! ~ Once she had moved in, it would become an enjoyable pastime to explore different country trails by bicycle every day. At Architectiv Design Korporation, Coraline had embarked upon an exiting career! While completing the design of her first tower for St. Petersburg, she had been invited to join the firm as a principle partner. Coraline had eagerly accepted the challenge of leading talented creative teams, and with successful completion of each subsequent project, her reputation was further enhanced. She had pioneered innovative tools and techniques to interface virtual construction software which would become standards in the industry ~ For instance, she had been the first to enhance her attributes by developing a harness rigged inside a gyroscope which facilitated six degrees of freedom; enabling her to master nuances of movement in a bodysuit wrapped comfortably around her like an extension of her skin ~ Naturally, once the system had attained a certain level approaching perfection, A.D.K. had realized that it would be profitable to market this building creation technology, since their prestigious architect was the premier user in the world. Readily convinced about the usefulness of the new processes, there was no shortage of corporate firms anxious to get onboard to license A.D.K.'s new tools.


Fully-immersed within the extensive process of testing and refining the custom software and hardware at A.D.K., Coraline had also been instrumental in guiding the development of expert systems which accessed an immense database to provide immediate solutions to every technical or engineering problem she was likely to encounter. She had devised methods of sharing her work more equitably with the processor; allowing it to calculate the physics of various material characteristics, as well as automatically adjust the tolerances to accommodate global stress loads throughout the structure, while her mind remained free to focus on the human aesthetic and spatial considerations which provided for future happy and productive inhabitants. Yes, she had elevated rapidly through the pyramid to eventually attain the status of a creator-god within the vast pantheon among those who know, and was subsequently acknowledged with the level of respect she deserved for her prodigious achievements. Yet, along with the rewards came additional pressure: gradually the name Coraline Coventry became more frequently mentioned in media broadcasts to the general public. And although she had been a rising star on the international architectural scene; her image was rarely seen ~ A few blurry telephoto images stealthily procured by some agency had been the only ones extant of the reclusive genius. Thus amid the mists of mystery, curiosity hounds had wanted to learn more. Suddenly it had seemed an increasing number of people wanted to talk to her, to listen to her, to demand something from her, to have her endorse something, and the more she tried to dissuade them, the more persistent they had become... Sometimes there were television camera vans parked just beyond the gates of the A.D.K. complex causing her to become afraid to go outside for days... She had made it known to her colleagues that she preferred to limit her interaction to a select group of people, and her assistant; Virginia Carpentier, would always make it so ~ Buffering contact with the outside world through all modes of communication. Coraline had not felt isolated within her underground studio; which her associates had termed her ‘bunker’, nor had she considered herself an outsider ~ It had seemed no different than during her childhood, or her years at the Akademy, when although she had very few close friends, they were there for her when she needed them, and she had loved them very much. She appreciated that none had seemed to mind that she preferred to spend her time exploring her own thoughts and ideas ~ After all, anyone who truly knew her, was fully aware that she had become a ‘computer nerd’ who enjoyed spending the majority of her entire adult life immersed within virtual reality; a world of imagination she had been able to fabricate around herself like a nurturing cocoon. And she was not alone; she had always felt supported by the A.D.K. community, similar to the manner in which workers bees care for the queen of their hive. Anything Coraline required to conduct her work or satisfy her personal comfort was eagerly provided; food, hardware, entertainment, medication... And everything she requested was delivered promptly. Coraline was especially grateful for Virginia; her faithful personal assistant ~ since Coraline was not the type of person who liked to keep a detailed record of everything that she did.


No-one accessed or exited the A.D.K. complex without appropriate clearance codes. The entire area surrounding the site was strictly computer controlled; monitored by cameras, heat sensitive infrared, motion detectors, as well as the means to disable any intrusion perceived to be a hostile threat. Within this highly-secure environment Coraline enjoyed a spacious suite. Sparsely furnished; everything was elegantly designed, state of the art. A large, flat telescreen was suspended before a comfortable reclining chair in the middle of her living area ~ enabling her to communicate not only with the outside world, but also with colleagues in the complex as well. Controls built into the arm pads navigated information on-screen and interacted with the video communication. As always, Coraline preferred to engage in her architectural design work at night within her small subterranean studio, and when exhausted, return to her suite and retire to a luxurious bed which gently transported her to dreamland. Initially, Coraline had traveled to St. Petersburg for the inauguration of the first Sunflower, yet, from that trip hence, she would rarely inspect any further buildings she had designed following their construction. Perhaps she had been disconcerted by the limitation of being confined to navigate the space from the perspective observed by walking through the structure ~ The weight of gravity had seemed oppressive ~ Even the panorama of the surrounding city had somehow not seemed as impressive as the views which had become so thoroughly familiar within the simulation. Or perhaps she was disappointed that the detail of design had not been as perfect as the idealized environments she had imagined. The physical structure clearly revealed the limitations of tools and materials, and the imperfections of human error: seams were noticeable, colours would not entirely match the shades she had selected, and sometime inferior materials had been substituted in place of the exact requirements she had specified ~ She would wonder why the constructors had failed in their attempt to raise their abilities to a level approaching her vision. Coraline could concede that she was a perfectionist ~ Perfectionists are idealists, and idealists stand alone; perpetually questioning the purpose of their work and the role it seemed they had been assigned within the grand design ~ So like her autonomous structures, Coraline had always retained her strength and confidence by remaining self-sufficient. Over the years she had learned to maintain every piece of hardware that she used, and handle nearly any type of problem with her software. Yet, should either malfunction beyond the capacity of her resources to repair, replacement components, along with any tools Coraline required, would be immediately delivered by the technicians continually monitoring Coraline's situation. Her assistant; Virginia, aware of Coraline's need for privacy while engaged in the process of expressing her artistic vision, had gone to great measure to ensure she was shielded from the clutter of irrelevant details. Also concerned about Coraline's wellbeing, was the medical practitioner employed by A.D.K.; Dr. Maria Kacheli, who had insisted that Coraline regularly attach biosensors to her body as a means of evaluating of her vital physical functions ~ Periodically, Ms. Kacheli would also study Coraline's tall, well-proportioned naked body gracefully turning before the camera... lean and healthy, perfectly trim from exercise... arms upraised... her breasts and hips maturing to


outgrow the awkward proportions of youth... bending to retrieve her robe from a chair... her body smoothly-shaved, her closely-cropped hair parted on the side... her beautiful face glowing with vitality even when she had appeared tired... In addition, Maria had also made determinations regarding Coraline's state of health by examining stool and urine sample data automatically collected by sensors in the toilet within Coraline's tiny washroom. In the event of warning signals, Maria had presented Coraline with recommendations about how she could modify her behavior, or suggest remedies to rectify any type of dietary deficiency. And of course, in the event of emergency, Maria would immediately dispatch a medical unit to administer attention. Thus, even as Coraline's already substantial workload continued to increase with each successive project at A.D.K., she had usually been able to function to her optimum potential ~ Her mind and body gradually adapted to function more proficiently with each greater challenge. To relieve fatigue, Maria had prescribed capsules of herbal medication which enabled Coraline to sustain an intensely-focused state of mental activity for periods of ten hours... followed by ten hours of rest, before once again immersing herself within the next ten hour shift ~ It was a cycle which remained unbroken during the course of several years; it had not mattered whether it was night or day, Coraline had faithfully maintained her biorhythm ~ During her rest period, Coraline ate small portions of high-protein meals rich in vitamins and amino acids, took her medicine, then drifted off into the depths of sleep to rejuvenate her exhausted body. Awaken, return to work, that had been the cycle ~ Gradually coming to the realization that she had become; ‘The Architect’ ~ that her job had seemed to define her ~ that the sole purpose of her life was the endeavor to continue the endless loop of her activity... Yes, she had become the Master Builder ~ There were no other distractions... and she had loved it! After all, what was so wrong about devoting one's life to making the world a little bit better place! Slowly whirling, nearly weightless within the rig, her harness was tethered to the frame of the gyroscope with black elastic cords ~ Each responded to the subtle nuances of her body as she glided through space; the processor making continual adjustments in their tension to provide a dimensional reference which assisted Coraline in locating the ground plane, and thus enabled her to maintain balance. With experience, flying had become as effortless, and as natural as breathing ~ It had been the most fantastic sensation Coraline had ever experienced! Strapped into the harness, the Architect had immersed herself within an accurate rendering of Beijing, China, and surrounding countryside ~ She had rocketed past the Great Wall, swooped down over the city to observed with pleasure the rendering of her three giant plants which had already been constructed there, then leisurely drift through several streets to get a sense of the environment from ground level. Satisfied, Coraline launched her viewpoint skyward, and flew away to the site proposed for ‘The Golden Sun Pavilion’ ~ In the suburban district of Tongxian ~ Initial information had indicated only that the structure was commissioned by the Sun King ~ Sun Tzu; CEO of


the Golden Sun Corporation, and the only requirement was that Coraline design an energy-efficient, self-sustaining residential/office complex which also functioned as the headquarters for the global corporation. Full responsibility for the massive project had rested entirely upon Coraline ~ It would be her ‘baby’ ~ Her partners at A.D.K. had encouraged her to ‘stretch out’ and explore new styles; suggesting that she make the project a ‘personal statement’ by exploring the full potential of her creative capabilities ~ Coraline's careful inspection of the site had stimulated intriguing possibilities, which precipitated several ideas for the design of the monument. During the course of subsequent weeks, she had enjoyed herself by playing with primitive shapes to model a series of free-form conceptual assemblages ~ These compositions, which resembled exceedingly-large abstract sculptures, explored juxtapositions of scale and texture; hard angular surfaces contrasting sleek streamline shapes, perhaps a net suspended by a cable array, or a circular arrangement emulating the monoliths of Druids, and so on... Each day she saved her progress, then stored the files on the server. Coraline had recognized, during the preliminary phase, that designing the Golden Sun Pavilion would be the most challenging project of her career. It had been expected that the intensive process, from conception to completion, would consume her dedication for nearly one full decade... The magnitude of its scale meant that an enormous number of other people would also participate in the project ~ Most whom Coraline would never meet ~ From programmers who contributed custom code, to engineering teams in offices throughout the world, that would be subcontracted to supply models of specialized components which were then transmitted via satellite for integration into the Master File at A.D.K. ~ The universe in which the virtual construction would be assembled. The Master Plan had even included the possibility of being able to expedite the fabrication of the actual structure through employment of one promising advancement looming in the development of biotic workers ~ Gigantic robot bees ~ Coraline had first been made aware of the strange creatures at a director's meeting within the boardroom of A.D.K., when she had immediately recognized the name of the developer; General Synthetics Corporation ~ She had recalled that Jurgen Ernst had been hired by the Japanese research laboratory upon leaving the Akademy, and Coraline recalled the letter he had mailed to her from Hawaii ~ It had been the only time he had contacted her ~ Although, she had not been surprised, since it would be difficult for anyone to find her behind the many veils of security shrouding her within the central core of A.D.K.. It had remained for A.D.K.'s business managers to maintain contact with Gensynth, and stay current on research from their labs. Contingent on how quickly the successful implementation of this potential new workforce had been established, there could be corresponding modifications to the way in which Coraline designed the project ~ Initially, she had been quite excited about the prospect, since it could prove a breakthrough in the evolution of physical construction to have buildings assembled by


swarms of machines. Yet, from what she had been informed, there were a few major concerns, and a large number of minor details, which had needed to be resolved before the worker drones would go into production ~ Not the least of which, was Gensynth's scheme that each bee-machine be operated by an on-board human brain.

VI. THE SUN KING

Coraline had been pleased to receive an invitation from the Sun King summoning her to Beijing to discuss her design for the Golden Sun Pavilion ~ Her assistant; Virginia Carpentier, had excitedly conveyed the Sun King's anxiousness to meet her as well; indicating that he had taken a ‘personal interest’ in ‘the young visionary’ . Virginia was astonished when Coraline admitted that she had never before seen the Sun King’s visage, so Virginia played an advertisement for Coraline which featured the perpetually-smiling, elderly gentleman promoting ‘Sun King’ brand solar collectors, which, Virginia claimed, were popular throughout the world. She had explained that he was the founder and president of the Golden Sun Corporation, and one of the most influential and wealthy human beings in the entire world... Coraline had smiled while listening to Virginia gush that she would never forget having personally spoken with the Sun King himself! Several executives from A.D.K. requested that Coraline be accompanied by a small entourage, but she had insisted on traveling alone ~ She boarded the charter jet in Amsterdam near midnight on April 29, 2009, then traveled non-stop to Beijing... She hadn’t gotten much sleep during the flight, instead she occupied herself by gazing out the window at voluminous cumulus clouds illuminated by a waxing moon, and the sparse constellations of twinkling lights which drifted beneath the jet as it crossed the Asiatic steppes... As she approached her destination, Coraline attempted to scan some of the data files stored on the PAD which Virginia had considerately provided at the departure gate. Coraline examined the sleek charcoal-grey device ~ She was aware many people considered their datapad to be an indispensable companion, since it customarily employed a Universal Translater to analyze and interpret language, and expert systems and agents to intelligently search the network. Virginia's model also featured a larger transparent screen which unfolded like a fan for holographic projection, and had the capability of scanning images and text by sliding the slim chassis over printed material ~ Also, its ports could be configured to activate various tools, appliances, security gates, vehicles, and so on...


While briefly skimming background information about the Golden Sun Corporation, Coraline's attention had been attracted to several reference files pertaining to traditional Chinese culture ~ She randomly read passages displayed upon the screen: “Mu Kung, the Taoist god of immortality, is the embodiment of Yang; the male element... The ‘Lord of the East’, although powerful, was able to engender the creation of heaven, earth and all living things, only through unity with Xi Wang-mu; the female element, Yin.” ~ As the plane touched down and taxied toward the terminal, Coraline considered the polar opposites of yin and yang... eternally in dynamic flux.. the active invigorating the passive, the passive soothing the active... darkness engulfing the day, light obliterating the night... Coraline had instantly recalled the turbulent flow of black and white skin as Clara Voyee and Roderick Woodcocke frolicked in the meadow ~ As the memories lingered they had aroused unexpected sensations which had been difficult to suppress ~ Coraline switched off power to the PAD ~ She had not felt calm enough to sit and read; her mind was agitated with anticipation... Instead, she had returned her thoughts to consider the wonderful opportunity she had been presented. Indeed, she considered it an exceptional honor to be granted a rare personal audience with the Sun King; having been made aware that few were actually able to even speak with him on-line ~ since the Sun King preferred to employ an intelligent digital presence in his likeness to handle most of his communication. Coraline had been greeted inside the terminal of Beijing Capital International Airport by a pair of executives from the Golden Sun Corporation; a cheerful young man and a cheerful young woman who had eagerly retrieved Coraline's luggage. They had then directed her outside where a chauffeur awaited behind the wheel of a sleek solarpowered limousine ~ Exhausted from her trip and nervous about the meeting, Coraline had slumped in her seat. She had resolved to allow her smiling companions to do most of the talking; during what the young woman claimed would be a 40 minute drive from the airport. Trying to clear her mind, Coraline had lost her thoughts in the bewildering montage of unfamiliar imagery presented through tinted windows in pale morning sunlight diffused by heavy smog ~ A continually dull earthen colour, punctuated in many instances with glimpses, and elsewhere bold banners, of that certain shade... National red... “Hong means red,” Coraline's male comrade had offered, then added; “During the Cultural Revolution hong symbolized everything good and moral, everything socialist and prosperous...” The long straight avenues were very wide, and they were very clean... Millions of bicycles... and periodically darting through them, tiny, brightly-coloured vehicles: yellow, blue, red and white electrons streaming through the circuitry grid which radiated from The Forbidden City... A chessboard brooding armies of monumental concrete apartment blocks; clothing reflecting the old-world lifestyle of rural farmers and the drab militaristic uniforms of conventional holdovers from the propaganda of Chairman Mao Tse Tung ~ Idolizing their deceased leader by still carrying a coverworn copy of his xiaohongshu (little red book)... The gritty yellow haze of airborne particles filtered in from the distant Mongolian deserts to clog up the air-conditioners


and respirators of opera singers and old men toting bird cages... Everyone on cellular phones, moving quickly between the shadows of broad trees along the sidewalk; doing whatever it took to advance and ascend the serpentine ladder... The soft sun had little faded the intensity of gaudy neon which had persisted throughout the night as beacons of pleasure and temptation promoting the new abundance of expensive consumer products... There seemed a lot more flash than Coraline had expected; perhaps the environment had become orchestrated to present alternative distractions to the mating ritual which had been suppressed as a result of China's one-child policy. Feeling overwhelmed, Coraline perhaps realized that she should have taken more time to acclimatize herself to the real world in preparation for her trip, after her long self-imposed isolation. The traffic was far more noisy and congested than her previous experiences of empty streets within the simulation ~ Suddenly, Coraline had sat upright; startled by her recognition of three distinctive silhouettes rising above the eastern skyline. She had moved her face closer to the window. The trio of flowers were arranged as a triangle such that petals encompassing pods on their numerous branches, had appeared to nearly touch upon opening early in the morning like folding fans to capture the rays of sun... The limousine had cleared a security checkpoint then proceeded onto an elevated roadway which spanned a portion of the city ~ The closer they approached, the more immense the flowers had appeared ~ Another security check-point ~ And again they had grown; until they had seemed much larger than she had even recalled from the simulation... So much so that their physical manifestation was really quite spectacular... Just then, the ground had opened to swallow the limousine, and send it hurtling through the acid orange sodium light of a darkened tunnel descending directly into the base of Sun Tower One. Disembarking from the limousine with her small metal attachĂŠ case, and guided by the two executives, Coraline had been required to pause for several seconds within each of the series of security scanners proceeding the bank of elevators. At the root of the system, the illumination level was low, everything was earth-tones, and all surfaces were curved into interesting organic shapes. The cylindrical elevator car was driven by a series of unseen wheels protruding from inside the walls of the shaft; eliminating the need for massive winches and gigantic spools of cable ~ The ride, rapid and smooth. The trio had sat facing each other on the padded bench encircling the interior, and as they had since leaving the airport, the smiling executives had continued their intense scrutiny of Coraline's every gesture, and each transformation of her expression, as though through them they were somehow able to vicariously savour every subtle nuance of her perceptions... Coraline had studied the tiny speaker holes drilled into the panel near the employee card scanner, and above it, the blank fisheye stare of a security camera lens. There had been no sense of movement, as though space and time had dissolved. The elevator doors slid silently open and the trio emerged into a familiar curved corridor ~ Coraline had recognized it as one which encircled the inner sanctum of executive suites near the top of the flower... Fibre-optic daylight had been softly subdued... As they strolled along, Coraline had seemed to perceive the structure


swaying slightly; a sensation never apparent within the simulation ~ It had been entirely possible, since the property giving the stalk its strength had been its flexibility ~ Although, Coraline considered, the effect could perhaps be attributable to jet-lag, the rapid elevator ride, or just a tinge of nervousness. “Sun is most anxious to meet you!” enthused the young man as he pressed a button to open a pair of synthetic oak doors. “You will make him happy!” the cheerful woman added with a smile; making a gesture encouraging Coraline to enter what had appeared to be a reception area. Each of the pleasantly-accommodating executives had bowed, then casually departed, leaving Coraline alone to gaze about the darkened room. There was no reception desk; just a few comfortable chairs arranged before a large flat-screen broadcasting a television program at low volume. The walls and ceiling emulated the appearance of a desert at night; constellations of pinpoint light burned brightly in the big open sky. The floor was the texture of sand ~ Coraline was aware that durable synthetics were used extensively throughout the interior of the tower to authentically replicate the appearance and texture of most natural materials ~ Here and there, narrow diffused beams of sunlight streamed from the ceiling to spotlight patches of cactus which appeared to be growing out of the floor. The illumination created shadows which gave their shape dimension; some small and spherical, others tall and twisted, the largest standing several meters in height. Their long sharp needles and thorns had seemed unnecessary within the protection of the artificial environment. Setting her attaché beside a chair, Coraline sank into plush cushions. The television signal was audible enough to discern the announcers were providing commentary in Mandarin for an Italian tennis match. The rhythm of the ball bouncing over the net became an analog clock. Coraline ran her fingertips over the control panels built into the arms, attempting to maintain her composure, since it had made her nervous to clearly sense the presence of the invisible eyes of several surveillance cameras strategically situated throughout the room... The game had not interested her, so Coraline returned her observation to the strange cactus forms. “Hello, Coraline Coventry!” The television program had been interrupted by the appearance of a smiling face on the large screen. The young man was well-groomed and handsome. He spoke with impeccable English, addressing her directly. “Welcome to Beijing! Welcome to Sun Tower One! The Sun King will greet you now, please proceed to the end of the passage.” A portal slid open in a nearby wall; which only a moment before had appeared seamless. Coraline collected her attaché case and passed through the opening into a narrow corridor ~ which Coraline had been certain was not in the original blueprint... Just ahead, another opening had suddenly materialized from which emanated a


brilliant explosion of pure white light. Coraline kept moving toward the glare until it had engulfed her. It took several moments to adjust to the brightness before she realized that she had entered a spacious office in which everything was completely white! ‘There is the Sun King himself!’ Coraline trembled as she timidly approached; ‘There is the Sun King himself!’ ~ The Sun King intently observed Coraline with curious eyes as he had arisen from a high-tech throne behind an elegant white desktop which appeared to hover above the floor ~ When Coraline arrived a short distance away, she had bowed slightly, then tentatively extended her hand... She had been caught quite off-guard when the Sun King then abruptly stepped forward to embrace her with a tender hug ~ She had stiffened momentarily, then relaxed to absorb the soothing warmth he had exuded. Immediately, she perceived a comforting sensation which reminded her of a similar bond she had shared with her grandfather ~ The Sun King smiled benevolently as they both took a step back to a more formal distance ~ Coraline noted that he had seemed extremely agile and alert for someone exceeding 110 years of age. “It is truly a pleasure to finally meet you.” “It is likewise an honor...” Coraline had awkwardly responded. “Simply call me Sun,” he had politely suggested, recognizing Coraline's uncertainty about the formality of addressing him. The physical effects of a century of life were more evident in person than in the recent video Coraline had seen. His skin was slightly wrinkled and weathered, and his hair was long and white, yet his voice still retained a youthful vibrant energy. Lively eyes sparkled with intensity through narrowed lids. And although he had seemed small in stature, his presence loomed large; his body moved gracefully... barefoot... clothed in a loose-fitting white robe with a hood attached at the collar, and the logo of the Golden Sun Corporation emblazoned upon his chest ~ The embossed golden sphere; an emblem ubiquitous throughout the world. “Please excuse me one moment, my dear, I must complete a transaction.” Sun had then returned to his throne behind the large floating crescent of lightness ~ Inset in the surface of his desk was a holographic projector; polarized so that it was only visible from a narrow viewing perspective ~ The projection had partially illuminated Sun's face as he gazed into its faint blue flickering glow... Coraline took the opportunity to observe the sparsely furnished environment; the office was elegant in its simplicity. Her gaze had instantly been captivated by a large glass prism which bejeweled the gnomon of a sundial on one of the broad platforms stepping up to a magnificent balcony. Her eyes had then followed the stairs to a glass doorway which framed a view of the upper leaves and flowers of a neighboring tower, and in the distance, a panorama of Beijing which encompassed the edges of the horizon. The overcast of pollution filtering down from opaque skies had blanketed the city in an impenetrable ochre haze which had all but erased from view the pale concrete grid of humanity


below ~ The tops of sleek office towers and tall apartments emerged here and there like islands in the mist. The balcony was enclosed with an acrylic bubble; which from the exterior had been designed to resemble clear drops of dew ~ randomly positioned along the entire height of the dark green trunk; from the lower technical support levels to the offices and residences near the top. “The pollution is very bad here,” Coraline commented, upon noting that Sun seemed to have satisfied his concentration upon whatever had captivated him, and had disconnected from the projected beam with a brief gesture of his hand. “The situation is grave.” Sun emerged from behind the desk and gently took Coraline by the hand to lead her toward the adjoining suite. “The reason I have summoned you is that I require some of your magic.” Contrasting the austerity of his office, Sun's residence was a lush solarium which had surrounded them with thousands of miniature bonsai-like plants ~ Arrangements which meticulously depicted features of natural landscape settings; forests, meadows, grassland, desert, sculpted mountains, eroded valleys, and lakes and waterfalls fed by hydroponic streams ~ The experience had not seemed real. Whether attributable to the effects of jet lag, sleep deprivation, or the disorientation of a novice traveler, Coraline's first visit with the Sun King had induced strange sensations comparable with the adventures of Gulliver during his fantastic journeys. Yet, this had not merely been some fictitious story; since furnishings to accommodate actual giants were situated throughout the terrain. Coraline nestled comfortably in plush cushions scattered upon a mat near the center of the room, to admire the intricately-carved jade table situated before her. Sun sat nearby, and as they began to talk, Coraline again grew calmer ~ Sun's direct manner was pleasant; he spoke in a quiet, soothing voice, and Coraline noted his gentle expression would continually display a subtle smile while he unobtrusively maintained eye contact ~ Sun explained the table had been crafted during the Middle Kingdom when nephrite jade was called the ‘Stone of Heaven’ and treasured above all else. Coraline ran her fingertips along the beautiful surface to appreciate its soft silky feel. She would learn that the rare gem had traditionally been obtained in Eastcentral China, near Suzhou, where it was believed that since the essence of jade formed as a concentration of yang energy; or masculine force, it was attracted to the essence of yin; thus could be collected only by young naked women who waded into streams to seek its gleam on those nights when the moon was full. During their relaxed conversation, Sun politely inquired about Coraline's family, her past, the inspiration for her work, and so on... then listened attentively to casually gain some insight into aspects of Coraline's personality, philosophy, and dreams. Sun eagerly expressed interest in the technological developments which Coraline employed to create her fantastic architectural designs. While she spoke, Sun frequently requested clarification about any information with which he was unfamiliar ~ Coraline was pleased that she had also occasioned his gentle laughter as a result of


several humorous comments she had made ~ In fact, Coraline had chatted on for some length before noticing her voice had become quite hoarse. “Perhaps you would care for refreshment?” Sun had proposed. He pressed a small button on the ornate gold band encircling his right wrist, and within moments, an invisible panel in the wall slid open, and a young man emerged carrying a tray ~ Coraline immediately recognized him from his appearance on the television screen while she had been waiting earlier. He silently set the tray upon the jade table, bowed slightly, then quickly left the room ~ Coraline had glanced at Sun, hoping for an introduction, but once the tray arrived, he had immediately become preoccupied by examining the crackers arranged on several wooden plates. “These high protein snacks are in production at our plant in Indonesia. Please try a few and let me know how you enjoy them.” The small crackers comprised a fanciful array of geometric shapes spanning a spectrum in shades of brown. While Sun poured tea from an earthen pot into simple clay cups, Coraline sampled one of the biscuits; it was moist, yet had a soft powdery consistency, slightly salty, and imparted a lingering aftertaste vaguely reminiscent of onions and herbs. It was quite good! Coraline realized that she was hungry and quickly ate a few more ~ Soon she would discover that the biscuits had been manufactured from various species of processed insects; white beetles (Scarabaeidae: Cyclocephala) from Ecuador, ants (Atta cephalotes) from Mexico, desert locusts from Algeria, Bogong moths from Australia, and the larvae of young silk moths, which once they pupated and could no longer produce silk ~ While Sun discussed the ingredients in the snacks, he had also explained that the tea steeping in her cup had been prepared from Astragalus Membranaceus (Huang Qi) ~ A ‘heaven’ classed tonic herb capable of prolonging life and alleviating effects of aging ~ blended with Mong nan Tian Boa ~ a six year old Chinese red ginseng which grows in the Chang Bai Mountains, and the elusive Fungus of Immortality (Polyporus lucidus). which the first Emperor had so earnestly sought ~ The tea was indeed refreshing, and soothing to her throat! As Sun sipped his tea, he spoke English slowly and frequently paused to precisely choose his words: “From tiny seeds planted long ago, a bountiful garden has flourished. Tended and nurtured its abundance has benefited those blessed by understanding. The gardener departs, yet the garden remains. It is our great fortune you have envisioned a shelter with which to sustain the evolution of its future growth.” The Sun King had encouraged Coraline to reveal some of the process which had shaped her design of The Golden Sun Pavilion, then he settled comfortably into the cushions to savor every delightful detail ~ Whenever Coraline had closed her eyes, she could clearly imagine her beautiful conception gleaming in bright daylight ~ She had explained that during the conceptual phase of the project, she had shifted her attention away from the plant forms she had customarily explored, to investigate the possibilities of minerals and metals. Diamonds had particularly intrigued her; there


seemed something compelling and poetic about the process of their formation ~ The way that organic carbon residue from plants and insects and sea creatures which had lived millions of years before, were compressed under immense pressure and heat some 150-200 kilometers deep within the mantle of the Earth, to produce such clear exquisite gems of the hardest substance ~ Emerging from darkness into the light ~ Through research, she had discovered that at the heart of every diamond is a crystalline ordered atomic structure; a seed which most commonly grows in the form of an octahedron ~ In a flash of inspiration one day, Coraline had considered the geometric perfection of one single crystal magnified to incredible proportions. The thought of an enormous octahedron had subsequently triggered her recollection of a drawing she had sketched in her grandfather's conservatory; while listening to his illustrious wisdom, accompanied by the strains of his old Victrola. Coraline had then concluded; “I hope your interest is piqued to see it for yourself. Let's step inside and I'll give you the guided tour.” A seven-digit code released the latches securing the hard metallic shell of her attaché case. Its treasure; a silver matte-finish customized PAD ~ Snugly protected within the circular molded contours of the case's plush deep-violet lining. As usual, her computer was accompanied by a collection of slim silver tubes; each containing a cylindrical cartridge storing several terabytes of data. Coraline pealed open a velcro strip to select a cartridge, then injected it into a port on the side of the PAD; which rested flat upon the ancient carved jade table. While it powered-up, Coraline handed Sun a pair of wireless i-glasses. “You will have your own viewpoint, although your position will be tethered to mine.” Sun nodded and smiled ~ Behind dark shades his abstracted gaze resembled that of a blind man ~ His tiny mouse-like hands were folded quietly in his lap. Coraline slipped on a pair of charcoal-grey digital gloves, then lowered her iglasses from where they had been perched atop her head. With a few gestures she had rapidly advanced through scattered text arrays to launch the software which had demonstrated her elegantly-simple proposed design ~ The file had opened upon a spectacular high-altitude vista which convincingly presented the Golden Sun Pavilion as a dimensionally-rendered octahedron gleaming at the fringe of the sprawling metropolis below. “Aha!” shouted the Sun King; immediately comprehending the vision. Perhaps Sun's first impression had been that the imposing structure resembled two enormous, reflective-golden pyramids, stacked base to base, and aligned vertically along their axis of symmetry ~ The upper pyramid appeared to hover upon thin air as though a tranquil mirage, while the lower had perfectly reflected the surrounding suburbs and the idealized countryside; rendered somewhat in the style of communist


propaganda posters ~ A summer afternoon in which pastoral fertile fields and distant gentle mountains were spanned by a clear blue sky. “The octahedron structure is comprised of six polyhedron vertices, twelve polyhedron edges, and eight equivalent equilateral triangular faces,” Coraline commented significantly. “The framework will be constructed of a niobium alloy which will produce temperature-resistant stainless-steel flexible enough to minimize structural fatigue, as well as withstand fire, small explosions, storms, dust, pollution, earthquakes, and solar radiation ~ Its modular components will be able to be exchanged or upgraded as required. The entire exterior will be sheathed in photosensitive glass, coated by a micron-thin layer of highly-reflective golden foil which will protect the superstructure from corrosive elements induced by relentless weather.” Brilliant sunshine reflected from its seamless surfaces. Coraline explained that the scale of the upper pyramid was identical to the Great Pyramid of Khufu; that ancient arrangement of massive stone blocks located on the Giza plateau near the city of Cairo in Egypt. The lower, inverted pyramid, which supported it, appeared partially submerged as though the bottom of the crystal had been buried ~ Truncated so that approximately only one-third of its height appeared above the level of the ground. Capping the apex of the structure ~ at an elevation of 187.72 meters above Beijing ~ was a gigantic, crystal-clear prism which captured rays of sun to project marvelous rainbows across the drab urban landscape... “Get ready, here we go!” Coraline had cautioned Sun. With a few subtle hand gestures, Coraline skillfully glided their viewpoint closer, gradually dropping in altitude to swing around the south side of the Pavilion ~ As the perspective angle continually changed, its geometry subtly shifted in appearance; at times becoming ambiguous... Surrounding the Pavilion was an immense rectangular park, landscaped with passageways through dense forests and a magnificent array of gardens and open grassy areas rivaling the grounds of Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles. At the center of the elaborate maze, encompassing the square base of the pavilion was a perfectly circular reflecting pond of greater diameter than the broadest breadth of the structure. As they touched-down upon the grass near the pond, the steeply sloping lower wall ~ which spanned their field of vision ~ brilliantly reflected the surrounding environment to perfectly create the illusion that the Pavilion had entirely vanished ~ At their close proximity, the reflecting pond merely mirrored the sleek wall's reflection. “The geometric structure of the Golden Sun Pavilion utilizes that same mathematical proportion in its design as the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, the classical architecture of Greece, and the cathedrals of Medieval Europe: the ratio of 1 to 1.618. The Golden Section is evident throughout living nature; in molecular structures, in the formation of stars,” Coraline had offered. “For example, the Fibonacci Spiral; a


dimensional expression of the ratio, forms the composition of seashells, pineapples, pine cones, apples...” Coraline had found herself stuttering, uncertain how much basic knowledge she should reiterate for the wise old Sun King. “Indeed, it is a magical measurement which evokes ordered efficiency, harmonious strength and aesthetically-pleasant compositions to prevail amongst the chaos,” Sun responded while enjoyably gazing at the structure. Anticipating Sun's eagerness to view the interior of the Pavilion, Coraline loaded another cylinder into the PAD. Soon the duo were navigating through an ephemeral forest of coloured wireframe lines and shapes defining the massive terraces which spiraled about the circumference of several sculptural support columns. The cantilevered platforms incrementally decreased in size as they arose toward the apex of the structure ~ created an impression, once again, of the plant-like architectural forms Coraline had become noted for designing; which, in this instance, were protected within the pyramidal glass enclosure of a vast conservatory. Coraline explained that the pipes and conduits supporting the growth of crops upon the smoothly contoured terraces were embedded within the structural framework ~ A cross-section revealed their dynamic hidden layers; the filter membrane, drainage substrate, waterproofing and insulation supported by high-density concrete. Coraline indicated the structure would withstand vertical, lateral, shear and radial forces through the absolute precision of its construction ~ Similar to the root, trunk and branches of a tree, the strong vertical axis of each central core was embedded deep within the earth to provide stability ~ vertical loads distributed into the foundation dissipated out through the ground. “A magnificent structure of stability and strength,” Sun had observed. To complete the presentation, Coraline guided Sun to a chamber near the center of the upper pyramid, which ~ upon completion of the Golden Sun Pavilion in the year 2020 ~ would cryogenically preserve the Sun King's body for potential resurrection at some time in the distant future. Coraline had noted that its position, orientation and dimensions corresponded precisely to measurements derived from the ‘King's Chamber’ within the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Sun was smiling as they removed their i-glasses; he seemed to immensely enjoy the concepts Coraline had demonstrated ~ He had then pressed a series of buttons on his bracelet as though entering some type of code. “I have some wonderful news,” Sun had then casually announced, “Golden Sun Corporation has just acquired A.D.K.. The deal was arranged and brokered by my loyal advisor; Mr. Luk, who is presently in Holland meeting with executives of your architectural firm.” Rising, Sun threw open his arms and smiled broadly as he added, “Welcome to the family!”


Momentarily overwhelmed by this surprising information, Coraline was uncertain how to respond... she awkwardly gained her feet then tentatively advanced toward the Sun King's affectionate embrace. “You truly remind of my daughter,” Sun had whispered in her ear as they held each other tight. “You remind me of my Adda, the way she was such a long, long time ago.” Sun dried a tear as they released each other ~ He folded his handkerchief to place it in his pocket before returning his gaze to Coraline. “It would please me very much for you to consider my humble invitation that you remain here, within this marvelous structure you have created,” Sun had gestured expansively. “A nearby suite may be most favourable for you to continue development of the Golden Sun Pavilion. I will ensure that all your needs are adequately fulfilled by a loyal support staff, and that you receive a substantial increase in financial compensation for your services, as well as shares in the corporation.” Coraline had attentively listened to Sun's generous proposition, yet was hesitant to make an immediate decision. Sensing her reticence, Sun had graciously suggested that Coraline enjoy the accommodation for the night, so that she may take her rest and reflect upon the matter: “In the morning you may discover that you are already home,” The Sun King pleasantly chuckled. Tinted doors slid open... Sun motioned Coraline to accompany him onto the balcony. The view was spectacular; the setting sun ignited the sky with crimson fire... Sun pointed out features of the landscape, then particularly beamed as he indicated the suburban region of Tongxian to the east, where the Golden Sun Pavilion was to be constructed ~ Sun explained the site had been selected by a Master of Feng Shui named; Luo Pan, who had used his ancient compass to assess the forces of wind and water, and the directional influences of natural earth energies ~ the ‘dragon veins’ of the landscape ~ to determine the significant considerations of Feng Shui for the location ~ Every mystical golden character and every intricate degree engraved upon the concentric rings of the geomancer's wooden compass accurately determined the harmonizing flux of yin and yang which would effect future generations inhabiting the Golden Sun Pavilion ~ Sun had then cryptically added; “Favourable fortune and enjoyment of good health also depend on how correctly ancestors are interred with respect to orientation.” Standing silently along the railing, Coraline gazed into the haze below; flowing slowly like an ocean current to surround the base of apartment buildings and office towers nearby... She was aware that all over the world, the foundations of structures in every city were becoming corrupted by the metallic cancer of pollution. According to media broadcasts; down in the depths homeless nomads scavenged corroded material for shelter, and under cover of darkness, scurrying Roaches infiltrated


physical breaches in security to leave a trail of grimy surfaces tattooed with graffiti propaganda... Yet, all of that was lost from view up here at the top of the world... Standing upon this glorious summit, communing with the Sun King himself, no longer a mere mortal since she was about to commence prestigious service to Sun's corporate empire as his Master Architect... The sound of a jet high above... Coraline glanced at Sun; he had continued to gaze into the distance as though clearly visualizing the Golden Pavilion already there ~ Wisps of his long white hair moved gently in the air-conditioned breeze ~ Speaking quietly, he had seemed to respond to thoughts which Coraline had just been considering; “This heavy veil will finally be cast aside when pure solar energy is universal. The odorous machines which choke our clean air will become as extinct as dinosaurs, then light shall return, as it always has even during the darkest ages of the past. The powerful forces of yang and yin embracing; the duality attaining its most symmetrical perfection through the achievement of a harmonious state of balance.” Sun turned toward Coraline; “The Golden Sun Pavilion is an inspirational monument to the potential of the future. It will demonstrate a sustainable environment which is the most imperative alternative to out-dated harmful ways.” He once again glanced toward the distant horizon; “One day soon, from this vantage, I shall enjoy observing the achievement of your work; the physical manifestation of your consciousness.” Sun had bowed slightly, “For that I am most humbly graceful. Thank you.” Once again, Sun pressed a sequence of buttons on his bracelet. “It is late, and I am certain that you are tired from your journey. We will continue our conversation tomorrow. My assistant; Li Xiaohong, will show you to your suite and provide you with anything that you require; please inform him about whatever you would prefer to have for dinner.” ~ Instantly, Li Xiaohong had appeared; arriving silently, with a slight bow. Sun's eyes twinkled; “I will greet you with the dawn, enjoy a peaceful night.” He had spread his arms in a gesture which Coraline had recognized as signifying that he wished to be embraced. She tentatively complied. As they parted, she quietly spoke, “It has been an honour to meet you. Until the morning.” Although Coraline felt awkward, she had made a graceful exit.


VII. THE ORCHARD

It had been difficult to sleep. All night Coraline had revisited cherished memories streaming back from server files as though they were strange dreams ~ Recollections of her arrival in Beijing, and her first meeting with Sun Tzu... comfortably settling in... and all of the subsequent days... so much time had elapsed... each day filled with activity as she continued with development of the project... each day transforming into the next... Brilliant sunlight prompted her from bed... she removed the electrode-band from around her head then switched its power off. “What time is it?” Coraline quietly inquired of a small round device on the table near her bed. “2:22 p.m.,” the PAD had replied, then voluntarily offered; “December 24, 2010.” On this particular afternoon ~ had Coraline inquired ~ the PAD would have also informed her that she had inhabited her spacious suite within Sun Tower One for precisely fourteen months and eight days... Coraline arose from bed... a light gown draped over her shoulders... she drifted into the kitchen to commence elaborate preparations; methodically measuring quantities of specific proteins, supplements and seasonings ~ obtained from a collection of small glass jars lining narrow shelves ~ to feed a small device upon the counter which rumbled and whirled as it concocted the thick potion which Coraline would customarily consume through a straw ~ The magical elixir which she sipped would completely invigorate her and eliminate all trace of exhaustion. She would allow reality its gradual return, while lounging upon a deck chair to admire the foliage and flowers of the lush hydroponic garden surrounding the patio ~ Had she desired, she could pluck a mango or tangerine from a nearby branch ~ Silent, the nightingale in its cage... the soft breathing in the background as the fully autonomous systems recycled water and air ~ The entire structure was alive and responsive to its external environment; similar to a giant sunflower, it collected energy from solar rays through its leaves, water from the rain, and gathered wind to enhance the air-to-air heat exchanger... all extremely efficient systems which operated continually night and day... It had become her regimen; this pensive time upon awakening which she had always pleasantly enjoyed. It had seemed the most interesting part of the process to allow her thoughts and imagination to reflect grander schemes; each phase of creation


becoming a stepping-stone for the next ~ Yet, by far the greater proportion of her task was devoted to the strenuous activity of modeling virtual architecture within a studio adjoining her private residence ~ The physical exertion of a ten-hour session suspended within the harness of her gyroscopic rig would torture her muscles with a dull aching burn, and completely deplete her energy... Thus, during this quiet time, Coraline was able to mentally prepare herself once again to engage in her strenuous ordeal. The timetable was hectic. The project was so massive that upon commencing each work-session, Coraline would typically be assigned a list of tasks devised by the project managers. They were knowledgeable about the logistics of moving physical material around the real world, thus they allotted Coraline adequate time to ensure that every phase of the design and construction process could be completed on schedule. Coraline had always deferred to her managers decisions, maintaining faith that they would watch over her to prevent her from working around the clock whenever the pressure (or the pleasure) of a project had begun to drive her like an obsession. Experience had taught her the key was to pace herself over the duration of a lengthy project ~ since only by establishing a rhythm was it possible to maintain the momentum necessary to incrementally proceed... And of course, her reliable support staff were always prepared to offer sound advice and encouragement, to promptly accommodate every desire and obtain every resource she had required, especially by continually upgrading her computer hardware components. And Coraline was grateful that her crew had handled the myriad of details so she could keep her mind clearly focused on her work. At the table on her patio, sipping a protein drink, Coraline would often consult her PAD, and request that it provide spoken information, or present her with visions and text upon its small rectangular screen... Since childhood, Coraline's relentless learning process had involved continuous research, in fact, her case had always been that the more she would discover, the more her curiosity was piqued ~ Everything would seem connected with everything else in an increasingly complex web ~ Thus, the published experimentation of behavioral scientists, for example, or documents detailing the social structure of termite colonies in Africa, could consequently become the source of new ideas which dynamically influenced her design. While it was rather a simple matter to conceptualize the Golden Sun Pavilion as an enormous octahedron, devising a suitable method of utilizing the volume of its interior space presented an exceedingly-difficult challenge. The base of the superstructure at ground-level was narrower than its broadest diameter; the point at which the outwardly-expanding lower walls dramatically shifted angle to converge toward a lofty pyramidal apex ~ There were other considerations; the logistics of structural stresses, the mechanics of tolerances, load-bearing capabilities, the schematics of wiring, fluid dynamics, and the hydraulics of an artificial water cycle created by condensation and evaporation.


Yet, engineering concerns could be overcome with the assistance of powerful processors. For Coraline, it was of greater importance to concentrate her attention upon the formal considerations derived from the Pavilion's function ~ The megalithic solar-powered conservatory would be headquarters for the Golden Sun Corporation, and ‘home’ to a certain number of employees selected to become its inhabitants. The intention of her design was to symbolize the center of the vast international empire as a glorious jewel ~ A monument fittingly commemorating the legacy of its founder; the immortal Sun King, by perpetually preserving a self-sufficient, solar-powered, healthy, clean environment which minimized contamination from all forms of global pollution and served as a beacon of hope to all optimistic futurists. Ultimately, it was through Sun that Coraline had fully been able to comprehend the ideology and operating principles which would become integral in determining how the interior took shape ~ She would meet with Sun several times each week, and during those days when they were unable to speak in person, they would connect via a vidcomm link to casually chat within the gaze of their watchful TVi ~ Thus, by receiving the guidance of Sun's patient wisdom, Coraline had begun to envision the Golden Sun Pavilion, not simply as an effective integration of employee housing with corporate offices, but as the model for a new society; one established upon a set of principles clearly defined before each inhabitant had entered into the Agreement ~ The Golden Rule being: respect others as one wished to be respected oneself... Sun had informed her that, as word of the project had spread through the grapevine of Golden Sun offices spanning the globe, employees were eagerly expressing their desire to be among those chosen to participate in establishing a community in which they could co-exist with other like-minded individuals to happily live and work and play. They had begun to believe in the dream of a peaceful utopia in which there were no troubles nor sorrows ~ Coraline had ideally imagined a magical place perhaps similar to the mythical Shangra-La... Blue to behold, blue splendour of lotus-flowers adrift, a pond strewn with golden sand, a surface glimmering with eight million refulgent rays in which all magnificent things appear... There is a time and place for dreams. “Those who wish to escape suffering, think of the Pure Land.” ... Still reclined comfortably in a chair on the patio, Coraline plugged into the processor by placing the band around her head to recall details of a previous conversation she had with Sun soon after becoming a resident of the tower ~ Lapsing into reverie, memories of Sun's words would clearly return. Coraline had enjoyed the rhythmic ebb and flow, and fluctuating tempo, of those pleasant consultations with her mentor; their witty exchanges would alight upon a variety of intriguing concepts, which, in turn, had triggered a chain reaction of associated ideas, expanding and vanishing like ripples as her thoughts drifted along clear streams of consciousness ~ Thus, it had been momentarily unsettling to discover that, while it had seemed Coraline traveled great distances in her mind, her body had remained reclined upon a pile of embroidered silk cushions within Sun's sumptuously-


appointed suite... Her perceptions had returned to a steaming cup of delicate Jasmine tea and the stimulating conversation which they would occasionally continue until the sky had grown dark and Sun had retired for the night. Prospects evoking architectural concepts often emerged from unexpected sources ~ In making vast leaps between ontological stepping stones, and following murky pathways deep into chiaroscuro backgrounds which camouflaged the most mysterious memories from the distant past, it seemed Coraline had derived an understanding that the essence of life is Process. Simply the process itself. The development of individual organisms, simmering in a protozoan sea for billions of years, gradually emerging into the swamps and forests, continually evolving, adapting, seeking improvements, enhancing physical attributes to advance beyond the others, eventually becoming new species, producing offspring with successful characteristics to effectively promote survival and mastery of various types of terrain, engaged in the eternal struggle, the ceaseless quest for food, the competition to obtain the most desirable mate, procreate, procreate, procreate, and perpetually attempt to gain a greater measure of comfort by devising increasingly-sophisticated forms of shelter.... Those thought-provoking concepts were often prompted during her stimulating conversations with Sun: “Emerging from caves, the sanctuary of dragon bones, our distant ancestors fed upon the flesh and blood of animals, and clothed themselves in hides.” Sun spoke quietly, his hands occasionally fluttered like tiny birds to gracefully illustrate his comments with subtle poetic gestures. “The Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age; each era associated with material predominant for creating tools or forging weapons. Each successive generation developed a more competent level of skill and ingenuity. Skins covered frames of willow wands to shelter families from the rain and cold as they followed the cyclical migration routes of the creatures which they hunted. Existence was difficult; their life span was usually less than twenty years.” While Sun had sipped his tea, Coraline recalled drifting away; imagining a young woman who had lived 50,000 years previously, emerging like an animal from a cave; a primitive ancestor from whom Coraline had perhaps inherited some resemblance ~ except certainly the cave-dweller would have had a much furrier body and possessed a slightly smaller brain. Yet, within that brain, Coraline wondered how the sky might have looked. Would her distant link, while resting against a hillside upon a midsummer night to stare at the stars ~ the way Coraline would often rest with her jacket tucked under her head for a pillow ~ be able to connect the clusters of dots to form constellations? It had seemed doubtful, since that type of structuralization was the rational process of civilized thought imposed upon chaos to create the appearance of an orderly universe... What would they talk about, Coraline had then wondered, when their young had first learned to speak... “The dawning of civilization,” Sun had continued, “occurred when nomadic tribes took root upon the land. Their settlements constructed from mud and stone, wood and sod, with a hearth to maintain fire, and chimney to provide ventilation. They stretched walls across the land to enclose meandering herds and protect them from other


carnivorous predators. Compelled to continually gather grasses to feed their livestock, they recognized that crops could be rejuvenated by storing quantities of harvested seed to plant with the return of warmer weather. Straw sustained their animals through the interminable cold dark winter, and grain augmented their own diet; crushed under stone, baked into bread, brewed into beer or boiled as porridge.” “Distant wanderers were attuned to the ebb and flow of all energy patterns which comprise nature, while the sedentary lifestyle of settled habitation has perceptibly caused their descendants to believe they have gradually reduced their dependence upon the unpredictable randomness of nature. The resources available in the surrounding environment enabled self-sufficiency: the cultivation of seed, the enclosure of livestock, and the construction of permanent dwellings provided them a measure of comfort. Ingenuity and innovation continually sought out ways of overcoming nearly every type of adversity. Yet, the awareness which humanity acquires then subsequently forgets, is that turbulence and tension are created whenever life's path does not flow in harmony with Tao; The Way, the ‘force’ recognized by ancient Chinese philosophers as the spirit which permeates all things... Nature is predominant, we must adapt. One eventually arrives at an understanding that it is not possible to sustain systems for very long which oppose this flow, since ultimately they are destined to destroy themselves, and grave is the danger when these systems self-destruct since the damage can also be extensive to the environment which is the host.” “During the past fifty years ~ a brief moment in astrological time ~ many have begun to recognize that human existence is critically drifting away from a harmonious relationship with the natural environment. Trajectories from the past, actions set into motion long ago, now become responsible for the dire consequences of our present plight. Permanent habitation had created the arbitrary boundaries of nations, and defined the heritage, culture and traditions of each ethnic race. The continual need to maintain the territories we have established has perpetuated conflict throughout the world since our early ancestors first engaged in the struggle to gain control over neighbouring lands, or protect themselves from the invasions of marauders.” “As territories continued to expand across the land, they had also begun to rise vertically as a means of extending dominion toward the heavens. The edifice became the fortress within which the gods and goddesses dwelled; a seat of power from which to oversee the mass of humanity to whom they were responsible... The hierarchical structure inherent in the pyramid of the ancient Egyptians. A branching system which expanded from the pinnacle to the base ~ disseminating the sacred rule through hieroglyphs from the few to the many. Information moves up and control moves down through the network in a similar manner to the nervous system in the human body. Yet, while for many it is a reassuring structure, it also breeds harmful competition.” “In the context of the Golden Sun Pavilion, Coraline, you are presented with a rather difficult challenge. Although you propose a pyramidal structure, I request that you discover some method of devising an interior environment which is dynamic and


democratic, rather than traditional in hierarchy. I would prefer that each inhabitant develop a sense of equal importance with all others regardless of where they are physically located within the shelter. Each single employee should be accommodated within approximately the same dimension of personal space as each other single employee, and each family should be allocated a comparable living area with every other family of equal size. Your expertise will determine the dimensions of personal space each one requires; perhaps a more compact living area may be compensated by accessible parks and gardens which enable the entire environment to feel like it is a person's home.� Sun had then concluded the days conversation with the insightful observation that; “Within every era, masterpieces are created which transcend the limitations of their time.� Coraline had removed the band, then allowed the reality of her surroundings to solidify ~ It would always take some time for her sense of the present moment to once again return. Reflecting upon her recollection, Coraline had recognized that the simplicity of Sun's words ~ carefully chosen to describe concepts evidently apparent ~ were deceptively more complex than she had originally realized. The importance had become clearer regarding that irreversible point in human evolution during which the nomadic wanderings of hunter-gatherers had given way to an agrarian lifestyle which had subsequently determined the course of history until our present day. Individuals drifting randomly or cyclically through an immense environment had gradually been supplanted by those who had staked out their kingdoms rooted upon claimed earth which gradually had branched out to grow into mighty family trees ~ Hereditary territories bequeathed to descendants of the father... Yes, she had thought, we are those who attempt to defy the chaos of nature by imposing the order of the grid... And we are creatures who happily believe freedom is simply an exchange of one grid for another... Coraline had always been intrigued by the Sun King's way of thinking, and very appreciative of the opportunity of discover solutions to Sun's challenge ~ His request that in addition to creating a compelling aesthetic design for the monumental Golden Sun Pavilion, she devise an internal environment which functioned to minimize those brutal dynamics of competition which seemed inherent in every form of hierarchical pyramid structure. Often had she contemplated many of the issues which had arisen on the project, but until that time, she had seldom been given the opportunity to fully implement those design considerations in actual practice. In theory, there were numerous possibilities for creating solutions to the problem, while in practice, it was truly difficult to simulate the potential dynamics of the inhabitant's interaction while still actively engaged in shaping the physical design of an innovative structure. Each decision carried a great weight of responsibility, and while Coraline was comforted by the assurance that these burdens would be shared by the administration of the corporation and other members of her design team, she remained acutely aware that the sole responsibility for the vision and direction of the


proposal rested squarely upon her shoulders. Yet, it had been extremely exciting to consider that whatever she imagined would ultimately become reality since Golden Sun Corporation would spare no expense in the Pavilion's construction. Diligent research into adaptive systems had led her to conclude that intelligent entities actively participate in the process of organizing themselves by intuitively or consciously achieving some awareness of their individual limitations, and overcoming them by unifying their efforts through establishment of effective communication networks. Thus, each individual component would be enabled to contribute their share of effort to achieving a larger objective ~ Similar to the way that the cellular structure of plants, termite colonies, or coral reefs had seemed to create themselves as an intelligent response to environmental conditions ~ This seemed to involve the necessity of creating order through mutual consent of certain rules and guidelines. And the ‘societies’ which had resulted, inevitably seemed most stable when the rules became a natural response to conditions inherent within the environment, rather than the result of imposition through the manipulation of a more powerful being. Coraline had contemplated that invisible domain beneath the apparent surface of the sea; that primordial spawning ground of all life which is known ~ That magnificent immensity which still preserved the rudimentary dynamics of the food-chain, since it had not yet been completely over-written by the human-made grid. She had considered the hierarchy of creatures; how the sedentary acquiescence of the large biomass clinging to existence in colonies at the bottom of a pyramid provided the underlying foundation which supported the aggressive mobility of the fewer stronger predatory carnivores to occupy what some may consider its summit ~ Yet, in reality, Coraline had recognized, that from the greatest to the smallest, each would play an essential role in the survival of all others. Residential areas were to be situated in the upper portion of the structure, while offices, laboratories and other facilities would occupy the lower regions ~ Affording views of the surrounding countryside while the upper views would mainly frame the sky since the only way for them to see the worldly view was to stand alongside the glass. The openness of the upper terraces would enable wonderful hydroponic gardens to flourish; Coraline had imagined it a paradise as beautiful as the mythical Hanging Gardens of Babylon ~ Since the walls were constructed of glass, the interior of the Pavilion would receive direct sunlight throughout the entire day. Polarizing filters embedded in the glass would control the level of illumination. At night, light would be confined to specific areas; individual rooms, passages and walkways within the structure, while stars remained visible above. The questions inevitably returned; how could she determine the minimum amount of personal space one needed to feel comfortable, to experience the security of privacy, and to escape contact from the world. Coraline greatly valued the sanctuary of solitude, and she had imagined that to varying proportions everyone must also feel the same ~ Even Katscha, her best friend at the Akademy; the most outgoing, gregarious person she could imagine ~ a girl who seemed to almost entirely define herself


through her relationships with others ~ had occasionally disappeared for lengthy retreats within the quietude of her bedroom to contemplate her existence, and seek answers to questions of her own... Coraline had considered that the space need be only large enough to not feel claustrophobic, and that it should easily transform into a completely uncluttered area in which everything folded away; all closets and cupboards merging into the seamless walls. In addition to food and clothing and other objects of utility, those unobtrusive storage spaces could house the customary collection of personal talismans which people gather for sentimental reasons; which sometime magically summon distant memories, and at other times, represent those things which should remain forgotten and locked away. Democratic convention had seemed to dictate that each single suite should be approximately the same size as every other ~ Just as workers living with their spouse, and occasionally a child, should occupy a suite of equitable proportions to any of their comrades. Due to the modular construction methods which would be employed in the pavilion's fabrication, Coraline had realized the possibility that the floor plan of each suite could be unique; creating variations in the layout of the rooms, or their dimensions, to build each unit slightly different from all others... It had simply seemed a matter of allowing the processor to randomize the variables of measurements ~ an operation which it had seemed to love to calculate automatically ~ and then make the necessary adjustments to compensate for consequences throughout the global environment. The software was also versatile in other ways ~ Within an iterative medium like cyberspace, each subtle expression of Coraline's gestures would elegantly accentuate the modification of every component within the model ~ The possibilities were endless: undulating surfaces, extruded forms, curved and tapered into almost any shape imaginable ~ Other processors at the factories would deconstruct complex files into modular inter-locking elements which could be individually cast in a procession of concrete forms carved from steam-blown polystyrene by a computerized hot-wire cutting machine ~ Structural growth could emerge from previous layers like the sedimentary record of geological time; seamless and smooth ~ Inter-related elements merging with the surrounding environment to create a structurally-stable whole from the sum of its component parts... The processors running the distribution network would assiduously track every step of the process from the assembly lines in the manufacturing plants to delivery at the construction site where the encoded components were to be physically dropped into their assigned place by a swarm of robotic bees... for so was the plan! ~ A technique which would also facilitate the replacement of each piece should it be defective, or become damaged at any time during the projected venerable life-span of the structure. After exploring several potential ideas which had failed to achieve a satisfactory result, Coraline's grandiose scheme for spanning the interior of the pyramid had gradually become based upon clustering hundreds of suites around five massive sculpted cores which tapered as they rose from a large-diameter base to form the nucleus of elegant sweeping spiral terraces resembling gigantic strands of DNA ~ At


certain points around the arc, these thin broad terraces would intersect other nearby columns for support; creating complex organic forms which software developers in Calcutta were programming with live engineering kinetics ~ The principles of phyllotaxis achieved a perfect ratio of open space to habitation ~ That golden ratio of 1·61804 ~ A perfect balance of light and shadow which continually changed throughout the day with the sun's movement along its path from dawn to dusk... Cantilevered terraces would sustain fertile hydroponic fields, and lofted amongst them, were to be suites comprising one or two small bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, a bathroom, a parlour and a conservatory. A doorway would exit onto a segment of the communal garden fields, while opposite, another would lead through a narrow corridor to an elevator which rapidly traversed the center of the core. Out on the terraces, Coraline had also created a footpath which meandered through the gardens for the enjoyment of a leisurely stroll; following a sinuous stream which gently bubbled as it flowed around the levels of the structure's sculpted spiral architecture ~ Sensors within the glass of the pyramid sky would constantly monitor the temperature and relative humidity to ensure bountiful vegetation; fans and ventilators and carbondioxide scrubbers would maintain a healthy volume of fresh air. Coraline took a deep breath then opened her eyes... she had discovered herself still reclined comfortably in a chair on the patio... ‘A good day for relaxation,’ she had thought ~ This was the way it should be: the sun shining on mango trees, the flight of butterflies, and the song of birds... A time to rest her muscles which would often become exhausted from the grueling exertion of navigating architectural models while tethered within a gyroscopic harness for extended periods every day. “Perhaps,” she had spoken softly to herself, “an environment populated entirely by herbivores would tend toward a much more peaceful existence.” Where do these ideas come from? ~ Coraline had often noted that whenever her mind was not completely occupied with work, her thoughts often drifted toward the contemplation of a wide variety of esoteric concepts. She would justify her daydreams by rationalizing that she was merely expanding the parameters of her search for answers to specific aspects of the project which had caused the problems she needed to solve... In architectural design, human aspects are the primary consideration, yet, the most difficult to define: there were few templates in the modern world, other than the interminable grid. It remained uncharted territory to introduce people into the structures Coraline had imagined... Impossible really, to gauge what life within the Golden Sun Pavilion would truly be like until the inhabitants had experienced residency for some time in one of the helixes sheltered beneath the pyramid glass sky. It was the human touch of the designer's hand which had made each setting seem comfortable ~ Areas based not only on utility of activity, but also on theme concepts which provided a variety of distinctive regions with interesting atmosphere. To the extent possible, Coraline had ensured these environments, both above and below ground, were composed of unique organic forms; a task sometimes taxing the logical


precision of processors calculating the alignment and material volume of the structural elements, which had then caused the software to run in slow motion for a brief interval of time ~ Her movement suddenly constrained to swimming through molasses as the motors of the gyroscope geared down... Yet, most often, the harness had enabled Coraline to soar ~ She had thrilled to the exhilaration of being able to fly... to use her arms to glide and swoop, and tilt her body to change direction... then with a snap of her fingers hover motionless in the air... Gravity could have no effect, and with collisiondetection turned off, she was able to pass through apparently solid surfaces... And, of course, she could change her scale to any size. Coraline recalled the view from the top; from a vantage point directly above the apex, rendered at some distance. It had been fascinating to observe the variation in colouration distinguishing the four triangular divisions of the pyramid as illuminated by the digital setting sun: west ~ gold; north ~ copper; east ~ iron(oxide); south ~ bronze... The representation had seemed symbolic of the seasons, as well as the ages of humanity ~ Ages defined by the predominant metal used to create tools ~ Coraline had believed in the dawning of a new golden age ~ Not one simply philosophically or romantically ideal, but also in the sense of utilizing the material of gold more freely for scientific applications rather than hoarding it to preserve some abstract antiquated notion that it was more valuable when locked away... After all, how many years had it been since gold was truly used as the basis for currency exchange? The side elevation view of the Golden Sun Pavilion had also re-enforced the metaphor of the evolution of humanity ~ The progression from our foundation within caves, rising up through levels of stone, earth, metal, glass, ultimately, to a crystal prism in the capstone casting rainbows across the land... Making the invisible visible through enormous magnification. Throughout these spectrums, those desiring to make the Pavilion their home would feel secure within a shelter which provided a stable base firmly rooted to the ground, and a hardened shield of steeply-sloping glass to protect their greenhouse paradise within an encapsulating fortress. The structure had also resurrected elements of the architectural splendour from the grand monuments of a distant time ~ The past becoming the future, the future becoming the present ~ To enhance her design sensibilities Coraline had occasionally strapped herself into the harness to intently study server files creating a virtual reconstruction of many ancient edifices ~ She had soared through the ocular window centering the Pantheon's massive concrete dome; an engineering marvel when first constructed during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian; a symbol of authority which eventually had evolved to become the dome of states and capitals all around the world ~ She had traveled to the Kandariya Mahadev Temple of the Chandella Kings in Khajuraho, India; a site featuring dozens of fantastic structures comprised of strata upon strata of ornate stone carvings depicting every imaginable erotic coupling ~ She had witnessed the pure breast-like symmetry of the Taj Mahal in its reflecting pond; its wall composed of crude brick and rubble veneered by fine white marble tile secured with metal dowels ~ She marveled at the advancements in engineering demonstrated by the Eiffel Tower, and the titanic steel and glasswork of


the Crystal Palace from London's Great Exhibition of 1851 ~ Not to mention, Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona Spain; a megalithic gothic termite tower which served the faithful as a house of lost souls... Certainly, these and many other monuments had been influential, yet, these wonders had never equaled those marvelous impressions of nature which had continually enraptured her youth. Her administrative assistant; Virginia Carpentier, would leave bookmarks in the corner of her screen like a small bouquet greeting Coraline whenever she checked her mail. Even with heavy filtering some of the memos had still gotten through: from project managers keeping tab on her imagination to see that it would not become unbridled in its capacity to conjure intricate detail, or concerned that the project would be able to conclude on time and on budget... Sometime she received memos from developers in Calcutta, Djakarta or Taiwan; notifying her that they had updated the development versions of her software based upon her modification requests... Occasionally she would receive email from the lead programmers simply complaining of need for sleep... ‘Poor babies,’ she thought, and ‘they were just like babies,’ she had also thought ~ Descendants of a game called Doom, cuddled in their cocoons, suckled by display screen light and nurtured like mushrooms by the gloom... ‘Oh yes, bookmarks,’ she had recalled, gathered by her assistant ~ who did everything for her ~ each a link connecting Coraline to networked sites in which she could simply order from a menu to select skeletal data from vast libraries of fully rendered scenes which faithfully replicated the greatest works of human civilization, and the most intricate simulations from nature. The software enabled her to copy and paste selected components from the licensed files into an editor linked to the master architectural program ~ Within the editorial environment, the framework of the downloaded models were routinely scrubbed and prepped, modified and manipulated, then mapped with new high-resolution textures drawn from an extensive collection instantly accessible from one of the underground servers specifically dedicated to her project... Extracts of choice, integrated into small regions scattered throughout the Pavilion, created theme parks and environments which the inhabitants could enjoy at their leisure ~ Cleopatra's massage parlour with a large skylight in the ceiling, ornamented with streaming rays radiating in golden paint ~ The azure pools in the ‘Radiance of the Seas’ ~ The ‘Bamboo Garden’ and ‘Summer Cloud Mist Chambers’ ~ The bridge, the steps into the water, the olive trees and dates, authentically replicated ancient Greece as it had historically existed... As well, Sun had requested she also provide several solemn museums within which he could elegantly display the rare antiquities and unearthed cherished treasures which he had accumulated throughout his life, and which, until then, had remained buried within underground vaults for storage. Lost in a dream world... gazing through gold-tinted solarGlaz at the clouds slowly floating by... out of reach of enormous propellers spinning in the lazy breeze which whispered through the field of Vespa WindTowers below... life pleasantly progressing ~ That's when Coraline would give her head a shake ~ It was pointless to indulge in daydreams when there was so much work to do... Yes, she had felt compelled to work;


all of the time ~ So much so, that after any lengthy interval engaged in pleasant thought, the urge to resume physical activity would return as though it were an ominous force which had loomed from the background of her innate programming to frighten her with guilt ~ Occasionally it had occurred to her that she was part of an experiment she was conducting upon herself ~ Perhaps one testing the potential of integrating a woman and a machine. Curiously, she had even begun to identify more closely with the worker drones planned to be employed in construction of the Pavilion ~ Robotic machines piloted by organic hybrids genetically merging enhanced code ~ Her movement within the model was similar to their expected performance; while each fabricated a version of the architecture ~ On that afternoon, reclining in her chair like an empress, she had felt like an elegant, powerful, sophisticated queen bee in repose... ‘Soon they would do her bidding,’ she had thought ~ ‘Blueprints’ downloaded into the consciousness of their HIVE mind... workers which need never know the big picture... need never know what others are doing... and actually, need not even know how to solve their problems, since expert systems within the core would continually update every worker's instruction set as the master plan was implemented. She had already visualized prototypes of those fantastic machines in transmissions originating from General Synthetics Corporation, in Osaka, Japan... Their realistic simulation had made the concept seem entirely plausible... Jurgen... The notion had lingered in her mind that it was possible Jurgen Ernst had somehow been involved in the development of the strange flying creatures... Coraline had sometime wondered whether she should attempt to contact him; it seemed as though he had just vanished from the face of the Earth ~ Still, it was just that... Coraline idly flipped a switch along the edge of the PAD; perhaps to distract her thoughts... Periodically she would scan an inset window broadcasting live media to inquisitively learn what had been happening in the real world ~ The strange events occurring had made it increasingly seem quite unreal; suspected herbal intoxicants in new Buzz soda... recalled from shelves for causing severe hallucinations... ‘News’, yet marketed like advertising... Then a reporter broadcasting live coverage from ‘The Depths’; revealing that the grimy foundations of cities were crumbling, and that its rotted metal was being scavenged by homeless nomads to build their squalid shelters ~ Deep at the bottom in the gloomy darkness infested by scurrying Roaches... information hackers and digital terrorists attempting to sabotage mighty structures by attacking their base at the root... Coraline had periodically screened the bulletins whenever the Authority had announced successful exterminations of those ‘bugs’ in the system ~ Yet, how many they numbered, and their motives and fates, were never reported; like bogeymen existing as some vague threat... And she had also been made aware of even greater sinister forces oozing slowly over the landscape, from crude oil spilled by the blood and tears of wars... vicious greed... victims of earthquakes and floods... lethal bacteria epidemics... ‘the damage could never be completely repaired’... the fear and panic of a passive observer anxious for tougher security... Coraline had then switched off the screen.


Of course, Coraline had understood that security systems could never be made completely bulletproof; allowing no unwanted intrusions or any disruptions of service. It was impossible to provide protection for even the most fortified structures from ingenious plots hatched by revolutionaries, radicals, or corporate spies bent upon ill intent ~ The most determined would find a way to succeed ~ Yet, Coraline was confident that security plans for the Golden Sun Pavilion had taken into account the most probable eventualities. Nothing would enter or exit the environment without being monitored, scanned, filtered or screened; personnel, machines, food, water, air and waste ~ everything including sunshine... Quarantine Officers would thoroughly inspect every plant for signs of insect or disease damage ~ documentation would be evaluated ~ provenance data traced ~ permits or certificates verified ~ then horticulturists would tag each individual import and log it into the database by assigning it a three-part ‘Kew’ label comprised of the badge number of the authorized collector, the country of origin, and a unique identity sequence which enabled the processor to track any plants it propagated... Botanists, in turn, would augment computer records by researching undescribed or little-known species ~ Most of the plants preserved within the Golden Sun Pavilion were endangered in the wild. Daydreaming... Steamy mists caressed tropical plants nearby; enlivening their scent which lingered in the air... Coraline stood and stretched, moving her body to evaluate the condition of her muscles... her energy had felt replenished. It had come time to put an end to idle thoughts; to put an end to being unproductive, and regain the will to once again return to work... Her PAD ~ her window on the world ~ was discarded on the kitchen counter, as she prepared to cross the threshold of that window actively immersing her within the reality of a world in which she was the Creator. Moving with the rhythm and grace of a dancer, Coraline retreated into the sensory isolation of her small adjoining studio, and immediately freed herself of clothing. She glanced at the well-toned muscles of her arms and legs, her small breasts, and her smoothly-shaved pelvis... She ran her fingers through her masculine close-cropped hair... Goose-bumps on eager flesh in the chill of the room... She would be soaked with perspiration by the end of the session; after exercising the demons... Strapped into the skin-tight vinyl body harness with goggles covering her eyes, the fluidity of gyroscope frames independently rotating upon their axis in response to every movement... A ballet mechanique... Processors streaming information... Slight hand gestures manipulating a majestic composition... Visualizing a transparent web of elaborate wire-frame arrays and shapes morphing and evolving... Scenes texture-mapped in the lush super-realism of radiosity rendering... reflective and transparent... Absolutely amazing sometime to consider how powerful the software was to allow her to touch the virtual world and make it all take shape ~ A moment of brief euphoria, followed, often it seemed, by the realization of how much work still lay ahead... Components rotated in perspective space then were scaled to the structural environment... expanding a wall here, lowering a floor there, creating an opening for a door... Traces... Neurotic movement... The constant activity of her muscles, her bones, her lungs, and her heart... Attaining a meditative state in which she could conduct mundane chores effortlessly for extended periods of time... Precise actions endlessly repeated...


Yet inevitably, overcome by the monotony of repetition, Coraline would save her efforts then turn her attention to another portion of the Pavilion ~ Perhaps try her hand at gardening for a change of pace; gliding over endless strawberry fields, or drifting past low hills covered in Palaver somniferous ~ planted for medicinal purposes ~ Perhaps she would hover above a beautiful apple orchard... Adjusting time to midafternoon in order to brighten the scene, she could better observe the way digital sunlight illuminated the polyorganic sculptures which the processor had configured to permute every stage of natural growth ~ And if commanded, reveal how each tree's comprehensive root system was connected to the hydroponic network; which, when fully implemented, would be driven by programs accessing code from the databank to optimally deliver nutrients to each seedling which would significantly accelerate their rate of maturity. Coraline had singled out a particular apple tree, then moved closer to study the dynamics as it went through its evolution; increasing the software's time-scale to observe twigs on the barren branches become rigid as they began to sprout brown buds... then bursting forth into bright green leaves which grew rapidly as they emerged... delicate white blossoms appeared, then fell like snowflakes to blanket the ground as the first fruit was born ~ There was something exciting about it; Coraline enjoyed the time-lapse animation as the apples grew larger and their hue changed from green to red ~ Gravity in the program pulled the branches slightly downward as they became heavily laden with ripe fruit ~ Adjusting the program back to real-time, she would tinker with arrangements of fully-grown trees to maximize the efficiency of irregular arrays; smaller trees grouped with larger trees to create aesthetically pleasing compositions ~ The proportion of leaves to branches, of branches to the trunk ~ Each tree similar, yet unique, due to intentional randomness defining the parameters of their characteristics ~ Moving her perspective through the arrangement, up, then down again... sometimes closer for more detail, other times farther away... Eliminating predictable vanishing points when viewing the orchard from ground level... Then saving her composition when finally satisfied that the orchard she had orchestrated was as beautiful as the landscape of a dream. Coraline was about to shut down the program when she suddenly noticed that the apples had started falling off the trees ~ It was eight o'clock on Christmas morning in a wintry Beijing... Had she heard the sound of laughter?


part three I. THE INCIDENT

Coraline had tipped several pills from a plastic container, then sleep had supervened along with the ensuing shadow-play of dreams... shapes in the clouds; a strange tableaux of phantasmagoria ~ figures part-animal and part-human ~ drifted across the sky... a canopy of angels... white swans in the pond... the skeleton of an animal; a structure of fragile bones... hedgerows of elder and holly... stone cherubs... ancestral guardians of the archway in the old stone wall... badger, mole and irrepressible toad... the fragrance of lavender... cold air flowing downhill like the gravity of a stream... Coraline had awakened to harsh orange acid skies etching the sunrise onto darkness. The early bright star of Venus had slipped below the horizon. Outside the window all was quiet ~ The city mostly still asleep ~ Snow was beginning to fall... Coraline felt safe within the tower, high above the predators and scavengers lurking deep at the bottom. Coraline had smoothed her closely-cropped hair, then sat passively before the viewscreen unfolded on the table in her solarium ~ Initially a bit sleepy since she had awoken mere moments before the meeting had commenced; emerging from a beautiful dream which had offered amazing insights into the resolution of certain perplexing design problems which had consumed her logical mind for several days ~ Stimulus is minimized when the body is at rest, thus the mind is afforded an opportunity to assist in structuring one's thoughts ~ Coraline believed that dreams were simply a restless state in which one's consciousness was able to partially perceive the hidden processes occurring as one's recent thoughts were re-associated, edited, then tagged by electro-chemical encoding for assignment to a more permanent storage location ~ This notion had occupied Coraline's thought as the sequences of security camera captures had appeared within an inset window nested in the corner of her screen... The Sun King had occupied the top-left panel of the four adjacent projections upon Coraline's viewer. Sun sat with straight posture, his face turned slightly to reveal a glimpse of profile, partially obscured by his distinguished grey hair. His confident voice and insightful thoughts would customarily transmit reasoned wisdom, yet, for some reason, that morning, he had seemed quite agitated; impatiently fidgeting with the gold communication band on his wrist, then purposefully depressing sequences of buttons, apparently to no avail.


“Here is a video documenting the incident,” Cordova Frost had said ~ The Flex Global Security agent's voice remained calm and dispassionate as he called up a file recorded during the early hours of Christmas morning from the server of the Golden Sun Shopping Network. Avatars representing customers glided from store to store within a diigitally-rendered shopping mall called ‘Wonderland’. Pleasant voices emerged from the screen to provide information about the merchandise as the shoppers searched for something appealing... gentle strains of muzak played Christmas carols softly in the background; designed to ease the tension of overstimulation caused by the tantalizing array of products ~ remarkably modeled and realistically-mapped with texture ~ always contemporary, customized to every desire, unique and highly-crafted: exotic footware, mediaplayers, and Kente cloth from Ghana ~ An ornate turquoise ceramic pitcher etched with intricate designs of pure gold carried a price tag in excess of 10,000 credits ~ Objects of desire which appeared attainable, yet somehow seemed to remain just beyond one’s grasp ~ searching, forever searching for that illusive gem... The gold button at the center of the controller awaiting new additions to the inventory of purchases. It had seemed the recording had played for a considerable interval of time, when BOOM! ~ Coraline had been startled to observe a crudely-animated disembodied head of Santa Claus slowly rotating in the center of the screen, superimposed over the virtual shops ~ merrily laughing while intermittently repeating a brief phrase every time its head completed a revolution; “Peace on earth, goodwill to humankind...” Unrelenting, the coarsely-rendered bit-mapped head floated dead-center in the scene regardless of which way the viewpoint turned ~ Certainly odd, and quite disturbing in its persistence ~ Then the pixels had slowly melted into a blank black screen... reflecting Coraline’s dark eyes and her impassive expression which had portrayed exhaustion... yet Santa's laughter had still seemed to subtly echo within her thoughts. “Any conjecture about motive?” Sun had perfunctorily inquired. Agent Cordova Frost calmly fielded the question ~ His image flowed from a live video stream in the adjoining window... Sun had previously introduced him as a veteran mission specialist who was assigned the case by Flex Global; an international network security force, to investigate the disruption of service perpetrated against GSSN ~ Golden Sun Shopping Network ~ Sun indicated that Agent Frost was trained to gather classified data by implementing an arsenal of sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment during covert operations: “The hacker presumably infiltrated GSSN with the intention of gaining access to the personal data of approximately 22 million users who were connected to the network at the time.” Agent Frost had stated. “Specifically, a crude display hack was launched precisely at midnight ~ December 25, 2010; Greenwich Mean Time ~ on the main server hosting Wonderland; located in California, USA. Very sophisticated compact code. Very clean execution; the virus perfectly targeted the server's core. Individual components, encapsulated within an armor-class Trojan horse, independently infiltrated the system over a span of time, where they reassembled to create a logic-


bomb within a discrete directory. The vandalism had also promoted a cryptic message; 'Peace on Earth, goodwill to humankind'; a statement which seems unrelated to any possible radical political manifesto or fundamentalist religious group. The only trace of the perpetrator's identity is a link to an unauthorized credit account established earlier on the day of the attack, in the name of Jost Nicholas. At present we are investigating a known hacker named Russ Vai as our prime suspect.” The fourth participant in the tele-conference was a man whom Sun had introduced as Mr. Luk; praising him as a trusted officer indispensable to the corporation ~ Most notably as head of Investment and Acquisitions. Mr. Luk also functioned as acting Commander of the Golden Sun Corporate Guard: bearing ultimate responsibility for the small commando army of highly-trained security guards who patrolled every facility within the vast empire of subsidiary holdings controlled by the Golden Sun Corporation. Thus he had been the first one contacted and briefed by special agent Frost ~ Coraline had noted that Mr. Luk had often seemed to furtively monitor his own image on his display; as though using it to gauge how others may perceive his presentation. Coraline had also noticed that his demeanor could become tenaciously ferocious whenever his temper had been unleashed; “I am concerned about the offensive intrusion of Wonderland, I am also dismayed that company regulations are not being followed to the letter. Furthermore, I will personally hold accountable those responsible for failing to maintain the highest level of protection for our servers.” “Thank you Mr. Luk,” Sun had smiled benignly to reign in the barracuda. Coraline was somewhat frightened by the aggressive Mr. Luk ~ And as the meeting progressed, it had seemed to become evident that it was Mr. Luk, rather than the Sun King, who truly was the driving force behind continual expansion of the Golden Sun corporate empire; at the time, listed at number ten among the largest global enterprises. Clearly, Sun was the visionary ~ the man with the Idea ~ yet, perhaps his dreams had remained vaporous until they were put into effect by the ruthless Mr. Luk; a brute who had muscled deals with major industrial complexes around the world to capitalize upon Sun's concepts in the relentless pursuit of profit ~ Certainly Mr. Luk believed that continually increasing wealth was attributable to shrewd business practices rather than simply to good fortune. During her stay within Sun Tower One, Coraline had become aware that the immense revenues of Golden Sun Corporation were derived primarily from manufacturing and retailing solar energy equipment, and building Lightworks; networks of fibre-optic cables which transmitted sunlight around the world. Unlimited access to funds had enabled Mr. Luk to establish the Golden Sun Corporation as a market leader with a diversity of assets and resources which encompassed nearly every field; shipping lines, home entertainment, vast domains of real estate; including a wedge of Antarctica's continental pack ice, fantastic biotechnology companies developing genetic hybrids derived from the code of humans, insects and machines,


and of course, the digital factories which supplied endless permutations of every virtual product featured on GSSN ~ Acquire, expand, purchase ~ Always drawing his percentage to support a rather luxurious lifestyle for his family and personal associates. Golden Sun's corporate identity was universally recognized: a pure golden sphere ~ symbolizing wholeness, unity, and infinite potential ~ a primitive shape in the dimensional world... Omnipresent; a tiny golden logo perpetually floated in the bottom corner of Coraline's communication screen, which she could also observe in a larger physical version mounted to the wall behind Sun's high-tech throne ~ The Sun King had squirmed uncomfortably, before arising from staring at the monitor to drift slowly amongst the elegant furnishings in his large uncluttered office ~ the camera had panned to follow ~ The large glass prism bejeweling the gnomon of a sundial near the balcony... a brilliant beam of morning sun cast a rainbow pattern on the platen... a few scruffy clouds hovered in the gritty sky above the rooftops of surrounding towers. Still fumbling with the device on his wrist, Sun had returned to his desk ~ listening while Mr. Luk had offered his closing statement; “Although this intrusion appears innocuous, the potential for destruction is immense. Once these parasites invade the system, every file becomes vulnerable to manipulation. This violation of our network will not be tolerated; the threat must be exterminated!” With Sun nodding assent to the objective stated, the meeting had concluded. Then, when Mr. Luk and agent Frost had vanished from the display, Sun confidentially addressed Coraline; “Coraline, please grace me with your presence a few moments longer. You have been wondering why you were summoned, while I have spent this fine morning considering how to broach that subject with you... Throughout my life, my intuition has been a most trustworthy guide. It is my intuition which indicates this incident may pertain to you. Fear not my child, I do not foresee any danger. Remain strong and remain calm, and rest assured that I will always be watching over you.” ~ The Sun King’s narrow finger pressed a button near the camera, causing his tiny window on her screen to disappear. Within her solarium, surrounded by lush vegetation, Coraline had remained seated in her comfortable chair before the screen; contemplating the recent information. She had also vaguely intuited that the incursion of Wonderland had somehow been linked to her. She had noticed that the crude texture-mapped face on the rotating head of Santa Claus had somewhat resembled Jurgen Ernst, yet it seemed highly improbable that he would do such an eccentric thing: the attack had seemed a juvenile activity. She could no longer visualize Jurgen as some teenage computer geek who enjoyed the opportunity of hacking into something just to explore the boundaries of a system before signing-off with a tag... His filthy old keyboard ~ pecking away with two fingers in the middle of the night... No, it couldn't have been him ~ Perhaps it was possible that some nemesis had played a prank on him: these kind of things happen occasionally ~


Certainly this incident was a much different matter than corporate espionage, for instance, which Coraline considered more likely to require skills worthy of providing Jurgen with a stimulating challenge... After all, he was among the best programmers recruited from the Akademy. Yet still... perhaps she didn't really know him as well as she thought she did. She could recall instances at the Akademy when he would act quite strange. Occasionally he smoked hashish and went on drinking binges with his friends, and in those days he also dabbled with arcane tomes of metaphysics and alchemy ~ Perhaps the information had played tricks on his mind ~ Jurgen sometimes even claimed those ancient grimoires revealed to him the truth... “... gold does not tarnish or fade...� Why would she remember that particular fragment from a conversation which had taken place one night long before, when they had snuggled together upon a fallen log on the mountainside beneath the castle, holding hands, gazing at the constellations overhead, and the twinkling lights of the tiny Czech village nestled in the valley below ~ visible just beyond the precipice of the steep cliff before them... Her tender relationship with Jurgen; she sometimes pondered what would have happened had they never drifted apart... She tended to the plants nearby; absent-mindedly transplanting seedlings that had somehow strayed into the wrong container ~ Jurgen had been the only boy she had ever had as a friend... Honestly, she could finally admit, she had truly been in love... It was perhaps she had not entirely realized it at the time. And certainly, Coraline had also admitted to herself that she had sometime felt lonely; sometime feverishly desiring the intimate sensation of human touch, sometime caressing him within her imagination while entwined in a passionate embrace... No, she could not give in to those thoughts; it would make her crazy ~ Those moments, she decided, were a sign of weakness ~ As an excuse, she could justify to herself that she had simply succumbed to the temptation of an instinctual biological urge... which was completely natural... and as to the uncertainty of whether it was Jurgen Ernst who had upset the shopping network, Coraline realized that she would just have to resign herself to wait for reassurances from Agent Frost's investigation. She had sighed... alone in her garden again ~ Similar in some ways to those remembered times she had played in the backyard as a child ~ The solitude offered a time for reflection on the deeper philosophical notions underlying those demanding thoughts which structure our everyday lives... and the notions underlying those... deeper and deeper until suddenly everything became clearer... and those insights made her happy because they helped erase the uncertainty of doubt... Sometime testing her dedication, and sometime even questioning the motivation propelling her decade-long commitment to the Golden Sun Pavilion project ~ All of those things she had sacrificed and denied herself for the sake of her intensive work schedule.


A teardrop fell upon a dusty leaf, causing it to glow with a lustrous shine. Her fingertips dug into the composted soil, unearthing its hidden fragrance, probing the rich black moistness until they had discovered one of the earthworms seeded to aerate the soil... The pale pink creature burrowed deeper then, instinctively fleeing the light... Coraline wondered if it were actually blind, since she would sometimes catch them mating on the surface in the moonlight... This one looked healthy enough ~ Coraline buried it alive then patted down the soil... and the aroma of the flowers... the beauty of the leaves... the fascinating architecture of their structure... the pleasant environment filled with plants lifted her spirits and rejuvenated her soul. Coraline arose, pressing a button to open the sliding door, leaving behind her conservatory for the direction of her studio ~ Nearly noon; time to once again immerse herself within her work, she had thought ~ Although this day, for some strange reason, she had an almost insatiable urge for freshly-baked chocolate-chip cookies which suddenly overcame her as she strolled through the kitchen in her friction-heated slippers... She sighed... Her recollection had then returned to the words which Sun had recently spoken... that beneficent face... During their time together they had developed a close relationship similar to that of a daughter with her father ~ Sun provided the care and guidance a parent would usually supply; so much so, that gradually, it had seemed she no longer even felt any real emotion in connection with the distant memories of the biological father of her childhood ~ It was now Sun who watched over her and provided her with comfort... She had sighed again... All the turbulent thoughts had created turmoil in her mind; Sun, Jurgen, Agent Frost, Mr. Luk, chocolate-chip cookies, earthworms ~ fear and desire; the distractions which prevented her from completely concentrating upon her work ~ That was why a state of isolation was often precious to her ~ While she nurtured her conceptions into existence; fragile, malleable and pure, they could easily become susceptible to the contamination and corruption of other's thoughts and words which could erode their integrity, and ultimately threaten to undermine the project's always tentative probability for success. While she was possessed, she could progress as far as she was able on her own. It would be up to others, then, to augment and enhance whatever she had managed to accomplish. Whenever she had opened her eyes, she would become anxious to return to the project to determine which recently-completed components of the structure the hardworking processors had fully-assembled while she was unplugged for rest ~ Once again strapped into the harness rigging, Coraline initialized the software, and instantly the virtual architecture had become entirely real ~ Level upon level of meticulous detail ~ Layer upon layer of terraces extending from vast columns to resemble doublestrand helix chains of DNA. Coraline could fully experience the environment; touch it, see it, hear it ~ The rhythmic breath and pulse from air and water flow which kept the structure alive. A scan of the production time-line had confirmed that during her shift she was scheduled to complete modifications to the design of the garden park supported atop


the omphalos of the central column rising almost to the apex of the glass pyramid. Situated near the center of the garden, a modest meditation temple would be maintained as a shrine to commemorate the Sun King's departure from the temporal world... There, within the temple, a holographic projector would be installed; programmed with an expert system called GuRu, which would access the database encoding a significant accumulation of Sun's knowledge and wisdom, then rapidly compile a message which was intended to provide a seeker with words of comfort, or advice to contemplate before commencing meditation.

II. N.O.A.H.

Bamboo chimes rattled in a gentle breeze, rousing Coraline from quiescence ~ She had slowly opened her eyes and the world came into being ~ Sun was sitting upon a mat nearby, both were within a simple room framed by sliding walls; an open panel revealed the traditional wooden structure remained partially sequestered within the shade of a large Bodhi tree. Situated upon a small island in the center of a tranquil pond, the temple was the hub of a garden labyrinth, consisting of stone pathways which encircled the tiny island as concentric rings. A distant figure tread methodically upon a journey through the maze toward the lone stone bridge connected with the island; meandering amongst a diversity of lush plant-life infused by golden sunlight filtered through the pyramid glass sky. Sun's visit to the temple had become his daily constitutional ~ Wearing wireless iglasses and subtly gesturing with a pair of sensitized digital gloves, Sun loved to access the virtual architectural file of the Golden Sun Pavilion to meditate within the temple ~ One day it would shelter the cryogenic chamber which perpetually preserved his body ~ On certain mornings, the experience alternatively afforded Sun a refuge within which he could indulge quiet reflection, or merely obtain a brief respite from the constant pressure of overseeing one of the largest corporations in the world ~ Sun took time to observe the flowers as he wandered along the pathways, and in particular, he enjoyed perching his viewpoint upon the railing of the arched stone bridge, so that he could watch the spotted orange and white Coi swimming lazily amongst digital rushes ~ The peaceful setting had always seemed so natural and pleasant. Upon entering the temple, Sun relaxed upon a mat, where he remained nearly as immobile as a patient spider at the center of its web ~ Detecting the frequencies of all activity around him; warnings of the presence of danger, or the potential of prey ~ Sensing the energy flow like dewdrops along the strands of an invisible web which


had seemed to extend throughout the world ~ Processing data regarding the corporation’s financial status, stock market indexes, profit/loss figures, acquisitions and holdings ~ All updated in real-time ~ With acute attention, Sun would gradually perceive emerging patterns which revealed vital information about global trends ~ Insights which provided a method of evaluating the status of ventures he had initiated, and forecast the potential effects of future factors upon those vested interests. On this particular day, Coraline had joined Sun for the virtual immersion session; to simply enjoy some time together... They quietly conversed, then later, periodically shifting their gaze to observe the gradual progress of the avatar of Sun's executive assistant approaching silently through the maze. “Ah, here comes Li Xiaohong,” Sun had observed. When he had finally arrived, the avatar resembling Li Xiaohong was very cheerful, and extremely anxious to tell the master the good news; “I have compiled a list of the latest samples received for the N.O.A.H. archives,” Li Xiaohong had proudly reported. The Sun King, Coraline and Li Xiaohong had then excitedly exited the temple ~ removing their i-glasses, they once again discovered themselves sitting upon cushions around an ornate jade table within Sun's spacious suite ~ With a slight bow, Li Xiaohong then presented Sun with the PAD he always carried with him. “Thank you,” Sun smiled, accepting the device, then happily scrolled through recent acquisitions appearing on the small display ~ Samples of DNA which had been gathered around the world from species on the verge of extinction, were arranged in alphabetical order by scientific name: • ACANTHOPHIS ANTARCTICUS ANTARCTICUS ~ DEATH ADDER • AGKISTRODON CONTORTRIX PICTIGASTER ~ TRANS-PECOS COPPERHEAD • ALLIGATOR SINENSIS ~ CHINESE ALLIGATOR • AMPHIBOLURUS MICROLEPIDOTUS ~ SMALL-SCALED BEARDED DRAGON • AMPHISBAENA ALBA ~ WHITE WORM LIZARD • ANOLIS GARMANI ~ JAMAICAN GIANT ANOLE • ATHERIS NITSCHEI ~ NITSCHE'S TREE VIPER • BOIGA CYNODON ~ DOG-TOOTHED CAT SNAKE • BOTHROPS CARIBBAEUS ~ ST. LUCIA ISLAND PIT VIPER • BROOKESIA PERARMATA ~ ARMORED CHAMELEON • CHELODINA NOVAEGUINEAE ~ NEW GUINEA SNAKE-NECKED TURTLE • CROCODYLUS SIAMENSIS ~ SIAMESE CROCODILE • CROTALUS TORTUGENSIS ~ TORTUGA ISLAND RATTLESNAKE • CYCLODERMA FRENATUM ~ ZAMBEZI FLAPSHELLED TURTLE • DENDROASPIS POLYLEPIS ~ BLACK MAMBA • ERPETON TENTACULATUM ~ TENTACLED SNAKE


• HELODERMA SUSPECTUM (NO SUBSP) ~ GILA MONSTER • LIASIS CHILDRENI ~ CHILDREN'S PYTHON • NATRIX TESSELATA ~ DICE SNAKE • OPHISAURUS VENTRALIS ~ EASTERN GLASS LIZARD • PSEUDEMYS CONCINNA HIEROGLYPHICA ~ HIEROGLYPHIC COOTER • WALTERINNESIA AEGYPTIA ~ SINAI DESERT COBRA ••• The Sun King beamed with pleasure as he scanned this inventory of rare reptilian DNA ~ He particularly prized the exotic samples in the collection. The activity had been more than a hobby; the Sun King was a serious collector. He had initiated N.O.A.H., during the 1990's, with the mission of preserving DNA from one male and one female of as many species as possible ~ N.O.A.H. was an acronym for the Natural Organism and Animal Heredity conservation program ~ In this pursuit, Sun was fortunate to have been able to mobilize the resources of his great wealth to obtain material for his collection from universities, biology labs, zoos, and game preserves, as well as from teams of specialists ~ or mercenary freelancers ~ who constantly traversed deserts, tundra, jungle and oceans in their search for the finest quality specimens. Through dedicated effort, nearly one-half million varieties of mammals, reptiles, birds, plants, insects, protozoa, algae, fungi, bacteria and viruses had been added to the collection ~ The remuneration was commensurate with the degree of difficulty incurred finding the creatures, then unobtrusively obtaining their code ~ Taxonomists which catalogued and classified the species for the database worked around the clock. In a critical number of cases, the genetic information gathered was the sole record in existence, thus the collection had become a treasure of exceeding value ~ The physical inventory was warehoused within underground cryogenic vaults at several undisclosed locations around the world. During intimate discussions, Coraline had recognized that Sun's intentions were entirely honorable, and that N.O.A.H. was a noble effort to preserve ecological diversity ~ Identifying, protecting, and restoring endangered and threatened species was the primary objective of the program: “It has been the rise of industrial and technological societies,” Sun had once explained, “which has created a biological catastrophe. The unrelenting expansion of civilization across the surface of the Earth, has caused thousands of species to become extinct every year. And with each extinction, the potential for variation is depleted, the fragile links connecting the complex web of life are eroded, and the balance between the predators and prey comprising the food chain are disrupted. Regulatory mechanisms ~ put in place by most countries of the world; which made it illegal to harm, harass, collect, or kill endangered species ~ had failed to provide protection because the rules were inadequately enforced. The danger which threatened species came from a variety of sources which were difficult to control; destruction or modification of habitats, predation, over-utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes, diseases, pesticides and pollution.


Day by day, unique varieties among the thousands of edible plants in the wild were depleted as possible food sources or as derivatives of healing medicines ~ Vanishing rainforests could no longer exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen ~ And wetland habitats were being drained and filled to make way for industrial urban development.” The Sun King had been a visionary to perceive the gravity of the situation at an early stage. He had begun his collection with rare butterflies, such as the El Segundo blue and Lange's metalmark ~ which have since become extinct ~ then had rapidly amassed a vast assortment of other species. During the early 1990’s, Sun had discovered a source among Chinese importers who were illegally obtaining body parts from poachers hunting Siberia Tigers and African black rhinos; sought after for their presumed aphrodisiac qualities... The Saigo Antelope (Saiga tatarica), found in Mongolia and Russia, hunted for their valuable horns... and Asiatic black bear gallbladders which were customarily used in Oriental medicines to fight fever and reduce inflammations... It was from these specimens that Sun had gathered the first samples of DNA for his collection ~ He had also recognized the potential of preserving species which provided valued medicines; plants such as the Himalayan Yew (Taxus wallichiana) ~ a slow growing conifer inhabiting sections of Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Burma ~ From which roughly ten kilograms of leaves, bark and needles were needed to extract one gram of taxol used in the treatment of cancer. Sun had prized the genetic code of the delightful Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) ~ A cute white-faced bear with black eyes and ears and significant body patterning ~ for which Sun had paid the Beijing Zoo the amount of 10,000 yuan ~ equivalent to the price of a small car in China ~ for the privilege of the DNA sample... He had collected the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) threatened by overfishing in the supply of international luxury markets... The Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata); once the principal source of ‘tortoise shell’ trinkets and souvenirs... the Egyptian Tortoise (Testudo kelinmanni); a small, desert-dwelling tortoise found in Egypt, Israel and Libya, which was highly prized as pets in local markets, and as an ingredient in local fertility medicines... The African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus); once one of the most popular parrots in the bird trade, particularly valued for its ability to mimic human speech... And he even possessed male and female samples from the Golden-capped Fruit Bat (Acerdon jubatus); which were exterminated while hunted for human consumption in the Philippines. Sun had collected Big-Leaf Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla); which had vanished in Latin America from intensive logging for use in manufacturing high-end cabinets, chairs and pianos... The Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius); its teeth traded as a substitute for African elephant ivory banned from international commerce in 1989... Delta green ground beetle (Elaphrus viridis)... Delhi Sands flower-loving Fly (Rhaphiomidas terminatus abdominalis)... Shasta Crayfish (Pacifastacus fortis)... Desert slender Salamander (Batrachoseps aridus)... Hawaii `Akepa honeycreeper (Loxops coccineus coccineus)... Puerto Rican crested toad (Peltophryne lemur)... Oahu Creeper (Paroreomyza maculata)... Guam Micronesia Kingfisher (Halcyon cinnamomina cinnamomina)... Puerto Rican Nightjar Whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus


noctitherus)... Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)... Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)... Canadian Woodland Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou)... Ocelot (Felis pardalis)... Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi)... Key Largo Woodrat (Neotoma floridana smalli)... and the Giant Uruguayan Armadillo (Priodontes maximus)... All of these N.O.A.H. had already acquired. Thus, the Golden Sun Corporation had become committed to creating a central database of every form of life on the planet ~ An estimate which ranged in excess of 100 million species; of which only about 1.4 million had actually been named... 40 percent of freshwater fishes in South America had not yet been classified... Only a small fraction of more than 30 million species of tropical arthropods had been described... Millions of species from the deep sea floor, and the millions of bacteria in one gram of soil, would eventually be accounted for ~ If only N.O.A.H. could get to them before they had become extinct! With the press of a button, Sun had switched the menu to 'MAMMALS', then toggled down the list of recent acquisitions which had just been filed; • ACINONYX JUBATUS JUBATUS ~ CHEETAH • ANTROZOUS PALLIDUS PALLIDUS ~ PALLID BAT • CALLORHINUS URSINUS ~ NORTHERN FUR SEAL • CAMELUS BACTRIANUS FERUS ~ WILD BACTRIAN CAMEL • CANIS AUREUS SYRIACUS ~ GOLDEN JACKAL • CERATOTHERIUM SIMUM (NO SUBSP) ~ WHITE RHINOCEROS • CERCOPITHECUS AETHIOPS PYGERYTHRUS ~ SOUTH AFRICAN VERVET • CERVUS ELAPHUS MANITOBENSIS ~ CANADIAN ELK • CHAETOPHRACTUS VILLOSUS ~ HAIRY ARMADILLO • CRICETOMYS EMINI ~ AFRICAN GIANT RAT • DASYURUS HALLUCATUS ~ SATANELLUS • EUTAMIAS SIBIRICUS ~ SIBERIAN CHIPMUNK • GAZELLA GAZELLA GAZELLA ~ PALESTINE GAZELLE • GIRAFFA CAMELOPARDALIS TIPPELSKIRC+ ~ MASAI GIRAFFE • GULO GULO GULO ~ WOLVERINE • HYDROCHOERUS HYDROCHAERIS ~ CAPYBARA • ICTONYX STRIATUS STRIATUS ~ ZORILLA • MACROPUS BERNARDUS ~ WOODWARDS WALLAROO • MAZAMA AMERICANA TEMAMA ~ RED BROCKET • NASALIS LARVATUS ~ PROBOSCIS MONKEY • NOTOMYS ALEXIS ~ SPINIFEX HOPPING MOUSE • NYCTICEBUS COUCANG BENGALENSIS ~ SLOW LORIS • ODOBENUS ROSMARUS DIVERGENS ~ WALRUS • ORCINUS ORCA ~ KILLER WHALE • OVIBOS MOSCHATUS WARDI ~ GREENLAND MUSK OX • PAGUMA LARVATA TAIVANA ~ MASKED PALM CIVET • PANTHERA ONCA ONCA ~ JAGUAR • PETAURISTA LEUCOGENYS ~ JAPANESE GIANT FLYING SQUIRREL


• PHASCOLARCTOS CINEREUS ADUSTUS ~ KOALA • PHLOEOMYS PALLIDUS ~ CLOUD RAT • POTOROUS APICALIS ~ SOUTHERN POTOROO • PTEROPUS DASYMULLUS ~ RYUKYU ISLAND FLYING FOX • SAGUINUS OEDIPUS (NO SUBSP) ~ COTTON-HEADED TAMARIN • TAUROTRAGUS ORYX (NO SUBSP) ~ COMMON ELAND • TRAGELAPHUS IMBERBIS (NO SUBSP) ~ LESSER KUDU • VOMBATUS URSINUS HIRSUTUS ~ FOREST WOMBAT ••• In addition to the scientific name and common name, information regarding the historic range of geographic habitat, and the known or estimated status of other individuals of the species, could also be summoned had Sun so desired. Significantly, the N.O.A.H. databank had become a contemporary equivalent to the historic library at Alexandria. And in the N.O.A.H. library, each species was analogous to a book, with each page a repository of genetic information produced during millions of years of evolution. And with this archive of genetic algorithms; called up from vaults like artifacts from ancient tombs, biotechnicians were capable of re-populating habitats with authentically identical species long after the originals had vanished ~ Or if required, selectively transcribe data ~ copy and paste ~ to modify the genetic sequencing of any organism. Just as a spider patently awaits the approach of its prey at the center of its web, that was also how the Sun King had conducted business ~ Deceptively motionless, yet alert ~ Then, when an opportunity to attain his objective had presented itself, he would spring into action like Pan-Kou-Che ~ The old man of Chinese mythology; the toiling creator who had sculpted the earth’s crust from a confused mass of rock, and had created life-forms of increasing complexity and diversity... And Sun was also the eternal optimist; aware that following mass extinction, ecosystems were entirely willing to accept the establishment of new species which were based on revolutionary innovation or divergent variations of previous themes. It was an exciting challenge for biologists working in subsidiary laboratories of the Golden Sun Corporation to devise creatures which would be favorably suited to contemporary environments. By comparison with the random chance development of eukaryotic cells 1.8 billion years before, modern facilities had possessed specialized equipment to precisely determine the outcome of nearly every experiment ~ Rearranging chromosomes and manipulating algorithms to generate enhanced species suitable for introduction into inhospitable environments; such as Antarctica, and the moon base station ~ And creatures which would thrive underground, or in regions contaminated by toxic waste ~ Certainly, these technicians envisioned many other wonderful things these new organisms could do: new species of mammals sustaining development of organs for donation to humans... Plants which provided a source of pharmaceuticals for curing diseases... Insects enhanced to become highprotein food sources... Even specifically-designed pets as companions for those who


spend their entire lives within the compact interior environment of a high-rise tower. Gel-jockeys who studied, classified and manipulated DNA, would carefully calculate the balance in determining recipes for new genetic structures. Gradual improvements in programming had enabled them to re-establish the diversity of mutation lost through natural inbreeding as populations vanished, and the selectively engineered monocultures which had subsequently proved to be highly susceptible to disease. ‘Darwin’ ~ the software engine driving the procedure ~ was a genetic algorithm mutation operator which periodically injected random variables into the mix to produce species which were more adaptable, and had more efficient problem solving capabilities through the generous endowment of an increased intelligence. “There is a fine line between failure and success,” Sun had stated, “Biologists cannot ensure these species will survive; for only when an organism has proven its superiority, by striving to improve its own ability for adaptation, will it pass on its genes through reproduction. Of course, uncertainty, or perhaps destiny, plays a major factor, since life operates on undiscovered rules for perturbations beyond the power of any organism, or any technician, to fully anticipate.” It had been unexpected ~ by nearly everyone ~ that a decade after the Human Genome Project had mapped out the sequences of all human genes, the greatest trend for parents would be to create ‘superchildren’ which integrated selective animal characteristics to alter the human form ~ Once the slightest hint of fangs or claws or feathers had suddenly come into vogue, things would soon be taken to the extreme... Nuclear transfer ~ the injection of DNA into fertilized human eggs ~ had even enabled geneticists to synthesize the half-animal, half-human creatures of ancient mythology... Nearly... The mechanics of manipulation was a difficult science to master; modifications to muscle tone, skin colour and texture had initially produced crude results which were gradually refined to achieve success. Subtle sequence adjustments were often necessary to partially degrade rather than enhance human performance; for instance, sometime human behavior and personality could be tempered by introducing the docility of sheep... And meanwhile, the field of biomechanics ~ the blending of robotic and organic lifeforms ~ had also progressed in parallel with purely biological experimentation. It had finally become possible to design specific humanoid lifeforms which were adapted to a specific task. Sun had concluded their morning discussion with the following summation: “In the past, humanity was attracted to dense urban environments. The existence of these habitats, created upon the most fertile land, occurred at the expense of depleting many plant and animal species. Through attempts to exploit surrounding resources, the natural environment was gradually replaced by a harsher, more alien reality. Now science and technology are finally able, and willing, to address some of these persistent problems... The loop of the cycle has returned to its point of origin, yet now, has spiraled to a slightly higher level, opening the boundaries of the limited physical world to observe order within the apparent randomness of evolutionary chaos. The power to create life, to design environments, this is the next phase after virtual reality.


We may call it ‘actuality’; a return to the paradise of the ancients, created now by human hands, rather than by mythical gods.”

III. A TYPICAL DAY

Coraline sipped orange juice in her solarium while her thoughts expanded upon the concepts which Sun had spoken of earlier; in his suite following their immersion within the software ~ Anything taken to the ultimate, transforms into its opposite ~ The fear of a mechanical future which rendered people obsolete had eventually come to pass ~ There were now electric eyes, as well as electric ears, electric tongues, electric noses and electric bodies ~ miraculous monsters ~ children born with horns or elephant-like trunks ~ A process of metabolism re-enforced by perceptions conjured through the media ~ And what will TV teach them? ~ Every kind of strange and freakish behavior... and then, every potentiality begins to come true. Coraline had remained aware that there were always forces at work behind the scenes; subtle energy patterns moving and shifting, disintegrating into atoms, then reuniting once again to influence great change. Throughout ancient history, these mysterious forces were attributed to ‘God’, or characterized by a pantheon of diverse mythological spirits. Although, in modern times, as Sun had suggested, the authorship of Great Works could increasingly be attributed to human toil ~ In particular, often to a singular conductor, temporarily able to orchestrate this powerful flow to attain specific objectives ~ Who they were, or what they were, was very difficult to determine, since their identities were always veiled within impenetrable layers of secrecy ~ And it was not uncommon, that in their hands, absolute power could be corrupted by greed and vanity. Yet, for good or ill, whenever a force gained significant prominence, it would disrupt the balance of harmony, and subsequently initiate opposing forces which would begin to amass in counterpoint ~ Similar to the ebb and flow of the tide, or the balance of yin and yang. Naturally, these forces were also active within all types of computer hardware; since they were complex energy systems based upon a multitude of transits and accumulations of electrons occurring every second. Certainly Coraline had also believed reports that one particular cellular viral entity; comprised of constellations of intelligent digital agents working in concert, had been able to effect a manifestly detectable presence within the network to the most sensitive perceptions ~ Et Deux ex Machina ~ A force which had seemed to become increasingly noted for its ability to selectively delete corruption from within stored computer files; imparting the virus with an ability to distinguish truth from falsity ~ A notion not inconceivable, since Boolean logic was the basic premise of all programmed instruction sets.


Although reticent to breathe a word to another living soul, Coraline would admit to herself that, on several occasions, she had also personally experienced this phenomena within her own software ~ Creating an enduring perception that she had actually encountered the presence of Jurgen Ernst; since the powerful sensations were substantially similar to their time together at the Akademy, where, to varying degrees, they had mutually established the ability to communicate telepathically... She would have preferred to dismiss these incidents of contact as a trick of mind, or lost longing in her heart, since the encounters often resulted in making her feel uncomfortable ~ The sensation evoked compassion for his fragile spirit which seemed disturbed in disarray, yet at the same time, caused Coraline to feel powerless, since she could not comprehend a method of assisting him to regain a corporeal state. As her own development had progressed, Coraline often wondered whether some day it may perhaps be possible for her to join Jurgen's spirit within the digital domain ~ Her methods of working had continually improved to be more effective and efficient; evolving in ways which had increasingly unified her mind and body with the computer processor. The body-suit and harness enabled her to exercise the strength of her gestures to more easily fabricate intricate architectural structures. Her minimal, skin-tight body-suit was the tool which enabled her to reach into the virtual realm, to interface with it, manipulate and shape it ~ The supple material was required only where sensors and the harness ~ similar to the type that parachutists wear ~ contacted her body. The harness was rigged inside a gyroscope which translated and counterbalanced her every movement; suspending her body at a floating-point where gravity was neutralized and weightlessness began... A pair of slim goggles were her window into another world ~ Across that threshold, she was fully-immersed within her imagination; the world she had brought into existence from the once empty void. The modular structure surrounding her, which had appeared as a finelymanufactured construct, in actually was an amalgamation of vast quantities of individual components, which she was able to modify to reconfigure the matrix. The possibilities were endless... Every piece could be dragged and dropped into a new position ~ Thus, it was not uncommon for Coraline to carry several tons of material in the palm of her hand as she shifted it to another location ~ It was an exercise in the utilization of physical space; the objective was to accommodate the diverse lifestyles of the citizens who would ultimately comprise the ‘society’ which inhabited the completed building. Demographics and statistics provided specific information for her consideration, beyond that, the general principle was to introduce enough variety to keep it interesting, yet maintain enough familiarity to preserve a comfortable level of stability. Although her studio was climate-controlled, beads of perspiration would fall like tiny raindrops from the exertion Coraline applied to her work. Openings in her suit revealed a body young and strong ~ the well-toned muscles of her abdomen, and her arms and legs ~ the rhythm and grace of a dancer choreographed as movement within


the scene. Location devices attached to her fingertips, and various points of her body, enabled the processor to track gestures captured through eight sensors mounted at the vertices of the room ~ Positioning the gyroscope; within which Coraline was harnessed, at the center of the co-ordinates. When summoned by voice, dimensional palettes hovered at the periphery of her vision; expanding or contracting to present an amazing array of shapes, textures, colours, transparency, reflection, or lighting effects which could be applied to the model. Coraline had learned to rely upon the spontaneity of intuition to create aesthetically-pleasing compositions ~ She was not required to expend considerable time adjusting components to ensure that the structure was functionally and architecturally sound, since engineering specifications were attributes built into the material components themselves. Coraline relied upon the expert systems which resided in the software to analyze all statistical information during the construction process; for example, these systems automatically calculated load displacement and tension frequency to efficiently adjust the dynamics of each component as they were installed ~ Then, with a word, Coraline could make the palettes vanish for an unobstructed view of the scene ~ The play of light and shadow upon the textured sculptural surfaces rendered an illusion of reality which appeared very convincing. Once the external structure of the Golden Sun Pavilion had been completed, Coraline had turned her intense concentration to the infinite universe of details which went into designing the interior environments ~ So much of the project had yet to be committed to file, that Coraline had often felt that if she lost her concentration, even for a short period, some of the wonderful concepts she had in mind would drift away, never to return. Ideas were so intangible ~ Yet, while Coraline relied upon her own experience and intuition when engaged in the creative process, it was reassuring to know that whenever she needed advice, she could consult the software ~ Expert systems examined previous solutions stored in memory, and explored a comprehensive array of logic pathways, to suggest an appropriate response to every problem or provide support for her decisions ~ Its pattern-recognition algorithms truly provided the only method of tracking the structure’s ever-increasing complexity. Similar to other living organisms, sunshine would give it life. The Golden Sun Pavilion was an environmentally self-contained, completely autonomous system, which incorporated the most advanced technology. Solar energy was stored in hydrogen cells for nighttime use, or saved for a rainy day. Abundant hydroponic gardens supplied a majority of the food resources required by the residents, and assisted in maintaining a supply of fresh air by removing carbon dioxide and replenishing it with oxygen. Water was continually recycled as it passed through tanks of blue green algae which acted as biological filters and purification systems. Heating and cooling were facilitated by a closed-loop of water channels warmed by solar radiation, and cooled through evaporation within condensation chambers underground ~ The processors continually modified the layout of the vast plumbing and wiring network in response to every object Coraline had connected to the grid.


Ultimately, the Pavilion ~ the shining gem of the Golden Sun Corporation empire ~ had been designed to remain in existence for a very long time. Structurally, the Golden Sun Pavilion could withstand a small invasion, since not only did the solarGlaz windows filter out harmful ultraviolet radiation, they were also bulletproof against light armaments ~ The building was also prepared to endure most major natural catastrophes. Components were easy to replace whenever they became damaged, or had degraded over time, and even the central operating system was flexible and modular, ensuring that central command of the building was always responsive to the ever-changing demands of its inhabitants. And most significantly, the longevity of the structure provided security for the chamber which would cryogenically preserve the immortal Sun King himself. Coraline had saved her recent changes, then shut the system down ~ The relaxed harness tethers had slowly lowered her to the floor. The moment her feet touched the mat, she hit the clasp of the straps crossing her chest to release herself from the mechanism ~ Suddenly regaining awareness of the sensation of gravity; her movement felt awkward and heavy. As usual, following a long session, she had emerged exhausted; her body drenched in perspiration. Peeling away her body-suit like a second skin, Coraline entered the adjoining shower area ~ The water massaging her body had always felt invigorating ~ And it was her privilege to sometime refresh herself with very long showers. Emerging from a curtain of warm fragrant air, Coraline usually enjoyed the freedom of movement unrestrained by clothing as she went about activities within the privacy of her suite ~ She never saw anyone, so there was no need to dress fashionably, or to have any concerns about her appearance ~ Although, it was true that she would sometime admire her nakedness in the mirror while she was shaving; maintaining smooth skin over the entire surface of her body to ensure optimum contact with the sensors, as well as make it easier to manage her personal hygiene ~ and for many years, she had also customarily trimmed the hair on her head to keep it short and manageable. Her facial features reflected in the mirror seemed drawn, tired and intense... She gently caressed her small, firm breasts. “You must remain strong. You must conquer your desires with discipline. Only then will you achieve higher awareness.� Coraline would often remind herself. Her body was indeed a temple which she took pride in maintaining through exercise, rest, and good nutrition, supplemented with vitamins, minerals and pharmaceutical enhancements which kept both mind and body active and alert. Coraline hadn't noticed many side-effects; other than some difficulty calming her mind when it was time for sleep ~ Although an interval of meditation before every rest period could usually remedy the situation ~ Whether there would be any other serious longterm side-effects, only time would tell.


Coraline was well cared-for by her loyal staff. She customarily enjoyed a highprotein dinner which had been prepared for her, and expediently delivered at the conclusion of each work session; a meal considerably more substantial than the light snack she consumed an hour before strapping herself into the gyro... And if the weather was fine, whenever there was a full moon, Coraline would eat on the terrace under the starry canopy of night ~ The bright moon would illuminate the statue in her garden; a life-sized brass woman who struck a graceful pose with her arms upraised to support an enormous globe, her finely-etched eyes gazing up at her burden with a beneficent smile ~ which had always seemed to signify a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment ~ Moonbeams reflected from the indentations of ridges contouring the detailed surface of the globe ~ The statue had been one of William Coventry's greatest masterpieces; one which Coraline had arranged to be shipped to China from Whitehaven. And sometime, as she lay in bed, preparing to fall sleep, Coraline would request that her PAD read to her selections from various works of literature... The voice Coraline had selected was that of a young African woman, conscious of her attempt to simulate the experience of Clara Voyee reading her bedtime stories when Coraline had been a child. The soothing, comforting sound of the voice would always cause Coraline to drift away...

IV. GATHERING OF FOXES

“There is no beginning and no end.” Sun's reply had been in answer to a query from his faithful assistant, and most devoted disciple; Li Xiaohong, who faithfully captured the sound of his master's voice with a professional recording device... Sun had been speaking for some time, and Coraline had not remembered the original question, since her awareness had just returned after drifting away for an extended period of time to daydream about a typical day in her life. The trio had lounged upon cushions in the midst of the miniature landscape within the Sun King's spacious suite. Surprisingly, Sun had seemed calm as he casually described his plans to depart the world ~ philosophical musings which were dutifully noted by Li Xiaohong: “The completion of the Golden Sun Pavilion will commemorate the 120th year of my existence,” Sun's pale mouse-like hands had moved timidly while he spoke. “During


my long journey, I have embraced many things with passionate bonds; pathways through heavens and hells, which have afforded many experiences of pleasure and pain; the blissful ecstasy of love, the sorrow of loss. Forces more subtle than magnetism; powerfully driven to constantly maintain the delicate balance of cause and effect. Yet, to hold many things, is to become attached. To achieve enlightenment, the sea of illusion is necessary to cross. Soon I must leave the royal palace to enter the forest. My departure will be a process of returning, rather than abandonment, since I will remain. For the one who decides to solve the koan, must continue until the end.” Coraline and Li Xiaohong had understood the significance of Sun's words. They were among the select few who were aware of the Sun King's ultimate intention: to cryogenically preserve his body, of course, with an expectation of resurrection to marvel at the ways in which civilization had evolved in some distant future ~ Li Xiaohong had felt honored by the trust and responsibility that had been placed on him to carry out Sun’s request. Just as he was also proud of the close relationship he had forged with a truly great man he had admired. As his trusted confident for many years, Li Xiaohong had compiled the full story of the Sun King’s life; a file to be preserved within the monument along with the man himself ~ A file which Coraline had already accessed to discover many fascinating things: Information had been sketchy about Sun's early childhood. It was known that he was born at midnight on January 1st, 1900, and that he had been named in honour of Sun Tzu; the famous Chinese ruler, philosopher and military strategist who had lived approximately 2,500 years previously ~ Consequently, the teachings of Sun Tzu had permeated the Sun King’s philosophy, and guided his actions while building his empire. He had studied finance and economics in Japan and England, and had received his Masters Degree from Oxford University. During the 1940’s, he had founded his first company, which he had called the Shangra-La Investment Corporation. Based in Hong Kong, Shangra-La attracted several wealthy, thus influential, British and Asian partners who invested in real estate throughout southeast Asia following the Second World War. Sun Tzu had expanded his empire by leveraging profits from the real estate developments to diversify his portfolio; investing in diamonds, minerals, pharmaceuticals and even a fleet of cargo ships. Gradually, during the next twenty years, he had become a very successful tycoon. By the late 1960’s, he established Golden Sun Corporation as the flagship company for the network of syndicated international ventures and holding companies ~ each extremely profitable investments, of which Sun maintained controlling interest... Teletypes, then fax machines, in addition to telephones, had been his means of exchanging information between Golden Sun Corporation offices around the world. As revenue continued to flow in, it had accumulated as vast reservoirs within discrete bank accounts ~ Providing a luxurious resource which Sun could utilize in any


manner he imagined. Usually, Sun had imagined ways of applying his wealth to create a better future for all humanity. For example, Sun had early envisioned the bright potential of solar energy to deliver immense power, an effort which, through providing an alternative to petroleum, had also assisted in preserving the natural environment for future generations. While perusing the files, Coraline discovered that Sun had only one child; a daughter named Adda Tzu, who had been born in Hong Kong. A gifted prodigy with great talent as a musician and mathematician, her skills had enabled her to perform magnificent concertos on the violin, as well as punch cards for massive mainframes as an exceptional computer programmer. Although Sun apparently had never ceased trying to entice her to participate in the family business, financial management had never seemed to interest her. Yet, Sun had not been disappointed by being unable to persuade her, since he had greatly admired her determination to become an independent women who remained fully intent upon making her own way in the profession she had chosen, and contribute her effort, even to some modest measure, toward promoting peace in the world. Tragically, while enroute to Hong Kong during the late 1950s, the young woman had been a passenger aboard a plane which had apparently experienced engine trouble during a storm, and then crashed into the ocean ~ No survivors, nor any wreckage from the plane, would ever be found... Adda Tzu had been 33 years of age. Sun had been heartbroken to have lost his precious daughter. He would never completely overcome his grief, and he would never have another child ~ Instead, he had attempted to compensate for the loss by becoming more aggressive in his business dealings ~ Immersing himself more deeply in the world of finance, playing the game, displaying a passion and intensity which amazed his friends, and terrified his opponents ~ He remained wise in his dealings, managing Golden Sun Corporation through shrewd planning, and insightful observation of the markets; turning the 1965 banking crises, and the 1972 stock market collapse, into incredible opportunities for Golden Sun Corporation, by acquiring foundering companies at rock-bottom prices. Through his expert guidance, Golden Sun Corporation continued to amass immense wealth from all facets of its business holdings; shopping centers, manufacturing plants, medical research labs, industrial parks, communication networks, and biochemical and computer technology firms. Sun had invested quietly in the Peoples Republic of China, purchased vast quantities of inexpensive real estate in North America, established retail centers and suburban offices in Malaysia, the Middle East, and Hong Kong; just prior to the colony’s boom in the mid 1960’s, and even opened hotel chains which spanned Europe. Every few months, Sun Tzu's itinerary included flying through 24 time-zones to personally tour potential developments: a typical journey lofted Sun to Canada, Finland, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, France, India, New Zealand and Singapore before finally returning him to Hong Kong. Sun exerted enormous effort to build an empire, often requiring him to take firm action, or apply skillful diplomacy, to resolve many difficult situations. Whereas the


powerful and wealthy typically have the privilege of ignoring human reality, Sun at all times had remained a benevolent ruler conscious of his responsibility to his subjects. He was aware that the financial world had always been a world of illusion; that profit and loss were symbolic mathematical abstractions representing a means of gauging strength, rather than having any intrinsic value of their own ~ And the fact that he apparently owned a considerable portion of the Earth’s surface, Sun recognized, was simply a matter of convention mutually agreed upon by others striving for their share of the wealth. True success, Sun had firmly maintained, was in directing power to create improvements in people's lives. The mission of Golden Sun Corporation was to ensure that everyone could share affordable access to technology and information ~ The new status symbols of world trade. With the arrival of a new millennium, and the milestone of attaining the venerable age of one hundred years, the Sun King had intentionally begun to withdraw from direct management of the immense network of subsidiary companies which had been generated through his efforts. As a result, Sun had gradually discharged responsibility for their operation to his trusted advisors on the board of directors, and a new generation of executives which had been promoted to manage the initiatives he had established ~ While Sun maintained veto over all major decisions, he had seldom ever needed to exercise that power with his loyal appointees ~ Yet, while Sun had endeavored to engender the same altruistic principles which guided his own actions, he was well aware that corruption had existed within his empire ~ driven by personal greed. Certainly, he had accepted these failings as an undesirable aspect of human nature, although, should an incident be brought to his attention, he had been quick to wield the full resolve of his power as Chief Executive Officer ~ And for those who considered themselves successful in clandestinely carrying out nefarious schemes, Sun had believed that a universal force far greater than himself would ultimately punish their iniquity. In addition to financial reward, Sun had also personally benefited in other ways from products and services of the companies which he owned. He had been granted access to techniques which greatly improved his longevity; a regimen of exercise, and capsules and vials of expensive experimental synthetic anti-aging compounds manufactured from genetically modified extracts of Royal Jelly; the food of queen bees ~ Interestingly, Coraline had learned that Royal jelly contains at least 17 amino acids which supply protein for cellular reproduction, as well, it acts as an antibacterial and anti-viral agent, particularly against streptococcus, e-coli, and staphylococcus. Significantly, it is also a source of collagen; an anti-aging element which maintains smooth and youthful skin, and also keeps muscles, organs and glands functioning properly. Sun was continually supplied with updated versions of the product by Professor Zinthrop of Imago Enterprises ~ a subsidiary of the Golden Sun Corporation based on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Sun had been immensely pleased that the anti-aging compounds had preserved his body, so that when his 120th birthday had arrived, and he had gracefully made his grand exit from the present world, he would still be in


reasonable health; with both mind and body functioning quite well ~ It had been Sun's fervent belief that, perhaps 200 years hence, when released from his cryogenic chamber and his healthy body had been reconstructed with the assistance of some future technology, he would once again see the sun, and be able to live and laugh and breathe... Thus, during what were generally considered to be the concluding years of his reign, the Sun King had decided to concentrate his energy entirely on the projects which would establish a lasting legacy; managing N.O.A.H., creating the Universal Memory Bank, and overseeing construction of the Golden Sun Pavilion ~ The glorious pyramidal monument which would house these priceless treasures. And during periods of leisure, afforded by his diminishing commitment to overseeing the operation of the empire, he would also devote his mind to the pursuit of knowledge by accessing ancient manuscripts the Golden Sun Corporation had acquired; principally to enhance his wisdom of philosophy and the teachings of theology, in order to improve his ability to evaluate the meaning of his own existence ~ Although, it should also be mentioned, that purely for entertainment, Sun had been known to occasionally indulge the guilty pleasure of reading the science fiction novels of an obscure author named Kropton Ernst. Despite his wealth, prestige, and power, Sun had always maintained a conservative lifestyle uncluttered by material possessions. For years he had lived alone in a modest mansion situated high upon Victoria Peak; overlooking residential towers in the modern city of Hong Kong ~ pale coral reefs during the day, and spectacular constellations at night ~ Yet, several years following the integration of Hong Kong into China, Sun had finally decided to relocate the Golden Sun Corporation's base of operations to Beijing. There he commissioned three truly inspired structures; designed by an emerging architect named Coraline Coventry, to function as the corporation's headquarters. Their attractive, conceptual, flower-like design took advantage of the latest developments in structural technology to create self-contained environments which served as offices and housing for a substantial work-force ~ Most significantly, the key to the structures had been that they were powered by solar energy technology developed by the Golden Sun Corporation ~ Large, leaf-like solar arrays spanned the sky to gather energy extremely effectively. In fact, it wasn't long before the visual aesthetic, and construction technique, of the Sun Towers had begun to be emulated by many architects around the world; becoming the catalyst for an intensive, and sustained, demand for the corporation's solar technology ~ It was a demand which had escalated in an ever-increasing spiral; in which each stage in the evolution of the technology had been accompanied by an increase in dedicated research, which had subsequently fueled further development of ever more compact and efficient collector panels and energy storage and transmission systems. During private conversations, Coraline and Sun would sometime enjoy speculating about a fantastic future in which new structures would literally grow out of the concrete


of dense urban sprawl, to manifest as beautiful gardens in which each plant-like structure reached toward the sky to absorb abundant sunlight ~ If that dream were realized, it would be a tribute to the Sun King, who had struggled his entire life-time to champion a vision of feasible solar energy technology becoming available to everyone on the planet ~ Its advantages had always appeared obvious to him; since with modest investment, the energy could essentially be obtained for free, and more importantly, the originating source was expected to radiate for several million years. Throughout his long life, Sun had often been made painfully aware that his optimistic notions had seemed light-years beyond contemporary public perceptions. Dull unreasoned logic of the petroleum giant's propaganda had effectively brainwashed the general population into purchasing the same crude darkness which had fueled the dinosaurs ~ Vegetation from the Jurassic period which had been converted into oil deep underground by the pressure of geological forces over a very long period of time ~ The reality was that when it resurfaced, it soiled the air and land and sea with a toxic black smudge which gradually destroyed every creature which it fouled... And while the Golden Sun Corporation had attempted to remind people that, similar to dinosaurs, extinction was likely to be the fate also awaiting human consumers of fossil fuels, that voice of reason was diminished by media much more favorable to supporting messages from international cartels whose lucrative advertisements promoting gas and oil and coal sponsored notable commercial broadcasts. Thus, it had taken the influence of the Golden Sun Corporation's incredible wealth to sustain its strength against the fierce fire-breathing, oil-powered dragons of the petroleum industry ~ A terrible adversary which seemed unconcerned about destroying countless lives of innocents unfortunate to be at the feet of the mighty monster when it toppled in collapse... Those souls unsuspecting of any danger... For throughout the Golden Sun Corporation's Herculean effort to endure, the global villagers had not seemed to be aware that the dragon had even existed... True, they could see the smoke from distant wars or the slick of pollution, yet they were not able to conceive of the much greater invisible enemy which emanated darkness ~ All that the villagers had seemed concerned about was their perception that petroleum was cheaper ~ Many were even swayed by the propaganda of petroleum producers personally attacking the Sun King as a senile old man with delusions of being able to offer the public some type of magical perpetual-energy machines ~ portraying him as being similar to Don Quixote, persisting in his folly by tilting at windmills. In his own mind, Sun recognized that he had already been proven victorious in conquering that beast ~ The reason the Golden Sun Corporation had been able to advance against such overwhelming opposition, was that it operated according to a successfully-crafted plan; in secrecy it had industriously subsidized practical solar energy development for many years before introducing its first commercial products ~ Sun had waited patiently for the market to finally mature into an environmental global consciousness, and when it had, the Golden Sun Corporation had been ready to capitalize with the simultaneous launch of a variety of inexpensive, self-sustaining,


electronic devices which incorporated miniature solar systems ~ The supply furthered demand; suddenly it had seemed everyone wanted to possess a self-powered tool or appliance which they could reasonably afford. And customers had soon realized they could confidently rely upon the guidance of the enterprising Golden Sun Corporation to ultimately sustain future generations with an abundant source of energy and a cleaner environment ~ Possibly forever... Li Xiaohong continued to record his conversation with Sun, while Coraline lounged upon a mat nearby, returning from her daydream to hear Sun say: “... For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill; to subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence.” Sun had quoted an ancient tactical treatise entitled the ‘The Art of War’ ~ Authored by his namesake; Sun Tzu, some twenty-four hundred years earlier. “In finance, as in military strategy, one must better understand and utilize an opponent's ideology and resources than they are capable of using themselves. Sometime this involves the cunning use of spies to uncover strengths and weaknesses. To expose the old order as dangerous disorder, in which ideas and values once appearing self-evident, suddenly display contradiction and uncertainty; reveal that motives of greed and deception devised for the sole purpose of attaining personal gain are incurred at the expense of the greater good, and the exploitation of limited natural resources. Systems must adapt to the best possible solutions. They survive, not by remaining the same, but through continual transformation, thus, when a state is maintained by force long past its effective usefulness, revolutions must naturally occur.” While listening to Sun's words, Coraline had been able to more clearly understand that the objectives which Sun had dedicated his life to achieving, were physically embodied within the structure of the Golden Sun Pavilion itself. In essence, Coraline had realized, the monument symbolized the Sun King's humanitarian philosophy ~ He had foreseen that a brighter future for generations of our species was ultimately possible if a repository of all knowledge acquired throughout the course of human existence were made universally accessible. Sun had conceived of the Universal Memory Bank to provide the basis for reasoned decisions, to encourage human cooperation, and stimulate creativity, invention, imagination, love, and the joy of life... Evolution could be so much more efficient... Perhaps, Coraline reflected, Sun had considered the entire human race his heir, since he no longer had a child of his own. The Sun King had particularly nurtured the elite team of researchers and programmers whom he gathered together to collect and catalogue data for the Universal Memory Bank. Sun had authorized the purchase of digital rights to relevant scientific and technical information, literature, and ancient knowledge obtained from tablets and scrolls locked away in vaults within museums around the world ~ Although proprietary information was often considered to be as valuable as currency, typically, once essential information had been hoarded within highly-secure fortresses, it would


remain forever inaccessible to the majority of the population, and in time, would often become completely forgotten by everyone. Record catalogs became obsolete, links to the locations of pertinent information were severed, and thus, tiny islands of data became permanently lost within a sea of confusion ~ Making investigation and recovery of these files an extremely difficult challenge for Sun's ‘research hackers’. Conversely, once information had been acquired for the Universal Memory Bank, those earnest researchers were also faced with a similar dilemma: since an openlyaccessible database was susceptible to tampering, manipulation and destruction. Yet, rather than encrypt data within vaults behind impenetrable layers of ICE, they had followed Sun's wisdom in realizing that the greatest form of security was to maintain open-availability ~ If everyone could use the information whenever they desired, there would be no need to privately hoard it away through greed ~ The programmers behind the Universal Memory Bank were as devoted as monks in their task of maintaining the integrity of the vast knowledge base from malicious vandalism, errors and corruption; they had created expert software agents which continually monitored all modifications to ensure accuracy of the database, and maintain a redundant backup of all authenticated changes to the files. As previously mentioned, another team of specialists were dedicated to continuing a separate facet of Sun’s legacy to the world; project N.O.A.H.. Their mission was to preserve genetic information from species of plants, animals, insects, birds, sea life and even micro-organisms which were dangerously close to extinction. It had been Sun's hope that future generations would be able to reconstruct these species, then reintroduce them to the natural environment ~ And one day in the future, Sun had also dreamed of joining them there as well, to observe the outcome of legacies; the preservation of the accumulated wealth of human knowledge, and a resource base of genetic code from nearly every species ~ Sun had anticipated that his initiatives would contribute to the beneficial evolution of a future, which upon his revival, would present vistas of a verdant paradise, rather than the heavily-mechanized bureaucracy of a dictatorial planet kingdom. “The future may be anything we imagine, if we desire to make it so. This is why the Golden Sun Pavilion serves as such an inspiration to those who realize the miraculous potential of improving our world through solar technology. The Pavilion will become a beacon of hope, a shining illustration of sustainable self-sufficiency, just as the Pantheon was for ‘authority’, and the Taj Mahal for ‘love’.” Her conversations with Sun would always restore Coraline's faith in the historical significance of the project which had engaged her for many years ~ Sun would reassure her that it was a meaningful enterprise to which she had dedicated a considerable portion of her life ~ Since he had always indicated that the Golden Sun Pavilion was the greatest treasure of all his lasting legacies. Everything had proceeded on schedule. Excavation of the foundation for an extensive network of cavernous underground chambers, and subway system, had


already been completed. From the vantage of balconies high in Sun Tower One, Coraline and Sun often enjoyed observing the progress at the actual construction site in the distant suburban district of Tongxian ~ Truck-loads of cement were poured continuously throughout the day and night ~ Through the telescope, the vehicles seemed more like tiny ants crawling in and out of a gigantic crater carrying massive loads upon their backs. Under lighting rigs in the gentle rain, a web of giant winches, shored up around the rim, provided safety lines to assist the heavily loaded trucks slide down the slippery slope, then winch them out again when they no longer had weight to give them traction ~ Coraline realized that a solid foundation was essential to ensure that the well-engineered structure could withstand all forms of natural disasters; including earthquakes and hurricanes. Coraline could clearly recall her first trip to industrial Tongxian, where the Golden Sun Corporation had already established several chemical plants and metal refineries to produce photovoltiac panels supplying the vast solar fields in the Arabian and African deserts, and components for the tidal generators and wind turbines which had become conspicuous along every major coastline of the world ~ Sun had obtained permission to construct the Golden Sun Pavilion after an intensive series of negotiations with the government of the People's Republic of China. As a diplomatic gesture, Sun had offered the President a small spade made of solid gold, then graciously invited him to turn over the first symbolic shovel-full of soil ~ A large number of international news channels had beamed the broadcast of the groundbreaking ceremony all around the globe... Sometime, while Coraline watched the distant activity, she could easily imagine the finished structure rising above the horizon; since she had previously envisioned a similar scene many times within the simulation. As one process had commenced, another neared completion; the virtual architectural model of the Pavilion had almost fulfilled the complexity of all its many details ~ Simultaneously, Coraline had seemed to become a perfectionist while putting the finishing touches on the design of the interior... Thus, she had appreciated Sun and Li Xiaohong's valuable comments and suggestions; which Sun in particular enjoyed providing during their scheduled session every week to review the latest version. Even though Sun would occasionally admit that flying through the computergenerated environment using a virtual reality helmet had sometime caused disorientation, he would never pass on an opportunity to marvel at the wonders which Coraline's imagination had conjured ~ and of course, Li Xiaohong was always there to maintain a firm grasp upon Sun's arm to steady the elderly master ~ Later, following each session, while they had rested upon cushions to discuss their perceptions, Li Xiaohong ensured that he recorded every word Sun had said ~ Sun had always been generous in his praise; encouraging Coraline's progress, acknowledging her dedicated effort, the design's elegant beauty, as well as expressing his gratitude that at each stage of the project she had always completed her work on schedule. After a lengthy pause, Sun had become uncharacteristically solemn; he had lowered his voice to almost a whisper as he confidentially spoke with his close friends; “My important decision now remains to choose those who will lead our enterprise


following my departure from this plane of existence. The King has decreed,” ~ Sun had said in reference to himself ~ “that upon virtual death, the empire will be governed by a collective of the twelve most loyal disciples; chosen based upon their leadership abilities, wisdom, and their strength of character. This inner circle will organize as a council to ensure that each member participates in the democratic process of making decisions to guide the course toward the future. There are so many of the children whom I could favour as candidates, which is why it is so difficult to select among them.” Sun had silently studied Coraline's eyes, before turning his attention toward Li Xiaohong, “I will announce my final decision at the Grand Assembly to inaugurate the Golden Sun Pavilion, when we have all gathered together one last time before I take my leave.” Lapsing into silence, Sun became immobile. His face featured an inscrutable expression as he appeared to contemplate the traditional wood block print framed upon the wall, “ ... the only one... ,” Sun had muttered ~ Image plates carved from Mountain cherry wood, the soot of pine needles mixed with water to create ink, the many colours of the tranquil evening scene aligned in perfect registration. The image was simple. The hand of an artist who had made contact with the subconscious void, and had freed his mind, beautifully portrayed glowing fireflies hovering about a floral garden in the setting sunlight. Emerging from reverie, the Sun King had returned Coraline's gaze, then as he occasionally would, quietly offered her a koan to consider: “Gathering of foxes, a nettle tree.”

V. HERO

The contours of an undulating landscape were blanketed with a soft white covering which shimmered like freshly fallen snow in the silvery moonlight. Fields gently drifted with smooth rolling hills and subtle valleys abruptly elevated to form a range rising above surrounding plains which vanished into darkness toward the horizon ~ a mountainous terrain consisting of towering peaks and precipitous valleys ~ odd formations; improbable in the geography of the natural world... Abruptly, the topology of the landscape had transformed; the architect had restlessly shifted her position. Coraline awoke feeling unbearably warm. The thin covering of white silk clung to


the sheen of perspiration moistening her firm, powerful body. Her muscles felt tense. She kicked off the sheet, then quickly sat up; swinging her legs over the side, her feet sinking into the plush carpeting. For some time, she stood beside the bed in the cold moonlight; the glow on her pale skin revealed a map of veins through a body as transparent as a medical illustration. A bead of perspiration streamed down the side of her face like a tear... Jurgen... Had it been a dream or premonition? ~ At first the vision had seemed hazy, yet, as Coraline had concentrated, it seemed as though a succession of veils had lifted, each resolving the image more clearly into focus; enabling her to peer amid the mists of the luminescent cloud encompassing Jurgen’s thin, pale body within its ethereal glow. Jurgen appeared to be resting upon a shabby mattress within a makeshift plastic tent; stretched upon his back, left leg tucked behind his right, his muscles taught, drenched in sweat, with only a ragged triangular cloth concealing his nakedness. Coraline had noticed smears of drying blood on his skin where tubes and wired implants emerged from his arms, his chest and head... Pale bread and wine the colour of fire... Through these connections, Coraline observed a flow of light, which seemed to tap a source of radiant illumination within Jurgen, and emanated as a stream of energy which was collected by strange machines encircling his peaceful form ~ Tiny lights on the equipment twinkled like stars in the peripheral darkness. A digital numeric readout was running backwards on a machine positioned at the head of his mattress; counting down decimal seconds as it relentlessly approached zero ~ Coraline's intuition had triggered an ominous portent that something dreadful was about to happen when the numbers had elapsed. She had been compelled to intensely search the shadows, and then to clearly see that Jurgen's body and all of the surrounding equipment had been heavily wired with explosives ~ Once again she had glanced at the display; which had seemed to turn over very slowly, as though time were coming to a halt... She had wanted it to stop completely... She had felt powerless... It had seemed that there was nothing she could do but merely watch and wait... 00:00:01... Coraline gazed upon Jurgen's tranquil face. He appeared to be sleeping; his expression of deep concentration showed no signs of suffering. She wanted to wake him. She wanted to speak with him again as they often had... So young, and so beautiful... As she extended her hand to touch his glowing skin, she had been surprised to discover her hand enveloped by an elegant white silk glove ~ ancient; as though it had discoloured over time... The elegant silvery moonlight glove clutched a fragile bouquet of white roses, with brittle stems and dry petals... Gently, she had placed a flower upon his chest... A tear streamed down her cheek ~ the drop appeared to fall forever in slow motion...


“Pleasant dreams,” she had heard herself say, like an echo from faraway. It seemed his eyes had flickered open to study her face; searching for recognition... She had heard him whisper something... Then everything evaporated in a brilliant, incandescent flash of pure white light blazing with the intensity of the sun... “I am always with you...” These were the words which Coraline believed she had heard Jurgen say. The large glass doors slid open and Coraline stepped out onto the balcony garden of her suite in Sun Tower One. The tingle of cool air caressed her skin... The chill of approaching autumn carried upon Arctic winds ~ just the breath of winter before it’s dreadful kiss. Fortunately it had lost some of its cruel bitterness during its long journey from distant northern territories... ... A Dragonfly suddenly swooped past her balcony railing like a giant bird of prey. Periodically, it fired a bright blue burst from the laser cannon in its tail ~ A powerful beam which could terminate the existence of any living thing it passed through ~ Media broadcasts often praised Dragonfly pilots for their effectiveness in controlling radical free agents of the ro@ch movement, and for exterminating all active traces of their infestation within ‘The Deep’ ~ Yet, Coraline wondered if the tower dwellers could truly determine whether the broadcasts were factual news stories or cyberfiction fantasy... Perhaps most would rather indulge in programs on the Utopian Romance channel... Alone in the cool darkness of night, barefoot, Coraline crossed the lawn, still lingering within that twilight zone between wakefulness and slumber ~ A silver nightingale flew across a meadow under diamond stars ~ Restlessly, she alighted upon a stone near the pond at the base of a tarnished bronze statue supporting the weight of the world in her upraised arms ~ The tamer of chaos ~ Barren rose thorns wrapped themselves tightly about each of the statue’s strong legs ~ Growing from out of the tiny island isolated in the center of the small pool; disconnected from love ~ Coraline would sometime imagine a complimentary statue standing upon an island at the center of another nearby pond; the figure of a young male god to accompany the existing statue during her long passage through time... No... The heroic bronze woman had smiled ruefully; she had not been destined to have a companion to share her burden... Coraline glanced at her own reflection as she lowered her face to sip water from the tranquil pool ~ Narcissus; lips frozen to lips in a delicate kiss ~ She had become the daughter of the King; thus she also could never be the companion of a mortal man. Her nakedness sculpted in beautiful detail... blessing her with the face of virtue ~ the radiance of industrialized divinity ~ bronze crafted into elaborate twists of ribbon in her hair... green eyes mottled from tarnished tears... slowly closing her metal lids...


Coraline shivered; the chill had caused her to become aware of her own nakedness ~ There was no need to modestly cover herself; since she knew she could not be seen behind the veil of the garden wall ~ The cool night air had caused her to feel vibrantly refreshed; her flesh rosy from blood pumping through her veins, her skin covered with tiny goose-bumps, her nipples firmly protruding ~ She had softened them with the warmth of her palms, then trembled as she turned away from the statue to retreat into the heat of the nearby solarium. The light automatically activated as Coraline entered the lush green interior; the bright humid environment was instantly revealed ~ Alive with the fragrant aroma of plants. Often in the early morning hours, when she could not sleep, her garden would become her private, secret sanctuary. Coraline loved to tend the plants; caring for them had seemed to satisfy her nurturing, maternal instincts ~ By rearranging the positioning of roots in the nutrient solution, providing support for fruit-bearing limbs, or even just gathering dead leaves, she would be provided with a pleasant period of tranquil meditation within which to dissipate disquieting traces from the alternative reality of the virtual worlds she constructed, from recurring in her thoughts and preventing her from remaining lost within the land of pleasant dreams. The interior of the greenhouse would also provide a link to the nostalgia of her past; recalling childhood memories of the garden, the orchard and the stone walls demarcating pastures on the hillside above the tiny village of St. Bees Head ~ Transporting her back to a time when she first learned to find solace in the world of make believe... reminding her of visits to her grandfather’s craft studio overgrown with plants creeping out of the dense forest behind his cottage... Coraline shook her head as she was reminded that her father had always considered William Coventry to be an eccentric old man... Lewis could never understand the old man's magic, or his genius... or realize that he was actually quite lonely... Which Coraline considered had perhaps provided the reason why William had gradually withdrawn into a private world of art, and plants, and great symphonies played upon his hand-cranked Victrola. Coraline could clearly picture her grandfather sitting nearly immobile before the canvas... then a tapered stroke applied by fine bristles of the thin brush held in his trembling hand... his easel illuminated by streams of dappled sunlight filtering through the dusty windows of his solarium ~ Or perhaps she would recall him hunched over his workbench; continually rediscovering the delicate beauty of a transplanted seedling. Although William seldom spoke, he communicated volumes through his actions ~ occasionally punctuated by a significant glance ~ He had taught her to observe the beauty of intricate detail discovered through close examination; the cellular surface of a leaf, the hairy legs of a bee, the spiral of a seashell, the stamens of a blossom, and the infinite fractal patterns of snowflakes and ferns ~ His appreciation of nature, which he had imparted, had been one of the most profound influences in her young life. “The diversity of designs within a single flower could ornament one thousand cathedrals,” William Coventry had once said ~ paraphrasing a line from John Ruskin’s ‘Stones of Venice’.


It was true that plants had inspired Coraline's architectural creations ~ The sunflowers she had studied as a skinny thirteen year old girl, had subsequently provided the conceptual framework for corporate towers which had begun to grow above urban landscapes all around the world... By emulating the cellular surfaces of plants, she had been able to devise methods of attaining new heights in the fabrication of vast complex structures from a massive quantity of small, durable, interlocking components ~ As her thoughts once again returned to the project at hand; her design of the Golden Sun Pavilion, Coraline had realized the first flying workers were about to roll off the assembly lines of factories in Mexico to make their eagerly-anticipated arrival at the construction site. Her thoughts always revolved about her work; it was a vortex from which it was impossible to escape ~ She would not struggle against its compelling force ~ She would acquiesce to toil of monumental proportions, since she had believed it was a task which must also be exacted from every other architect passionately dedicated to their work; so extensive and relentless were the details which needed to be resolved during the course of her labour, that over the years, there had been many times when her effort would leave her completely exhausted... So much so, that during those periods, doubt would sometime stealthily creep into her thoughts, causing Coraline to question the purpose of her work, or even the role she imagined she played within some grand design... Destiny... Yet, it was her determination to see each project through to completion which provided her motivation to continue on. Further examining her own characteristics, Coraline realized the strength of her determination could partially be attributed to the idealistic notions she had fostered during her youth ~ As a planner, it was her responsibility to utilize her skill for the betterment of society; to transform urban areas around the world, to revitalize the devastation of a crumbling past, to design clean modern structures offering exposure to sun and sky, and even compose efficient living environments which could be dynamically customized to the preferences of every inhabitant ~ She had gradually acquired the capabilities to accomplish these, and many other, marvelous feats... and in exchange, she had ultimately received the satisfaction of knowing that each of ‘her children’, in a way, had conferred a type of immortality upon their creator; her reputation manifested through association with every structure ~ Which, continually nurtured with replacement parts, and regular updates to their operating systems, could potentially live forever. Certainly a structure could be built to endure, yet more important was that it remain vital and alive ~ The architect was keenly aware that a consequence of the design of the Golden Sun Pavilion, was that its inhabitants would need to adapt to each other in order for the system to continually evolve ~ Since, ultimately, the system's overall structure relied upon thorough co-ordination between all component parts working toward a common objective: the survival of the system. Every citizen also, would become a component; requiring them to function as a member of the society ~ Effective communication between the components would ensure that each contributed unique specialized skills to maintain the operation of the organization whenever it was


required. In effect, the enclosed environment emulated the characteristics of a larger living entity; in which humans acted similar to cells within the organic infrastructure. In return for their commitment, the physical and emotional needs of every inhabitant would be fulfilled by obtaining satisfaction from the pleasurable environment which sustained them... 2,020 employees were freely-willing to become citizens of the Golden Sun Pavilion, while countless others had been turned away; once the maximum population capacity had been attained shortly after the initial round of invitations ~ Naturally, it had not been expected that all would be willing, or even able, to completely adapt... Data generated by studies of existing Sun Tower dwellers had concluded that corporate life was not for everyone ~ In reality, it was an environment which was specifically tailored to suit future generations of genetically modified children whose planned development would enable them to more comfortably and happily expend their entire lives within the enclosure. Indeed, until fairly recently, the evolution of the human body had been the result of a lengthy process of adaptation to natural environments. Yet, the advantage of technological innovation had enabled Coraline to build a form of shelter far superior to any previously constructed by our ancestors; well-organized to manage a high-density population, readily providing access to solar energy, purified water, healthy food sources, education, health care, entertainment, social interaction, and so on... And since the Golden Sun Pavilion was often characterized in the media as a ‘utopian’ environment, it had become a targeted as an exclusive elitist community by the militant elements within the underground movement who were intent on destroying all forms of systematized organizations. In this regard, Flex Global Security agent Cordova Frost, during a recent TVi conference with both Coraline and Sun, had urgently expressed concern that the Golden Sun Pavilion must establish impenetrable defenses. Agent Frost had explained that, in general, every system was susceptible to a variety of forms of digital terrorism ~ likening this scourge to a disease ~ even infiltration by corporate spies also presented great danger; since rival corporations had devious tools at their disposal to subvert the security of any system ~ Agent Frost had cautioned that the Golden Sun Pavilion, in particular, was exceptionally vulnerable, since destruction or disablement of any of the numerous computer systems; controlling every facet of the internal environment, would jeopardize the safety of thousands of humans lives. Coraline had realized the complexity of the ethics involved; when it came to revolutionaries it was sometime difficult to draw a clear distinction between what was right and wrong ~ During the course of history, many systems of control had come into existence, only to gradually be replaced... The Sun King had insisted on creating an honorable system based upon trust and mutual co-operation; which Coraline had believed the inhabitants of the Golden Sun Pavilion were capable of establishing. After all, almost everyone throughout the world were increasingly living under the control of Authorities who had access to every intimate detail of their private lives ~ In essence, it was implied that the Authorities knew more about each citizen than the citizens knew


about themselves ~ The most oppressive forms created an illusion of freedom, while displaying all the symptoms of terror in the population's anxiety-ridden lives. The technology already existed; intelligent digital agents which could scan information files on every storage device connected to the network ~ They would autonomously home in on the peculiarities and irregularities of aberrant behavior, then rapidly obtain incriminating evidence on any desired individual ~ An endeavor which at one time would have required massive resources in terms of human time and effort. An unacceptable level of ‘free’ activity was tolerated, to a point, although once noted, the Authorities could gain further access to one's records in order to take an action which demonstrated their power, and captured the public’s attention ~ Random checks were also a much more effective tactic than totalitarian control, since the majority of people allowed their conscience to be the guide in moderating their own behavior. Sun had always imagined that the society within the Golden Sun Pavilion would be based upon a life of freedom, with minimal ‘authoritarian’ control. The rule of law would be established through conditions which the participant must willingly agree to uphold before officially becoming a resident ~ arriving also without the baggage of excessive material possessions, since everything would be provided... The form of democratic organization which Sun envisioned could exist indefinitely, Coraline had considered; a balance failing only should some form of structural hierarchy emerge, or the community gradually devolve into chaos ~ situations which, agent Frost had suggested, the revolutionaries would, in the first case, attempt to overthrow, or in the second, encourage through actively-induced entropy. Nevertheless, Sun had always recognized freedom of human thought as a valuable asset to the Golden Sun Corporation ~ While machines could provide cold logic which produced increased efficiency in highly-structured processes, the free-flow of creative human thought seemed an intangible process which blended both rational and irrational concepts stored in memory, and linked them with emotion and feeling: “Without the randomness of irregular thoughts,” Sun sometime declared, “there could be no originality; since everyone would think exactly the same thoughts, and everyone would act the exact same way... everyone would become like a machine.” Sun had explained it was for this reason that Coraline had been contracted to design the Golden Sun Pavilion: the free-thought of her vision, and her intuitive understanding of forms and materials, had generated creative concepts which expanded far beyond the mathematical constraints of pure engineering logic ~ ‘Leave that to the processors chugging away behind the scenes; managing the details with efficiency while minimizing procedural errors’ ~ Coraline believed that her conception for the Golden Sun Pavilion truly expressed the notion of ‘freedom of thought’ which Sun had striven to protect; creating a peaceful, comfortable environment which afforded contemplative reflection, and was conducive to meaningful action ~ opening new vistas to exploration and discovery which could benefit all humanity.


Thus, it had been with a great measure of disappointment that Coraline and Sun had received the dire warning from agent Cordova Frost that the likelihood of an attack against the master architectural file for the Golden Sun Pavilion appeared imminent ~ Yet, this was not to be the most ominous portent, since agent Frost had elaborated that during his investigation into the previous intrusion of ‘Wonderland’, he had subsequently discovered ‘credible’ evidence indicating that the plot would target Coraline Coventry in particular... Although he confided that he had been in contact with a suspect, agent Frost had been unable to provide any specific information about the hacker’s motives, nor the precise nature or expected date of a ‘malware’ attack ~ It remained his opinion that the hacker would likely unleash a computer virus into the root level system to somehow disrupt her software program. Coraline recalled that Jurgen had often experimented with computer viruses at the Akademy ~ Yet, back in those days, when they were both filled with youthful optimism, he had seemed sincere in his affirmation that he would always use his knowledge and skill to influence the world in a positive way ~ Thus Coraline had found it difficult to believe that Jurgen could have changed so much since the last time she had seen him ~ Could he have grown malicious? ~ Perhaps Rujjie had been right! ~ Perhaps it was possible that Jurgen had even conspired in league with those underground subversives who called themselves ro@ches. With an intensity reminiscent of one particular morning in Whitehaven; when she had become disoriented within a fog of ancient spirits, Coraline had again experienced trepidation, and trembled perceptibly with the nervous anxiety of impending dread. She had not liked being a target, and she had not liked having enemies ~ Whoever or whatever was ever after her was not likely to be friendly ~ And most disquieting, was the potential of an intrusion upon her personal privacy. Above all else, Coraline valued her privacy; the protection of her isolation ensured her peace-of-mind. Provided with anything she desired, Coraline rarely needed to leave her suite, thus, freed from distractions, and contamination from the conventional thinking of the mass population, she could effectively encourage and nourish exciting creative concepts into existence... Coraline had readily identified with the young maiden in fairy tales ~ often read to her at night in a voice emulating Clara Voyee ~ in which the beautiful princess, supplied with servants to fulfill her every need, would be sequestered within a lofty castle tower to preserve her virginity, while biding her time engaged in weaving tapestries on a loom until a suitor had proven worthy to request permission from the king to obtain her hand in marriage. Until the meeting with Cordova Frost, Coraline had assumed her fortress was impenetrable. Ultimately, the agent had dispelled this illusion by informing her that any talented hacker would eventually gain access through even the heaviest security if they were persistent ~ there was no way to stop them. Yet, agent Frost had conceived of a scheme to trap the illusive predator once it had broken in ~ and in that regard, had requested Coraline's co-operation in contacting Flex Global Security the moment she encountered anything suspicious. Agent Frost had instructed Coraline, if possible, to


establish communication with the intruder in order to detain it until the agency could trace the source to determine its physical geographic location. Reluctantly, Coraline had agreed to the proposal ~ Although, when the agent had requested continuous surveillance monitoring, Sun had immediately protested on behalf of his Master Architect, since he was concerned it would interfere with her work. As a compromise, agent Frost had agreed to outfit her with a slim ankle bracelet, with which she could silently signal alarm. The weeks had elapsed, and Coraline had gradually become accustomed to the thin black bracelet. Yet, she continually remained anxious while wondering when the intruder would actually contact her. She had also begun to feel a growing unease about whether the Flex Global agent could truly be trusted not to keep her under surveillance against her wishes. In any event, she knew that the Sun King would also be watching over her more closely now as well, eager to be involved in any way to assist in tracking the hacker’s movement. As was the case with many other young women, or so Coraline had believed, she had for the first time discovered herself in the awkward situation of seeking to balance the complete security of an overprotective father-figure, with the intrigue of perhaps experiencing a rendezvous with a mysterious stranger ~ It was an encounter which she had anticipated as being filled with excitement and danger ~ During the many restless nights she had waited, Coraline prepared herself for the moment when his identity would be revealed ~ Certainly she had expected that it would turn out to be her long lost friend; Jurgen Ernst ~ She often wondered whether there would be an opportunity to make a decision between triggering the ankle alarm, or warning him about the trap... Coraline played many scenarios in her mind; her idealized fantasies kept returning to mythological themes ~ Sometime she was the ‘faire’ Hero; lighting a torch in her window of the tower to guide strong, handsome Leander to her. Alas, she was aware of its tragedy, since according to the tale, upon one dark tempestuous night, as Leander swam the stormy strait which separated them ~ to deliver his tender kiss ~ a wintry gust blew out Hero's lamp, causing brave Leander to become lost and drown when his strength had failed. Having become undone, Hero had cast herself from the tower onto the broken shoreline rocks below ~ In despair was how she had perished; for humans have no wings... The heightened level of anxiety which accompanied Coraline's anticipated moment of contact with her ‘Leander’, came not from the uncertainty of whether he was capable of spanning the digital gulf between them, rather, it resulted from the realization that others would be monitoring their activity ~ A record of the encounter would certainly be filed on servers of both Flex Global Security and the Golden Sun Corporation; just as data from her working files were backed up at the end of every session ~ safely protected at discreet locations where Coraline believed they could not be harmed... Perhaps the main reason she felt trepidation about their private conversation being


monitored by the Authority was her concern that the topic may turn romantic... Perhaps she felt ashamed to admit that she sometime experienced loneliness; that she sometime longed for the intimacy of a passionate embrace... Perhaps she had even believed that it could be possible to renew her relationship with Jurgen where they had left off in the past ~ to re-establish the deeper telepathic understanding which they once had shared. Maybe it had been a romantic notion that the hand which had intimately touched her long ago still held the key which could unlock the love forever shut away within her heart... She had hoped it was! ~ Her memories of Jurgen still brought lasting joy... her old flame, rekindling the longing to experience a feeling which she could not name... not even lustful desire adequately described the intensity of her passion for intimate physical contact... She longed for the sensation of knowing his body, sharing his thoughts, and ultimately touching his soul... Would they discover that they were like young gods; sharing attributes which exceeded the abilities of ordinary humans? Even while at the Akademy, Coraline had sensed the polarity between them, which had unified their complementary forces ~ yin merging with yang ~ to create a harmony which formed a complete entity ~ And their attributes had grown much more powerful as they both had matured since then. Had it been a coincidence, then, as her strength had waned and she had felt most vulnerable, that a hidden force had suddenly emerged; an invisible presence reaching out to her from the other side, a force equal, or greater than her own, threatening even to disrupt the task she was determined to complete? Coraline had recognized its power; just as she was also aware of its danger ~ Perhaps that was why she had found it so compelling. Coraline had felt safe and warm inside the greenhouse enclosure; insulated from harsh reality. The garden revitalized her spirit and renewed her strength ~ It had always seemed she was somehow able to derive pure energy from the life force existing within plants by simply surrounding herself with their presence ~ Perhaps it was just the oxygen, combined with the heady fragrance plants exuded, which prevailed with a soothing calm which effectively relaxed her ~ Nutrients gently flowing through plastic pipes sounded like quiet breathing... Perhaps Coraline had imagined the encounter as a potential gateway through which she could escape an existence in which she had also begun to feel trapped... Lately her fate had seemed similar to the realistically-animated nightingale rendered in the digital painting upon her wall; a small, beautiful, rust-coloured bird, singing sweetly in the night, enclosed by a gilded frame... Perhaps Jurgen could open the door to release her ~ The thought of freedom had been appealing ~ Yet, she had never spent even a moment to rationalize what events could possibly avail themselves of escape ~ And what the consequences would be... Perhaps the notion of considering the choice had been more thrilling than the reality of making good her escape ~ Even as a theoretical, intellectual exercise, it had still provided an emotional release.


Coraline had sighed; it was time to return to work... Within her studio, she strapped herself into the harness and initiated the architectural software... Instantly it transported her into the future once again to experience the nearly-completed Golden Sun Pavilion... Six degrees of freedom enabled her to move through the virtual world like a dancer in a cosmic ballet... like a fish or a bird; swooping and gliding... sometime enjoying somersaults as she flew through the model... more often, graceful rolls... completely immersing herself within the exhilaration of motion... then gently alighting upon a terrace to marvel at the miraculous organic structure she had conceived, and the way its forms were softly sculpted by eternal golden light... Perhaps, Coraline had imagined, this was where she and Jurgen could live together some day when construction was completed... ‘Love, I come!’ Coraline immediately recognized the voice which had unexpectedly interrupted her reverie; Jurgen! ~ For a moment she thought she had only imagined it; since it had seemed to originate within her own mind... Yes, the days of anxiety which had built with anticipation toward the moment of dread, evaporated into the void when she had finally heard the sound of his familiar voice whispering quietly in her earphones: “Have you summoned me?” The voice inquired. The time was approximately 4:22 AM when the voice had first made contact. Suspended within her harness like an angel tethered in bondage, Coraline had gestured and the tension relaxed in the network of cables supporting her; lowering her until her toes could just touch the mat. Immediately, she had felt hands begin moving over her body ~ the mesh of tiny fluid cells; which formed the skin of her tight latex suit to simulate the effect of gravitational forces within the virtual world and provide the sensation of force-feedback, had reacted to his touch ~ The fluid gently expanded or receded as the sensation flowed over the contours of her muscular body; moving up from behind her knees, slowly along her thighs, to firmly cup her buttocks... Coraline involuntarily released a quiet moan ~ It had taken her completely by surprised to discover the way her body had responded to the strong, sensuous touch. “I love you,” the voice had whispered in her ear. Initially, what had been gentle fondling, soon became intrusive and unpleasant. Coraline squirmed to escape the invisible fingers, yet, the sensation came directly from her suit... The hands slid over her hips, across her stomach, then were directed toward her breasts... Coraline became petrified by fear... Although admittedly, she had also been attracted to the pleasure which had been induced ~ Oh, all of those many years she had struggled against indulging in the temptation of physical pleasure ~ successfully mortifying her flesh through discipline and meditative contemplation ~ only to discover her resolve to preserve her purity had suddenly begun to melt away... And while she had never before been prone to fainting spells, the sensation of the


stimulus had caused her to swoon. “Stop!” Coraline had commanded. The hands came to a halt caressing the under-curve of her firm breasts, the fingertips nearly touching her pert nipples, pausing for interminable moments, before the sensation of pressure from the suit had gently been released. “I apologize my love... It is just that I have waited for this moment... for such a long, long time... Your body is so beautiful... It is like heaven to touch.” Still wearing her gloves, and thin goggles which resembled a sleeping-mask, Coraline activated the release mechanism and the harness fell away. Standing upon the mat, she glanced around the virtual interior of the Golden Sun Pavilion ~ Observing nothing unusual, she had waited to discover what would happen next... recalling that she had been instructed to touch the sensor on the small device attached to her ankle... Yet, she had hesitated, even though precious time elapsed... “Who are you?” Coraline softly inquired. “By a name I know not how... to tell thee who I am.” Although it had sounded like Jurgen, by listening carefully, Coraline had detected an unusual cadence in the delivery of speech; a hesitation which had caused her to perceive that the voice had somehow been digitally modified. “I am a soul in torment... a soul without a compliment... Do you really not know who I am?” Coraline had not answered, and following a long pause, truly puzzled, she had instead asked; “How did you get in?” “With love's light wings... did I o'erperch these walls... For stony limits cannot hold love out... And what love can do... that dares love attempt... I have night's cloak to hide me... from their eyes... Though should they find me here... my life were better ended... by their hate... than death prorogued... wanting of thy love... You still love me, don't you? ... O, speak again, bright angel.” Instinctually, Coraline had begun to sense danger; she had felt her heartbeat quicken... Yet, she had continued to attempt to convince herself that the voice was truly Jurgen Ernst... She searched deep inside for an answer to his question: “Yes, I loved you then,” she had replied, “Although our paths separated long ago.” “Do you love me now?” the voice had aggressively demanded ~ Instantly she had again felt the touch of his hand; rippling through the fluid cells across her thigh ~ The


sensation of fingers had disappeared as they approached her sex; where there were not any sensors. “Tell me that you love me,” the voice insisted. Frightened by the threatening tone, Coraline had quickly unzipped her body suit; peeling back her latex skin to shed it at her feet ~ The array of fluid packets had continued to move; making it seem alive... As she had reached down to remove her leg from the discarded suit, she surreptitiously triggered the alarm on the ankle bracelet. “Uhm... that’s better!... God... your body is so beautiful!” Coraline hadn’t expected him to be able to see her, and was entirely surprised ~ She ripped off her goggles and looked around the room; realizing there was a camera on the PAD she had brought into the studio with her earlier, she ran over to switch off the device ~ Which had immediately turned itself on again as though it were possessed. Coraline had modestly covered herself with her hands; relieved that she had managed to send the warning ~ She reminded herself that the Flex Global agent could trace the intruder's location if she were able to give him enough time... Outside the suit, disconnected from the machine, Coraline had believed she would be free from harm... Her only apprehension was that ‘Jurgen’ would be able to detect whether their encounter was being monitored; since she had considered that any hacker who had exhibited such tremendous technological skill and determination would surely have scanning detection software which could betray the existence of a search packet's tiny ‘ping’. “Can you see me?” Suddenly, swirling particles of light had gradually become visible within the darkened room; like a tornado of tiny fireflies, the glowing points seemed to stream in orbits around a phantom core, then gradually converge as they had increased in intensity... Coraline watched in amazement as a life-sized human figure had slowly begun to materialize ~ His shape was tinted blue and flickered slightly like a holographic projection; creating a transparent, luminescent apparition which stood before her as naked as she was ~ Not every part had been discernible; Coraline could not clearly distinguish every feature of his face... Coraline had quickly scanned the room; unable to identify any projection device... She noticed only one tiny red power light glowing on her workstation which hummed in the corner of the room. “Yes! How did you do that?” she asked; clearly astonished.


The figure had then laughed; “You should know me... well by now... always experimenting... with technology.” It was odd, Coraline thought, that the figure had seemed so awkward, and that its facial animation was so crudely minimal ~ The movement of his lips had not seemed synchronized with the voice ~ Yet, it had indeed appeared to be Jurgen, or at least similar to how she had remembered him; except that his hair was long and matted, and his face unshaven ~ The body hadn’t resembled his, though; it seemed shorter and sturdier than she had recalled, and much more powerful and muscular... And his huge penis and testicles were frightening ~ She had never seen them when they were in school, and had never imagined they would not look out of place on a horse ~ Perhaps some form of chemical enhancement, or surgery, Coraline had reasoned, averting her eyes after staring for a few moments in surprised silence. “Please slip on your suit... so I can show you... that it is possible... to make love to a ghost,” the figure had pleaded as it cautiously approached, “I need... I need... to touch you again.” Coraline resisted the temptation to back away, and continued to stand her ground; uncertain what other attributes the ghost may have the power to use ~ The situation had not played out the way she had imagined ~ She hadn't enjoyed being used as bait ~ And why hadn't agent Frost already intervened; Flex Global should have been able to track the location of the intruder by now, Coraline had thought. “Please... put on the... suit.” The signal producing the image had started to break up; the figure standing before her had become more transparent, then faded back in again. “Plea.... urry....an’t wait much long...” Remembering that Jurgen had a small, red, star-shaped birthmark just below his navel ~ having shown it to her one night when they had discussed theories about the formation of the universe ~ Coraline had crouched down to more closely examine the flickering translucent flesh; yet, she was unable to detect any indication of a birthmark ~ Although, she couldn’t help but notice his huge erection was pointed directly at her like a cannon ready to fire... “Arrrrghhh...” the figure had suddenly screamed; “Treachery... Alack... there lies more peril in thine eye... than in twenty of their swords...” And with that, the apparition had vanished ~ and naught but silence lingered within Coraline's empty studio. The sound of rapid breathing... Coraline had trembled... naked... ashamed... she had fled to her bedroom to find a housecoat to put on... This had not been the same young man she had fallen in love with such a long time before ~ The disappointment had been devastating; to be deceived by the appearances of technology cloaked within a supernatural disguise... Why had she evoked evil horrors, and those secret aspects of some fiendish uncouth apparition ~ ‘Are not mortal ways enough for thee?’ ~ How foolish she had been!


“I am always with you,” Jurgen had once told her in a dream, “Until love last lingers.” ~ Coraline could sense his isolation; a condition they both shared, and she had also realized that since their days together at the Akademy, they had both grown much stronger. Each were maturing into powerful forces capable of exhibiting attributes which transcended the boundaries of conventional reality: she, creating brave new virtual worlds, and he, manifesting throughout the network as though it were a conduit of his substance. Coraline had begun to consider that if their two forces could not unite through love, each could ultimately destroy the other by canceling them out ~ The intruder had already demonstrated that he could be a formidable opponent ~ Yet, Coraline had not felt fearful, since she had not believed that Jurgen would ever cause her harm. Ping ... beep ... beep ... ping ... beep ... beep ... Her PAD had begun to transmit the incessant signal of an incoming call. It was agent Cordova Frost of Flex Global Security ~ Coraline was surprised, since it would be the first time they had spoken privately; without Sun also online... “You can call me Cordova," the agent had courteously begun... His voice sounded official as he asked routine questions about the sequence of events which had transpired, then periodically nodded his head as Coraline responded ~ Cordova appeared tired; as though he hadn’t had a decent sleep in quite some time ~ He calmly explained that the intruder had been able to penetrate the defences established by the security team by burrowing irregular pathways through the terabytes of data comprising the massive virtual model of the Golden Sun Pavilion. He explained that the intelligent digital entities Flex Global had placed into the network, as well as the operatives in the field, were still actively tracking their quarry, but as yet, had been unable to apprehend the perpetrator. Finally, Cordova had commended Coraline for being of great assistance, then attempted to assure her that he would install tighter security measures; utilizing the most sensitive scanners to detect and analyze even subtle fluctuations drawn from the processor's cycles, to ensure that such a major breach of the system could never happen again. Coraline had reserved trepidation; suspecting that agent Frost would still continue to monitor her activity, yet she had pleasantly said; “Thank you,” then, “Good-bye!” before tapping a button on the PAD which caused the image of Cordova to disappear. Coraline curled up and hugged her knees. Her body nestled within the soft padding of her chair ~ The events of this night had been very disruptive to the flow of her routine; a rhythm which was essential to Coraline in maintaining her momentum ~ The terror of fear, and the exhilaration of physical touch, had both been unknown experiences within the shelter of her private world. Although she still held out hope that the entity contacting her may ultimately be identified as Jurgen Ernst, her instincts were decidedly of a contrary opinion. Nevertheless, whomever it was, Coraline was surprised to realize that she had


acquired a curious desire to learn more about him ~ Certainly, she was impressed by his technical proficiency; amazed by his unrestricted freedom to traverse the network. Perhaps the powerful force of his presence had intrigued her; since during her life it had been rare to meet others who possessed abilities equal, or greater than her own ~ It had seemed his touch had taken great effort; gentle, romantic, then lustful ~ a sensation she hadn’t entirely understood ~ Oh, these thoughts! ~ And she felt as though she were protecting a secret; the guilt of not reporting the incident of physical contact to agent Frost. As she dressed, Coraline reminded herself of the tragic tales of unrequited love which her governess; Clara Voyee, would often read to her before she had drifted off to sleep... Emma of Aira force, the Lady of Shallot, the legend of St. Bee, and in particular, poor Hero; who in despair, had cast herself from the tower to join her beloved Leander... beneath the waves... forever.

VI. INDUSTRIAL PARK

Coraline emerged from her suite, then tentatively made her way along the corridor to join Sun and Li Xiaohong in Sun’s suite. She felt subdued following the traumatic encounter, and the uncertainty of whether, or when, the mysterious presence would return continued to play upon her thoughts. Yet, as she greeted her two dear friends, Coraline's spirit was buoyed by their enthusiasm, since this morning, Sun and Li Xiaohong excitedly anticipated the opportunity to witness the initial flying mechanical workers finally roll off the assembly line, following several years in development ~ Thus, reluctantly admitting to herself that she should be grateful for the distraction, Coraline promptly switched on the camera above the screen of her own PAD to participate in the networked conference: “It is an honour to finally meet the fabulous Arquitecto!” Camelia Angeles Flores Sepúlveda had cheerfully greeted Coraline upon establishing the TVi connection ~ Camelia introduced herself as the factory supervisor for General Synthetics Corporation; a subsidiary of the Golden Sun Corporation ~ Camelia worked in the main building of a sprawling manufacturing complex which consisted of approximately one dozen white, rectangular megastructures, situated amidst several acres of solar collectors baking in the evening desert heat on the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico ~ It was early morning in Beijing; where the trio sat comfortably upon cushions about a small jade table, and sipped tea while monitoring their host for the guided tour on their respective screens.


The flawless complexion of Camelia’s light brown skin, and her beautiful, delicatelyfeatured face, created the impression that Doña Flores was much younger than her stated age; that being in her late 30’s ~ Restless black pupils shimmered with intensity behind the thick frame of her pointy, old-fashioned eyeglasses. And although her lustrous dark hair had been stacked, and bound tightly atop her head, one strand seemed to perpetually come loose to produce the frenetic appearance of a harried woman perpetually on the brink of loosing control. Yet, during the brief time they were connected, it would become evident that the fabrication plant was the model of efficiency, and this was due, in great measure, to the efforts of Camelia who repeatedly demonstrated her ability to solve any problem, and deal with every type of adversity ~ Truly, Coraline eventually concluded, that the entire operation would dissolve into chaos without her. Camelia was the queen bee; the master controller ~ A dynamo packed into a tiny, slender woman who wore a crisp white lab coat over a conservative dark skirt and blouse ~ omnipresent digital clipboard clasped firmly in hand, buzzing with palpable nervous energy, moving punctually during her appointed rounds from one command station to the next, arranged peripherally around the hub of the central control tower rising high above the factory floor. Within another window on her display, Coraline selected the vantage point of an additional camera view; through which she could gaze upon a most fantastic scene ~ Beneath the expansive roof, the vast interior of the factory, evenly-lit by the warm golden glow of subdued sodium vapor lighting, resembled the architecture of a micro metropolis ~ Everything compact and efficient, everything automatic and robotic, everything feeding off the data inside the mainframe’s core... “Everything is under control,” Camelia had confidently declared. Indeed, everything had seemed to be running smoothly; the factory was a buzzing hive of industry where robots worked around the clock to manufacture flying machines which resembled gigantic bees. On her display, Coraline observed bluish-green, metallic exoskeletons transported along the conveyor belt of an assembly line ~ At one particular station, a partially completed chassis arrived... the robots went to work... new components were added... the task completed, the chassis moved on... then another arrived in precisely the same initial state as the one which had immediately preceded it. It was a cycle which appeared as though a brief sequence of time had been captured in an endless loop ~ It was an illusion, since as Camelia pointed out, in actuality the workplace environment subtly continued to evolve as everything ceaselessly progressed forward. Camelia explained that each robot worker on the assembly line was customized to perform a specific function; SHIVA units, for instance, were capable of simultaneously fastening together a diverse array of components with their multiple arms ~ They resembled octopuses which moved up and down and rotated upon a central pedestal; each of their appendages fitted with a different tool... Further along, another class of


robot gingerly reached into the chassis of each drone with a triple-hinged arm to spot weld with precision... Toward the end of the line, Coraline noted, were a group of robots with long flexible necks; each equipped with an identical head from which an adjustable nozzle protruded from their metal face-plates ~ Binary vision enabled the heads to expertly spray-paint distinctive yellow and black industrial stripes upon each bluish-green chassis, or stencil instructions and warning messages near the service ports of every bee. At the same time, other heads applied clearly-distinguishable serial numbers along both sides of machine's enormous abdomen; to uniquely identify each unit ~ completely-assembled, the drones then proceeded into a heated box to bake the painted finish. All classes of robots were electrically-powered and ran pollution-free ~ A web of high-voltage cables embedded in the concrete floor transmitted energy harvested from the sun, so that even the multiplied activity of thousands of machines in motion produced only a quiet symphony of metallic humming sounds. Robots were everywhere; narrow paved roads, winding through an intricate maze of tunnels and overpasses, bustled with activity... Heavy traffic through cloverleaf exchanges, and ramps sweeping onto the shop floor from upper level expressways which were connected to other buildings in the complex. The robot's onboard navigation scanned infrared grids displayed on green panels suspended above the highways to assist in directing them toward their destination ~ Coraline noted that some prankster had humorously erected signs which posted the maximum speed in terms of MHz ~ The robots paid no attention to these as they silently zoomed by. Maintenance vehicles traveled the pathways on rubber tires to access every area of the plant ~ The duty of these versatile robots was to repair other workers which had broken down; for example, replace their damaged limbs. They were also able to reconfigure workers and upgrade their instruction sets to quickly get them up to speed on performing new specialized tasks ~ The highly-maneuverable maintenance crews whirred past crawling flatbeds; which tended to clog the arteries of the mini-freeway as they transported fabrication components from adjoining warehouses to ceaselessly feed the intake of assembly lines which were stationed with countless clusters of robotic workstations. Here and there throughout this ‘city’, the mobile robots occasionally waited in line at service stations to recharge their batteries. Camelia mentioned that, at the same time, their onboard computers could be reprogrammed with new instructions from the mainframe, or their memory banks could be loaded with data for transport to other workers with whom they would communicate the information. Camelia had also indicated that whenever robots collided, or occasionally broke down ~ creating a traffic jam by grinding to a halt ~ they would be plucked from the track with a large claw suspended by cables from an overhead grid ~ Operating the ceiling- mounted crane was one of the main activities for the humans who monitored the 360 degree panoramic view from the observation deck of the circular control room situated atop the massive concrete pillar at the center of the plant.


At the start of their shift, human operators traveled up an elevator within the control tower ~ connected directly with the underground parkade ~ then slid their identity card into the time machine which tracked their employment hours. Upon gaining access, each proceeded to their regular observation post, where they strapped themselves into a chair, mounted on a boom, which was slowly thrust forward to suspend the operator within a glass enclosure which curved beneath their foot rests ~ The operator's chair was surrounded by an array of control panels and a constellation of tiny displays. During each shift, ten operators were directly responsible for factory activity within the 36 degrees of vision which comprised their sector. While their vantage point provided the operator with an excellent overview of the situation, most of their visual information appeared on telescreens fed by small cameras mounted aboard every robot. Selecting camera viewpoints with a gesture of their hand, the operators tracked the robot's efficiency, monitored their mechanical condition, and could even examine their current instruction sets; which were displayed as bands of text which scrolled across the bottom of their screen. The robots reacted to their environment by detecting signals through sensors, which then referenced the instructions programmed in their code. The majority of machines repeatedly performed a specific sequence of actions, and most of the time, everything ran smoothly ~ In the event of an error, it would first be detected by processors within the massive mainframe. They would analyze the problem, then devise solutions to rectify the situation ~ Failing that, human operators were standing by to intervene in the activity of workers by manually overriding a robot’s automated systems. As Camelia continued roving the control room, the trio in Sun’s suite obtained their video images from the camera built into the PAD that Camelia carried with her. The view had then shakily settled to frame one of the controllers who had just sprung into action ~ The young woman seemed grateful for a break in the monotony of her shift; which would typically be spent staring vacantly at her monitors. She deftly operated the hand grips and the foot pedals to mobilize a sky-crane; which then dexterously plucked a disabled robot from the track ~ This process nostalgically reminded Coraline of the novelty machines she would operate in amusement parks as a child on a family outing to Blackpool ~ Clutched in the grasp of the gigantic claw, the hoist then followed the grid of tracks on the ceiling, to deposit its prize into the chute of the repair depot at the far end of the massive building ~ The operator would then call up a substitute from storage to replace the disabled robot. ... Everything was so efficient; like a garden full of bugs... Stepping into her office upon completing her rounds, Camelia collapsed into a swivel chair, then tapped her PAD to switch the viewpoint over to a surveillance camera mounted in the corner of the tiny room ~ The diminutive woman was partially hidden behind three large viewscreens mounted on the uncluttered surface of her modular metal desk, She casually poured a cup of coffee from her thermos as she


informed the trio that while everything was under control on the factory floor ~ the dominion over which she held sway ~ she expressed concern about what was happening beneath the surface; within the massive central mainframe computers responsible for every aspect of the production run. Processors evaluated design specifications to precisely calculate the quantity of resources required to perform the work, then automatically placed orders directly with component suppliers located around the world. They tracked shipments and maintained warehouse inventories. They determined what type of machines were required for the fabrication process, then configured them. And when the robots were ready to work, the processors instructed them exactly what to do. If Camelia Flores seemed harried, it was perhaps for this reason: that even though she was a highly-skilled programmer, the linguistic and symbolic evolution of the coded instruction sets which the mainframes were developing had rapidly accelerated beyond even her capabilities to comprehend ~ Robots built by other robots ~ computers programming their descendants; each generation becoming increasingly more sophisticated, each constantly adapting to their environment in order to perform their duties more effectively ~ Powered by the sun, the process could continue indefinitely ~ Camelia, who understood the inner workings of the mainframe’s operating system, had remarked that while these robots continually advanced, they were not fully cognizant that human beings truly existed; since few were equipped to detect our presence ~ A condition which obviously made it extremely dangerous for any person to wander onto the shop floor ~ She had then proceeded to speculate that the robot’s enhanced intelligence perhaps one day would enable a few of them to begin to attain the awareness that their brains had originally been patterned to emulate those of another form of invisible ‘superior’ being... Camellia had then blushed, and quickly apologized by stating that as a young girl she had been thoroughly indoctrinated into the teachings of a particular religious philosophy by sturdy Sisters who had not spared the rod. Consequently, she would sometime wonder whether the robots on the shop floor of the factory were on the verge of being able to rationalize the existence of their ‘god’; since she could readily identify many parallels between the successive stages of both human and robotic evolution ~ It had been an interesting notion! Rested and recharged by caffeine, Camelia set herself in motion once again to begin another orbital revolution of the control tower's observation deck. Far below, the robots continued to intently focus upon their work; tirelessly fabricating a concept envisioned by human engineers at General Synthetics in Osaka, Japan. Coraline once again thought of Jurgen, since she was aware that he had once worked, or perhaps was still employed, at that very same corporate office. As she had briskly started walking again, Camelia explained that the concept for the bee-machines being fabricated in her factory today, had begun with research developed by a small company called Imago Enterprises, based on the Hawaiian island of Lanai. The company’s president; a scientist named Professor John Zinthrop,


had marveled at the capabilities of tiny insects, and speculated they would be very useful if he could make them considerably larger. Thus, through diligent effort, his team was able to modify their genetic code until they had achieved significant results. He had hypothesized that by starting with these enhanced creatures, and constructing their mechanical structure of durable material, that radically new types of machines could possibly be realized. Indeed, over the course of one decade, working in conjunction with engineers at GenSynth, prototypes of machines which resembled giant ants were developed to harvest crops, dragonflies were designed for police patrols, and spiders were imagined that could be launched into space to explore the planets, and gather rare minerals from their satellite moons, all throughout the solar system ~ As a result, at present, highly-detailed, three-dimensional models provided all the data the processors needed to instruct robots on the assembly lines in Mexico how to mold, shape, and fasten together materials from which to physically manufacture any type of insect-machine. “And these machines are in demand,” Camelia matter-of-factly informed her audience. “Current orders will take almost two years to fulfill at current production rates. In addition to the labour-intensive precision of crafting each unit's highlysophisticated technology, bear in mind that the design of each product is also unique, since each is customized to the characteristics of one specific human pilot who will essentially inhabit the machine... This initial production run will comprise the crew who will be programmed to assist in the construction of the Golden Sun Pavilion.” Once again, in the warm golden glow of subdued sodium-vapor lighting, Coraline observed the partially-completed metallic exoskeleton of a mechanical worker drone arrive at one of the workstations. Robotic arms immediately descended upon the carcass in a frenetic cycle of activity; each arm in turn installing a component it had chosen from an assortment of trays arranged upon another conveyor nearby ~ Coraline could clearly see how the units were taking shape: the lightweight metal thorax and abdomen of the construction drones were in proportion to a scaled-up version of a worker bee ~ The veined transparent wings, Camellia had mentioned, were covered with a high-tensile-strength fabric, and driven by two Solarogen Poweration engines which provided a lifting-force of approximately 2,350 pounds-persquare-foot, and could produce an airspeed of approximately thirty kilometers-perhour, for a fully-loaded unit ~ Hovering gracefully near the framework of the Pavilion, the drone would maneuver construction material with its six sturdy legs, then operate a selection of magnetic tools which would be stored in pods on its rear legs to fasten the component into place. The efflorescent Camelia had then proceeded to surrender some of her privileged knowledge regarding the humanoids who had been engineered to pilot the drones ~ During in vitro fertilization, their genetic disposition had been enhanced to produce men and women with behavioral characteristics modified by splicing in appropriate genes from a bee's DNA sequences. Their cranial capacity had also been enlarged to accommodate a biocomputer which would first be integrated with their organic brain at an early embryonic stage, then allowed to continually evolve in complexity as it


matured through subsequent stages of development. As the biocomputer grew, and the storage capacity increased, its software would be periodically upgraded. Interfaced through surgically-applied jacks, the code applied to their modified brains would cooperatively merge the intelligence of human and bee. Unique physical characteristics would also result from the hybrid between the two species, and the worker's bodies would adapt to function encased within their metal chassis. And although their faces appeared quite human, the workers had thick yellow fur covering their heads, and had even grown fully-functional antenna which enabled them to detect communication signals originating from their HIVE, or receive instructions from a remote human operator, who, in emergency, was able to override their programming to take direct control of the drone. Camelia then revealed that their vision would also be augmented to provide the drone with the ability to view a computer-generated schematic of the construction project superimposed dimensionally upon the real world in the goggles mounted over the pilot’s eyes. Through their goggles, the pilots could also perceive a broader spectrum than was normally visible to a human's eyesight ~ An enhanced range which extended into the infrared and ultraviolet frequencies; enabling the drones to see polarized sunlight as patterns in the sky, even on an overcast day ~ Patterns which provided reference points to navigate typically between the supply depots, the construction site, and the HIVE. Processors within the HIVE would utilize the virtual model, which Coraline had designed, to deconstruct the Golden Sun Pavilion into its constituent parts. Each cellular component would be assigned a unique code number based upon its material composition and placement within the structure ~ Each would be discretely identified with ultraviolet markings along their edges which the flying machines could visualize ~ Contoured cells: rectangular, T-shaped, triangular, hexagonal, arrow shaped, Lshaped, and so on... molded from light-weight concrete, high-density plastic, or durable metal-alloys, would then be re-configured into complex combinations to construct the spiral terraces, the frame of the structure, and the clear synthetic glass which covered it like a skin ~ the glass panels would be bonded by liquid plastic secreted from nozzles located in the abdomen of the bees. In the physical world, each drone would follow the same master program as every other drone ~ synchronized by the HIVE-mind ~ Laser vectors would guide them to their target so they could optimally install each component within the schematic blueprint like the pieces of a massive three-dimensional puzzle ~ Floor tiles, wall panels, kilometers of fibre-optic wiring, and pipe segments comprising the intricate hydroponic plumbing network ~ Their programs would be updated in real time as the structure was assembled, so that each sequential component would be efficiently retrieved by the next available drone. Coraline was pleased that Camellia had divulged details about the drones; since she quite sympathetically identified with the nature of their toil ~ And whenever Coraline glanced at her companion’s expressions, she noted that Sun and Li


Xiaohong also seemed quite fascinated by the descriptions of these fantastic creatures ~ While Camellia spoke, Coraline continued to watch the bluish-green, metallic exoskeletons being transported along assembly lines bathed in the subdued golden glow of sodium vapor lighting... The robots went to work... the task was completed.. the chassis moved on... “In the evening,” Camelia had eloquently continued, “when it has become too dark to see, and the power is reduced for their engines, the drones will return to the HIVE. Alighting upon a pad outside the hanger doors, they will enter the air-conditioned environment which is maintained at a controlled temperature and a constant level of humidity. The drones will then maneuver through the dimly-lit corridors which radiate from the central core, to return to their hexagonal compartments where the pilots rest during the night. Sealed behind a metallic-silver hatch within their honeycomb cell, the chassis of the drones will be lubricated and serviced by robotic appendages. And while the pilots sleep, their bodies will be replenished with sugar-based nutrients and drained of waste through biological connections, and their brains will be reprogrammed for their next day of work. In the event a particular drone has become severely damaged and replacement parts are not immediately available, the unit will remain suspended in hibernation until it can be made mechanically sound.” “At the break of day, when the pilots are rested and eager to return to work, they will exit their cells when summoned, and move toward the large hanger doors which have been securely guarded for the night. The drones will launch themselves from the pad with a loud buzz of their engines, then once again take the sky.” “Within the HIVE, everything is run with precision,” Camelia Flores had proudly commented as she concluded the tour ~ perhaps as a subtly-veiled reference to the efficiency of her own factory's operation. The Sun King then thanked Camelia for the tour, then all had pleasantly bid each other farewell ~ Staring at her dark screen, Coraline had suddenly experienced a growing sense of anxiety now that the construction workers were being made ready. The design process had lasted so long, that until now she hadn’t realized the urgency of the pressure to finally complete the project. It still seemed like she had so much to do... She had hoped she would still have time to complete everything to her satisfaction, without having to make compromises, or omitting certain details ~ with all of the effort she had already expended, that would certainly be a great disappointment.


VII. WITH A GRACEFUL SWEEP OF HER ARM

With a graceful sweep of her arm, the virtual terrain beneath her lofty vantage point filled with a neat array of hydroponic terminals; each fixture supporting a vibrant young tomato plant ~ their leaf structure was generated by variables factored into L-system algorithms to model a unique appearance for every plant... An illusion of depth was created because the liquid crystal displays in her light-weight, black-rubber goggles, presented a slightly different perspective for each eye ~ Coraline extended a fingertip, to observe with fascination as the tiny plants rapidly increased in size ~ In a matter of moments, hard green tomatoes fully ripened into luscious glossy-red fruit. As usual, she had fussed over minute adjustments in the spacing between the columns and rows to create a balance between optimum plant density and the necessity of ensuring there was unencumbered movement for the robot farmers which ultimately would be utilized to harvest the bountiful crops ~ The grid; so many different geometric arrangements were possible ~ Finally satisfied with the layout, Coraline saved her progress. Deep underground, processors driving servers dedicated to the simulation were continually at work behind the scenes ~ talking amongst themselves ~ calculating and rechecking all of the complex engineering specifications before re-assigning them to memory ~ Processors automatically connected the arrays of hydroware which distributed nutrient solution to the vegetable gardens, grain fields, and orchards ~ as well as the small solarium incorporated within every suite ~ with the hydroponic irrigation network in the most efficient manner ~ Coraline watched with fascination as the polyropolenz tubing, rendered in multi-coloured lines, rapidly coupled at the junction of every terminal like a dot-dot puzzle; spinlock fittings, clamps, emitters, valves, vine clips and drains were all linked to main feed-lines which streamed up through the center of each of the five interior cores, then radiated out across every broad, gently-sloping terrace which spiraled upward toward the apex of the pyramid ~ Filtration units ensured the purity of desalinized sea water, enhanced with potassium, nitrate, phosphate, and other essential minerals, which the plants absorbed and processed through their root system ~ To minimize evaporation and maximize the availability of nutrients, light, temperature, and humidity, this system was managed by eternally vigilant intelligent agents continually monitoring the various sensors attached to every plant, in an effort to ensure there would be an abundant harvest from the multitude of healthy, fast-growing crops. In addition to agriculture which sustained the inhabitants, and plantations of medicinal herbs, many other functional and aesthetically pleasing ecosystems would grace both the residential and work areas distributed throughout the Golden Sun Pavilion ~ Rare and endangered species of plant life would be preserved within


deserts, tropical jungles, decorative floral gardens, coniferous forests, swampland, and tundra ~ Receiving natural sunlight directly, or piped in through fibre-optic cables from the exterior of the structure... Thus, citizens would be able to enjoy spectacular natural vistas whenever they gazed out of any window. It was a massive project, which had become increasingly more difficult as layer upon layer of detail had gradually built up ~ Coraline had often to remind herself that by maintaining a steady rhythm, everything else would progress apace, and that by concentrating upon the details, the Big Picture would take care of itself ~ At the time, there had still been numerous instances of void within the design; areas outlined in cool blue wireframe lines... Coraline had sighed; there was yet much work to do ~ Once a section of the overall design had been completed, it would be rare for her to indulge more than a few moments in either disillusionment, or satisfied reflection ~ Quickly she would regain her momentum, and return to work ~ There were always plenty of other things which needed her attention: streams and ponds and waterfalls; floors and walls and ceilings; furniture, fixtures, decorative elements; power, communication, recycling, and so on... Coraline relied upon the processors to track completion status as she worked her way through the site ~ They created the schedule which she followed through her daily checklist of assigned tasks: next: Shopping Districts J; UN-E2403... through to UN-E2804... Tilting her balance within the gyroscope, Coraline had immediately experienced the physical sensation of movement; swooping low over the tomato crop, then soaring skyward again to alight atop the railing of another terrace several levels above. Overlooking the interior of the Pavilion, gently sweeping arcs of the fields below, the wall of glass comprising the external shell of the pyramid appeared to rise almost vertically. And outside the window, the massive processing power of the mainframe faithfully rendered the light and texture in the highly-realistic exterior view; extending from the density of Beijing's modern high-rises to the magnificent ancient Great Wall undulating across the mountains in the distance. With a minor jump-like movement of her harnessed body, Coraline leapt from the high ledge to regain the freedom of flight; propelling herself through space with a subtle undulating movement of her body ~ similar to the manner in which a porpoise swims through the sea. She enjoyed the fluidity of shifting her weight by leaning her body to determine the speed and direction of her turns, and would often extend her arms straight out for balance while gliding downward in a broad graceful spiral... Fluidfilled, force feed-back cells, connected to a network of veins embedded within the fabric of her skin-tight bodysuit, provided the sensation of an interaction with physical gravity, and simulated resistance pressure whenever the software detected collisions between the representation of her body and objects within the artificial world ~ Over time, it had seemed that her body, and her mind, had both adapted to the semiweightless state... Coraline pulled out of the dive at the last possible moment to nail a perfect landing in an open grassland park surrounding the base of the residential towers. The tall


grass whispered in the natural interior breeze, their tips whisking against her knees, the sensation from her bodysuit was like a gentle tickle ~ Coraline's gaze rotated to encompass the broadest surface within the Golden Sun Pavilion; which spanned the widest portion of the structure where the upper-pyramid, and the inverted pyramid supporting it, were joined together. Beneath her were complexes of studios, factories, and laboratories near the center, with smaller private offices ranged near the exterior windows which featured fantastic views of the surrounding landscape. Of course, this day, there was not another living soul around: just an empty landscape filled with sunlight and wind. Gazing up at the majestic cathedral of golden glass overhead, Coraline had felt as though she were an insect walking on the forest floor beneath the terraced spirals... Nearby in a park, sheltered by a small grove of trees, Coraline admired the brand-new playground she had previously created... bright climbing structures and shiny silver slides... the golden plastic seats of swings rocked gently in the breeze... Coraline had somehow felt sad that the children had yet to arrive... Then she had brightened, and had smiled to herself as she considered how happy they would be when they had. For several moments then, she had regained the joy of childhood by skipping through the grass and completing several cartwheels before being unceremoniously dumped onto her back ~ Laying on the mat to catch her breath, she once again experienced the heavy gravity of the real world ~ She regained her feet with some effort before the counter-balanced gyroscope had hoisted her aloft. Then off again she bounded across the playground and several pedestrian paths in one giant leap to enter the shopping district. The shopping plazas were designed with clean lines and smooth contours; skylights piped in sunshine through fibreoptic cables ~ This would be one of the ‘neighbourhoods’ once 2,020 citizens had arrived and the self-contained environment had come alive ~ This would be where they could select their quota of products permitted within the Golden Sun Pavilion; food and clothing, appliances and devices, notions and sundries, and other items designed to entertain, enlighten, or amuse them during their periods of rest and relaxation. The shopping plazas were divided into themed-districts which offered specialty shops; lounges, restaurants, and sidewalk cafes, where citizens could socialize while enjoying a meal ~ There were also fitness centers, spas, cinemas, museums, casinos, basketball and tennis courts, swimming pools, miniature golf courses and a variety of financial investment services... Citizens could chose to either stroll about, or travel through the corridors in small electric carts... As Coraline approached an elevator lobby at the hub of corridors linking several shopping plazas, she had recalled feeling as though she were nearing the limit of her endurance ~ Upon gesturing to summon the time, she had become concerned to realize that she had been working for over ten straight hours without a break for rest or food... Yet, before she logged out, she had hoped to finish one last task; remodel the marble alcove of the lobby area which had been flagged for revision once it had been discovered that the actual statue of Zeus to be installed was much larger than originally anticipated... The solution proposed by one of the project managers, was that she cut a hole in the ceiling so that it could span two floors... While it had seemed


somewhat ridiculous to have a statue only visible from the waist down on the lower floor, Coraline had previously discovered an important thing about requests for revisions; that it was occasionally prudent to graciously acquiesce... So it had seemed that with just one relatively simple operation she could then go home. Since the lobby was quite dim, Coraline had summoned a point-source of virtual light which she then floated under the portion of ceiling she had been about to cut through. The ceiling and walls; covered with a polished white marble veneer only a few millimeters thick, reflected the glow ~ The carpeting on that level was of a pale blue colour ~ Coraline had noted that the diameter of Zeus's pedestal would also need to be increased... She sighed; why had she given in to Cho Tin's insistence ~ ‘Lady Golden Lotus’ could be very persuasive ~ Or perhaps, threatening Dragon Lady could be a more accurate description ~ Coraline hadn't wondered that the stubborn woman had been reluctant to find a statue of more appropriate dimensions. It was then Coraline had become possessed by a most peculiar sensation; the odd feeling that another presence had entered the simulation and was observing her at a distance ~ It had seemed a dark and malicious force, which had caused her to tremble. She nervously glanced about; yet, it appeared she was alone ~ Suddenly, thin tiles of polygonal marble veneer had begun to fragment from the walls and slowly drift about the room ~ Coraline recalled wondering whether the aberrations had been the result of some devilish software glitch, or whether the mainframe server was crashing... Stray bands of pixels intruded into the simulation ~ nf 2 . T sreams of garbge data sta5wr6itten to thD 7play ~ She had never experienced anything like it before... Then larger chunks of data, still fully rendered, tumbled from the model to crash into each other, shatter upon the floor, or bounce off of the walls... ‘What was happening?’ Coraline wondered as she levitated slightly above the floor. Gripped by fear and panic as the scene became chaotic, she had gestured frantically in a desperate attempt to avoid the unpleasant consequences of each projectile's impact. Although, try as she may, she had been unsuccessful in disabling her bodysuit's collision detection mode, and failing that, had also discovered she was unable to adjust global gravity ~ control over which had seemed usurped by some greater power... And yet, she had lingered; perhaps determined to regain command of the situation even as it had continued to deteriorate faster ~ Instinctively she extended her hands before her in an effort to shield her body from the jagged particles which had begun to swirl much more rapidly around the room. Shattering like asteroids ~ fragmenting into smaller pieces whenever they collided ~ glass, stone tablets and shards of metal responded to their applied material properties as they would have in reality... Escaping toward the relative calm of the eye at the center of the hurricane, the architect had finally recognized the situation had become quite hopeless ~ It was then that she felt the dull thud of a large mass dislodged from Zeus's pedestal surprisingly catch her blind side and fling her across the room ~ Jarred by sudden impact, the tension cables suspending her harness had rapidly released like a puppet with broken strings... and before she could react, her shoulder


crashed hard against the floor; simultaneously in both the real and virtual worlds ~ Laying dazed upon the carpet... the wind knocked out of her... she had then witnessed the chaos rapidly subside to scatter debris across the lobby like the aftermath of an explosion. As her breathing had quieted, Coraline watched the final small pieces raining down upon the pale blue carpeting come to rest with a gentle bounce ~ The light source still hovered in the corner ~ Then a sound had quietly entered her perception, and gradually increased in volume ~ The elevator was operating: the sound traveling down the shaft had slowed as it approached, then came to a stop on her level ~ A green light flashed on above the door, accompanied by a crisp electronic ping ~ An instant later, the elevator doors slid open. Underneath a single light in the ceiling of the elevator capsule, stood a lone figure with its face cast in shadow. Coraline had at first experienced an sense of relief; believing it to be one of the rendered figures she sometime summoned to provide a reference point for human scale while tailoring the ergonomics of a scene, although, that elation quickly turned to terror as the figure slid out of the elevator and glided across the floor toward her like a vision from a horrific dream... The figure had moved as rigidly as a chess piece, then came to a stop positioned with the light source in the corner hovering at its back ~ Coraline, kneeling on the floor, had shakily arisen to her feet. “I like what you’ve done with the place,” a young male voice had queerly intoned. “The archways along the promenade... are a nice touch... The form is classic, yet contemporary... Maybe a tad ornate... Would you not agree?” Coraline hadn’t recognize the voice which appeared to emanate from the entity standing before her ~ The figure appeared to have no facial features, and made no type of movement ~ Coraline had hesitated; uncertain how she would be able to communicate with it. “Treachery thy name is woman... to set the hounds on me... Is that a proper way to treat your guest?” The voice had shifted to a type of Shakespearean delivery; “Why whilst thou not speak... has the nightingale lost its tongue?” “Who are you?” Coraline had meekly inquired. “I am an angel.” “How did you get in here?” “The cage door was ajar.” Shivering with fear ~ a drop of cool perspiration emerged from the band of her goggles to trace the contour of her cheek ~ Suddenly dizzy, Coraline had wondered if


the situation were actually occurring, or whether it had been a hallucination caused by an extended period of intensely-focused work ~ The figure slid forward; approaching quite close before it stopped. “Why are you attempting to destroy my work?” Coraline had mustered the courage to bravely challenge the intruder, yet, noted a perceptible tremble in her own voice ~ Unfamiliar as she was in dealing with strangers, an intruder had been even more terrifying ~ She then recalled that she could push the button on her ankle bracelet to trigger the security alarm ~ ‘She must not wait as long as last time,’ she had reminded herself, ‘she must do it now!’ “Whenever I desire... I could raze this monument to the ground... I challenge your intentions... to erect a temple... to the evil greed and corruption... of the Golden Sun Corporation... They have attempted to destroy me... They have attempted to throw my life away... Now that I have seen the prize... I have chosen a target for my revenge.” “You... you can’t destroy the simulation,” Coraline reasoned; “the files are mirrored on servers around the world, and encrypted under impenetrable layers of I.C.E.” “They are not protected... as safely as you may think... I have some little friends... that can do more harm... than me.” The voice had occasionally grunted as though it took great effort to speak. “Besides, I don’t want to destroy the simulation, I want to destroy the real thing.” Although Coraline remained wary about triggering the security alarm, since it had seemed possible the intruder could detect it, and perhaps become erratic, she had considered it to be the best course of action ~ While slowly crouching down, under pretense of rubbing her injured leg, she touched the bracelet on her ankle ~ To further distract his attention, Coraline had asked; “What’s your name?” ~ assuming a friendly conversational manner. The voice had laughed; “I cannot say... I might tell you some day... right now I must flee... I see that you have warned the enemy... fair thee well, my dear... remember... I am always with you...” Coraline had been mesmerized as she watched the figure rapidly vanish like an apparition... For a few moments she had stared at the empty space where the vision had appeared... Then covertly scanned the room from the corner of her eye... afraid to move too much, afraid to make a sound... a poisonous shiver of excitement and fear snaked through her nervous system... the pale blue carpet was covered with debris ~ With a graceful sweep of her arm Coraline realized she could restore the most recently saved version of the architectural model. Removing her goggles, Coraline immediately noted that the suspension cables had become unspooled and lay entangled on the mat. She hit the release mechanism and her harness fell away ~ Yet, the fear had not subsided; she had wondered whether


she was still being watched ~ The paranoia continued creeping in ~ The awareness of the situation had become crystal clear ~ The recognition that something unknown and uncontrollable had violated her sanctuary once again ~ An entity which had certainly proved to be a most formidable parasite in attempting to eradicate. Coraline picked up her PAD from the shelf near the entrance to her studio... As she walked through the kitchen, she entered a four-digit emergency code on its tiny keypad... Exiting onto the balcony, she collapsed into her chair... Her body still shaking... Although, it was pleasantly reassuring to be surrounded by plants once again... A few seconds later an image appeared on the screen ~ Coraline immediately identified the young, plain-looking, dark-haired woman as Maria Kacheli; her personal physician. Noting Coraline's discomfort, Maria had asked; “Are you okay?” “Uhmmm... my shoulder is very sore,” Coraline had replied ~ Peeling away her body suit revealed that her skin was darkly bruised. “Looks like you have taken quite a tumble,” was Dr. Kacheli's initial diagnosis ~ Following protocol for this type of situation, Maria had requested that Coraline attach a sensor to her wrist so she could monitor her vital signs... Then she had added; “You should come to the clinic for a scan to determine that nothing has been broken. I will arrive soon to accompany you.” “Thank you, although I don't think it's damaged,” Coraline had said, rubbing her left shoulder. “See you soon!” ~ With that, Maria disconnected, and the screen went black. Coraline curled up and hugged her knees ... What had been damaged was the sense of trust which Coraline had placed in the system’s security ~ Doubt had entered her mind ~ She wondered why, with agent Cordova Frost’s sincere assurances, the vision had reappeared? She was afraid of the unknown; in a way it had seemed the antithesis of her methodical architectural work which attempted to create ordered-tangibility.


VIII. A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT DREAM

Heavy rain exploded silently against thick glass... Lost in thought, Coraline gazed abstractly into the darkness... Rivulets of raindrops streamed down the window to sparkle in occasional lightning flashes which appeared briefly to illuminate the rugged coastline of her childhood; the tiny village of St. Bees Head, and the wuthering heights of the promontory, inundated by dark and dreary mists which had rolled in from the vast grey Solway Firth... The video message she received from her mother had shattered Coraline with word of William Coventry's passing. It had not seemed possible; for some reason Coraline had felt certain her grandfather would live forever; that she would always be able to see him whenever she was able, yet, how quickly the years had elapsed, and how her work had consumed her ~ ‘You take life for granted,’ she had thought, then; ‘Sorrow is for those left behind; a time to grieve for our pain, and suffer from our loss.’ ~ Over and over, her thoughts returned to all of those things she wished she could have told him. How dearly she wished she could tell him once again that she loved him; as she would sometime neglect to do while he was alive... Then an image clearly formed of her grandfather working at a bench in his conservatory, his long white hair glowing like a dandelion puff in the sunlight streaming through the patched glass panels, his gnarled fingers delicately transplanting seedling from peat pots, while his quiet voice intoned; “We must not grow weary while performing deeds of merit, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good all.” ~ Coraline would never forget him. Despite Maria's recommendation that Coraline not travel until her shoulder had healed, Coraline had been determined to attend William's funeral. She was pleased that Sun had intervened in the matter ~ In his typical fatherly, beneficent manner, Sun had consoled her and eased her doubt. He had convinced her that the production team would have more than enough to handle during her absence ~ They were faced with the daunting challenge of managing a massive library of engineering specifications for an astonishing array of components, and co-ordinating shipping schedules with industrial plants located throughout the world which were contracted to fabricate components for the first phase of construction of the Golden Sun Pavilion's superstructure. Its deep foundation, and immense network of tunnels through the bedrock had already been in the process of excavation for the better part of one year. Coraline had experienced an eerie feeling of deja-vu while Li Xiaohong photographed her with his digital camera as she stood on the top step at the tail of the small private jet which would fly her to the north of England ~ She recalled the ancient image of the Starks which Jurgen had permanently stored on his PAD ~ The flight had


seemed to elapse quickly as the jet skirted the frozen coast of Russia. She had nibbled at her meal, then reclined in the comfortable seat to gaze out the window ~ Several kilometers below stood another of her flowers in the city of St. Petersburg, but the plane was flying too high for her to see it. Her father had arrived alone to pick her up at Manchester International Airport. He had greeted her with a tired smile, and a gentle hug. Coraline immediately noticed that his hair had seemed much grayer, and his face appeared quite haggard. The evening dusk settled as his Bentley flew down the highway. It was a two hour drive, and during most of the trip, Lewis had remained silent; his weary eyes stared intently at the milestones rushing past in the beam of the headlights ~ Coraline assumed his thoughts were preoccupied by the funeral which would commence at sunrise the following morning, thus Coraline had been surprised by his unexpected announcement ~ Having seemed to summoned the courage, he had cleared his throat... Ahem... then in a serious voice informed Coraline that he and her mother had finalized their divorce. As the journey continued, further details were revealed; Lewis told her that he had already moved into a Soho flat with his colleague; a lawyer named Lisa Pendens ~ A woman half his age who he claimed to be madly in love with ~ Lewis then quietly stated that he would be returning to London following the funeral. “How did mother take the news?” Coraline had innocently inquired. “Carol was pleased, as it turned out,” Lewis gritted his teeth, “Since she was quick to let me know she has been having an affair for several years with a female professor of Byzantine Arcanium who she met while traveling through Syria.” Coraline, shocked by these revelations, had lapsed into silence until they turned off highway A595, and onto the narrow country lane ~ lined along both sides with low stone walls ~ which approached the Coventry estate. Upon entering the house, they discovered Carol carefully packing a crate with fragments of dinosaur bones. She greeted her daughter with great enthusiasm; she hugged Coraline, kissed her on the cheek, then wiped a tear from her eye. “Your expression indicates father has told you of our decision. It's true. The time has come for us to separate. With you so successful in your career, and living in Beijing, and with William gone, there is no longer much reason for us to stay here. It will be best for both of us, and I am certain we will all be happier.” Home sweet home. There were cardboard boxes everywhere; some tapped shut and others partially filled with wooden carvings, books or rocks. “The movers are coming tomorrow afternoon, following the funeral, and in the evening I am flying to the Middle East. I hope you will meet my companion soon; she is a wonderful woman, and we are so compatible in every way... Oh, I wish you wouldn't have taken the trouble to fly all the way here, William is to be laid to rest in the yard, with just a simple private ceremony... Although, I am certain his spirit is glad that you


are here; he always loved you so much, and was so proud of you... Its just that, toward the end he was very lonely, and he often mentioned that he hoped you would come home to see him... but you were so busy with your career.� Insomnia, melancholia ~ that night there had been a ferocious storm; heavy rain exploded against thick glass, thunder, flashes of lightning briefly illuminated the rugged coastline. Coraline wandered aimlessly about the bedroom of her golden childhood; so many cherished objects brought back fond memories. She could feel the rough wood under her bare feet as she stepped slowly across the floorboards, sipping well water from a crystal chalice to assist her decompression... jet lag... or perhaps sheer force of habit in valiantly struggling against the familiar sensation of exhaustion which always threatened to overcome her ~ She had not felt sleepy, even after taking some of the medication which Dr. Kacheli had promised would not only ease her shoulder pain, but also assist in providing relaxation. Her surroundings had transported her back to the peacefulness of an innocent time when she was young, happy and carefree; an environment which through its contrast, provided Coraline with the realization that the intense, sustained pressure of ceaseless activity had already exacted its toll ~ Certainly, recent visitations from the mysterious hacker had been a significant disruption and had contributed to her stress... Incidents, she was aware, which had likely also prompted Sun to recommend that, following resolution of her family matters, Coraline embark upon a well-deserved vacation. Sun kindly offered to provide transportation to any destination she desired, and cover the cost of luxurious accommodation so she could enjoy a month of leisure ~ During her recreation, Sun had assured her, Flex Global Security would have successfully concluded their investigation ~ He had faith in special agent Cordova Frost. Coraline had considered the possibility of spending several weeks at home once her parents had departed on their separate ways. It would be the first time she had occupied the house without a governess, or her grandfather, to watch over her and make her feel secure. Alone in her room, waiting in vain for the rain to subside, she would languish upon her bed to gaze at the rivulets of raindrops streaming down the window ~ And given pause for reflection, she would contemplate the consequences of having committed so many recent years to devising the architecture for just one single building ~ One discreet structure within one region of the world! She could remind herself that with the release of the architectural model for the Golden Sun Pavilion, the media had touted it is a monumental achievement ~ One news agency had praised it as; 'A beautifully-imagined, intricately-crafted jewel' ~ Yet, along with the compliments and recognition she had received from the media attention, Coraline had also been grateful that her staff had shielded her from the barrage of interviewers, and the lucrative offers for an exclusive photo shoot ~ either clothed or nude... Scandalous! ~ She had been surprised by her selfishness at the thought of her own fame; she had not coveted that crown ~ What reason could she expect the name ‘Coraline Coventry’ to truly be remembered? ~ After all, it had seemed doubtful


whether many could name even one noteworthy figure who had created a great masterwork in the history of architecture ~ The Egyptian pyramids eroded by eternal drifting sand ~ The ancient stones of Athens and Rome dissolved by acid rain ~ The demolished past paving way for the future within every city around the world ~ Structures whose lingering significance were ultimately sacrificed; passing from thought like shadows in a dream. “Nothing is permanent,” Coraline had quietly whispered to no-one. Exactly how many years she had dedicated to the Golden Sun Pavilion, Coraline could no longer recall ~ Time, it had truly seemed, was relative... She had continued to pace the wooden floorboards in her bare feet... ‘If only there were little more time’, had been an impossibility, since production schedules required strict adherence. As a result, Coraline had established a pattern in which brief intervals of sleep alternated with extended periods of activity, cycling around the clock... Everything revolved about her work; the immortal core which sustained her strength and provided a sense of purpose in her life ~ Thus, with the cessation of activity, and a reprieve from her intense focus, it had been difficult to quiet those thoughts; residual traces of the virtual environment, even now, still crept into her consciousness ~ A complex, orderlystructured array of digital information which required intense mental activity to maintain ~ The chemical supplements she consumed had increased her metabolism and enabled her to perform more efficiently during extended sessions in which her thoughts attempted to cycle at a speed approaching the relentless internal clock of the processors. Most significantly, the superhuman strength she customarily experienced within virtual reality would be shed with the constraints of her body-suit to expose her weaknesses; her vulnerable fragility ~ If that was freedom, it was accompanied by the uncertainty of her own existence, and sometime difficulty in sustaining an awareness of the context of the general physicality of her surroundings ~ It was then, when visions would incessantly compel her to return; the insatiable attachment to the illusion of comfort provided by the familiar immersive environment. Meditation could enable her to attain tranquillity of mind, and calmness of body, which often afforded sound sleep for a few hours. Yet, even so, she often returned to the project during her dreams, then would subsequently awaken to the disappointment that all her progress had apparently been lost... And even while tending the plants in her conservatory, she would agonize over some detail she wished she could have changed ~ The desire; that elusive goal of complete perfection which initially was an integral part of her creative process. Under Sun's patient guidance, Coraline had learned to accept the inevitable compromise between attaining the ideal, and resigning to the practicality of necessity. Sun had illuminated her dilemma by advancing the notion that imperfection was the substance of something unique, of something which had character ~ “Nothing is perfect. Everything strives to accomplish what is possible under the circumstances, and upon achieving fulfillment, once again continues to adapt and evolve. Anything


which does not continually seek improvement is certainly doomed to extinction.” After a thoughtful pause Sun had added; “It is human nature for the majority to dream of great schemes, yet few successfully accomplish the grandest. I am so proud of you my dear.” Her weary double solemnly reflected her gaze from the dresser mirror ~ How her appearance had changed since childhood! Her features had evolved as she matured, yet her skin had still retained its smoothness ~ Only the slightest trace of wrinkles hinted at the edges of her eyes and adorned the corners of her mouth ~ Her hair was buzzed short; contrasting the curly locks the mirror had witnessed during her youth. And her feminine-physique had become well-proportioned, muscular and trim... She softly slid her slender fingers along the curve of her breast ~ Periodically, she had experienced an insatiable biological urge to have her nipples suckled by the tiny mouth of a baby... And sometime her breasts would release a few droplets of real milk... Regardless of what her external appearance revealed, Coraline was glad her emerald green eyes had remained clear and bright ~ They still seemed to express the purity of innocence, highlighted by a subtle twinkling spark of joy which had remained kindled within her soul... ‘Child of the pure unclouded brow, And Dreaming eyes of wonder’ ~ Alice, from ‘In Through the Looking Glass’ ~ Shifting her pose, she had then preferred to perceive her reflection as a portrait of wisdom and experience ~ Throughout her career, it had been her dedication to duty and professional ethics which had consistently enhanced her reputation, and consequently, elevated her status to such a degree such that she had been invited to take her place among the host of celestial beings, captivated by the gravity of Sun, which perpetually orbited within the sphere of his brilliant radiance. Coraline's fingertips instinctively traced the smooth rounded edge of the elegantly-polished golden logo which graced her light robe ~ The emblem worn by the elite as a badge of distinction. Coraline unfastened her garment as she turned away from the mirror, then nestled under the down-filled comforter of her bed; the hem of the quilt was adorned with fantastic mythical images embroidered with coloured silk ~ The conflict of emotions ~ Perhaps similar to sensations she understood mothers would sometime experience after the umbilical cord has been severed and they were physically separated from the beautiful life they had brought forth from their womb ~ Of course, it had also been her understanding that any morose feelings were often offset by the elation of finally being able to disengage from an extended term of labour, during which the exhaustion of exertion had kept them constant company. ... A brilliant flash of lightning... followed by an ominous rumble of thunder... Raindrops hammered the window... ‘All of her effort had been worth it,’ she often needed to convince herself ~ Her loves labour was a conception she believed could benefit humanity... So many people; most of whom Coraline would never meet, nor even learn their names ~ Yet, as the Creator,


she had felt responsible to them all ~ Each would have their own reason for being involved in the project. For some, the contract offered substantial financial remuneration in exchange for goods and services; although, Coraline believed, workers who toiled on various aspects of the monument's construction, would perhaps also pride themselves upon their contribution to a shared objective ~ The pursuit of a common dream ~ In other cases, the covenant united participants who had accepted the invitation to inhabit the Pavilion, whereby they would create a sanctuary of peace within which they could relax and calm their thoughts; in order to think clearly while they made informed decisions. Each were willing to fulfill their commitment by utilizing their talent and energy to assist Golden Sun Corporation to advance toward the future, and as it unfolded, examine the vast array of possibilities which were offered, so they could create solutions to the challenge of developing a better world for everyone ~ Those fortunate inhabitants were also to be rewarded with greater pleasure within their well-designed environment, and enjoy a healthy lifestyle which promoted their longevity... ‘Who wants to live forever?’ Coraline had considered, ‘One day we all must have courage to separate from this existence. To overcome anxiety. To break attachment to outmoded thoughts. To expand our consciousness. To achieve enlightenment... All comes into question at the precipice; Have we attained what we most truly desired? Have we conquered our deepest fear? Have we fulfilled our Destiny? ~ Are we chosen, or have we made the choice? ~ At times, the path could become indistinct... Shrouded in fog from the ocean of our desire... Providing only the vaguest indication of a possible destination... Then what?... Just keep going... Even stout hearts may grow weary from the journey, until a guiding beacon suddenly looms ~ Yet, there was reason for her unhappiness; since it was her perception of how things sometime seemed. And while Coraline recognized she had accomplished many of her most ambitious dreams, there remained a sense of emptiness within her... A hollowness of the soul which consumed her in its vacuum whenever Love hovered over her like a radiant vision of longing and contempt... Ethereal, vulnerable, eternal... The spirit entrapped like a bird in a cage... Teetering upon the brink of Aira Force... No-one understood her like she understood herself... There was no question she would have to walk her path alone... She must accept that and move beyond it... Perpetual motion was the key... Don't take time to dwell upon the sadness and misery... Do you understand? The storm had abated. Venus; the morning star, had appeared in the heavens ~ The bringer, or bearer, of light. Lucky for her, she had become accustomed to staying awake all night... The nightingale's song of ‘Itys! Itys!’ had seemed to increase in joy as it heralded the dawn. And with the arrival of the morning sun, the clouds had drifted away, and Coraline emerged from bed to get herself dressed. Barefoot she padded silently through the house, drifting like a ghost through the rooms; each filled with packing boxes of reminiscences ~ A sanctuary... and a palace of intrigue ~ Oh, what her eyes had spied from her secret places! ~ Hidden as quiet as a mouse to protect herself from the devious, scheming governesses who had tormented her... Once she had even witnessed her father's indiscretion in his study; the dress of a matronly


governess straddled over father's lap as she rhythmically moved up and down... Outside, through the kitchen door, Coraline discovered that the magic of the gardens, yards and grounds had also seemed to have departed along with her dear grandfather. Landscaped environments had returned to the unpredictable randomness of nature; flowerbeds choked by tall weeds, thistles and broom overran the arboreta, branches unpruned, clinging vines drawing stones from crumbling walls, apples scattered rotting in the grass, metal tarnished with rust, statuary lost beneath the debris of leaves... Coraline tentatively continued toward William's small cottage ~ 'Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.' A dead owl lay outstretched upon its back beside her grandfather's workshop. Coraline pushed open the frail wooden door... The interior had not been preserved as a museum, rather, piles of clutter had been cleared away ~ Coraline wondered where all of William's fantastic paintings of angels, flying saucers and naked ladies had vanished ~ Graven images ~ Yet, delicate cobwebs still languished upon the large brass horn of the old Victrola... Plants withered in their pots... And streams of sunlight filtered through the dusty windows to illuminate a brief handwritten note amongst scattered chips of stone and dust upon William's workbench. The note read in entirety; ‘There is a season for growth and a season for harvest then there is eternal rest. Give thanks, spared another winter.’ Out on the drive, the tyres of the Griffon had deflated; the vehicle seemed to have melted into the ground... Horseless carriage, headless horsemen... A black car of Authority had arrived; from which emerged a chaplain, and a man dressed in a charcoal-grey suit bearing ashes in a cardboard box. Ceremoniously, the two men approached the small group of mourners who had gathered in the shadow of the weeping willow tree ~ The mortal remains of William Q. Coventry were laid to rest in a grave next to the one of his faithful greyhound; Bellissima... Sun. Breathe... Fluffy white clouds drifted across the sky... floating slowly toward desolate hills, where weathered sentinels were no longer vigilant for the next invasion tempestuously tossed against the rugged coastline from somewhere across the vast grey sea... Gusts of wind danced over the meadow, brushing aside trailing fronds of the majestic


weeping willow to scatter patterns of dappled sunlight into its solemn shade... Her father was wearing an expensive dark suit, smoking a cigarette from an elegant silver holder... Her mother quietly spoke with several women Coraline had recognized as her closest friends... A few of the elderly locals gathered in remembrance of their dear comrade... As well as one mysterious woman, dressed in black, hidden by a veil, who remained off to the side, camouflaged by the cloak of dewy mists. Coraline stood between her mother and her father while the funeral ceremonies were duly performed and the rituals recited. Her eyes remained transfixed by the tombstone which William had spent his final days engraving. A beautiful stylized sunflower graced the rough white granite slab. Beneath the date of his birth and death was a simple cryptic epitaph: nemo liber est qui corpori servit (no-one is free who is a slave to the body) ——— Not long after the last had dispersed from the tiny cemetery, each of her parents had kissed Coraline good-bye then drove off in separate cars. After the movers had arrived to collect the boxes, Coraline was left entirely on her own ~ That was when she had finally realized there no longer seemed any reason for her to stay either... Her tears were finally unleashed then, and she had cried, and cried, and cried... She had missed her grandfather greatly ~ He had returned to the spirit world, she told herself, then silently spoke a prayer ~ One day she would join him... Journeying through the stages which transform our inner spirit into gold, and expand our consciousness toward greater clarity. Evening fell, and once again rain hammered the windows... Ping ... beep ... beep ... ping ... beep ... Coraline had been elated to view Sun's smiling face upon her TVi display ~ Since her arrival, she felt quite lonely and missed Sun very much. Thus, she had welcomed the opportunity to enjoy an engaging conversation with him, and as always, had remained appreciative that he was perceptive in recognizing how she was truly feeling: “It troubles me to see you saddened. I have some exciting news!” Coraline had listened with rapture as Sun explained his premise ~ Since the King's Chamber had yet to be finalized ~ That essential jewel set at the heart of the Golden Sun Pavilion where his body would be cryogenically preserved for eternity ~ Sun had suggested that perhaps a research excursion to the Great Pyramid would assist Coraline in envisioning her design ~ Naturally, Coraline had been overjoyed at the


prospect of accompanying Sun on a business trip to Cairo! He promised to send a car at noon the following day, then whisk her away in his private jet ~ Coraline had inquired whether her benevolent guardian had generously offered the opportunity upon recognizing the perils of her situation; imagining that he had noticed the distraught and forlorn condition she had deteriorated into within just a few short days... perhaps it had been the rain, the constant rain; with the exception of a miraculous interval of clear blue sky during William's funeral ~ No, Sun had assured her that her presence was essential in demonstrating the virtual model to an important business associate in Egypt ~ a bright young man named Tutankhaten+. Sun had then apologized for requesting her services upon short notice, and had then signed off by saying that he would see her tomorrow... ... A nice hot bath was what she had chosen to pass the time... nothing... just the gentle rhythm of ripples... her head bobbing in the waves... When she had scrubbed herself, and dried herself, and brushed her close-cropped hair, she donned her robe to explore the cellar where she was able to retrieve a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne... Coraline could see her half-filled glass upon the vanity from where she had collapsed naked upon her bed; arms outstretched, staring into the whiteness of the dimly-lit void above her. It was not long before the solidity of the ceiling had vaporized into a mysterious fog; ethereal swirling mists which had seemed to shroud a powerful presence compelling her with its gravity. It was Jurgen calling to her; not through voice, but by means of an exceedingly intense sensation which she had detected by homing in on it within her thoughts ~ She drifted through pale clouds in slow-motion, until gradually his thin, naked body had materialized before her, floating in a steaming darkness ~ a pool engulfed by the virgin whiteness of a pristine snowy landscape. At rest; his eyes closed, his expression peaceful, the drifting raven halo of his long black hair radiated like the sinuous rays of night. That spectral memory had returned to haunt her once again: her viewpoint hovered directly above him, suspended upon invisible bonds which captured her in their restraint. Anticipating his touch, she had desperately attempted to guide herself closer, yet he had remained, eyes closed, floating at a point just beyond her reach. The pain in her heart stung her eyes with soft tears ~ If only he could hear her calling his name ~ She had tried again, and again, until gradually an expression of recognition had seemed to indicate he had begun to detect her presence. Her gaze had panned his body... as thin and frail as if eaten by birds... his emaciated ribcage... skinny arms shot through with coal-black veins... his... his massive erection emerged from the waters like some primordial beast ~ Although she had been startled by its appearance, Coraline became engrossed in the fascination of observing it; a smooth, sleek monster which tempted her with the pleasure it promised to deliver ~ Then sudden awareness of the terror of her impulsive desire ~ The emotional shock had disrupted her concentration and caused his image to fade... In an instant, just before he had vanished, Jurgen would always open his eyes... and then


from somewhere emerged the sound of an anguished moan... Coraline pulled the covers over her as she curled up tightly; tucking her knees close to her chest. She shivered from the cold and desolation of a memory which had always seemed so vivid ~ Then she dried away a tear. She closed her eyes; her world went out of being ~ She entered the land of dreams...

IX. TUTANKHATEN+

Coming Forth By Day... A haze of dust, and car horns blaring in the hot Egyptian sun. Late afternoon, driving from the airport, seeing a little bit of Cairo before their scheduled meeting with Tutankhaten+... Cool inside the limousine with airconditioning... an ill wind... hotter than hell on the other side of the dark reflective glass... 45 degrees in the shade... No signals, no lane markers... Beggars scrabbling like scarabs through heavy traffic... The naked red light of Inca-Cola... Tiny whirlwinds of sand and garbage dancing like dervishes... eroding sculpted pyramids of organic spices displayed in market stalls... fruit... fabric... metalwork... Shop owners sleeping... Old mullahs sitting in cafes along the narrow sidewalk smoking shisha pipes... A man squatting to relieve his bowels beside the street surrounded by a halo of flies... Past impoverished districts plagued by mangy dogs and the wandering gaze of ghostless souls gleaming hungrily for baksheesh... ‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look upon my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ ~ Coraline recalled the poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley as she gazed at the scenery streaming past the window ~ The stone-ruined empire and its fallen gods; the mysterious symbolism of a distant time... Coraline's pulse had quickened in nervous anticipation of her first glimpse ~ Yes! ~ There they were! ~ The Pyramids of Giza; situated upon a plateau above the streetlights of the city's skyline ~ ‘Houses of Eternity’ ~ Monuments to the emperors Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure, built during their reign in the 2600's BCE, and arranged like the trio of stars girdling Orion ~ Coraline was aware that the base of the Great Pyramid of Khufu, or Cheop, measured 500 cubits in length, its sides had a slope angle of 51 degrees and 51 minutes, and that it was composed of some 2,300,000 quarried granite blocks ~ most weighing about two tons. At one time, the entire pyramid had been encased with smooth surfaces of highly-polished limestone which reflected sunlight from vast mirrored surfaces of 5-1/4 acres, so brilliantly that the pyramids could be seen from the mountains of Israel. Following the


earthquake which leveled Cairo in 1356, the casing stones were cut into smaller pieces and reshaped by Arabs to rebuild their mosques and fortresses ~ Thus, all traces of the ancient inscriptions were removed, and a great library of ageless wisdom was lost forever... Yet, the inscrutable Sphinx; ‘The Wonderful One’, may someday divulge the answer to the riddle. The somber purple pall from gasoline guzzling vehicles increased in density as they approached the core... Everything the colour of Sahara sand; weathered textures and forms starkly contrasting the equally-enigmatic modern architecture within the shadow of Cairo Tower... A phallic pillar echoed by one thousand ornate minarets thrusting skyward like a bed of hard clay nails... Across the 6th of October Bridge; straddling the Nile as one flat paved plane... Glimpses between the railings; strips of green vegetation bordering banks of black soil which dissolved in murky water contaminated by pollution ~ Not far downstream, ‘Nil’ would fan out to feed its famous fertile delta... Yet here at its apex, the jewel was Cairo; the largest city on the continent ~ The hub of a network of commercial trade routes which historically extended into Asia, Africa and Europe... An economy of coffee, spice and cotton... Beasts of burden... Cairenes with cell phones ~ Handsome men in smart business suits, trimmed hair and receding hairlines, women with ancient Egyptian eyes subtly masked by make-up; seeking advice of brokers to bolster their substantial fortunes, or perhaps booking a table at the most prestigious night club... Seated next to Coraline at the back of the stretch limo, Li Xiaohong was also on his cell phone ~ talking to an administrator at Eternal Life; confirming they were still in traffic but should arrive promptly for their meeting with Tutankhaten+. Sun had sat sullen and silent for most of the trip, until they had entered ancient Heliopolis; which the Egyptians had called Per-Re; ‘City of Re’ ~ translated as ‘City of the Sun’ by the Greeks, and known as On in the Bible ~ Heliopolis had risen to prominence around 2400 BCE for its grand temple in honour of the sun god Re; the principle deity of both upper and lower Kingdoms ~ It would subsequently continue to be a center for the writing of religious literature until the founding of Alexandria in 332 CE, when Heliopolis became forgotten by the foreign rulers of Egypt, and ultimately was absorbed as a suburb of Cairo ~ Sun had suddenly muttered words to the effect; “This great civilization once worshipped the sun, now they hide from it in fear.” Thereupon, as though by marvelous coincidence, a storm of epic proportions had sprung out of nowhere to instantly devour the city. Swirling clouds of dust eclipsed daylight and compelled pedestrians to seek shelter... Car lights and streetlights came on as traffic ground to a halt... They sat idle for some time while wind buffeted the limo... Sand slid down the shiny windows like rivulets of rain... The image of the driver appeared on the telescreen above the refrigerator at the end of the bar ~ He anxiously suggested that since they were not far from their destination, they should set out on foot, and Allah willing, he would guide them. The gritty, fiery air on the street had engulfed everything in burning sand ~ Blinded by its sting, Coraline clung desperately to Li Xiaohong for direction, and Sun; to keep him from blowing away ~ Li Xiaohong, carried a metallic case in one hand, the other


firmly grasped the uniformed sleeve of the chauffeur who forged the way by shielding his face with his cap ~ Stumbling through narrow alleyways together, they weathered the intensity of the storm ~ Coraline had been unable to see anything until they had eventually been led into the sanctuary of an old stone archway which sheltered them from the unbelievable wind.... They dusted themselves off before a heavily-weathered gunmetal door simply embossed with a silver ‘ankh’ symbol... Soon the whir of a hidden mechanism unwound to release the latch and permit them access... Li Xiaohong had attempted to tip with a wad of Pound notes, but the driver politely declined before vanishing into dust. Once her eyesight had grown accustomed to a scene rendered in subdued light, Coraline recognized that they were standing in a small entrance lobby atop a ramp which descended steeply into a subterranean chamber. Cautiously, they followed the dimly-lit passage ~ It was quiet, the filtered air was cool and clean ~ The ramp abruptly leveled to approach a suite of ancient tombs which had been modified to serve as facilities for Eternal Life corporation. A young boy, dressed in causal attire, emerged from an office. “Tutankhamen?” Li Xiaohong inquired. “Tutankhaten... Plus,” the boy had politely replied, exaggerating the syllable to emphasize the distinction. “Of course!” Li Xiaohong had promptly stepped forward to shake his hand, “It is a pleasure to meet you Tutankhaten+, please allow me to introduce the Sun King, and the Master Architect; Coraline Coventry.” Coraline had been captivated by Tutankhaten+'s fascinating features which seemingly belonged to the Ages: youthful skin the colour of clay ~ expertly sculpted to form prominent angular cheekbones, a narrow chin accentuated by fledgling tufts of a sparse black beard, a slender bridge which widened into an elegant broad nose, large sensual lips, and most intriguing; a pair of mysterious dark pools that had impressed Coraline with their apparent ability to emanate perceptible flashes of cobalt blue which briefly superimposed traces of the iconic symbol of the Udjat ~ the ‘Eye of Horus’ ~ upon the outline of his angular, beguilingly-slender eyelids and the graceful parabolic arch of each brow... Tutankhaten+ wore an intense, slightly-bemused expression like a mask, as though constantly trying to perceive everything possible about the modern world which seemed so new to him ~ Perhaps, Coraline considered, the essence of his being had truly been propelled into the future from the depths of distant time. Of course, Tutankhaten+'s most distinguishing physical attribute was his exceptionally-elongated skull which protruded to a considerable extent at the back. Its other-worldly shape was made more conspicuous by his predilection for keeping it smoothly-shaven ~ Perhaps an increased cranial capacity had facilitated the development of his extremely high level of intelligence, since, at fourteen years of age,


Tutankhaten+ was universally recognized as the foremost authority in the field of cryopreservation, and was also ranked among the most highly-respected scientists in Egypt ~ In time, Tutankhaten+ had also learned to accept the distinction of being the first among many on the planet required to add the ‘plus sign’ following their name; the registration symbol used to designate a ‘genetic twin’ ~ a term preferable to the epithet of ‘clone’ which was sometime still crudely uttered by the most narrow-minded citizens. Tutankhaten+ led them into his office which was illuminated by several large candles positioned about the room. He lowered himself onto a small throne behind a polished white limestone desk. Hieroglyphic inscriptions graced its elegant support columns and ornamented its edge. The desktop was buried under crumbling stacks of dusty papyrus; tattered scrolls ~ books of the dead ~ sedimentary layers of chaotic debris from which emerged a sleek, high-tech vidcomm screen like the hooded head of a Banded Egyptian Cobra ~ Naja Haje annulifera. ... Tutankhaten+, and certainly Coraline for that matter, would remain unaware that Flex Global agent Cordova Frost was discretely monitoring the meeting from a surveillance camera in the corner of the room ~ patching in to split the signal from Eternal Life's internal security network... A temple cat brushed against Coraline's leg... Opposite Tutankhaten+, Coraline sat to Sun's left, and Sun's faithful assistant; Li Xiaohong ~ always attentive to the recording device resting in his palm ~ sat to Sun's right. Coraline studied Sun, concerned about the condition of the centenarian ~ During the few hours they had been in Egypt, it seemed as though Sun had already become shrunken from the heat; his posture had withered and his skin had drawn tighter as he lost moisture through profuse perspiration... It was much cooler underground... Seated comfortably, sipping a glass of pure water, Sun had appeared to enter a rhapsodic state as though thoroughly enchanted by Tutankhaten+'s every word ~ or perhaps it was that Sun had become mesmerized by his gentle voice: Although Tutankhaten+ had been ‘conceived’ in 2002 by the Egyptian firm pHaraoh Systems, his early years had remained shrouded in secrecy while his authors patiently awaited a favourable outcome to the intense debates raging over genetic reproduction. It had been a comfortable childhood; sequestered within an opulent home in the Garden City district of Cairo. University professors had tutored him, a dedicated staff of servants catered to his every need, and a contingent of high priests adept in the ways of ancient Egyptian magic initiated him into its mysteries ~ as Tutankhaten+ spoke, Coraline considered him a kindred spirit because of the similarities in their lives. Alas, Tutankhaten+'s idyllic seclusion had been abruptly shattered by his sudden thrust into the glaring spotlight of the public eye ~ Within days of the ratification of several key international accords permitting human genetic research, the team of lawyers representing pHaraoh Systems had skillfully orchestrated a public relations campaign with the acumen of an advertising agency. A miasma of conflicting information ~ which appeared to originate from a variety of sources ~ had strategically


been leaked to the media in an effort to generate saturated coverage. Gradually, within the intensifying storm of speculation, a protean grain of truth had emerged, and like a bolt from the blue, had rapidly crystallized into something tangible which the citizens could visualize; the smiling image of a pleasant, smartly-dressed child appeared on millions of monitors throughout the world, in accompaniment to pHaraoh's official announcement which confirmed Tutankhaten+'s existence ~ One banner headline had read: ‘The Hidden One Emerges’. Although he had been born before the universal sanctions permitting human cloning had been instated, the controversy over the legitimacy of his freedom to enjoy life had quickly abated. Viewers had become enthralled with the story, particularly once it had been revealed that Tutankhaten+ was the first of many successful prototypes which had resulted from experimental replication of the ancient pharaohs. Technicians had simply replaced the instruction set of a fertile human egg with DNA recovered from mummified remains; wrapped in bandages and protected within ornate sarcophagi buried beneath the shifting sands in forgotten tombs ~ The sanctuary which preserved the physical body of those immortal souls forever journeying throughout the endless Western Lands. Like an omen, spiking flurries of accelerated trade in shares of pHaraoh Systems heralded the announcement that an extensive portfolio of authentic genetic specimens were to be unveiled upon their website. Expectedly, the launch had generated an immense amount of network traffic ~ It had seemed suddenly fashionable for those with substantial accumulated wealth to select among genes of nobles, viziers, courtesans or scribes from a menu of dynasties spanning distant eras, then contract pHaroah Systems to insert the strand of DNA into frozen embryos, and incubate them within surrogate wombs to efficiently and painlessly produce their future son or daughter. As expensive as the procedure was, however, few could afford royalty; that privilege was indeed rare. At the time, pHaroah maintained exclusive control over all genetically-pure replicants of Neneptah II, Thutmoses V, Sethos I, Ramesses II, the queens Hatshepsut and Neferkere, and so on... Tutankhaten+ swiveled the head of his vidcomm cobra toward his audience, then tapped out sequences on his PAD; the image of a nursery ~ designed to simulate the interior of an Egyptian palace ~ appeared as a live colour video stream... Coraline observed about one dozen fascinating children; ranging in age from one to five, playing games together, or perhaps engaged in solitary contemplation of the tiny pyramid of small granite blocks they had stacked upon the floor ~ It had seemed these children didn't just carry genes of their noteworthy ancestors, rather, it was as though they were their reincarnation. By the age of ten, Tutankhaten+ was CEO of Eternal Life; a private company he had founded. Within four years, he had cultivated a significant network of influential clients who had each made the commitment of a substantial investment toward ‘preserving their long-term future’ by reserving cryogenic storage compartments for themselves and for their loved ones. This massive influx of capital had precipitated exponential


growth ~ Soon Tutankhaten+ was able to fulfill his childhood dream; that of acquiring controlling interest in pHaraoh Systems, then managing it discreetly as though it had remained a completely autonomous company. It was the beginning of an empire which continued to expand rapidly. And as it had, his mission became the quest to purchase all the manufacturers supplying parts and service to his operation, then advancing further; to staff these well-equipped facilities with senior researchers and highly-skilled cryobiologists who had defected from other preservation firms by the enticement of extremely attractive incentives ~ A strategic tactic which had also effectively eliminated much of the competition. Naturally, the ripples from Eternal Life's economic activity were eventually detected by a senior executive at Golden Sun Corporation; the omnipresent Mr. Luk, who, recognizing the significance of targeting this enterprising venture, had prepared a dossier which he immediately brought to Sun's attention ~ Upon thorough review of Tutankhaten+'s impressive credentials, and relevant background data Mr. Luk had unearthed about Eternal Life, Sun recognized the only way he could rest assured that the installation of his deluxe cryogenic chamber within the Pavilion was managed with expertise, and that regularly-scheduled maintenance would be perpetually sustained, was to determine the purchase price required to integrate Eternal Life into Golden Sun Corporation's affiliated network ~ Thus, Sun had also an ulterior motive for scheduling this business trip; to personally negotiate arrangements for the acquisition. Coraline's gaze had alighted from the children on the monitor to glide about her dimly-lit surroundings: a considerable accumulation of antiquities were crammed into the cramped and claustrophobic tomb ~ Everywhere she looked, were strange and beautiful objects ~ A haphazard treasure-trove of archaeological artifacts heaped upon every shelf; a collection of clay canopic jars, a variety of skillfully-crafted obsidian tools, an ivory game board, small decorated wooden boxes filled to the brim with unpolished stone ushabtis, a dismantled chariot and broken statues filling gaps between the filing cabinets ~ Coraline dreaded the shadows vanishing into the corners of the room ~ In the flickering candlelight, she caught glimpses of fantastic illustrations enlivening the walls; strange symbolism which had transported her deeply into thought... Cartoons from the dawn of ages ~ figures painted in profile ~ captured in delicate strokes of ocher, green, white and rust which had faded only slightly during the course of millennia ~ Text rendered as icons: a falcon, a feather, a foot, a twisted strand, an anhk, a bee, a reed ~ And painted across the curved ceiling of the tomb, a large figure spanned the starry sky, breasts pointed downward, her arms locked in a passionate embrace with the earth... “... colder than hell; approximately minus 140 degrees Celsius!� Coraline returned from her thoughts to notice that Sun's face had remained frozen in an impassive expression while listening attentively to Tutankhaten+ embellish his compelling description of the cryogenic suspension procedure by seizing every opportunity to delve into elaborate technical detail... Coraline drifted in and out of concentration during the half-hour Tutankhaten+ spoke about perfusion solutions, cell


viability, lipid peroxidation, phospholipid metabolism, and atomic absorption spectrophotometry. “Enough of my words, allow me to demonstrate,� Tutankhaten+ had pressed a button under the edge of his desk and a secret passageway revealed itself in the wall of stone behind him. Sun, Li Xiaohong and Coraline followed him into the narrow crawl-space, crouching quite low. Once inside, the stone ominously slid closed behind them to, envelope them in pitch darkness. It was hotter than an oven. For several moments nothing ~ just the sound of Tutankhaten+ softly cursing his pass card, then suddenly another door slid open before them. Coraline had breathed a sigh of relief. She unfolded herself, dusted herself off, then immediately noted it was distinctly cooler inside; a chill was in the air ~ She slowly scanned the scene: The excavation consisted of a long maze of roughly-hewn tunnels resembling a cave. Along both sides of each narrow crypt were a row of large upright sarcophagus chambers, each plugged into an extensive network of cables emerging from the rock. The dull metallic canopy of each cryogenic preservation unit was sculpted with a stylized relief of an almost-robotic, generic human shape. The interface was cleverly integrated into its design; the emerging arms, which crossed the front of its body, created the impression that the representational figure clasped a small control panel tightly to its chest. At the top of the panel, the logo of Eternal Life was embossed in gleaming silver; a stylized Khepher beetle with wings which formed the symbol for infinity ~ ∞ ~ Softly-outlined text blocks overlaid wireframe hieroglyphic icons on the display, updating technical readouts as series of thin bar-coded graphics. And with a touch of the control pad, a live three-dimensional video image of the face in storage was projected unto the contours of its mask. The eerie portraits glowing within the cool darkness expressed the calm tranquillity of a state forever suspended in quiet isolation. In dusky rays of fluorescent light, a young lab technician, wearing scrubs, prepared to decontaminate the interior of one of the chambers. Coraline watched its canopy whisper open upon hydraulics to reveal a custom-molded form smartly tailored to the contours of the client. A collection of tubes and wires awaited connection to the body ~ All watched over by machines of loving grace which would preserve the carbon-based system in perpetuity. ... A ceiling-mounted camera swiveled to pan the tomb... Although his shirt was drenched with perspiration to the extent he had become chilled, the Sun King continued to express his gladness that he was there, while correspondingly, Tutankhaten+ was thoroughly pleased to field every one of Sun's questions. As Coraline eavesdropped on the conversation between the old man and the young boy, she had begun to appreciate the rarity of a company which had continued to advance the state of its technical developments in cryonics, while also


retaining a direct link to traditions dating back several thousands of years ~ According to Tutankhaten+, Eternal Life had established a remarkable track-record for achieving quantifiable results; most notably, their team had been the first to successfully restore almost normal physiological and mental functioning to human participants who had been stored at temperatures in excess of minus 140 degrees for a period of six months ~ For the purposes of their research, Eternal Life had employed terminally-ill human volunteers whose families were substantially rewarded with financial credits regardless of the outcome of the experimentation. Unfortunately, even under the most rigorously controlled circumstances, Tutankhaten+ admitted that the procedure of conducting the initial suspensions had been a process of trial and error: some patients had suffered considerable organ damage from thermal stress during freezing, there had also been spinal cord fractures, memory loss, blindness and freezer burn, but as Tutankhaten+ was quick to point out, nearly all of the test subjects had survived. Coraline was more surprised to note that ‘volunteers’ who had undergone the procedure were alive at the time of suspension, since she had understood the mandatory requirement of ‘legal death’ was necessary before cryogenic preservation could proceed, and that the regulation was strictly enforced by nearly all international authorities ~ Perhaps, Coraline had considered, there were many other instances of innovative scientific discoveries achieved at the expense of societal law. The only rules yet to be transgressed were those governed by Nature ~ Withholding the interjection of a comment, Coraline had instead shifted her thoughts to the subject of royalty in ancient Egyptian dynasties. It was indeed significant that their vision of attaining a form of immortality through mummification had seemed to prove prescient ~ Although, possibly not in the manner they had expected; since it was their genes which were preserved to resurrect an entirely new version of their original body ~ Coraline was curious whether Tutankhaten+ had ever experienced any of the ancient memories encoded within his DNA, yet with discretion, she had remained silent to listen more attentively to his words: “The intelligence gained from real-world trials has tremendously enhanced the refinement process. Our current batch of participants are nearing the end of their twelve month suspension period,” Tutankhaten+ gestured toward the sarcophaguses lining the walls of the underground facility; “I am certainly eager to evaluate the success of the various subtle implementations which we continually fine-tune.” Tutankhaten+ continued confidently; “We are poised on the threshold of indefinite stabilized storage without risk of serious damage sustained to the human body, although at present, our primary concern is the development of a modular technological support system in which components may be replaced or upgraded to maintain completely reliable operation of the machine forever.” “Yes,” Sun nodded wisely, “Hardware is always the weakest link between concept and reality.” Tutankhaten+ laughed ~ It was apparent their admiration for each other was mutual ~ As the quartet continued through another level of subterranean passageways


occupied by workers installing fixtures for further cryogenic chambers, Tutankhaten+ had become philosophical; “In theory, evolution tends toward an ideal state of infinite survival, yet the universe which we inhabit is extremely hostile. Forces of nature and the chemical composition of our environment compromise our longevity. Our bodies are formed of organic compounds designed to decompose in order to provide source material to establish future generations ~ Although they are imperfect vehicles with which to travel forth in time, alas, they are the only ones we have ~ Thus it has been our endeavor to indefinitely preserve the feeble ember of life's flame, so that it may be re-ignited some year's hence to shine forth in all its radiance.” Perhaps offering a subtle attestation to the enduring legacy of his own Chinese culture, Sun had then contributed his thoughts to the topic; “2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu recorded a chapter of ‘The Art of War’, entitled: ‘Void and Actuality’, in which he poetically observed that the physicality of water and wind have no constant form: ‘Of the five elements, none is always predominant, of the four seasons, none lasts forever... the moon waxes and wanes.’” Sun ran his fingertips along the smooth shell of a sarcophagus. “The thickest steel and hardest granite are not permanent. No, immortality may not be achieved by remaining constant, only through continual change; adaptation, evolution, the propagation of knowledge, the collective experience communicated through a network of interaction, are all initiatives for preservation of the species, and are advanced through individual achievement.” “Thus I have always ventured forth, seizing every occasion to explore the furthest of frontiers, indulging every opportunity to satiate my innate scientific curiosity, since it has been my good fortune to have attained a level of success in accumulating resources sufficient to sustain these speculative endeavors. Throughout my life's long journey I have been determined to make the best of every situation,” Sun had declared, “This predilection provides my impetus for undergoing the cryogenic procedure rather than a simple desire to ‘postpone the inevitable’. Before my journey culminates I would love to experience a distant future, even for just a few brief moments...” Sun had shivered. Realizing Sun had become chilled, Tutankhaten+ led the group back to his office ~ traveling via a circuitous route rather than chance the secret passage again... Along the way, Sun mentioned he had faith that he would still be of sound mind and body on February 2nd, 2020; the beginning of the first lunar month of the 4717th Chinese year ~ The date the Golden Sun Pavilion would be inaugurated, and Sun would finally be interred within the King's Chamber ~ Sun explained that his commitment to the rigorous regimen he had devoted himself throughout his life, provided him with a strong physical constitution, and enabled him to retain the cognizance necessary to comprehend an uncertain future ~ Some 322 years hence from his original birth date; when he was resurrected in the 2222 CE ~ or 4,919 years since the time of the Yellow King. Welcomed by the comparative warmth of Tutankhaten+'s office tomb, all had returned to the same places they previously occupied. Sun collapsed into his chair


and was soon preoccupied, as though processing sequences of thoughts which had progressed through his mind, until absently, he had quietly spoken; “... we may transcend all forms of material desire to ultimately attain freedom.” Then he became silent. A cart bearing refreshments awaited their return ~ Coraline popped a candied-date into her cheek, then poured a delicate cup of thick, black, sweet, steaming-hot coffee ~ She inhaled the full-bodied aroma, then savored its rich, deep-roasted flavour ~ It was a taste sensation which she had not experienced in many years; having grown accustomed to instant, if ever she had coffee at all ~ Li Xiaohong had also poured himself a cup from the narrow-necked, wide-bottomed coffeepot, then politely dipped his lips into its thick spiced foam ~ Immediately his expression indicated that he had never acquired a taste for the potent ‘devil's brew’. “Thank you for the comprehensive tour of your facilities,” Li Xiaohong offered, as he bowed slightly to replace his cup on the tray; “Please allow us to reciprocate with a visualization of the Golden Sun Pavilion. I should mention that construction of the virtual environment is still in process, and that our esteemed architect, Coraline Coventry, is presently about to begin design of the final stage, including the King's Chamber; the precious jewel enshrined at the heart of the Pavilion. We request you inspect the cryochamber so that perhaps you may offer your knowledgeable advice.” “That should be very enjoyable!” Tutankhaten+ had immediately moved aside several scrolls to clear a space on his desk, then commented wryly, “Paperwork that is never done, has always been my curse.” Li Xiaohong gingerly lowered his small metal case into the clearing on the desk. Popping open the lid, he grabbed the power cord then scanned his surroundings for some indication of an outlet. “There's one behind that bust of Akenaton over there; mind, it's 220 volt.” Li Xiaohong acknowledged this cautious advice with a pleasant smile. While the other three donned digital gloves and slipped on a pair of light-wave viewers ~ worn like wrap-around shades ~ Li Xiaohong established the network link by connecting the vR box with Golden Sun Corporation's mirrored server in Egypt. He would monitor their viewpoint perspectives displayed on three small panels which folded out from the lid of the case. “I've taken the liberty of assigning an avatar to each of you which has a mythical identity; Re ~ Master in the Eternity; Anubis ~ the Purifier, whom the ancients called Am Ut; and Isis ~ the Enchantress, known as Aset.” Li Xiaohong indicated these designations corresponded with Sun, Tutankhaten+, and Coraline, respectively.


“Impressive! You have done your research,” Tutankhaten+ had laughed, then said to Li Xiaohong; “I suppose then, you must be Aten.” As his goggles flickered to life, Tutankhaten+ danced in his chair; “Cool!” he had enthused. Sun also smiled as he swiveled his head to pan the scene now appearing before his eyes. Coraline remained silent, tranquil; to her the vision was just like returning home... Re, Anubis and Aset found themselves gathered atop a small hill in the rural countryside on the outskirts of Beijing. From this vantage point, Aset's viewpoint encompassed the surrounding scenery; gently undulating fields bountiful with weaving stalks of grain, pastoral floral meadows, and gnarled orchards bearing tiny brightyellow birds which flittered amongst branches heavily-laden with fruit. The hyperrealistic landscape had been idealized for presentation; yet faithful to the landscape's true topography, including the detail of the densely-rendered urban sprawl along the eastern horizon ~ Its skyline was patrolled by the lazy movement of an occasional mechanical dragonfly in this version of the future ~ Digital clouds, rendered as huge masses of transparently-textured particles, swept across the tranquil blue sky on the gentle breeze... Aset followed their movement, turning away from the city to drift her gaze over the panorama until it came to rest framing the Golden Sun Pavilion; which at this distance filled her entire field of vision ~ The appearance of the structure somewhat resembled a gigantic cube which had been balanced upon one corner embedded deeply in the ground. The apex of the upper pyramid kissed the sky, and its entire surface gleamed in the intense rays of virtual light reflecting the fireball of the setting sun from the monument’s gold-alloy surface ~ Processors had calculated the path of the sun in relation to the geographic location and the specified date Sun was to enter the chamber ~ The sun slowly slipped below the horizon several years into the future. Obviously, since they were in the same room, they could speak with each other and hear each other clearly, even though the facial expression of their avatars usually remained impassive. Anubis was represented as an entity with the body of a man and the head of a jackal. He had bright feral eyes, sharp teeth, long pointed ears and dark blue fur. Dressed in a plain tan-coloured robe, his arms and legs were bare, except for ornate bands which encircled his biceps, wrists and ankles ~ Re appeared as an elderly pharaoh dressed in white and wearing a golden Atef crown. His partiallytransparent body resembled a luminescent ghost ~ Aset wondered how she appeared to the others, since she could only see the front of her body when she tilted her viewpoint down ~ She had also noted her beautifully-feathered wings, yet the rest of her body seemed human... dressed in an almost transparent white linen robe clasped with a golden girdle ~ She was surprised that her breasts seemed rather large; giving her pause to consider Li Xiaohong's motive in designing her avatar's figure. “Let's fly,” Aset had suggested from the comfort of her chair ~ Then with a mighty thrust of her wings, she appeared to soar aloft, stretching her arms to gradually bank in a steep downward spiral before leveling out to circle high above the others. She called


out to Anubis, instructing him to extend his arms, then either raise his hands, or lower them to decrease or increase his altitude; “It may seem difficult at first, but you will soon master it... Clench your fists tightly to accelerate, open your palms flat to stop. Sway your shoulders to help guide your movement and keep your eyes fixed on your destination. Do not worry, you cannot come to harm. Follow me!” “This is like a dream,” the jackal howled as he took flight, then soon was also looping, diving and performing acrobatic barrel rolls high upon the sky. Re had been more hesitant; hovering slightly above the ground, staring at his feet, tentatively moving without applying much thrust ~ Aset plummeted down to align her viewpoint alongside his, then tenderly took his hand ~ since he was in the chair beside her ~ to assist in guiding his movement. “Thank you, my dear,” Re had said, quickly gaining confidence. Soon they were joined by the avatar of Anubis who had maneuvered in beside them ~ where their great height had afforded an extensive panorama of the entire city of Beijing surrounded by countryside as far as the eye could see ~ Together they had zoomed over fields and the rooftops of farmhouses far below, as they glided toward the monolithic monument with its gigantic prism capstone beaming rainbows across the land. Unseen, yet watching over their point-of-view, Li Xiaohong had provided voice-over narration; pointing out that each face of the Golden Sun Pavilion was aligned with one of the four cardinal directions, and that it had been sited through the geomancy of feng shui. He had also mentioned that the internal environment was designed to be completely self-contained and self-sustaining, and that it was accessible only through airlocks situated in security ‘reception’ areas terminating the network of underground passageways. Aset interjected, “Li Xiaohong, please disable collision detection until I request it.” “Affirmative,” Li Xiaohong had promptly replied. “The chamber is near center of the upper pyramid, let's fly toward the top.” “Lead the way,” the jackal howled. “The building is powered by micro-arrays of solar cells embedded within the ultraresilient, semi-transparent material coating the entire superstructure,” Li Xiaohong commented as the trio penetrated the reflective golden surface to clearly observe the magnificent terraced residential spirals protected inside. “Very impressive!”


Anubis was initially puzzled by empty patches of darkness suspended in the space surrounding them. Aset reminded him that the internal structure was still under construction; that regions devoid of data were not accessible in the simulation. She then drew his attention to the complex array of coloured lines which permeated nearly every surface like a network of veins rendered in various diameters and tagged with floating icons ~ “In this model, the internal infrastructure is revealed! The encoding designates the type of material each channel will circulate; light, electricity, water, air, communication or refuse, as well as specify the destination of each pathway. Let's continue to the upper chamber.” Lowering their arms alongside their bodies and clenching their fists, the trio ascended through the structure ~ They tilted their heads back as they moved toward a distant light like divers returning to the surface from exploration of fantastic ocean depths; passing through floors and walls like ghosts within the virtual world. Soon they had arrived within a lush conservatory containing a variety of Sun’s favorite species of plants ~ Especially his ‘three friends’ ~ pine, bamboo, and plum; symbols of longevity ~ The greenery of the landscaped terrain would be tended by the Keepers. “The King's Chamber corresponds to the position of its namesake within the pyramid of Khufu.” Once again, Li Xiaohong's disembodied voice had returned. “In keeping with the metaphor of the ancient journey into the Afterlife, perhaps this room should be referred to as the Hall of Judgment,” the jackal had politely suggested. Aset had requested that Li Xiaohong enable collision detection so their positions could alight upon the surface ~ They came to rest near a shallow pond at the hub of the verdant garden. Within the pond, a small rocky island was connected by an old stone bridge to a labyrinth of pathways which encircled it with concentric rings. Upon the island, shaded under the young branches of a Bodhi tree, was an elegant wooden temple housing the cryogenic chamber ~ Bamboo chimes rattled in the gentle breeze; a sound which became more noticeable as Re, Aset and Anubis proceeded across the bridge to approach the temple ~ Walls comprised of rice-paper panels were partially slid open to reveal a traditional interior simply furnished with natural mats and a large flat-panel telescreen. “Ah, here comes Li Xiaohong,” Sun had observed. A shirtless human figure, with the head of an Ibis, and wrapped from hips to knees in white cloth, tread methodically toward the island ~ following the circuitous path which meandered through a diversity of lush plant-life infused by golden sunlight filtered through the pyramidal glass sky. The jackal crouched by the edge of the tranquil pool to study the enormous lotus flowers which floated gently upon its surface; their petals glistened with shimmering crystal droplets of moisture as though they had freshly emerged from primeval waters ~ Unfolding ~ “Sesen,” Anubis had said, “The Lotus Flower; the symbol of creation and


rebirth. At night the flower will close to sink underwater, then at dawn it will resurface to open once again.” For some time Anubis watched lazy orange-and-white-patterned Coi fish swim around, trailing intermittent strands of pearl-like bubbles, before disrupting the surface of the water with his forefinger ~ He then stood to rejoin Sun and Aset who were standing nearby, as Li Xiaohong had finally approached. Li Xiaohong laughed; “I have decided to join you after all, for how else may a business meeting be conducted without the services of Thoth, the Scribe? Noticing Anubis studying the Bodhi tree, Thoth had approached to proudly inform the jackal that this specimen of Ficus religiosa; Indian fig, was a direct descendant from the famous tree in Bodhgaya, India, which many claimed, had ~ some twenty-five centuries previously ~ provided relief from sweltering heat for a wandering ascetic who had resolved to sit in meditation beneath its boughs until he had attained enlightenment ~ Thoth stated that clippings originating from the descendant of that marvelous Bodhi tree which had grown during the time of Buddha, were currently being regenerated at facilities near Bogata, Colombia ~ Taking root within a horticultural greenhouse operated as a subsidiary of the Golden Sun Corporation ~ Aset noted that Thoth had carried a stylus, ink-tablet, and papyrus sheet ~ ‘Nice touch,’ she thought ~ His arms and torso were certainly muscular! Thoth gestured at the surrounding environment, “This serenity garden is intended to provide for every inhabitant of the Golden Sun Pavilion whenever they feel it necessary to obtain guidance and inspiration directly from the Sun King himself... As they traverse the maze, citizens should calm their thoughts so they may enter the temple with a clear mind ~ Then seated upon mats before the golden sarcophagus of Sun Tzu, they shall summon his holographic presence ~ animated through a sophisticated artificial intelligence program, which simulates the essence of Sun's physical appearance, personality and mannerisms ~ so they may consult the Master; who will supply knowledge from the comprehensive database encompassed by the Universal Memory Bank to every private conversation. Each may then accept Sun's omniscient offerings of consolation and advice regarding their individual concerns by meditating upon the wisdom which they receive.” “You are a very compassionate CEO,” Anubis had said to Re, truthfully. Anubis then entered the temple to more closely inspect the cryogenic chamber; in order to determine whether its design specifications were suitable ~ Yet, the way the jackal had crouched to examine the carbon-titanium alloy shell created the distinct impression that he was rather meticulously sniffing its housing instead ~ He sniffed at the strange hieroglyphs engraved in a symmetrical pattern on the front surface; surmising that these cryptic markings contained coded information which provided instructions to future generations on how they should handle the contents of the time capsule ~ Anubis had sniffed at the illuminated control panel; recognizing that its timelock would one day trigger the release of Sun's body, as it had received it.


Perhaps becoming nervous by the jackal's careful scrutiny, Aset had anxiously pointed out that the autonomous, computer-controlled support systems were discretely routed to the island through the flooring directly beneath the chamber ~ To assist in illustrating her point, Thoth had briefly adjusted the transparency of the chamber's material to the consistency of glass so that Anubis could easily visualize the elegantlydesigned network of gas pipelines, electrical systems, phase separators, subcoolers and in-line cryogenic filters. “Very nice, very nice,” Anubis had commented thoughtfully. “Although, I recommend that you install the pulse tube refrigeration unit developed by researchers at Xi'an Jiaotong University in China. Their chamber is cooled by a thermo-acoustic engine which generates a resonance frequency through a closed network of pipes running throughout the walls of the chamber. The engines have no moving parts, other than the working fluid, which make them extremely reliable for long-term cryogenic storage.” Anubis then prowled the temple to pace off measurements of its dimensions. “I find the chamber to be satisfactory, although the temple is quite small; it has been designed for its visual aesthetic, rather than a practical environment within which to perform the elaborate ceremonial procedures required for purification ~ Since it is my duty to initiate the soul's journey into the Other World; at the appointed time,” the jackal had said, “I will personally lead the medical team in the final preparations. It is essential that we have a sufficient area to establish a temporary clean-room. In order to ensure immaculate preservation, the chamber must be hermetically sealed to prevent external contamination from entering... Only when a near-vacuum, low-oxygen environment is induced ~ simulating extreme altitude conditions ~ will it be possible to essentially negate the potential for any bacteria which happen to be present, from initiating the process of decomposition.” “I am certain Aset will be able to make the necessary adjustments to accommodate your requirements” Re had offered diplomatically. “Hmmm...” Anubis had scratched the fur under his long muzzle, “The rituals which suspend the sophisticated processes customarily occurring within the organization of biological matter, must be carried out with expediency. Time is of the essence; time begets all things out of itself, bearing them within itself, as though it were a womb ~ Since the breath of life will still be with you once you enter the clean room, the medical team's first duty will be to administer a massive quantity of barbiturates to significantly reduce your brain metabolism, and ensure that you do not experience pain. Once you have fallen asleep, your blood will be replaced by a newly developed substance which we call ‘bloodhoney’; a blend of pure honey enriched with synthetic blood, which prevents blood clots and bacterial growth, as well as decreases the potential for damage to the veins and arteries once they have become frozen. Immediately following the transfusion, the body will be cooled as quickly as possible to a temperature just slightly above zero degrees C. During this process, you will be connected to both heart and lung resuscitation machines to ensure that vital signs are


retained as long as possible to minimize damage to the tissues which experience oxygen deprivation ~ Once upon a time, the mummification process took seventy days, now it can be accomplished in a matter of seven hours.” Anubis joined the base of his hands together before his broad chest, then slowly cupped his fingers to form a temple, “Once the chamber is sealed, cooling will continue for approximately one further hour. Gradually respiration will slow, the heart will become still, and brain activity will cease. During this critical stage, technicians will vitrify the bio-organic material by replacing its water content with solution. The procedure requires precise control of cooling rates and perfusion, since the tolerances are delicate, and a critical error could precipitate a chain-reaction of ice crystallization which would damage the cellular structure of the organs and tissue. At the point of biostasis, when suspension temperature is achieved, the body will transform into a substance resembling glass.” Coraline had listened intently; clearly imagining the process ~ Her stomach had felt a bit queasy; perhaps it was just jet-lag or some bad food on the plane ~ She was beginning to realize that it took a good salesman to convince people that it was a desirable proposition to exchange suffering, uncertainty and a considerable fortune for the slim chance of being able to postpone inevitable death. Yet, Tutankhaten+ was the real thing. “Forever after,” Anubis had continued, “It is simply a matter of keeping the system software running efficiently, and maintaining the refrigeration unit hardware to perpetually operate without failure. In this regard, it is desirable for dedicated employees of Golden Sun Corporation to supply technical support, since their close proximity would effectively enable them to be available 24/7 in the event of the need for emergency repair. Initially, Eternal Life will thoroughly instruct the support technicians, and we will periodically upgrade their training. It is highly unlikely this responsibility will have any significant impact upon their other duties or activities, since the pulse-tube refrigeration unit is extremely reliable.” “Thank you for explaining the procedure so thoroughly, and providing an assessment of the risk,” Re had said, placing his hand on the shoulder of Anubis. “I am aware of the danger... I will either reawaken in this world, or in another... If it should be that my existence continues into the future, I anticipate that advances in molecular engineering and nanotechnology may provide the source of miracles which enable my chemically-encoded memories to be fully recovered and ensure the reconstruction and resurrection of my body.” Re had slowly levitated above the island as he spoke. “These technologies hold the key to the fountain of youth; the well-spring of true immortality, since they also offer the potential of making modifications at the molecule level which will continually rejuvenate cells to create not only an immortal soul, but also a perpetually-youthful body.” Re hovered toward Aset then settled nearby ~ Coraline had telepathically detected images forming within Sun's thoughts; a rare occurrence during her relationship with


him ~ Perhaps their shared experience had transported them all into a state of lucid dreaming, within which Coraline was able to attune to the frequencies Sun intensely emitted. The vision in his mind had appeared similar to a cloud chamber; the type customarily used in physics laboratories to track the movement of particles resulting from molecular collisions ~ Sun's point-of-view was at a position of rest within the calm center of the chaos which had begun to swirl about him. Contrails from the exceedingly fast particles ripped spiraled tracks which darted like birds upon luminous wings ~ Interestingly, as Sun became more tranquil, the speed of the tiny particles had seemed to increase proportionately; etching a complex and delicate pattern which gradually merged into the clear radiant light of pure reality... ‘frost feels like heat in the land of silence’, Sun had then thought for some reason. The jackal had emerged from the temple to join them ~ Just then, a brilliant ray of sunshine, rendered with radiosity, penetrated the western wall of the Golden Sun Pavilion to beam upon them with full intensity ~ Magic hour ~ The rays of light which streamed down through distant clouds had formed a pyramid with the sun at its apex ~ The golden sunset rusted red along the undersides of narrow steel grey clouds which tracked slowly across the pale blue sky above them... The faraway cries of large flocks of black crows migrating toward evening... “Perhaps we should head back,” Aset had prompted. Reluctantly agreeing, the trio then removed their light-wave viewers to discover themselves seated around Tutankhaten+'s office desk once again. Tutankhaten+ had been very appreciative of Coraline's vision for the Pavilion's architectural design, and had eloquently expressed the honour it would be to preside over the ceremonies of Sun's interment... “Yet, until that fateful day, let us all enjoy ourselves!” Tutankhaten+ had smiled mischievously ~ Like any other young man, he appreciated an opportunity to get away from his tasks for awhile to enjoy some pleasant leisure with friends; “While you are in Cairo, you shall be my guests!” Outside, the air was still fiery-hot ~ The stinking, stagnant smell of rotting fruit and feces ~ The noxious emissions of automobiles stung Coraline’s eyes like acid ~ Fortunately the sandstorm had almost subsided ~ Yet, the damned flies! ~ Tutankhaten +'s private limo had awaited to take them on a whirlwind tour: “This evening we shall dine at Cleopatra Restaurant, then later attend a private exhibition at the famous Egyptian Antiquities Museum; which I am permitted to frequent whenever I desire. Sometime when I am unable to sleep, I will go to the museum after it has closed, to wander through the empty space and recall the furnishings and ornaments which had graced my previous life ~ My keepers had the foresight to ensure my tomb was stocked with everything I would need when I entered the next world; everything, unfortunately, except dear Ankhesenpaaten; my wife, my sister, my soul mate,” Tutankhaten+ had then lowered his voice to add; “To steal my sunshine, my love, from me, was the most painful of injustices.” Then Tutankhaten+ had regally turned his head to gaze out of the window ~ and hide a tear which


streamed down his cheek... Moments later, he had brightened and turned to cheerfully exclaim that tomorrow they would see the Great Pyramids as well as Ezbekiyya Gardens. And what a night it had been! The grand neoclassical Museum, with its high ceilings, domes, and decorated columns, had an immense central atrium which compassionately sheltered several gigantic statues which were already severely weathered. And on the upper floor, endless halls filled with mummies and amulets and beautiful excavated treasures were neatly displayed in wooden cabinets and labeled with typewritten cards ~ Sarcophaguses; once nested inside another like wooden Russian dolls, bore a remarkable resemblance to Tutankhaten+ ~ Each diadem was adorned with the uraeus; the cobra ~ The emblem of royal power ~ The false plaited beard of Authority ~ The ceremonial scepter and flail crossed upon the chest; implements for guiding sheep and reaping what had been sown, or perhaps more sinisterly, as symbols of control and punishment ~ All rendered in solid gold... Coraline had learned that ‘Tut-ankh-Aten’ meant ‘Living image of the Aten’. He had been the Twelfth Pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty; born in 1343 BCE, ascended in 1334 BCE, and died in 1325 BCE. His tomb was uncovered in the Valley of the Kings by Howard Carter in November 1922, and had been an unprecedented archaeological discovery ~ At the time, The Boy King’s image had graced the front pages of every newspaper for weeks... “I have memories of these things,” Tutankhaten+ had said, delicately removing an ornate bow from its case... Then later, while handling a small purple and blue glazed faience ring, he had once again uttered: “How I dearly miss Ankhesenpaaten.” ... Outside on the lawn, under the crescent moon; a thumbnail scratch in the desert sky ~ And higher still above the dusty haze of the city, the Milky Way spilled through the starry firmament like weightless effervescent champagne ~ It was nearly midnight when the limo made its way toward Tutankhaten+'s splendid house in the elite Garden City, where they would spend the night ~ During the journey, Coraline had periodically gazed at the screen of her PAD; the map it displayed was continually updated based upon global positioning. In the view from above, the street layout of Garden City was a swirl of overlapping ellipses with crazy traffic intersections; a doodled abstract which Coraline imagined somewhat resembled a lotus blossom, or perhaps a butterfly, or a fish ~ An artistic flourish wedged tightly between the regular grid of the urban core, and the muddy Nile to the west... The Nile ~ The longest river in the world; 5584 km from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea; draining a basin of more than 3,349,000 sq. km. ~ Facts displayed upon her PAD ~ Her thoughts had drifted down that timeless river ~ Flooding every summer, when Orion climbed the sky, renewing the banks with a fresh layer of fertile black soil from far away tropical jungles high in the mountains of darkest Africa ~ The cycle of Necessity ~ The Soul emerging from the Tuat; the path of the Night Sun ~ The realm of the cause of life ~ The Nile flooding like a uterus... A blessing rather than a curse ~ Nile, Nile, crocodile...


“... Ammet, devouring cruel hearts of the evil dead...” Coraline had returned from her reverie to the sound of Tutankhaten+'s voice... During their time together, he would speak of many things ~ And of course, Li Xiaohong had faithfully recorded every word. The limo continued to roll past the illuminated oases of petrol stations then had eventually entered the magnificently-aristocratic Garden City; poshly-appointed with colonial mansions which resembled banking institutions, situated upon large plots of land along the narrow boulevards ~ The perplexing looping streets frequently changed name as they intersected each other more than once; Nabatat begat Bergas begat Harass begat Faskia ~ Black pavement with narrow rounded curbs immediately bordered wrought-iron fences, trimmed hedges and manicured foliage which formed islands around these castles which had seemed to be made of sand ~ They were the residences of lawyers, bankers, merchants, ministers and senators of the Pasha brigade. The ornate stone houses were embellished with additional floors constructed of volcanic cement; stacked up like iced layers of a wedding cake ~ A synthesis of neoclassic, Venetian palladium and Gothic pastiches amidst a festival of Art Deco ~ Satellite dishes upon every roof, air conditioners beneath the narrow shuttered windows ~ Quiet and serene ~ Eventually they had arrived at Saraya Al Kobra; the street upon which Tutankhaten+ lived. Tutankhaten+'s residence was similar to many others in the neighbourhood; built to accommodate the enormous extended families of the previous century ~ A time when wealth in Egypt was derived from the ownership of large estates planted in cotton ~ A time when sons and brothers with their many wives and concubines, as well as serving staff, all customarily shared one roof ~ Tall date palms bearing seed beside the gate, surrounded by stone walls, opening into verdant gardens, passion flowers in the courtyard, the streetlight and its shadows accentuated the curved surfaces of the building's facade ~ Additional pillars, balconies, cupolas and turrets layered upon the original stone building like a coral reef ~ As Coraline approached the house, she scratched a cluster of flea bites on the back of her left hand; an itchy redness which had started to spread up her arm like a tattooed map. Upon entering the building, Coraline had recognized many similarities to her own childhood home in England. Yet, this palace was of a much greater order of magnitude in size, and being inhabited by Tutankhaten+'s large entourage, there was a much greater dynamic of human interaction than her own solitary youth had provided ~ Oh, the intrigue Coraline had imagined! ~ Within the mandara; a large comfortable lounge, Tutankhaten+ had sprawled upon a leopard-skin covered with cushions upon the floor. He had then invited his guests to relax upon other palettes nearby ~ The fragrant incense of myrrh ~ Gorgeous young girls, clad only in shimmering veils, delivered shimmering silver platters arrayed with potent ‘Cobra Venom’ cocktails; cooled to a delicate blue in glistening iced glasses. “May we await together the Day of Awakening when Osiris returns to the world,” Tutankhaten+ had raised his glass, then drained the shimmering fluid.


Tutankhaten+ then directed their attention to the mashrabiyya; a wooden latticed grill which enclosed the overhanging gallery, connected via secret passageways with the haramlik; the family quarters ~ Traditionally, women cloistered within their home could not intermingle with men, thus, screens had facilitated the vicarious pleasure of observing the men's activities and listening to their conversations without being observed ~ Long cloaks and veiled faces had extended the privacy of familial space into the streets beyond the homes and palaces ~ Egyptian girls could not be approached or be spoken to by a man ~ Rendered socially invisible; they were the chattel of arranged marriages or concubines who served to selectively strengthen links with other prestigious households ~ Female circumcision was common; removal of the oyster's precious pearl, the purple rose of Cairo in the fertile delta, since the clitoris had no other purpose other than stimulating pleasure... Tutankhaten+ spoke freely about many subjects. Coraline felt sleepy since eating the sumptuous evening meal at Cleopatra Restaurant ~ delicious bettai: a round, flat Arab bread ~ manshi: stuffed vegetables ~ babaghanou: roasted eggplant ~ meggadara: brown lentils and onions cooked with rice and served with yogurt ~ Dishes which were seasoned with coriander, mint, cumin, and cinnamon, and accompanied by small bowls brimming with olives, almonds, pistachios, loquats, cherries, and figs ~ Dinner had concluded with a desert of basbousa: pastry stuffed with nuts and smothered in honey ~ The superb crystal chandeliers ~ And all the while, the green-and-gold brocaded windows had constantly compelled her to expend her gaze upon the panoramic Nile... Unfortunately, in consequence of her zeal to experience the stimulating variety in flavour and texture of ‘real’ organic food, the substantial meal ~ although fit for a queen ~ had made her stomach feel uncomfortably full ~ It had been quite in contrast with the highly-concentrated protein servings she would customarily consume while working on the project ~ Thankfully she had been able to walk off some of its effects while browsing the desolate corridors within the Antiquities Museum... And although her drowsiness had returned while resting upon cushions within Tutankhaten+'s ornate lounge, Coraline, still interested in continuing their conversation, had introduced a new topic by admitting that she had remained particularly mystified why the ancient Egyptians had seemed so consumed with thoughts, and cults, of death and dying. Tutankhaten+ had courteously smiled before beginning the final chapter of the evening with the following disclaimer: “It is always controversial to discuss religion; that's how wars begin ~ Nevertheless, it is my hope that my companions will not be offended by my words, nor consider them blasphemous when I submit that it is possible for a multitude of interpretations of ‘God’ to simultaneously exist... From tribal animalistic naturalism to cosmopolitan cultural sophistication, every society attempts to discover a method of connecting with that incomprehensible source of energy from which everything is manifest. In ages past, when wisdom was communicated as word... the Sayings of the Oracles... the ‘Logia’... the detailed memories of historic myth remained clear within the minds of those


designated as a ‘Priest’ or ‘Hierophant’. Whenever there was illness, it was possible to affect a cure through the knowledge of procedural treatments and of healing herbs. And ultimately, whenever death had claimed a member of the community, a ceremony was conducted in connection with the disposal of the body. Yet the function of the ritual was of much greater importance to console the living; preparing them with teachings which were not concerned with death and dying, but with eternal life... imparting lessons by which they could be placed among the favoured ones who were able to embark in peace upon that journey when it had one day arrived.” While Tutankhaten+ had spoken, it seemed somewhat peculiar to Coraline that a young boy could be so knowledgeable about such philosophical matters: “And so too, in daily life,” Tutankhaten+ continued, “Whenever guidance was required, the priests could recall a repertoire of stories which could provide meaningful insight in each specific situation... The Truth encased in the amber of popular legend... The mythic tales which enabled comprehension of the majesty and divinity of the everpresent miracles of Nature, of death, of birth, of the flood, of the sun, of the stars; symbolically characterized by humans in animal form, or animals which could speak. The priests provided wisdom which facilitated an understanding of the comedy and tragedy of human existence... communication made memorable through entertainment and spectacle; imaginatively summoning allegorical characters recognized, not as real as flesh and blood, rather, as various aspects of ourselves. Like other agricultural societies, an important part of Egyptian life was maintaining a good relationship with the gods, and honoring the spirits of departed ancestors.” “One prominent theme of traditional narratives was: ‘The Wandering of the Soul’... the journey through this life and the next, portrayed as an arduous and hazardous quest, yet, one which was supremely rewarded through the greatest of attainment.” As an example, Tutankhaten+ had mentioned that; “During the Old Kingdom, ‘The Mysteries of Osiris’ was dramatically performed within an underground chamber. It enacted the miraculous story of the life, the death, and the resurrection of the ‘Golden One of Millions of Years’... Osiris!... And in its pageantry so affected its beholders, that death lost its sting, and the grave its terror; since the audience was made to realize that while their physical bodies were corruptible, their souls remained immortal. Thus, just as the regenerative flooding of the Nile was heralded by the constellation Orion ~ so too, during the arid heat of August, that the birth of the savior Osiris was first celebrated.” Tutankhaten+ had sighed; “Sometime before the first pyramid was built, perhaps even as far back as the Sphinx, the sacerdotal caste had gradually attained greater stature above the common masses. They had realized it was possible for a select few to control the vast multitude through religious indoctrination. They could assure their prestige once the ancient myths were transformed into written word, when the meanings could be altered to suit a desired end; materializing the spiritual to make it seem more real, and perhaps purposefully distort the content to veil the ancient Wisdom. This concealment laid the foundation for a priesthood who had taken interest


in keeping the population in ignorance with doctrines which seemed so sublime... And the priests had surmised correctly that the masses could not dispute the tangible, existing proof; committed to stone, clay and papyrus... The hieroglyphic mode of writing, which the ancients called; ‘medu netcher’... The words of the gods, which if they could be read at all, by the educated class, could readily be believed to be the work of the great god Thoth, and thus of divine origin.” “And similar to authorship of the Bible, the Quran, and the others, the meanings within ‘The Book of the Dead’, ‘The Book of Breathing’, ‘The Book of Gates’, for example, had become doubtful and people had begun to forget. Copyists may make transcription errors by misreading the original, or may sometime even feel inspired to create interpolations at variance with the intent of the original teaching by adding instruction of their own. Thus, as time progressed, many versions arose, so that no two papyri were identical as to the number of chapters, nor preserved in the same sequential arrangement, and none were complete in themselves.” “My Father, the Pharaoh Khu-en-Aten; also known as Akenhaten, was not a warrior. He was a philosopher and dreamer more interested in cultivating fine arts than in destroying his enemies. He attempted to celebrate the true beauty and pleasure of life through his poetic religious notions. The worship of Aten was of a joyous nature; altars were never stained with the blood of animals offered in sacrifice. Akenhaten had perceived that all the Gods of Heavens; all the creators of all things, all the deities of every department, were actually aspects of one boundless energy which shifted in density of its concentrations as it perpetually flowed throughout the universe ~ My Father had tried to persuade people that behind the traditional perception of Amen as the god which characterized the Sun, stood Aten, like an atom; the all-pervasive force which energized even the sun ~ That most spectacular manifestation of rays which radiated to blissfully nourish and vivify all creation.” “Evidently his ideals were opposed by the well-established, elite priests of Amen, who were treacherously greedy for wealth, and held influence over commanders who had risen in position to control vast armies in their desire to expand the empire. The blame shall not remain nameless, the vanity of their praises shall make their history difficult to erase. Upon the scale of justice, Anubis will weigh the purity of their heart against the feather of truth, and having not discovered balance, shall banish their Khu; their true luminous souls, to the Hall of Eternal Sleep and Darkness...” It was well past midnight when Tutankhaten+ had finally noted that his long-winded assessment of Egyptian religious practices had transformed into a bit of a tirade which had left his audience wilted ~ Slumped in his chair, Li Xiaohong was still recording, although Sun had already dozed off ~ Coraline had become so drowsy that it had seemed to her as though she could sleep for an eternity. Tutankhaten+ then accompanied each guest to their own private bedroom on the second floor. As they had parted near her hallway door, Tutankhaten+ ~ with a twinkle in his eye ~ had quietly whispered to Coraline:


“Forget the past, remember the future ~ ‘Good things shall come to pass’(Amen).” “Pleasant dreams,” Coraline had replied... wondering if she had heard ‘Aten’?

part four I. FENG-HUANG

“Feng-huang is the firebird vivified in Chinese literature; similar to the Bennu of Egypt, and the Phoenix of Assyrian mythology ~ It is the symbol of rebirth, transformation and resurrection.” “I am Feng-huang,” the Sun King laughed ~ He flapped the sleeves of his white silk robe while he slowly twirled atop the stone steps above the pool at the center of his palatial bathroom. He then smoothed his tousled grey hair, and with a subtle gesture summoned waters to spring forth. While Sun intently watched the level rising in the pool, Coraline studied the superbly-crafted bronze sculpture gracing the fountain; an ancient statue of Feng-huang which Sun had mimicked. The creature was represented as appearing somewhat similar to a wild swan, except that it stood upon three legs, had a tortoise shell upon its back, and its feathers more resembled the scales of a dragon. A square wooden box ~ containing sacred scrolls ~ hung suspended from the beak of its fierce eagle-like head. The marvelous plumage of its outstretched wings, and the smoothly contoured flames engulfing its body, shimmered in the dazzling embers of a golden-red sun which had risen through the dense layers of ashen cloud spanning the eastern horizon, to brilliantly illuminate fragrant streamers of incense smoke in the bathroom of Sun's suite near the apex of the Pavilion. “Feng-huang is a messenger of the Taoist Immortals; who also named it the ‘Cinnabar bird’. History has recorded that it first appeared during the reign of Huang Ti, sometime around 2600 BCE. Its presence signifies the glorious reign of a benevolent ruler, since it will only return to usher in a new period of prosperity and fertility when peace and reason prevail within the Land. During intervals of disharmony; when foolish people try to capture it in order to obtain its beautiful shiny feathers, it escapes across the desert, and over high mountains and green valleys, to sequester itself among the Vermilion Hills within the Kingdom of the Wise, where it may enjoy freedom and sing songs of praise to the sun above.”


Coraline had modestly averted her gaze while Sun disrobed and slipped into his bath ~ Totally submerged, except for his face, Sun had continued speaking; “At dawn, it bathes in water while it sings a beautiful song... So beautiful, in fact, that the sun pauses every morning to listen before rising into the sky. Yet, despite its fearsome appearance, Feng-huang is actually virtuous and gentle. It would never cause harm, and does not feed upon living things. It nests upon the Wu t'ung tree (Dryandra cordifolia), and is sustained only by the nectar of sweet dew. It is unique and rare. Legends tell of jade stones forming wherever the beautiful bird alights. Its colors delight the eye. Its melodic voice sincere, and in its heart, it contains all the literary treasures. It is the sacred bird; the symbol of cyclical periods, representing rebirth, hope, purity, chastity, faith, and the eternal light of that primordial celestial fire which created the universe, and will ultimately consume it, in time.” “Every 1,461 years; when it has grown old, and lost the strength to soar into the sky, or fly as fast or as far as it once could, Feng-huang will say: ‘I cannot live this way. I have arisen into being from unformed matter, I am the Emperor of all birds, I symbolize Everlasting Love through the inseparable union of male and female; Feng and Huang; yin and yang, sun and moon. I must rejuvenate myself to regain the strength which enables me to distribute harmony throughout the world’. Thus, in preparation for its immolation, it builds a nest of aromatic wood; cinnamon bark, spikenard, and the sharp-scented gum called myrrh. Perched within its nest, with its head uplifted to await the arrival of the sun; the redeemer of all distress, it would sing, ‘Sun, glorious sun, make me young and strong again!’” “Hearing its plaintive song, the compassionate sun, upon reaching its zenith, would chase away the clouds and still the wind so it could shine down upon Feng-huang with its full might. All of the other animals, and all of the lizards, snakes and birds, hid from the sun's fierce rays in caves and holes, and in the shade of rocks and trees, while the intensity of the sun's focused heat ignited the nest to consume Feng-huang in vermilion flames of Passion. Miraculously, upon the third day, a young Feng-huang bird would arise from the funeral pyre to gather up the silvery-gray ashes of its predecessor within a hollowed-out egg of myrrh, then carry it to the City of the Sun where it was presented as an offering upon the altar of the Sun God. Lifting its head, Feng-huang then sang; ‘Sun, glorious sun, I shall sing my songs for you alone! Forever and ever!’” “The legend is similar to that of ancient Egyptian mythology; remember what Tutankhaten+ had said about Osiris; the son of light, slain for love, forever remembered in the dusk. He had been destroyed by the treacherous Set... Satan... who had dismembered his body and scattered its pieces across the land. The goddess Isis had gathered every part, with the exception of his genitals, which she then bound together by wrapping them in strips of linen torn from her gown... ‘His body to Earth; his soul to Sky’... Resurrected as the constellation Orion, his reappearance in autumn coincided with the culmination of the Nile flood. Isis became the bright star known to us as Sirius, which perpetually accompanies his journey. Perhaps there is no greater love


than the love between Osiris and Isis. The consummation of the magnum opus; regeneration...” Sun's voice became inaudible as he sank beneath the surface of the water. Each morning, at dawn, the Sun King bathed while listening to Feng-huang’s beautiful song ~ His daily ritual prepared him for the task ahead; fulfilling his duties as C.E.O. of the powerful Golden Sun Corporation by providing guidance and direction. Presently, Li Xiaohong had arrived to assist Sun from the bath, dry him and dress him in a white, loose-fitting, leisure suit ~ Then Coraline joined them for approximately twenty minutes, while they performed T'ai Chi movements together. Upon completion of their exercise, a robotic cart laden with dim-sum had entered the room ~ Seated upon cushions about a table in the conservatory devoted to a living miniature version of rural China, Li Xiaohong had pulled out his PAD to record their conversation while they partook of breakfast. “My dear children, thank you for joining me this splendid morning! Praise to the Living Force.” Sun raised his porcelain teacup in toast, “Li Xiaohong, once again, thank you for assisting me in every way, and for providing the care of your attention, and Coraline, thank you for creating this wonderful Pavilion in which marvelous delights inhabit every splendid detail. I wish to announce this day, that I will bequeath you both an inheritance; which will be revealed when it is due. It is a timely decision since, similar to Feng-huang, I realize my current cycle in this world, and with you, is about to reach its culmination. Thus, I wish to reveal aspects of my legacy which I have never discussed with anyone. Perhaps it will impart wisdom which may favour you some day.” “First of all, a bit of advice about aging well in this world: Exercise a good mental attitude, remain optimistic despite hardship, continually accept challenges, and be happily aware, that to a great extent, life is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Keep a sense of humour, eat in moderation, enjoy good friends, and above all, maintain the innocent, child-like sense of discovery which magically enlightens us throughout our lives, so we may obtain a better understanding our world... And in regard to ambition and power, remember that both fame and infamy last much longer than one life.” “It is possible to conceive of everlasting life of the spirit, although not so for attainment of true physical immortality. It is my belief cryogenic preservation offers an intriguing prospect if utilized as a time machine which provides transport into the distant future. I admit the thought of discovering how the world will change during the span of centuries, continues to evoke sensations of both excitement and fear. Yet, I am well prepared for my journey, and I am certain I will survive. I have a love of life, I have passion and desire, and I still retain my ambition and tenacity to persevere despite great obstacles which must be endured. Most of all, I still have great sensual enjoyment for the pleasant activity of eating a delicious meal. Let us remind ourselves to be thankful for all blessings we receive.”


As they drank green tea, and ate sticky buns filled with a variety of spiced vegetables, Coraline recalled the many years they had spent together; a time during which she had indeed recognized the Sun King as a disciplined master of both the physical and spiritual realms. His power had elevated him above the majority of humanity, his mental focus enabled detachment from the physical world, and from this vantage point, the distance had afforded him perspective to observe the constantly shifting changes which were indiscernible from within the pattern ~ Sun could contemplate the forest while others remained lost amongst the trees ~ Yet, beyond his finances, beyond his vision, the asset providing his greatest strength, had always been his vast knowledge. Coraline also recognized that Sun Tzu had enjoyed playing a role similar to the legendary Chinese emperors who facilitated great achievements within the societies they had governed; the invention of writing, the compass, the pottery wheel, the breeding of silkworms, gunpowder, and so on... As an emperor in the 21st century ~ the sovereign of the Golden Sun Corporation ~ there was no doubt the Sun King had been a brilliant tactician, as well as a courageous commander with a profound capability for organization. Thus, Sun Tzu had utilized the technological developments during his own era to provide beneficial advancements for many international citizens, while simultaneously sustaining his effort to ensure the survival of the natural world. Through his effort, the ability to capture and harness pure clear solar energy had been made affordable to all of humankind ~ As always, the Golden Sun Corporation had addressed the inequity caused by uneven distribution of prosperity by subsidizing access to all of its solar technology in poorer regions of the globe; enabling those citizens to become more self-sufficient by granting them access to a permanent source of clean energy. Many of Sun's revolutionary ideas had opposed the established operating structure of traditional multinational corporations; those organizations whose primary objective, in the short term, had simply seemed to be amassment of the greatest amount of profit for its shareholders, without any consideration for the harm caused to the global population, and the environment, through their lack of foresight. Sun, on the other hand, had always believed it his responsibility to deliver essential technology which provided people with tools to improve their life, and sustain that intangible quality which we call civilization. As a result of Sun's innovative perspective, as well as the integrity he always demonstrated, the Golden Sun Corporation had gradually been able to emerge victorious in competition against rival corporations for world market share. Ultimately, it had broadened its sphere of influence across all regions of the globe ~ Thus, it was primarily for its achievements that the radiant spherical logo of the Golden Sun Corporation was instantly recognized nearly everywhere on the planet. While they ate, Coraline continued to study the demeanor of a man which many considered to be one of the most powerful in the world ~ With the push of a button, the Sun King could instantly communicate with every part of the globe; efficiently immersing his presence within any foreign environment to conduct business transactions as though he were actually there, and then, with another push of a button,


quickly transport someplace else ~ And since, as he had grown older, and direct personal communication became quite rare, Coraline noted that whenever the Sun King deemed to contact someone, it was immediately understood the matter under consideration was of paramount significance ~ Yes, Coraline had observed his graceful, deliberate actions as Sun concluded breakfast... the delicate flutter of his tiny hands... his calm, compassionate, thoughtful expression certainty had not revealed that the fateful approach of his journey's destination was merely several weeks hence. These things Coraline had known ~ yet, that morning, she learned a great deal more... “Nearly one hundred and twenty years ago,” Sun Tzu had said, setting down his cup of tea, “I was born on the family farm near the village of Le'an in the state of Qi; now known as Huiming county in Shangdong province. It was the same village in which my distant ancestor, my namesake, had been born, in approximately 500 BCE; the supreme strategist who had authored ‘The Art of War’. As a young boy, the world had seemed infinitely vast, and impossible to comprehend entirely. My childhood had been a simple existence of working in the field, collecting fuel, hauling water and helping with chores around the house. Back then, it was very exciting to go to market in the village. I would leave at sunrise, and walk beside oxen drawing a cart filled with produce. We worked hard to grow strong plants, even during difficult conditions, thus our family was able to thrive well from trade. It was from these experiences, that I gradually acquired the ability to understand the ‘human nature’ of my customers, and thus, became successful in applying charm and wit to favorably assist in concluding each transaction to my benefit. Although we earned little gold, my father allotted me a small portion which I managed to preserve.” “As I matured into my late teens, I finally felt prepared to use my meager savings to travel to Beijing, and there to seek out every potential of a larger environment to earn my fortune. The City had seemed so grand that it had instantly taken my breath away; there were so many people, so many tall buildings, and so many strange new customs. Yet, as I moved through the material world, I carefully observed the detail within complex arrangements in order to understand the function of each component part. My understanding of these discoveries enabled me to utilize the resource of knowledge to proceed more intelligently along my path.” “Fortunately I was prepared, since, as events would unfold, the path had proved most arduous.” Sun had lapsed into reverie for a few moments; “It is impossible to briefly encapsulate all of those experiences... I have so many memories... The famine years of the late 20s and early 30s, ‘Generalissimo’ Chiang Kai-shek, the continual Japanese incursions... The red star had then appeared, to guide the Long March of Mao Tse-tung and his comrades. They survived in caves like the Peking Man had some 300,000 years previously. Fueled by the theory of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, Communism gathered millions of supporters as it spread through China like silkworms devouring a mulberry leaf. Their actions were distinguished from the Guomindang army of Chiang Kai-shek, by its exemplary behavior in its conduct with the peasants....


On the first day of October 1949, Chairman Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China while standing at the gate of the former imperial palace; Tian An Men... The Forbidden City; sited upon one hundred hectares, surrounded by a wall and a moat, its palaces contain 9,999 rooms preserving a wealth of ancient art accumulated since its completion in 1403. Its treasure also includes the crystal coffin within which the Chairman's body lies in state.” “Mao was certainly a national hero. With overwhelming support from the proletarian masses, the Great Helmsman had set about to create a brave new world. Chairman Mao promised a glorious future. Yet, the model he had proposed was difficult to implement, since, in general, society had become accustomed to over five thousand years of imperial rule under successive dynasties of kings, and thus, at first were unfamiliar with the theoretical constructs Mao had attempted to impose. 800 million copies of Mao's little red book formed the basis for indoctrination; it was the book villagers read when they first learned how to read... The Communists had indeed created significant advancements through the equity of shared resources, yet their model was unable to adapt to the changes happening throughout the world... Elsewhere, capitalism was flourishing.” The robotic cart laden with remnants of their dim-sum meal exited the room. “The greatest difficulty for socialism is basic human nature. A daily life of routine repetition can become monotonous; everyone wearing the same drab uniform, every village entirely similar to the next. Boredom leads not only laziness, but also to deeper ennui. The only reason to continue becomes the instinct for survival. Bellies must be fed. So to must imagination. Yet, foreign ideas often seem dangerous to an unprepared mind. New concepts may seem so frightening or compelling they completely disrupt simply-perceived reality. They create the perception that the world will change so vastly that everything will become incomprehensible. Thus Mao had realized that the propaganda machinery needed to be sweetly-oiled to instill productive notions; ideals which disseminated the comfort of stability, through media which eliminated desire by filtering unimportant distractions from the worker's life... A tranquil mind at peace is the most calm and harmonious state of being.” “Ordinary citizens were happy to finally experience an end to twenty-eight years of civil war, and happy also to be delivered freedom from the slavery and brutal oppression of overlords from lineages which ruled a multitude of tiny kingdoms since ancient times. Communists massacred hundreds of thousands of feudal Lords to reclaim the land for rural people. Women were liberated, children went to school, and everyone worked together for the collective benefit of society, and to share the bounty of their toil... If a person was not overly-ambitious, nor had any political aspirations, there was no worry, and no need to hurry; everything was provided... 'tie fan wan' ~ the Iron Rice Bowl ~ A job for life, medical care, housing, retirement pensions... All watched over by the omnipresent portrait of Mao; with his thin benevolent smile, and thick tuft of hair protruding above each ear.”


“Despite these advantages, the experiment of Communism, at times, had also gone horribly awry. The Great Leap Forward, which began during the winter of 1957/8, turned out to be a huge setback. 100 million peasants obeyed the directive to fill-in fish ponds and abandon soy and peanut crops in a rush to increase the production of wheat and rice even in places where it would not grow. To create even greater efficiency of human resources, peasants were set to work building dams and irrigation systems. Blast furnaces were installed on every agricultural commune, so each could become self-sufficient in manufacturing its own machinery. The ill-conceived implementation had been an economic disaster; lack of training and skill resulted in poorly-made equipment, poorly constructed dams raised water tables thus creating alkaline soil, and the soft adobe brick of blast furnaces melted in the rain. Compounded by a year of flood, followed by a year of drought and insect infestations, famine descended upon the land. In three years, 16.5 million people died of starvation and diseases caused by malnutrition.” “Following this tragedy, criticism of the Central Committee began to emerge among the intellectuals; the ‘zhishifenzi’. Gradually the political turbulence had encouraged Mao to clamp down on dissidents during the mid-1960s, thus instituting what he called the ‘Cultural Revolution’. Mao had no time for lofty ideals; the only thing that mattered to him were the practical considerations of maximizing agricultural activity, while minimizing the growth of ‘non-productive’ consumers. Teachers, writers, artists, musicians, scientists and technicians, were dispersed from the city for re-education through labour; ‘laojiao’. Mao believed that by inhaling the good fresh country air, the 'elitists' would learn how difficult it was to produce food through the effort of their labour in the fields. Millions of young people were recruited to form vigilante bands; known collectively as the Red Guard, to enforce the Chairman's edict. Members were free to make the determination of who they believed should be re-educated, often based upon a suspects inability to quote Mao's little book precisely during intensive interrogation sessions.” “Precisely,” Li Xiaohong had nodded in affirmation. “Over the years, as the campaign of terror spread, many became caught up in the movement as though possessed by mass hysteria. Thus, Mao was ultimately forced to deploy his mighty army to curb the Red Guard's zeal. Mao's advisors had also encouraged him to restore technicians and specialists to their former positions, since it was realized that intellectuals were the only ones who could conceive of developments which furthered progress, and the only ones who understood international market mechanisms. While the head was detached from the body, it became clear that China, a powerful and technologically-advanced nation during the 13th century, had suddenly seemed among the world's most primitive states.” “Through all of the cultural and political turmoil, I was fortunate in being able to maintain strong connections with the upper echelons of the Communist Party. I was also able to travel to Hong Kong whenever the turbulence became impossible to endure, and there I became employed as an office manager for an established British


commercial firm. I took meetings on their behalf at the Peninsula Hotel. Business transactions were my forte. It did not matter who ran the show, there were always negotiations. Back room deals, black market goods and special services based on personal connections. Thus I had been exposed to both honourable and disreputable exchanges, and having gathered the experience and confidence, I decided to found my own firm.” “I started with an umbrella factory on Lowther Street in Hong Kong, then bought a plant nearby which manufactured plastic flowers. I invested wisely, and made a fortune in Hong Kong real estate which I purchased when prices fell during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. With revenue generated from property development, I established Golden Sun Corporation; its name inspired by an expression which intrigued me at the time; ‘Chinese money always moves to where the sun is shining’. The corporation continued to diversify into retail, media, telecommunications, and insurance firms, banking through numbered accounts in Singapore. At the same time I maintained a friendly relationship with the People's Republic of China, by contributing generously to projects; a joint-venture power station, irrigation construction, or significant sponsorship of a university. As well, I continued to manufacture products in the industrial centers of Tianjin, Shanghai, Wuhan, and Guangzhou.” “On July 1st, 1997, Hong Kong officially ended its status as a ‘Crown Colony’ and became a ‘Special Administrative Region’ of China. It was then Golden Sun Corporation made a concerted effort to focus more intently upon solar energy. We invested heavily in the development of solar panels integrated into ceiling tiles which were so efficient that just a few could adequately power an average farmer's small rural home. The tiles were supported by a product-line of storage batteries and redesigned appliances which operated more efficiently and could be purchased less expensively than conventional models; refrigerators, stoves and washing machines, kettles, computers, televisions and toasters. All these products were manufactured within large factories in China.” “For certain nations, the postwar boom following World War Two was a time of miraculous scientific achievement; technological development which previously took decades, or perhaps even centuries, could occur within a single year. Industrial facilities geared to military production were transformed into manufacturing plants which created mass quantities of standardized products to promote comfort and leisure. Progress increased prosperity, yet just as rapidly, widespread damage to the environment and the wasted resources of discarded products were becoming evident. It was warfare as in ancient feudal days, except this time it was a concerted attack upon nature in an offensive to obtain massive quantities of resources for human consumption; actions intent on reaping rewards for the brief duration of one's own life span, without regard for future consequences.” “It was inevitable that sovereign countries eventually relinquished control over their economic destiny to executives on the board of multinational corporations. In an increasingly borderless world, it was natural that young, aggressive global


corporations emerged to challenge their traditionalist forebears... Corporations evolve the way everything evolves; by being flexible in adapting to their environment. In fact, they must anticipate the future, and be ready for metamorphosis when the opportunity arrives. Even well-established enterprises gradually gained awareness of the need to transform their operational philosophy in order to compete with responsible organizations which successfully chartered global co-operation and harmony into their mission statement; they understood that distribution of products, information, and ideas which truly benefit humanity also generate lucrative revenue streams. Yet, they had also begun to realize that not every reward need be evaluated upon a financial ledger... What fortune may be derived from the satisfaction of benefiting another life?... The reward may arrive sooner than expected, and be one hundred, or perhaps one thousand fold, or greater.” “I speak from experience when I admit that it is difficult to maintain faith on the journey while the destination remains far away. It was not until I had gained the wisdom of age, that I was able to summon the courage to realize dreams I had held since my youth: the vision of harnessing the sun's energy and distributing it throughout the world... The way Prometheus had captured a few embers of the sacred fire reserved for the gods alone, and compassionately delivered it to humanity so they no longer need shiver in the cold, nor fear the beasts of night. “In the beginning, it had required an immense investment to manufacture collector arrays and solar storage systems, yet Golden Sun Corporation was positioned to subsidize the cost of developing technology so that units could retail at a price which promoted the broadest distribution. In those days, customers preferred inexpensive fossil fuels. Its energy was released through combustion, along with the pall of heavy smoke. Over the years, no living thing escaped the pollution of those toxins which exacted their toll upon the air, the water and the land in every region of the planet. The sphere of influence of the largest petroleum corporations encompassed secretive agreements with rulers of impoverished lands for exclusive control of resources, supplying armaments to support one side or another in regional conflicts between religious factions or ethnic groups, and in certain noteworthy instances, had even spawned the most diabolical acts of terrorism.” “Their devious tactics also targeted Golden Sun Corporation. Periodically, their spies infiltrated network servers of our subsidiary firms. There were acts of vandalism and sabotage. Yet, the light persevered to overcome pitch darkness which attempted to smother our fragile flame. In this era, Feng-huang was reborn from the wedding between dedicated capital and exceptional research teams which possessed a wealth of knowledge about the innovative processes and techniques they had discovered. Thus, mass production of solar panels and energy equipment gradually became a competitive alternative to petroleum, nuclear energy and hydro-electric power. It was recognized that in addition to being inexpensive and sustainable, solar energy created minimal environmental consequences, which greatly reduced harm from illness and disease. Consequently, there was enormous demand for clean energy products.”


“In the past, many corporations made the fatal mistake of forgetting that the industry of production is interlocked in a symbiotic relationship with the customer base. Corporations which single-mindedly pursued profit had ultimately collapsed when public perception shifted. From the ashes of their destruction, progressive corporations have emerged, structurally compact, collaborating with each other to establish new economic networks around the globe. Their mission; to create real products which are actually required in comfortably sustaining existence... These are examples of positive change, and demonstration of a greater reward... Golden Sun Corporation continues to dispense solace by adding its light to the sum of all light... Evil vanishes in the presence of illumination, and with the disappearance of evil, there is elimination of want... This is the model for our initiatives. We apply the prestige we have earned in solar energy, to credibly participate in the movement to implement a restructuring of the financial world... The movement is gaining momentum. The plan will gradually level the playing field through an equitable redistribution of global wealth; flowing back to the citizens from the isolated reservoirs in which it has been hoarded.” “History is measured by the arc of the pendulum. The patterns continually repeat, yet the path tracing the progress of evolutionary systems more truly defines a Fibonacci spiral... The Golden Ratio unfolding dimensionally... The shift from manufacturing products to the manufacture of solutions, resulted in employees who also felt positive about participating in beneficial processes, once they had realized their efforts significantly contributed toward a greater common good. For example, consider agricultural sciences. The production of healthy crops resulted from a clean environment, and development of organic methods of protecting plants from insects and disease. The entire infrastructure of industries pertaining to the preservation, packaging and distribution of food have also been revitalized. The philosophy is that workers engage in the type of industry appropriate to their interests and skills, and irrespective of occupation, are equally rewarded through wages. In this way, products essential to human survival are always available and affordable.” Li Xiaohong had seemed perplexed, “If an employee at the desalinization facility receives an equal amount of credits, why should anyone desire to devote themselves to many years of study and practice to become a physician?” “The good physician is satisfied to cure people who are ill. There is no need to demand higher wages when one feels they are fulfilling their life's purpose. Besides, young prospects who demonstrate the required level of skill and dedication; through regular testing of their abilities, are compensated during their years of study and training, as is true for every other trade.” “What about those unable or unwilling to work?” Li Xiaohong had asked. “Those who are able, but unwilling, have a difficult time surviving, thus soon discover a suitable activity to occupy their time. The care of infirm and disabled is provided through rehabilitation centers, while the active elderly, who receive a retirement income, are encouraged to spend time helping care for young children, and


tending to gardens. The general idea is that citizens should work fewer hours, and have more time for leisure; preferably cultural or intellectual pursuits. Artists, writers and poets should experience a creative renaissance through publication of digital work. And people should share more time with their family and their friends.” Li Xiaohong had nodded; “I understand your concepts. I humbly submit the operating system you describe appears a hybrid of communism, capitalism, and socialism, all blended into one. I am certain it will be a successful model for establishing a community within the Golden Sun Pavilion. By eliminating the greed for status, the law becomes common sense.” “Initiating change is imperative,” Sun had continued, “The goal is to encourage systems which assist us to maintain control over our own affairs, so that we can work more effectively in co-operation with each other... The Golden Sun Corporation is among the first to implement a comprehensive infrastructure which promotes the wellbeing of every member of its family. Housing, schools, health care, and public utilities are equally available to every citizen. This applies as well to food, clothing, and every other type of necessity... including entertainment,” Sun had winked. “Fulfilling every need provides incentive for employees to remain loyal to the company, and enables them to enjoy life and concentrate upon their work without the constant distraction of the external world. Practically, it is also much more cost effective for the Pavilion to be self-sufficient in producing as much as possible, since the alternative is to pay employees at the level of wages required to compensate the extravagant expense of purchasing products in the free-market. Inhabitants of the Golden Sun Pavilion equally share its bounty, as well as accumulate credits, since they are spared most expenses.” “For whatever duration a citizen resides within the Pavilion, they are certain to also gain other immeasurable rewards. The opportunity of working with preeminent scientists and researchers from every field, and to live in a peaceful environment which does not require a commute to work, are advantages which appeal to many enthusiastic respondents who have applied for residency. As you may have heard, the noted scientists; Jules Nier, Oswald Jackson and Joseph Verne, have recently arrived to complete work on their fabulous invention; the Global Accumulator. It is a massive nodal network of optical fibers designed to continually distribute sunlight from the illuminated side to the shadow side of our revolving planet. Other scientists will engage in the development of a new type of building material which grows by absorbing the sun’s rays; similar to chlorophyll in plants ~ Yes my children, Good things shall come to pass!” Sun's jubilation had then assumed a more somber tone; “My labour is almost complete. My entire adult life, without respite, has been dedicated to the responsibility of guiding my corporation. Over the years, as the empire grew, I acquired the assistance of an increasing number of managers and employees; currently, greater than three million people work for Golden Sun Corporation, with more recruited daily, as global subsidiaries continue to capture even smaller satellites and incorporate them into the system.”


“During the past few years, I have distanced myself from direct management of the general affairs of business. I still apply guidance to the momentum of directives I have initiated, beyond that, I place my faith in the ability of the board of directors to actively manage a significant portion of daily operations. Of course, human nature being such that it is, occasional cases of corruption, or abuse of power by officers and employees, are brought to my attention... Situations, I must admit, which pale by comparison to those I had witnessed during the developing years of the company; theft, graft, bribery, influence-peddling, extortion, stock market manipulation, secret societies, information warfare, abductions, assassinations... A Pandora’s box of evil manifestation. Yet, those intent on malice will continue to feel the scrutiny of the omniscient eye of private agencies, such as Flex Global Security, which investigate and apprehend criminals then turn them over to the Authority who have programs which encourage cooperative activity.” “Fortunately, we have a much greater proportion of intelligent and talented leaders who have demonstrated their loyalty and ethics while perpetuating the operating philosophy of the Golden Sun Corporation. Men and women, who, in addition to management responsibilities, also devote periods throughout each day to meditation, yoga, physical exercise and the study of historical and ideological literature. They are knowledgeable decision-makers who are committed to hard work. From among them, twelve will be chosen to form the Executive Council, when my time has passed. It will be the most difficult decision I have ever been required to make; there are so many highly-qualified potential candidates. The names of those chosen will be announced on February 2nd, 2020; during the official ceremony within Xi Wang-mu Theatre to inaugurate the Golden Sun Pavilion.” “Within its mandate, the Executive Council will also continue to support legacies which are particularly dear to me, and which have been established through great commitment of time, energy and expense. Project N.O.A.H., which as you know, preserves a record of the planet's biological diversity. The library of genetic strains will supply organic farmers with traditional stock, as well as provide biotech corporations with the ability to enhance agricultural production by improving yields and establishing cultivation of a greater variety of food plant species. The Universal Memory Bank has become a comprehensive collection of knowledge and information which establishes a solid foundation for the accomplishment of ever greater future achievement. And most especially, this wondrous Pavilion; this cherished gem which gleams so brightly... A lasting symbol of the legacy of the Golden Sun Corporation... May it endure one thousand years!” The Sun King had raised his cup, sipped the last of his tea, then made an effort to stand. “Li Xiaohong, I hope this talk has provided you with enough information to write my speech for the inauguration ceremony... Since we have spoken about it, what do you say we tour the Xi Wang-mu Theatre?” “Yes, a stroll to the auditorium would be pleasant,” Coraline said as she arose from comfortable cushions to join Sun, and interlock her arm with his.


Emerging from Sun's suite, the trio walked along a corridor toward the elevator. As usual, Coraline compulsively inspected every aspect of the Pavilion's construction ~ It seemed she would always experience a profound sensation that the absolute reality of the moment was indistinguishable from the virtual model she had inhabited for many years; both seemed identical and both seemed true, yet both forms of reality had seemed illusive ~ The Sun King and Li Xiaohong were perfectly reflected in smooth metallic surfaces, yet for some inexplicable reason, it seemed her own image had failed to materialize ~ Perhaps a trick of the light ~ Perhaps an aberration of her tired mind; since she had been awake throughout the night ~ already immersed in her next project: designing a solar collector to orbit the sun at Lagrangian Point L1. The sweet fragrance of peaches ripening upon the branches of hydroponic trees had greeted them as they entered the auditorium's lobby ~ Secretive wooden benches nestled within groves of hedges ~ As they approached the grand entrance; comprised of a pair of ornately-carved columns hewn from the broad trunks of ancient logs, they studied the intricately-interlaced pattern which spanned the arch atop the columns, into which were carved beautifully-formed characters spelling out the name; ‘Xi Wangmu Theatre’ ~ Coraline was aware that it had been named in honour of the Chinese goddess of immortality ~ Originally a terrifying tiger-woman responsible for plague, she was transformed into a benign goddess under the influence of Taoism. In that philosophy, she became the personification of the feminine element; yin ~ The entranceway was guarded by a pair of gargantuan Fu dogs; hand-carved from deep red Shou Shan stone. The watchful dogs sat tensely crouched, ready to ferociously pounce, propelled by their lustrous muscular arms and legs. Their detailed facial features were sculpted into fearsome grins ~ Yet, the pair had not so much as blinked at Sun and his companions as they passed through the archway to enter the enormous hall. Coraline noted Sun's expression of satisfaction as he panned his gaze to encompass the empty room: the silent expanse of seats, upholstered in plush red fabric, created a majestic vista which swept toward the distant stage in gentlyundulating contours resembling the merging slopes of confluent hills... Tiered balconies faced with polished jade and ornamented by a small emblem of Fenghuang embossed in shining gold... Curtains drawn back at each side of the stage the colour of peacock feathers... The high domed ceiling realistically animated by the movement of constellations during the course of seasons... A mural composed of flat clay tablets lined the walls; layers of sediment opened like the pages of a book which beautifully preserved fossils of strange creatures which had lived hundreds of millions of years ago ~ Cretaceous Crab (Avitelmessus grapsoideus), Floating Crinoids (Uintacrinus socialus) with matted masses of tendrils emerging from their reticulated heads, a shrimp named Anomalocaris canadensis, the dendritic patterns of ammonites (Baculites cuneatus), and a mosaic of beautiful golden trilobites (Olenellus gilberti) with armoured heads and logarithmically-segmented bodies framed by Palm fronds (Palmacites sp.) ~ An arrangement which subtly resembled the skillfully-crafted relief engravings Egyptian and Assyrian artisans carved into the stone walls of tombs and temples.


Leaving Li Xiaohong waiting in the wings, Sun cautiously made his way across the stage; surfaced in a veneer of polished dark green jade, to ascend the throne mounted atop a golden riser at the center of the stage ~ Standing upon the platform, Sun had silently improvised the choreography of his speech, as though envisioning the assembly of employees which would gather on the occasion of the official inauguration of the Golden Sun Pavilion; he had posed and gestured dramatically, creating the impression he was addressing a sea of faces which had gazed upon him expectantly ~ As Coraline watched Sun's performance with rapt attention from a front row seat, she had realized the ceremony would not entirely be a celebration, since coincidentally, it would occasion the delivery of the Sun King's farewell address... Sun seemed subtly subdued as they returned to his suite; perhaps the experience of becoming accustomed to the Xi Wang-mu Theatre had also precipitated the somber contemplation of his own immanent departure ~ As though he had been reminded of the measure of sand already emptied from the upper chamber of his hourglass. Sun had insisted that he was fine; he assured his concerned companions that he would relax with a session of meditation to regain a state of tranquil equilibrium, then he would resume gardening the miniature landscape within his suite ~ Coraline could attest that Sun's labour of love had absorbed countless hours in the creation of pleasant aesthetic compositions which authentically replicated the mountains, waterfalls and lakes of several picturesque regions in rural China. She had often enjoyed observing his tiny hands carefully arrange groupings of sculpted ‘bonsai’ trees, apply jagged grey rock faces, or minutely adjust the position of fallen logs and smooth round boulders which banked sediment in sandy shallow streams.

II. TREACHEROUS DRAGON

The Sun King's luxurious suite near the apex of the Golden Sun Pavilion, along with the offices and living quarters of the board of directors ~ which occupied subsequent levels beneath it ~ had been among the initial sections of the Pavilion made ready for habitation once its magnificent external shell had been completed ~ Meanwhile, an army of trade laborers; welders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters, glaziers, tile layers, and so on... diligently applied their talents to completing every section of the interior as rapidly as possible ~ sawing stone, pouring concrete, framing walls, installing mirrors and kitchen counters; zinc from Germany, granite from Quebec. Structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers inspected every detail; the pressurized water lines, sewer pipes, electrical cables, fibre optics, air circulation ducts, all of which utility crews had run through conduits up the spine of the central


service core, then radiated out through the trunk to the branches. Their efforts were augmented by a variety of small mobile robots designed to perform specific tasks... The cacophony produced by the worker's tools had seemed to last an eternity. Floor-to-ceiling windows presented breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding countryside; the serpentine Great Wall wended its way across the northern hills to vanish in the distance, and partially concealed by ethereal haze, was Beijing; the sprawling capital of New China ~ a region recently beginning to distinguish itself as one of the wealthiest on the planet. On a clear day, Sun's practiced gaze could scan the distant texture of the Forbidden City until he was able to discern the ancient Memorial Hall in Tiananmen Square. It was then Sun would sometime experience a sense of satisfaction, realizing that his own body ~ preserved within the cryogenic chamber ~ would endure into the future at a much loftier altitude above the land he loved than the humble mausoleum preserving the remains of Chairman Mao. Sun had smiled ~ The time-lapse metamorphoses of soft, voluminous, pale-pink clouds drifted across the copper sky on a gentle breeze ~ graceful shapes billowed through his thoughts ~ resolving into wistful interpretations when perceived within his mind’s eye ~ refreshing his soul. To the west, brilliant rays of fluid light appeared suspended in the atmosphere; broad gleaming swords seemingly thrust to earth from the heavens ~ penetrating the dusty horizon to smear a dull rust-red stain which obscured the setting sun. Occupying substantial floor-space of an elliptical room within his suite, was the incredible miniature garden to which Sun had seemed to devote the majority of his time ~ As mentioned, the living landscape authentically replicated picturesque regions of rural China; meticulously modeled in proportion to their true scale ~ The walls above the contoured terrain were digital screens of skies, and the sun was a lighting fixture which tracked across the ceiling ~ A terra-cotta pathway entered the environment, spreading into a circular clearing near its center, where a jade table and silk cushions customarily awaited Sun's most-favoured guests ~ Bas-relief images upon each beautiful clay floor tile depicted the progression of successive dynasties which had appeared, then disappeared, throughout the history of China ~ The masterwork remained the legacy of an elderly artisan who had committed the final years of his life to fabricating the vast quantity of unique, interlocking, irregularlyshaped pieces which formed the complex mosaic ~ Their installation created a difficult challenge for the workers required to painstakingly reassemble the fragmentary puzzle based upon the artist's extensively-detailed, yet often ambiguous, written instructions, which identified placement in reference to nearly-indecipherable markings he had engraved upon the underside of each tile. Sun enjoyed tending his garden, and often commented that it provided a peaceful sanctuary which revitalized him with its tranquillity. His recreation afforded him a sense of liberation from what had increasingly become the immense burden of supervising myriad operations of Golden Sun Corporation. The garden also represented the culmination of another passion which he had long considered his personal hobby; the process of selecting suitable species of plants which could be customized to his


specifications using Bonsai methods ~ Bonsai is an ancient technique originating in China, then later perfected in Japan, in which trunks and branches of trees were continually shaped and pruned as they matured to achieve exquisite miniatures based upon aesthetics of traditional ink-brush painting ~ The objective was to create designs which surpassed nature in perfecting an artistic and spiritual form ~ Biotechnicians, employed by Golden Sun Corporation, utilized research facilities in Columbia to accelerate the process by genetically modifying plant species then carefully cultivating them within greenhouses. Sun inhaled the organic fragrance of moist earth; since rather than relying upon the computer-moderated hydroponic system ~ which permeated the entire Pavilion like a network of arteries and veins ~ the varieties of tiny, elegant plant-forms within his garden instead thrived in rich, fertile soil which had been imported from the banks of the Yangtze river near Chungking ~ Kneeling comfortably on a padded board, Sun selected tools from a small tray to dig a hole for the roots of a tree, methodically adjust the placement of a few pebbles, and apply a tiny spade-full of sand here and there to gradually create a landscape of perfection ~ An hour would pass as he fussed over the positioning of a Fukien Tea (Ehretia anacua); bearing flat, triangular red fruit which would break open to release its seeds when it had ripened ~ or arrange a grove of Japanese Elm; the scaly bark on their dark-brown trunk contained fungi which could be eaten. Near a small stream, Sun applied moss between Orange Jasmine evergreens which blossomed with bell-shaped crowns of fragrant white flowers, then perhaps he would pause to contemplate the way the angle of sunlight illuminated the distinctive downy growth characterizing the slender branches of the tree known in Canton as ‘Acid Taste’ ~ By summer, Sun had anticipated, the miniature hillside on which the trees grew would come alive in beautiful flowers with narrow, spoon-shaped petals. Tired, yet satisfied with the work he had completed, the Sun King decided to immerse himself more deeply within his experience of the garden ~ briefly ~ since he immanently expected the scheduled arrival of his faithful assistant; Li Xiaohong, who would demand his return to the regular duties of business ~ Kneeling near a tiny pond, Sun closed his eyes ~ Soon there was no thought, no mind... reality ceased to exist... time elapsed in blissful tranquillity... a few moments... perhaps much longer... Sun slowly opened his eyes and the world came into being... Immediately he was pleased to discover that once again, he had effortlessly managed to attain the perception that the physical size of his body had been reduced to a scale proportionate to the miniaturized garden which he tended essentially from a god-like perspective while at his customary human size ~ Thus, the dwarfed trees he planted had suddenly acquired the appearance of a natural forest grove; their enormous leaves misted by a waterfall tumbling down the steep rock face nearby ~ This miraculous feat ~ which Sun had gradually managed to achieve ~ provided magical excursions through a landscape which had seemed to completely encompass him within its vast expanse, and enable him to enjoy more closely examining the finer details of the paradise he had created ~ everything is relative.


Warm sun tracked slowly across the sky ~ The clouds subtly transformed as a gentle breeze wafted through the garden ~ A slender waterfall spilled across the rubble of weathered stones to send a spray of large droplets splashing into the nearby pond ~ Sun had arisen from his kneeling position to stretch. During each previous experience ~ which had all commenced on the shore of the same pond ~ Sun would chose a new direction to explore. Maintaining his Lilliputian perspective, Sun casually wandered through the unusual landscapes, pausing periodically to inspect individual plants, while fully appreciating the subtle characteristic nuances of each environment ~ Each region consisted of unique types of soil and terrain; from red loam and mountain earth grew stands of Kaede maple, Wax trees, Zelkova and Beech ~ Further along, tall compositions of granite and clear quartz towered above the landscape ~ Manicured deserts of sand, the aged woods of a wilderness forest, a dense green carpet of moss-covered hillsides lining tiny streams which meandered between carefully placed pebbles to erode their course from banks of heavy clay and form shallow pools at bends where the gentle flow had calmed to reflect tall ferns and distant fields of sunflowers which seemed to touch the clouds. While the settings appeared natural, many features seemed quite surreal compared with similar environments in the human-scale world; the cellular structure of leaves were evidently magnified, pine trees had larger needles, the surface texture of Snakebark Maple (Acer davidii) were crudely rough, and enormous porcelain berries (Ampelopsis) bowed the slender stems of creepers. Dewdrops resembling crystalclear slugs traced shimmering trails along tall blades of grass, the coarse granularity of sand, soil particles the size of his hand, and the unusual gravity exerted upon a giant seed when it dropped to the ground, distinguished the experiences from those in the larger world. Occasionally, Sun had detected the presence of various types of ‘wild life’ during his leisurely strolls. Here and there, insects inhabited the jungle; tiny aphids hopping from branch to branch like flying squirrels, or giant black fruit flies with demonic pale red eyes which buzzed around in rapid, exaggerated motions ~ Sun had taken note of infestations of mealy-bugs and leaf miners which would be dealt with when he regained normal size ~ Sometime Sun encountered a sticky piano wire web strung across his path with an enormous furry spider resting at its center, or he would warily evade giant ants which had the potential to viciously attack with their frightening mandibles. Often he could hear the distant rumble of earthworms far beneath the surface. Silence. Having become weary from his walk, Sun had rested upon a stone to contemplate the endless trickle of water flowing from one linked pond to the next in a small chain nestled amongst a hillside grove of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria) and Tree of a Thousand Stars (Serissa)... Gradually he had become aware of a nearly imperceptible sensation which alerted him to the presence of danger. Soon, he could detect the movement of erratic ripples disrupting the perfectly smooth surface of the largest pool ~ very subtle ripples even at miniature scale. Sun had been puzzled; initially he considered that crews working on the Pavilion had caused the vibration,


yet, that had seemed most unlikely, since the structure was so well constructed that even an earthquake would scarcely register a tremor. Suddenly, from somewhere in the distance, the sound of massive destruction; a thundering noise which grew louder as it moved rapidly toward him, causing landslides on the mountains and vibrating the sand at his feet. Trunks of trees were shattered by the force, and giant flower stalks were trampled underfoot. Whatever was moving, had slowed as it approached, then came to a halt nearby ~ Sun sat patiently; waiting, watchful, yet unafraid. In a moment, a large fearsome head swung into view above the nearby treetops ~ The creature's reptilian face resembled a hybrid mutation between a crocodile and a snake; its smooth dark leather skin was indented at its nostrils and ears. Its rounded snout bent into a sinister grin which revealed a mouth full of sharp, serrated, shark-like teeth. Dry and coarse, loose wrinkled folds of brown scaly skin hung like chain mail from its compact muscular frame and draped from its neck where its coloration merged into a lighter underbelly. It emitted a low growl as though its stomach rumbled with hunger. Its head scanned side to side, intermittently flicking out its long forked tongue which flashed as rapidly as lightning overhead. Sun had immediately recognized that the curious creature was a monitor lizard called a Komodo dragon (Varanus komodensis); the world's largest living reptile. As fully-grown adults, they could weigh more than 150 kilograms, and attain a length in excess of 3.5 metres. Sun also knew they were swift runners with a great appetite for deer and wild boar. The carnivorous monster was capable of consuming the equivalent of half its body weight in just twenty minutes, and aside from lengthy naps to digest meals, hunting was the primary activity occupying their expected life span of nearly twenty years ~ Sun had struggled to regain his feet; he was an old man who had often found it difficult to stand after he had been sitting for some time. The dragon had seemed to detect Sun’s movement. It tilted its head to swivel a cool, dull, dark eye; framed within a bright golden patch, which glared at Sun ~ Yet, the creature had seemed perplexed as though its other senses could not confirm what its eye was seeing ~ It then released a growling whine as it hoisted its thick powerful tail into the air, and brought it crashing down heavily to destroy another section of forest. Sun watched passively as the dragon’s long curved black claws ripped apart a geometric arrangement of intersecting concentric circles which Sun had spent the previous morning carefully raking in a patch of sand ~ The lizard had no regard for the elegant beauty or harmonious symmetry of the ornamental plot as it kicked up a cloud of dust with its powerful legs. Thick muscles rippled under its scaly skin as it lowered its head and menacingly bared its razor teeth as though about to attack ~ Sun had briefly considered the unpalatable prospect of being consumed in one gulp by the giant lizard, but he knew that it was not possible ~ Since, in the twinkling of an eye, Sun had vanished, leaving the startled dragon to blink as it continued to stare at the spot which Sun had occupied an instant before ~ The old man was not strong, yet by using the element of surprise, the predator had become the prey ~ Sun had craftily


grasped the lizard in a manner which incapacitated its movement; placing one hand with his thumb on the back of the creature's head, his fingers squeezing its throat, while his other arm wrapped tightly about the belly of the beast. No sooner than Sun had pinned the formidable reptile, than it began to thrash wildly about in a frantic attempt to gain its freedom. In a few moments, its powerfully-hinged jaws slid from his grasp; which caused Sun considerable concern ~ since he was aware that saliva from the Komodo dragon contained bacteria so virulent that one bite could be lethal ~ Thus, it had indeed been fortuitous, that just as his hold on the wily creature was about to become broken, his executive assistant had burst into the room. Li Xiaohong moved silently on light slippers as he rapidly approached. Disciplined to maintain protocol, he had curtly bowed toward his elderly master before intervening in the struggle. Li Xiaohong pounced on the lizard, yet soon had also experienced great difficulty in managing the heavy reptile ~ It would later be discovered that the three year old juvenile female, although less than one metre in length, had weighed about thirty-six kilograms ~ Extremely nervous; cautious not to permit any opportunity for the lizard to lunge and sink its long sharp teeth into his flesh, Li Xiaohong had awkwardly wrestled with the slippery lizard until he had eventually managed to subdue it. Beads of perspiration adhered moistened strands of hair to his forehead and cheek. His eyes remained wide and intense from adrenaline. Li Xiaohong visually inspected Sun's condition, then warily peered at the damaged garden; “I’m sorry Master, I can’t imagine how this vicious lizard managed to gain entry to your chamber.” “Where has it come from?” Sun had stoically inquired of his most trusted companion. “It's one of a pair presented as a gift from the President of Indonesia,” Li Xiaohong had revealed. “Unfortunately, while she was touring the facility, this one escaped the captivity of a cage in care of a member of her entourage. We have been searching for it everywhere.” Sun shook his head as he studied the prehistoric reptile; now immobilized by the submission hold his assistant had placed it in ~ Sun recalled that it was an endangered species found only on the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rintja, Padar, and Flores; tiny isolated archipelagos protected as nature reserves by the government. “I trust you will discover some way to gracefully decline the present," Sun had insisted, "We are not running a zoo here... they belong in the wild.” In a moment, Sun brightened. “You know, many years ago, I remember seeing a motion picture about a gigantic mutant lizard which attempted to destroy Tokyo. The creature was called Godzilla. It would also be a good name for this one,” Sun had laughed.


“God ... zilla?� Li Xiaohong's puzzled expression indicated that he had little knowledge about the subject matter of archaic entertainment productions. Nevertheless, Sun's youthful assistant, with Godzilla grasped tightly in his arms, had politely bowed, then exited the room with the lizard's long striped tail dragging limply on the floor behind them.

III. LEGACY

Coraline had anxiously arrived at Sun's suite upon being informed by Li Xiaohong about the visitation of the dangerous reptile intruder ~ Instantly realizing that Sun had emerged unscathed from his ordeal, Coraline skipped as cheerfully as a young girl through a country meadow, drawn toward Sun's tender embrace. "I'm so happy you were not harmed!" Coraline whispered softly as they held each other tight. The sensation of relief had left her feeling spent; she collapsed onto the plush silk cushions near the ancient jade table ~ a small robot soon arrived to dispense a cup of hot herbal tea. Sun appeared calm as he returned to mending the garden. He eased her anxiety by chuckling as he mentioned that he had indeed been fortunate, after an existence spanning nearly 120 years, to have been afforded a rather unique opportunity to be reminded of an important lesson which had faded in the intensity of its significance over time, as he had, perhaps, taken it for granted ~ Sun remained unconcerned about damage to the garden; he was not attached to material possessions ~ Although, he seemed pleased that it had not been as severe as it initially had appeared from his viewpoint at ground zero; when the monster, trampling through the forest, had rapidly approached. Sprawled upon the cushions, Coraline listened to Sun recount the entertaining details of the afternoon's adventure ~ She was fascinated by Sun's apparent ability to shift his perspective to view the environment as though he had assumed a smaller scale ~ Although later, while reviewing the actual event in a surveillance file which Flex Global agent Cordova Frost had captured from a camera mounted in the corner of the room, Coraline observed that Sun had remained kneeling, seemingly fast asleep, until the Komodo dragon had approached. Then suddenly he had appeared to awaken to pounce on the lizard and grasp it firmly about its neck. Immersed in the activity of replanting uprooted trees in his landscape garden, Sun's thoughts had once again returned to the topic of Godzilla:


“That monochromatic monster of the silver screen,” Sun commented, “embodied the metaphor of mankind's primal fear of technological power ~ particularly in Japan, where the atomic attacks during World War Two had transformed technology's potential for catastrophic destruction into a nightmarish reality ~ On August 6th, 1945, at 8:16 a.m., at an altitude of 2,000 feet above Hiroshima, the fission of the uranium isotope U-235, within a bomb named ‘Little Boy’, proceeded as an extremely rapid chain reaction. In moments, everything within four square miles had been destroyed. Three days later, at 11:01 a.m., the fusion of the plutonium isotope P-239 in a bomb called ‘Fat Man’ devastated Nagasaki. These weapons, resulting from the dedicated effort of many scientists and technicians, had made it possible to harness the same awesome power which fueled the sun, and bring it down upon the surface of the planet.” “Perhaps in the aftermath, their conscience had troubled them,” Sun had considered, as he smoothed a patch of ragged turf with a miniature golden spade, “Since, rather than benefiting humanity, as Prometheus had done when he had stolen the sacred fire from the gods, the scientists and technicians had instead allowed their prodigious talents to be cast in support of the American military generals, who plotted clandestine strategies within War Rooms to devise the most efficient means of inflicting the maximum amount of casualties upon their enemy ~ Commanding pilots of B-29 superfortresses to unleash atomic destruction upon two heavily-populated urban centers.” “Betwixt forethought and afterthought, the foolishness, the obsession ~ In the legend...” Sun had paused for several moments in deep thought, “The silvery raiment of veiled Pandora,” he had muttered, then stared at the ceiling as though attempting to conjure an image; “Once the sealed clay vessel had been opened, the monsters were unleashed; Plague, Famine, Pestilence, Greed, Infirmity, Death, and so on... created as a punishment to humankind for the enlightenment they had received from Prometheus which subsequently was misused,” Sun shook his head and sighed. “Godzilla; the primeval reptile, emerged from the ocean’s depths. It was transformed into an irradiated mutant creature which sought vengeance upon civilization for employing its technology to transgress the Laws of Nature... The harmonious balance created by the flux of energy flow... Fat Man and Little Boy, falling from the heavens... frozen for an instant; suspended in the sky above a tinderbox of densely-huddled wooden-frame buildings... Within their homes and schools and offices, were unsuspecting people with lives to look forward to every day, and the love of families and friends. Then in a flash; the horror, the horror... Approximately 150,000 innocent civilians, instantly annihilated, many becoming shadows upon the wall... By 1950, five years later, additional casualties from burn victims, and those who had sustained high levels of radiation, nearly doubled the initial figure. Moments...” Sun's voice had trailed away. Sun had then recalled the story of a twelve-year-old girl, named Sadako Sasaki, who for several months ~ while confined to a hospital bed ~ had attempted to fold


1,000 origami paper cranes; a symbolic action of hope which was later completed by her classmates after Sadako had succumbed to leukemia in October of 1955 ~ “When all else has vanished, hope remains ~ the spirit which sustains humanity during times of sorrow, misery and pain.” Sun stated that Sadako had fondly reminded him of his own beautiful daughter; Adda ~ his only child ~ who, since her youth, had also hoped to contribute her talent, even to some modest degree, in an effort to promote peace throughout the world. Preoccupied with gardening, the memories Sun had then recalled were perhaps more for his own benefit than for his audience ~ Propped up by cushions and sipping her tea like a bird, Coraline had listened attentively while Sun described his daughter as an ‘incredibly intelligent and poetically intuitive child’. During her teenage years, Adda had discovered gifts in both fine arts and sciences; skills which had enabled her to perform magnificent violin concertos, as well as endowed her with exceptional abilities as a computer programmer ~ Sun revealed that over the years he had attempted to gain some understanding of the secretive projects his daughter had subsequently been involved in. Since most of the information remained highly classified, thus impossible to obtain, Sun had speculated that his daughter's disappearance had perhaps involved some act of treachery ~ The final communication which Sun had received from Adda was a telegram announcing the birth of their son, and an indication of her family's intention to travel to Hong Kong so that Sun could meet his grandchild. Tragically, she and her husband were passengers aboard a DC3 propeller plane which apparently experienced engine trouble and crashed into the sea. According to news reports of the time, no survivors, nor any wreckage from the plane, was ever found ~ A tear streamed down Sun's cheek... The door to his private chamber suddenly slid open ~ Sun lifted his gaze: “Ah, here comes Li Xiaohong,” Sun observed, drying away the tear. Li Xiaohong moved lightly upon silent slippers ~ Coraline noted that the torn sleeve of his white robe revealed he had sustained several wounds upon his forearm from the Komodo dragon's mighty claws. Yet, despite his stitches, Li Xiaohong had appeared as cheerful as ever. "How are you Master? I trust you have been spared harm, and that your garden may easily be mended." “Yes, all is well.” Assisted by his assistant, Sun had slowly arisen. He gathered several long white strands of hair which had escaped its bond at the back of his neck. “This will have to go,” he said almost absently, vaguely gesturing toward his hair. “I will summon a personal attendant at your request,” bright young Li Xiaohong had offered; then immediately sent a memo to himself by tapping a sequence of keys on


his small computer pad. “Well, now that my two dear children have joined me, perhaps we will at last enjoy supper together.” Coraline and Li Xiaohong sat at their customary places beside Sun ~ Coraline watched Sun dreamily glide his fingertip along the contours of an inscription in the jade surface, then instantly, a small light appeared to hover above the table ~ flickering with the dance of a delicate flame. Coraline gazed up at the ceiling of the room, where the first stars of the evening were suspended in the deep purple twilight of space... How often had she been honoured with an invitation to meet with Sun in this suite! Yet tonight, a feeling of sorrow threatened to eclipse the joy of every previous encounter. Perhaps it was a poetic ending... The sudden realization that she should also prepare herself for the next sunrise; the dawning light which signified the beginning of the Sun King's final journey. Lately, Sun had often seemed weary ~ Although eternally alert, his physical energy had noticeably diminished in direct proportion to the significant burden imposed in determining the appointment of his successors. It had been a most difficult decision; from the multitude of faithful candidates, only twelve of the most worthy employees would be chosen to form the new Executive Central Committee ~ The selection process had become the ultimate test of character; occasionally revealing the dark desires of human nature ~ to the extent that Sun had even endured several bitter comments and accusations which were filtered to him through internal networks. These furtively communicated allegations suggested that the old man’s mind had become feeble; rendering it impossible for him to make rational decisions ~ Yet, Sun had not condemned their humanness; he understood that it was natural for speculation and rumors to abound about whom Sun may possibly favour ~ The names he had chosen were known only to Sun, and to his trusted assistant; Li Xiaohong, who had pledged an oath of secrecy never to reveal their identity until Sun had made his official announcement ~ That revelation would culminate the inauguration ceremony scheduled for the following morning. “It has been an eventful day, full of decisions, negotiations and unexpected surprises, now I wish to relax and enjoy a meal with my family.” Sun warmly placed his hand on the shoulder of his two companions; whom he had always considered his children ~ Perhaps deceived by a pleasant illusion, it had truly seemed, in the old man's mind, that Coraline increasingly resembled his long lost daughter Adda, while Li Xiaohong had become the son he had never had ~ Attentive and alert, the tall, twenty-two year old sat with legs crossed, his back straight ~ and the sleeve of his robe ripped to shreds by the dragon's claws. It seemed obvious to Coraline that Sun's own youth was reflected in the appearance and mannerisms of the young man ~ With dedication to purpose, Li Xiaohong had always completed every task assigned. And his performance was especially exemplary during the recent turmoil which occurred when a few executives who had arrived from corporate branch


offices around the world, had become embroiled in petty disputes over office space or living quarters, or had aggressively petitioned for a coveted position on the Executive Central Committee ~ Consequently, during that unsettled period when people had begun to inhabit the Pavilion, Sun relied solely upon the trustworthiness of Li Xiaohong to resolve every significant situation. Coraline gently pressed Sun's hand, then for some time their eyes exchanged silent communication... until her attention was interrupted by the sound of the electronic blips from Li Xiaohong's gentle tapping with a tiny nib. “I will order for us all,” Li Xiaohong had graciously offered as he selected items from the menu on his PAD's screen. While they awaited their feast, Sun and Li Xiaohong talked amiably ~ and as it often would, their discussion had gradually become philosophical... Coraline always enjoyed listening to her friends engage in fascinating conversations; in which the riddles were answers, and the answers were riddles, exchanged in counterpoint similar to a game of chess... Coraline felt pleasantly relaxed; her gaze visited the garden while she listened to Li Xiaohong's innovative responses to comments introduced by his elder. After some time, noticing Coraline surveying the havoc wreaked upon the miniature garden by the gigantic lizard, Sun had said; “You must think I am a foolish old man to have spent so much time puttering around while my attention to the affairs of the corporation were in such great demand.” Neither the young man, nor young woman, put forth a response. “The fulfillment of tending the garden has facilitated exercise of my mind, and the personal gratification of exploring reality to a much more complete extent.” Sun had then lowered his voice, “I will tell you something which I dare not mention to anyone else... since they would not believe me. As you know, several have already questioned my mental stability.” “Only treacherous fools,” Li Xiaohong had interjected; his bright eyes sparkled as he leaned forward, fervently anxious to hear more. “During the past few months I have perfected the ability to transform my perception from human-scale to miniature size. I am able to journey through the landscape, and fully experience weathered mountains, mighty forests, quick streams, and tranquil lakes. Yet I am not actually there... I find it interesting to note that when the dragon entered, it had seemed to sense my miniature presence, yet could not detect any chemical trace with its sensitive tongue. During that moment of its confusion, I made the decision to return to my human state and thus had been able to surprise the beast.”


Coraline glanced over at Li Xiaohong; as usual, Sun's assistant was recording the conversation via the built-in microphone of his portable deck. Noticing the tiny red recording light, Sun had chuckled, “Perhaps you should not mention what I have just said when you prepare my speech.” The young man had nodded nervously, then smiled. Sun continued to confide in his trusted companions; “Experiencing this wonderful land at reduced scale has afforded many intriguing possibilities. It is natural to consider how our limited natural resources could be sustained by decreasing the physical size of our overcrowded planet's increasing population. Through progressive engineering, each successive generation could be modified to be substantially smaller than its predecessor. In this manner, eventually, a small amount of rice could feed an entire family... Insect wildlife could be hunted as a source of nourishment; although, perhaps in the great forests, our prey may become dangerous predators for the unwary.” Sun's eyes had twinkled, “Ultimately, future architects could build substantial cities within a space not much larger than this room; a civilization in which the older generations could more easily care for, and protect, their much smaller offspring.” It was sometimes difficult for Coraline to determine when Sun would jest. Just then, the door slid open and two small robots rolled into Sun's chamber, to slowly approach the table. Each heated compartment built into their chassis contained a culinary delicacy: braised Portabello mushrooms with Canadian wild rice... Autumn black beans served with a compote of eggplant and zucchini... sesame tomatoes... a sea grass pasta... spicy Madras curried potatoes... Exploring other drawers, Coraline discovered a wild green salad drenched in apple, fig and cabernet dressing, and even a wondrous kaffir lime pie. Several types of tea steeped in clay pots atop the carts, accompanied by delicate ornate cups. When the robots had exited the room, the trio paused to mindfully acknowledge their blessing, then the two youngsters proceeded to ravenously devour the sumptuous feast. Sun had been less impetuous; he carefully selected each item he intended to eat. Grappling with the monster straw mushroom (Volvariella volvacea) floating in his bowl of soup, Coraline had been amazed that with a few dexterous movements of his gleaming golden chopsticks, Sun had deftly removed its heart ~ As the meal continued, the more animated Sun became; it were as though the pleasant conversation and delicious food had effectively energized him ~ His tiny hands occasionally fluttered like pale, fragile birds as he resumed the conversation with his companions; “Golden Sun Corporation has provided the fulfillment of many of my dreams. Its success is attributable to an interest in conservation; of energy, matter, time and knowledge. Our corporation operates in a manner analogous to a digital storage device, since, unless it is integrated within a greater network, its accumulations


become valueless. We survive by sharing our products with a global population; promptly distributing them to locations where they are most essentially required. Thus our customers, and our international network of dedicated employees, effectively sustain each other.” Sun slowly sipped his tea. “Until now, it has been my vision which determined our direction. Tomorrow, when the sun has set, and I have embarked upon my journey, I will finally be able to experience the freedom of relinquishing control of the corporation, so that my successors may best utilize what has been established for the benefit of future generations.” The pale fragile birds seemed to alight from Sun's lap then once again return to nest. “Some have expressed fear of the uncertainty caused by my decision to discontinue guidance, while others have already burdened their hearts with doom...” Sun's voice had drifted away. For some time there was silence, then softly Sun had cryptically added; “Band leaders and undertakers; let them debate the end of the world. Those who are aware, await the resurrection.” Sun raised his cup in both hands; “To the future, which will bring us all great joy! The best is yet to come! One day we shall all be sustained by the bright ripe fruit of the tree of knowledge which we have planted as our legacy.” Li Xiaohong studied the old man's tranquil expression while he savored the flavour of his tea. As an emissary of bad tidings, Li Xiaohong had considered ~ for considerable time ~ whether to risk upsetting his master with a matter which should certainly be brought to his attention. Upon deciding that the moment was opportune to gracefully direct the conversation toward the topic of concern, Li Xiaohong had softly cleared his throat: “Master, our... operative... agent Frost, has recently completed his risk assessment of our security system, and anticipates a high degree of probability that the database will come under attack once it goes live on-line. He has also relayed these concerns to the management team of the project, further fomenting distress.” ~ Li Xiaohong was referring to the Universal Memory Bank, which even after several years in development, could still create dissension within the ranks. The controversy continued to be based upon Sun's decision to allow the general population to freely access the ‘Universal Mind’ ~ Sun had believed that an ‘open-source’ model provided everyone with greater benefits since information was freely-shared rather than being hoarded away, or worse; continually ‘re-invented’ within isolation ~ Several of the system administrators had disagreed with the policy, claiming that as gatekeepers of the extensive warehouse of knowledge and information, they would naturally be held accountable in the event that vandalism had destroyed or corrupted any of the stored files. As a result, many decisions of the sysops had begun to be made without the Sun King's direct approval. Li Xiaohong continued, “Agent Frost's informants have indicated that a terrorist group, known as ‘ro@ch’, plan to undermine the database of the Universal Memory Bank by targeting its core servers with a virus designed to destroy randomly-selected


packets of information for the duration it remains active and undetected. He has also forwarded a copy of the ro@ches manifesto, which clearly states that one of the group's primary objectives is to ‘erase history by destroying mankind's accumulated knowledge’, and thus, ‘thrust the future into darkness and confusion’.” Sun had listened patiently until Li Xiaohong finished, then calmly replied; “They are not to be feared. Roaches will continue to thrive. They are among the oldest species on the planet, and they will remain, since it is unimaginable that they could be completely exterminated. For as long as the sun shines it will cast shadow, providing sanctuary in which they may hide. The only possibility is to minimize their intrusion into places where they are unwelcome.” “A digital virus creates an invisible army of a countless number. How is it possible to defend our knowledge from such a formidable attack?” Li Xiaohong had modestly inquired. "Vigilant precautions are wise to maintain. Our networks are protected by advanced security. The data resides on servers safely sequestered within underground vaults dispersed throughout the world. To store grain in a vessel of clay; perhaps that is all that is possible. True, countless methods exist to penetrate even the strongest fortresses, yet, look to the principles of Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’, where it is written; ‘... by placing it in the open, there is nothing to hide’. Distributing it freely, there is nothing to steal. Knowledge accumulated since the time of our most distant ancestors, is our privileged legacy. We share it by returning it to the entire population; to whom it rightfully belongs. In giving there is strength; greater still is to return a gift... Just as Anansi had when he released the wisdom from his large gourd into the wind...” Sun smiled and slyly winked at Coraline as he had concluded his remark ~ The fingertips of his tiny hands, touching together, were reminiscent of a spider on a mirror ~ He continued to speak softly, radiating an intensity which seemed as perceptible as the glow which permeated the dimly illuminated chamber at that hour of the evening; "If there is will to destroy, then there will be destruction. In order to effectively neutralize any nihilistic strategy, it is imperative to continually radiate enlightenment. Access to databases must not be controlled. Control signifies greed, and greed is often stimulated by the perception that information is a commodity to be bought or sold... ‘For blessed are those who discover value where none is declared, since they are truly the pure and the wise’.” Their conversation briefly paused while a robot returned to serve tea ~ Coraline had often felt uncomfortable about being overheard by the intelligent machines; especially since they had exceptional memory ~ Visual sensors in its head scanned the table, in a moment, a spout extended from its round metal belly to dispense a steamy stream of hot green tea. When their cups had filled to the brim, the robot exited the room through the sliding door.


Tidying up a spill on the table, Sun continued, “Certainly there are concerns about the integrity of the database should it be infiltrated by renegades who creep underground. Yet, much more dangerous are potential attacks from rival corporations, such as Globalsoft, and others. Information is a stream which supplies great wealth. Their desire is to ensure financial control over their exclusive ‘proprietary’ information, in an effort to dominate the marketplace.” “Explanation please, Master.” “Capitalism is an adaptive system based on supply and demand. Its efficiency is driven by competition and is nourished by the flow of currency. Its weakness is in the belief that progress is achieved only when the capacity to produce has substantially increased wealth. The overlords, grown accustomed to authority and excesses, retain a greater surplus than the others. Profits pool as reservoirs in which these executives may languish, while their employees are excluded from any additional reward for their dedicated labour...” Sun had paused, then bowed his head as though deep in thought... A few moments later, he opened his eyes to softly declare; “Soon will dawn an era for those who are prepared; a new Golden Age.” “The illumination of the Golden Sun Corporation will certainly shine forth to enlighten the entire world!” Li Xiaohong had enthused. Sun nodded his head slightly, “Human evolution necessarily implies change. The era approaching will be a time of vast, yet gradual, transformation. Restructuring the existing system will occur efficiently and intelligently. It will not be the violent history of revolution; which annihilates the previous order with every new command, and indiscriminately destroys both beauty and corruption without salvaging the value which should be preserved. The realization is the truth. The competitive system is extinction. Only by working together will we all prosper. Co-operation is essential for corporations, for humanity, for preservation of our environment. We must examine the way our capacity for labour is utilized to provide long term survival. To produce only those goods which are essential, to provide those services which are essential. Our needs must be simple. Clear air and clean water, food, shelter and the energy of the sun. We must not desire luxury items which consume substantial resources. These distractions are not in harmony with nature; they do not strengthen our spirit.” “The transition will be difficult for those who have accumulated wealth,” agreed Li Xiaohong. “Yet, the thoughts of passengers aboard a sinking ship are often unconcerned with treasures in the hold. They are aware that those who greedily line their pockets may discover difficulty staying afloat.” Sun tilted forward, his sonorous voice softly bestowed gravity to his words, “True, there is difficulty in transition. In the past, civilizations have been lost. The pattern on


the surface transparently reveals crumbling machines beneath. Priorities must be reevaluated. It is imperative to restructure organizations at their deepest levels for an entity to evolve. The Golden Sun Corporation has provided a catalyst for new life by reorganizing existing compounds within the primordial clay from which many sleek, young corporations have emerged, flowing together, spawning a co-operative system which will eventually span the globe. It does not take one thousand corporations to establish trends effecting enduring perceptions. Merely a few on a mission trigger dynamic chain reactions which encourage workers to remain productive in exchange for rewards which differ from those which have previously motivated them. From a tiny seed it will unfold. With wisdom, and clarity of vision, every citizen on the planet may realize satisfaction through useful occupation, reflective leisure, nutritious food and pure water, and perhaps, happiness discovered in comfort will ultimately sustain harmonious peace.” Sun began coughing in short, harsh bursts, until Coraline had offered him a glass of water to soothe his throat. When he had recovered his breath, Sun spoke softly, “I have grown old. Without my intervention, my dreams will yet manifest themselves through the capable hands of the next generation. The Executive Central Committee have been carefully selected for their strength of character, their leadership abilities, their intelligence and their acumen, and most importantly, their optimistic vision of the future. They will implement, at their discretion, the guidelines I have formulated.” “You are wise, Master. Your instructions will certainly be acted upon.” Coraline had always found Li Xiaohong's naive innocence and sense of wonder refreshing. The pure joy with which he conducted all his transactions with physical reality! ~ His eyes perpetually glistened with insatiable curiosity ~ Yet, the conversation had not been of much interest to Coraline; their discussion was reminiscent of the thorough indoctrination she had received while attending the Akademy ~ Globalization of environmentally aware corporations had not yet come to pass, certainly not to the scale, and not with the speed, which had been predicted by her mentors at the institution ~ Coraline yawned. She finished the salad she had been nibbling at. Rested now, she was eager to experience movement again; if only to stretch her legs by strolling about the room ~ perhaps to investigate damage to the miniature garden more closely... As she attempted to rise from the cushions, Li Xiaohong had gently caught her by the arm, sincerely hoping to direct complimentary words her way also; “Coraline, I am finally beginning to fully appreciate your design of this magnificent Pavilion. Its logically-structured organization efficiently utilizes each component in support of every other component, to create a most self-sufficient environment. I now realize that, on a micro scale, it presents a model of our Master's vision for a brighter future.” Excited by this revelation, his voice had become tremulous with emotion. “Those who have chosen this glorious sanctuary certainly deserve to dwell within the comfort of an everlasting paradise.”


Sun smiled beneficently. “I admire your enthusiasm, Li Xiaohong. Your perceptions are most astute. Yet, I must caution you, my son, that utopia is merely buffered as a temporary state while confined to isolation. Unless a society remains integrated with the larger whole, it is not possible to ascertain its duration. Those who have accepted invitation of residence, seek not escape within a realm of comfort. Diligent employees attain fulfillment demonstrating the possibility of magnifying humble success to a global scale. It is my dream that ultimately everyone will be rewarded through eternal golden light.” “Knowledge!” Li Xiaohong had interjected. “Knowledge,” Sun assented, “is universal. An understanding of structure, encoding, and patterns of relationships, provide context with which we learn correct and useful ideas. Now is the time for new thought, for flexibility in action, for careful attention to detail. It is truth. The Universal Mind is global consciousness. Interconnecting all things. Its infrastructure functions as a universal memory bank disseminating information beyond our internal corporate network. Expanding into every environment. We shall retain no secrets. Our databases, libraries, corporate structure, and accounting records will become freely accessible on-line. Operation critical information and leading research mapping new terrain in countless fields may be of value in assisting other enterprises, as well as serving the general population. Through co-operation, I anticipate, will collectively be discovered more efficient solutions to every specific problem.” Coraline had arisen and began to drift about the room. “It is worthy to gather the fully ripened harvest,” Sun had continued, “Yet, it is only through our ability to share this bounty that it may provide us all with nourishment. Within the storehouse of information, protection prevents only honest citizens from accessing information. Nested encryption requires many passwords to unlock the gates. Securely confined, hidden away, it is less likely to be utilized whenever critical data is required to make important decisions. Inaccessible paths are seldom searched and doomed to be forgotten. Perhaps, some day, similar to artifacts buried beneath sediments of time, the code structure of long lost documents may present an enigma as difficult to decipher as the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. That is the key!” Sun chuckled merrily, then noticing Coraline hovering silently about the garden, he had addressed her softly, “You seem to have become restless, my dear.” Although the hour was late, Sun had seemed the least tired. His enthusiasm indicated that he wished to continue enjoying their discussion. Abruptly, he suggested that his companions join him for an ‘evening stroll’, declaring that he wished to make one final tour of the Pavilion.


IV. UNIVERSAL MEMORY BANK

While Coraline waited for Sun to change into attire more suitable for the evening, she had stepped out onto the balcony, retreated to the railing, and there rested her chin upon her forearms to gaze at the panoramic vista below. Sun's suite was situated near the top of the massive main column ~ central amongst the five ‘Great Pillars’ within the cathedral-like interior of the Golden Sun Pavilion; each pillar supported a cantilevered spiral array of vast suspended terraces which successively increased in surface area toward the lower levels ~ and there, at the base of the pillars, the spirals leveled out to merge into a broad flat plain separating the residential suites above, from the offices and laboratories below. Coraline noted that the hydroponic orchards, vegetable gardens, and grain fields had been completely installed upon the terraces ~ The crops in some fields were ready to harvest, while in others, were just beginning to germinate; since crop cycles were co-ordinated to produce a consistent year-round supply ~ And, far, far below, at the south base of the Pavilion, Coraline could clearly see the thick green stalks and brilliant yellow heads of a garden of gigantic sunflowers, strategically arranged to benefit from optimum daylight. Overhead, darkness had fallen upon the seamless gold-plated glass encompassing the Pavilion ~ This night sky was the first during the year 2020 in which there would be no moon ~ Optical sensors triggered crystal arrays embedded in the glass to function as mirrored shutters which to varying degrees either reflected interior light or allowed it to escape. During the night, specific regions were targeted by diffused beams of sunlight which streamed in from storage batteries deep underground to theatricallyilluminate some areas within the structure while casting others into solemn twilight... Outside the window, gentle snowflakes tumbled from the sky... The cylindrical capsule descended rapidly through the core of the massive main column. Coraline gazed out the glass door of the elevator ~ stations flashed past at every level; residences, shops, restaurants, night clubs, jungles, beaches and bountiful fields and gardens. The Sun King rested on the padded bench nearby. Tiny and frail, like a hummingbird he sipped amber nectar through the thin straw penetrating the wax stopper of a small vial of Renshenfengwangjiang ~ The magical elixir of red ginseng and royal jelly which the Sun King had often proclaimed sustained his vitality, as well as enabled him to maintain a clear mind well into his second century ~ Li Xiaohong sat nearby, fiddling with the microphone on his computer. At 11:11 PM., the trio of passengers disembarked at a station surrounded by a field


of enhanced wheat; which Sun had been anxious to see. The dry, brittle grass was not very tall, thus the heads of the ripened grain had seemed disproportionately large; even in relation to stalks which were about the same size as Coraline's thumb in diameter ~ The wheat rustled in the gentle breeze circulated as convection currents by the ventilation systems ~ It was a quiet evening; the lighting had purposefully been subdued to replicate the passage of night. Ominously, at the threshold of perception, Coraline believed she had heard the intermittent sound of grasshoppers chirping in concealment... Coraline's reverie was interrupted by the tentative sound of a horn ~ It was Li Xiaohong announcing that he had acquired a sleek electric cart from a parking spot near the elevator ~ Every citizen was free to operate the light vehicles, since they were intended for communal use. Robotic parking attendants monitored distribution of the carts and ensured they were maintained in good operating condition ~ They were very safe; the cart's slow speed and thick-cushioned bumpers minimized any likelihood of injuries. Coraline climbed aboard next to Sun, who was already resting comfortably in the back seat. Their chauffeur; Li Xiaohong, then guided the silent electric vehicle onto a narrow pathway surfaced with finely-crushed gravel embedded in cement. It purred gently along the curved tracked through seemingly-endless rows of wheat ~ Their segmented stalks and the long spines of their awns were golden in the illumination of the headlights from their cart. At one point, they encountered a couple of young biotechnicians, out standing in the field in their glowing coveralls, who were maintaining the hydroponic plumbing. The pair waved their flashlights and hailed Sun respectfully as he had driven by. Some distance along the path, Sun had requested that Li Xiaohong stop the cart so that he could observe the crop more closely ~ Extracting a kernel from the head of a nearby plant, Sun had pried open its husk with his extraordinarily-long fingernails ~ The grain was genetically modified to increase both its size, and its resistance to diseases or pests which could potentially infiltrate the environment from the outside world. Sun studied the seed's plump firmness for a few moments before popping it into his mouth. While Sun chewed; smiling, eyes closed, his face tilted upward, Li Xiaohong had extracted another memory card from the pocket of his robe and slipped it into his deck. The humble scribe seemed to anticipate that Sun was about to speak ~ even though Sun had remained silent since they had left the comfort of his suite ~ And Li Xiaohong had certainly wanted to ensure that any words spoken by the Master were recorded for posterity. Yet when Sun had first spoken, he had merely indicated that he wished Li Xiaohong to fetch him his bottle from the cart ~ Then after he had taken a sip of cool, pure water, Sun had eloquently continued; “Mankind first learned to gather and store grain some 10,000 years ago. It was a time when war and soil became inextricably linked. During centuries, as populations


flourished, fertile, arable land, became increasingly valuable. In some regions, family units banded together to form societies. They shared the labour, and the harvest of the fields. From this group, certain individuals emerged, by virtue of their strength or ingenuity, as leaders. Societies were successful when their leader was capable of managing the resources of the land; ensuring crops sustained not only farmers, but also a sufficient force, which when required, could be rallied to expand the boundaries of the territory. Conquest produced wealth. Yet, expansion also required a mighty security force to safeguard the kingdom from encroaching neighbours, or the invasion of savage hordes. The price of protection was drawn upon the farmer's sustained debt of servitude. They worked hard, yet the majority of their production was appropriated by overlords to feed and shelter valiant defenders within castle fortresses who watched over affairs of state. Thus, often the peasants remained impoverished, while the ruler dwelled within a palace in which every desire was fulfilled ~ And so it was, throughout good times and bad, that the system continued relatively unchanged.” Listening to Sun's words, Coraline had considered that, in the past, short growing seasons, poor soil conditions, insects, disease, drought, hail, frost, fire and severe winds, had made it extremely difficult for primitive farmers to consistently grow healthy crops year after year. Conversely, the controlled conditions within the Pavilion would yield a perpetual organic bounty which was nourished by the network of thin irrigation pipes which supplied nutrients to the receptacles rooted at the base of every wheat stalk ~ The flow produced a gentle, rhythmic sound; like breathing... When it was time, robotic machines would be activated to glide along tracks between the rows to harvest grain, then later insert seedlings from the greenhouse to prepare the next crop. It was indeed very efficient... The sound of Sun's voice interrupted her thoughts; “The introduction of machinery revolutionized not only farming, but all forms of industry. Tools in the hands of workers increased the kingdom’s prosperity. Weapons in the hands of soldiers increased its power. Powerful armaments enabled industrialized nations to exert control over more primitive agrarian cultures in an attempt to subsume their labour. Ultimately, the tragic consequence; escalated development in military technology became the catalyst for two global wars which had been ignited during the first half of the past century. Following the Second World War, the realization had become apparent that although fifty-five million people had tragically lost their lives, territorial boundaries had shifted very little. Yet, those countries which initiated scientific research and increased their productive capacity to fuel the war, were able to benefit by becoming leaders in the subsequent peacetime boom of prosperity. Restructuring military manufacturing processes, they developed technologically-advanced products which were believed able to create a better world for all humanity. From those roots sprouted the corporate environment which exists today.” Sun gestured toward the cart, “Shall we continue?” Coraline nodded assent. Li Xiaohong climbed behind the wheel to patiently await the location of their next destination ~ which Sun had leaned forward to provide;


suggesting that the final stop on the tour should be to visit the control room of the Universal Memory Bank. Then it would be time for him to retire to his suite, so that he could rest before the morning’s ceremonies on the first day of the Lunar New Year ~ Li Xiaohong made a u-turn and headed back along the path through the wheat field toward the elevator station. Inside the elevator, Li Xiaohong pressed the button and the door silently slid closed ~ Once it had begun to move, Li Xiaohong had commented; “I have studied history during my training, and of course, for my own interest. I was born in 1999, so the events about which you have spoken, happened long before my time. Yet, as I listen to your observations, I am provided an opportunity to gain an accurate impression of those distant eras; for which I am truly grateful, and anxious to learn more.” Sun laughed gently, “It is ancient history, perhaps similar to recalling the events of a previous lifetime.” He patted his assistant on the shoulder, “I am pleased you are appreciative.” ~ The elevator descended rapidly to a distance of nearly one-half kilometer underground. Sun perched upon the comfortable curved bench, listening to the muzak. They exited the elevator, then continued a short distance along a corridor tunneled through solid rock. Li Xiaohong inserted his identity card into the scanner, and the metal door promptly slid open to permit access into a dimly-illuminated space buzzing with activity ~ Technicians in light blue coveralls crawled around under consoles to test servers scheduled to go on-line the following day, while program operators, hunched over the screens of their workstations, still tended to last-minute editing of its complex detailed code ~ Several workers casually greeted Sun before immediately returning their attention to the activities with which they had previously been engaged. It was graveyard shift for the motley crew which staffed the Universal Memory Bank; data entry, data analysis and data management personnel ~ Each worked during one of the six-hour quarterly shifts which cycled around the clock to keep the facility operating. The most industrious data technicians had been lured away from subsidiary companies which lurked in the penumbra of the Golden Sun Corporation ~ Sun's agents had recruited the best of the elite ~ Now they sat deep underground, displaying complacent expressions of concentration, drumming their fingertips upon wireless twelve-key text-pads enabling them to enter code through combinations of chords ~ Coraline had marveled that the stoic monks were not still pecking on archaic 101 boards. In a hushed voice, Sun then explained their primary function was to manage the software which digitized, catalogued and translated all new data accepted into the collection, then most importantly, thoroughly document the source of origin for each fragment of information ~ Intelligent Analysts, inhabiting the software, would verify the validity of all incoming information by referencing it to previous entries already catalogued in the database. An integrity checking mechanism built into the artificial


intelligence was designed to detect altered or manipulated data and code. It would then immediately alert a human operator to evaluate the situation. Servers hosting the original files comprising the Universal Memory Bank, were physically protected within hermetically-sealed, environmentally-controlled chambers, hollowed out of bedrock, while redundant arrays duplicated master data on several remote secured servers, located around the world, which were connected by satellite streams. Li Xiaohong scooted a couple of programmers out of their chairs so that he and Sun and could occupy their workstation. Coraline stood behind them and peered over their shoulder at the flat panel display. Sun requested Li Xiaohong browse the genetic database of Project N.O.A.H... Li Xiaohong deftly called up its interface which immediately presented the main index of the comprehensive collection ~ During a span of nearly twenty years, the concerted effort of hunters and collectors had made Sun's vision a reality. Freelance mercenaries tracked creatures into the wildest of remote regions, and when in range of the target specimen, shot it with a small dart to punch and hold a small sample of skin which dropped to the ground for collection. To be paid their bounty, the trackers shipped the DNA samples to teams of molecular and cellular biotechnologists at research labs in Japan, Holland, Columbia, Ghana and the United States ~ One lab on each of the five continents ~ which documented the biodiversity of the planet and stored the samples as its legacy for future generations. Sun had been gifted with foresight to recognize that humanity was entering a period in which artificial re-engineering would become prevalent ~ Realizing that preserving the genetic information of species nearing the end of their natural process of evolution was similar to saving a file as a ‘back-up’ copy, since the recombined genetic code of newly emerging species erased the purity of their original data after very few iterations. Sun speculated that N.O.A.H.’s archive would become a source of extremely valuable information when the experimental mutation process of hybridization and cloning had completely corrupted the code structure of experimental species, and genetic engineers were compelled to return to the drawing board and start all over again. Project N.O.A.H.’s archive comprised merely a small portion of the entire Universal Memory Bank ~ On screen, Li Xiaohong then guided Sun through several other categories in the massive database ~ The Golden Sun Corporation had acquired digital rights to material from a considerable number of private collections, academies, archives and libraries from all around the world; clay tablets dating back to the dawn of recorded history, a collection of ancient parchment scrolls preserved within the dusty vaults of The Vatican, the lost pages of grimoires from a Czech alchemy museum, original oil paintings from a private collector in Venice, and fragile illuminated manuscripts from merry olde romantic England ~ The database, in addition to being the repository for a wealth of literature, music, and fine art, had also accumulated a vast amount of scientific research in the fields of mathematics, archaeology, astronomy, physics, microbiology, oceanography, nanotechnology, and so on...


Sun had been inspired by the fascinating historical Library of Alexandria in conceptualizing the Universal Memory Bank ~ Situated in the famous Egyptian port city; where the Nile delta enters the Mediterranean Sea, the library was founded under the patronage of Pharaoh Ptolemy I in approximately 145 BCE. Ptolemy I, intrigued by the Shrines of the Muses, had begun the practice of attracting scholars from many lands, and housing and funding their intellectual endeavors, with the result that the Library had gradually amassed a substantial archival collection recording the effort of these scholar's ~ Legend has it that portions of the Bible were also authored within the edifice ~ Subsequently throughout the years, the Library would be repeatedly torched, rebuilt and modified; beginning with an attack by Julius Caesar in 48 BCE, and continuing until it was eventually completely destroyed at the hands of Arab conquerors, who, it is said, burned the last of the books as bath-house fuel around 686 CE. Sun’s vision had been to create a digital archive which would continue to flourish for a time-span at least equal to the eight centuries which the ancient Library in Alexandria had survived. And similar to Ptolemy I, the Sun King had invited the best and brightest minds to reside within the Golden Sun Pavilion, and afforded them the opportunity to immerse themselves within their work without distraction from the external world; programmers, philosophers, scholars, geneticists, agronomists, engineers, designers, and scientists from many disciplines, and many cultures, working together, exchanging knowledge, to advance some particular area of specialization. Those chosen were granted state-of-the-art research laboratories, observatories, offices, living quarters, shopping and entertainment districts, and peaceful gardens and parks in which to enjoy their leisure ~ Li Xiaohong had facilitated the arrival of many of the recent inhabitants; most of whom would attend the inauguration ceremony in the morning ~ Only a few hours away, Coraline apprehensively considered. In the cool blue light cast by the display within the darkened room, the Sun King had ebulliently beamed with admiration while observing the expression of his assistant peering attentively at the information which rapidly flashed upon the screen; brightly coloured blocks of text and images built up from flickering fragments, merging with other groupings to form layered documents, then breaking apart to vanish under the touch of Li Xiaohong’s fingertips... Sun placed his hand on Li Xiaohong’s shoulder to distract him from the screen, “Li Xiaohong, you are a valued assistant and friend of many years. In truth, I consider you to be as loyal as a son. In recognition for your service, and to reward your keen interest in the pursuit of knowledge, I hearby bequeath you the position of Executive Director of the Universal Memory Bank.” “Thank you Master, I am greatly honored. Of course I gladly accept. I will dedicate the fullness of my ability to ensure this knowledge furthers communication, understanding, awareness and enlightenment throughout the world, and I vow to do everything within my power to protect it from ever coming to harm.”


“Do not worry, vulnerability is a matter of trust. Knowledge openly shared is less likely to become forgotten. Secretive information, hoarded for personal gain through control, increases the potential for its corruption. Those who attempt to destroy information only deceive themselves. Transcend their deception, then you have advantage. The ability to discern truth requires knowledge and judgment, which is based upon experience... Wisdom is attained by living in the world, perceiving and experiencing it, incorporating it into our thought, and into our being. The value of knowledge we hold to be true will always be preserved.” “I understand.” Li Xiaohong smiled. “It occurs to me that truth is discernible because it is favorably exchanged, while falsehood always seems accompanied by a sense of discomfort and unease. Sometime we are deceived by a lie, yet falsehoods eventually crumble and fall since they lack a supporting foundation. The truth shall perpetually stand boldly for all future generations to gloriously behold!” While the two were talking ~ bathed in the glow of display screen light ~ Coraline had drifted nearby, listening to their conversation while casually observing the flurry of technicians surrounding them as they made last minute checks of the system ~ Then Li Xiaohong's expression had suddenly become solemn as though he had realized that within a matter of hours his master would be cryogenically suspended within the King’s Chamber of the Golden Sun Pavilion; “Here we are enjoying pleasant conversation, while it is already past midnight. You shouldn’t keep up late, the ceremonies commence at sunrise.” “I do have a few other matters to attend to, yet it is more important to be with my dear friends. Besides, I feel fine, I will stay up all night. After all, I have the next two hundred years to sleep.” Sun had then laughed quietly. “I am saddened you are leaving, I will miss your physical presence, and our friendly games of Ma Jong. Your spirit will always remain in my heart.” A tear had then rolled down Li Xiaohong’s cheek. “Is it really necessary that you must leave us now that life in the Pavilion is just beginning?” “One portion of my journey is nearly complete, some day it may continue. Fear not, I will be with you always.” Li Xiaohong nodded his head. The three left the control room then traveled up the elevator to Sun’s suite. There, Sun embraced Coraline, then Li Xiaohong, and bid each of them goodnight. Coraline returned to her suite, where she spent a restless night awaiting the appointed hour to join Sun and Li Xiaohong at breakfast before accompanying Sun to the Xi Wang-mu Theatre for the Inauguration Ceremony.


V. AMARDEEP

Almost weightless; there was little gravity... During childhood, Coraline had never considered becoming an astronaut, although, she certainly enjoyed the sensation of being able to gracefully drift about the environs of space within the fantastic simulation. Her movement was not constrained by a bulky spacesuit, yet she would experience neither the chill of endless shadowy blackness, nor the intense heat of the sun ~ which had appeared much larger and brighter than customarily observed upon the surface of the Earth ~ And she felt safe knowing she would not suffer any adverse effects from the dangerous radiation of anomalous cosmic rays and particles of solar wind. She was invisible; a disembodied form floating effortlessly without the mechanism of auxiliary propulsion ~ Lost within a universe which had seemed entirely real ~ Processors, continually updated by elegant algorithms, calculated the exact orbital position of every planet within the solar system, calibrated the precise intensity of every shining star, and even generated realistic sunspots and spectacular corona flares ~ There were more stars than she had ever imagined; including one mysterious wandering star... It produced a profound sensation to be humbled by her own insignificance, contemplating the vastness which engulfed her ~ Every subtle nuance of expression revealed its awesome presence within the sophisticated rendering ~ And occasionally, perhaps, it had seemed as though she could glimpse its soul ~ the Deux ex Machina ~ The ultimate realization that the immense universe she perceived; one which seemed to encompass infinitely, was in actuality a construct fabricated within her own mind ~ Coraline trembled as the full force of the revelation impacted upon her consciousness... ‘Memorize!’ she then thought; to lock in recent changes, and the computer obeyed her command. Having emerged from her immersion, Coraline removed her headband to collapse upon the padded floor. Interminable months had elapsed since the official inauguration ceremony ~ Her memories had remained clear: Xi Wang-mu Theatre filled to capacity... The Sun King standing atop the raised platform at center stage to welcome all 2,020 new residents ~ speaking to auditorium audience, and broadcasting to many others watching on telescreens around the world... Sun had acknowledged several key individuals whose effort had made possible the transformation of the Golden Sun Pavilion from concept


to tangible reality. In particular, he had singled out its glorious architect ~ who Sun had surprised with his request that she join him on the stage ~ How nervous she had been; how her heart had fluttered ~ It had been overwhelming to be greeted by thunderous applause which had seemed to last an eternity... Sun had descended the throne to shake her hand, anointed her forehead with a kiss, then spoke to the audience through his headset microphone. Eloquently Sun had bestowed upon her a special honour by renaming the auditorium; Coraline Coventry Theatre... Retreating shyly from the spotlight beam, Coraline had shakily returned to her front row seat surrounded by the fading sound of hand claps... Then the main event; the appointment of the twelve Directors to the Executive Central Committee, who each took their place upon the stage as their names were announced... Li Xiaohong had smiled and waved to Coraline from amongst the elite group posing for the official photograph... Then later, backstage, Coraline waited with Sun for the arrival of Li Xiaohong to accompany Sun to the King's Chamber; where Tutankhaten+ and his crew from Eternal Life had already assembled equipment to perform the sacred rituals involving the transfusion of Sun's veins with bloodhoney, before his suspension within cryogenic preservation... “Ah, here comes Li Xiaohong,” Sun observed. As Coraline embraced Sun, his final words to her had been; “Faith will sustain us during times of sorrow and pain. The best is yet to come; wonderful things.” Coraline wiped a tear from her cheek... The satellite design project ~ which currently engaged her attention ~ had been the only aspect of her life which delivered any joy during the interval since Sun had been interred within the King's Chamber ~ Coraline missed him dearly; she had been lost since Sun departed ~ cast into the darkness of feeling abandoned and alone. Her only solace had been to immerse herself within her work lest she have time to languish upon her anxieties, or even those pleasant memories which instilled a desire for a return to the way things once had been; a decade occupied designing the architecture of Golden Sun Pavilion, when she would speak with Sun nearly every day ~ What wonderful days those had been! Sun was wise; he understood her very well ~ Coraline was grateful that he had not selected her for the Executive Committee. Sun was aware that Coraline was not the least bit interested in the bureaucracy of administration. She had simply wished to continue advancing her skills as a practitioner of the mysterious art of virtual architectural design ~ Certainly, acclaim for her conception of the Golden Sun Pavilion had triggered a flood of offers from prestigious corporations around the world. Each had attempted to entice her to perform her magic in designing ever-grander, more elaborate structures ~ Sadly, she had come the realization that she could no longer attain the same level of intensity to which she was once accustomed ~ She was thirtyfive years old; her body was no longer as lithe and supple as she had hoped it would remain ~ And her mind could no longer retain the immense detail of the complexity at such a vast scale ~ Her stability had demanded that she recognize the necessity of considerably reducing the scope of all future projects which she selected to embark


upon ~ Thus, ultimately, it was the opportunity to explore new horizons which had prompted Coraline to request that the Executive Committee negotiate a contract with United Space Enterprise Corporation for a proposed solar collector satellite ~ A venture the Directors had enthusiastically agreed Golden Sun Corporation should actively participate in launching. At the time, Coraline had been intrigued by the prospect of the solar satellite project acting as a catalyst for further enhancements to the capabilities of her hardware and software. She would constantly experiment with new methods of increasing the efficiency of technology, as well as discover ways which made it easier to use ~ It was as innate disposition which relentlessly compelled her to transcend every limitation as each new possibility advanced. This time, she had also learned how to communicate her ideas to teams of elite programmers and engineers who were willing to dedicate innumerable hours in an attempt to implement her every desire ~ Consequently, their collaborative efforts had yielded breakthroughs which facilitated telepathic communication between her brain and the computer's processors. Series of painless spinal injections propagated the release of microorganisms which traveled through her blood-stream to infuse her brain with a network of wireless sensors. Each sensor functioned as a receiver/transmitter which converted digital signals into electrochemical reactions, and vice versa. The upgrade operations enhanced her ability to completely integrate her thought processes with the massive digital database. To facilitate the activity of the sensors, Coraline had made the critical decision to off-load the bulk of her cherished personal memories. They would be preserved within digital storage; partially to enable her the freedom to transcend her previously fixed perceptions, although more importantly, ease her emotional attachment to those people she had dearly loved, who no longer truly inhabited the physical realm; Jurgen, William, the Sun King... mind, body, and spirit ~ What else was left in this world? Emptiness. Her guiding lights, her rays of hope; all were gone. Coraline leaned against the railing to contemplate her own mortality; observing every detail of the vast interior of the Golden Sun Pavilion... The urge to fly... ‘Yes’, she had determined; she would strip away unnecessary memories in order to streamline her work effort... To clear her mind... To sustain her toil... To return to the cage ~ The nightingale would again begin to sing upon the setting of eternal golden light. “Get stronger,” Coraline had admonished herself in a quiet whisper. “Examine what you have, release what is no longer needed... the programming, the propaganda.” It was a pleasure to go to work every morning. After exercising for one-half hour, Coraline enjoyed a light breakfast, then entered the studio adjoining her suite. Removing her robe, naked, she assumed a lotus position in the center of the empty, perfectly-cubic room ~ The ceiling, walls and floor were padded with soft white cushions of high-impact rubber... Communication between the central processor and the sensors within her brain were wirelessly facilitated through a band fastened snugly about her shaved scalp. The device enabled visualization of the architectural model


entirely within her imagination ~ Other sensors embedded within thin silvery nylon gloves, slipped over her fingertips, served as pointers to guide repositioning of objects, or select material textures, and so on... Shapes changed with the subtlest movement of her fingertips; each gesture detected by an array of ultra-sensitive wires woven into the fabric of the padded environment in which she comfortably sat. Soon, all of her thoughts had dissipated, and as the light faded to total darkness, a tranquil meditative state emerged... Clear... Soon the brightest stars burst into being, gradually followed by the rest of the universe. Immediately before her, the massive satellite rapidly fabricated itself from millions of tiny texture-shaded polygons. Her viewpoint tracked the solar collector as it orbited the blazing sun ~ Vast unseen processors, linked to the organic sensors within her brain, had automatically restored her progress as it had been saved at the conclusion of her previous session ~ It would always require a few moments to become reacquainted with the model, and to fully regain control over her movement within the environment ~ Her preference was customarily to begin each session with an overview of the entire structure by floating some distance away from the spacecraft with her back to the sun ~ A perspective which presented the enormous satellite as a precious, intricately-crafted ornament, elegantly suspended upon a bed of crushed black velvet within the diamond-dusted grandeur of an infinite jewel case... The visualization of her thoughts were without limit ~ Coraline constantly reconfigured the matrix of possibilities; instantly materializing any shape or form ~ Objects could become transparent, lead could change into gold. Expanses of waferthin metal would do her bidding; transforming into elegantly-curved shapes by merely conceiving of them... It was an exciting and stimulating metaphysical experience which opened new vistas to her mind’s eye! And it had seemed that she had only begun to realize the creative potential which could be achieved through the power of her mental acuity. With each session, Coraline continued to improve her visualization skills, and refine her ability to navigate through space while changing perspective views. The more she practiced, the less she had relied upon hand gestures to assist in carrying out the work ~ The process demanded intense concentration; since during momentary lapses, objects could simply vanish as readily as they had appeared. Fortunately, the processors were always there to remind her by reloading previous sequences of events ~ This feature also functioned as an ‘undo’; which provided Coraline the flexibility of being able to change her mind. Within the simulation, Coraline continued to drift toward the reflectively-rendered, platinum-plated orbital platform... A structure approximately the same size as a football stadium in England ~ Its enormous scale, and its thin skin, were possible since it would be fabricated in absence of the gravity normally imposed upon structures back home on Earth ~ Eight spokes radiated from its circular hub; each terminated by a spherical pod encircled by a halo of solar panels ~ arrayed to resemble the golden petals of a flower glowing in the sunlight. The panels would provide everlasting power to keep the satellite on station. Clasped at the center of the hub, glistening like a pure clear gem, was a magnificent apparatus resembling the lens of a gigantic eye


permanently staring at the sun ~ Concentric rings consisting of 720 lenses focused the rays to form a single concentrated stream of high-intensity light directed toward Earth. Reflectors, stationed in synchronous orbit much closer to the planet, would cast beams down to numerous locations upon the dark side of the globe to provide nocturnal solar energy ~ One of the reflectors would be permanently positioned to stream illumination to the Golden Sun Pavilion every night. The orbital