It was time, and past time. The song of the bulrushes awoke me to the terrible incandescent beauty of the Final Dawn. The lime green sky seemed luminescent as a flock of arcwind gulls flew overhead, burned to silhouette by the brightness of the morning firmament: flapping, craul-ing shadows.
– Late in the year for arcwinds to be flying – Alfon said quietly as I headed back into the rockhouse. – If they don’t go in the next few days they’ll likely be trapped under Darkness. Not much chance of them surviving if that happens. Nothing for them to eat. Mackryll are all gone already, and Korbs are near impossible to spot without daylight. There’s our refuse of course, but –
I grunted and tuned him out. Alfon would talk for hours if I let him, telling me about marine ecosystems, migratory patterns, population forecasts: more information than anyone needed, and certainly more than I cared about first thing in the morning. I hadn’t even had a glass of coffee yet.
Sitting in the kitchen, feeling the warmth from the stoves thawing the chill that seemed to be permanently resident in my bones this time of year, I sipped at the coffee in front of me. The sweet, fragrant tar eased the headache Alfon’s continued lecture was giving me, and I stared at the viscous liquid sticking to the sides of the glass.
– Alfon – I said, – shut up now. Your knowledge is very impressive, but forty minutes of it first thing in the morning is just too much. Give it a rest, okay? –
He lapsed into sulky silence. He wasn’t supposed to do that: he was designed to give me information when I asked for it, and keep quiet the rest of the time. The last couple of years though, he’d started to volunteer info on his own, and ask and hold conversations. It was a clear breach of his programming, and according to his EULA, I should call in a wetware engineer. After a brief spell of disquiet at having what amounted to a sentient being sat in my brain, I decided not to. I live on my own for fifteen months of the year, way out here on the coast, and it’s nice to have a friend.
I ignored Alfon’s little tantrum and went about my morning routine. I checked the newsline: more riots and deaths in Khybol; electoral analysts predicting another hardline presidency in Glemus. I spent a punishing half-hour in the gym, then completed a leisurely toilette, enjoying the sensuous feel of my Akharian cotton shirt and silk-lined suit. I returned to the kitchen and set about breakfast. Another glass of coffee (I’m never really ready to start the day until after my second or third glass), toast and marmalade, half a tartfruit, and soft-boiled eggs. Break your fast like a lord, and all that.
– Arcwind eggs? – I suggested to Alfon, and the pressure behind my eyes, which had been growing steadily worse over the last hour, eased. Alfon’s version of a smile. He’d somehow developed a taste for eggs (don’t ask me how: as far as I’m aware that shouldn’t be possible) and although arcwind eggs were scarce now, with the flocks having migrated weeks ago for the most part, I’d rather use some of my dwindling supply than suffer Alfon’s headache-inducing sulk for the rest of the day. I knew he’d appreciate the eggs as a peace offering after I’d cut short his lecture on the birds. In any case, I badly needed to be on form today.
It was time, and past time. Final Dawn would only last a couple more weeks, three at most, and then Darkness would roll in. I’d have to start my own migration before that happened, piloting my battered, oft-repaired hopter eastwards, away from the coast and back to my flat in the city. No one would be trapped under the Darkness if they could help it, so during the long months of blackness the citydomes’ populations swelled enormously. I still had work to do before then, though: four outstanding contracts due by the beginning of Darkness. Publicity tours, streamcasts, printing dates and a hundred other irritating, boring, but apparently necessary (according to my agent, at any rate) details had already been scheduled, and if I wanted to continue being paid, I’d have to deliver two novellas, a novel and a streamplay when I got back to the ’dome.
Before that, of course, there was the not-so-small matter of actually producing the things. The novel still needed at least three more chapters, the streamplay was only a plot outline and aside from a few snatches of dialogue, the novellas didn’t exist at all.
I made the soft-boiled eggs, sipped my coffee, ate, and thought. I decided to work on one of the novellas: it was to be included in a collection with works from six of my publishers’ other clients. The brief I’d been given was vague, which I normally like. It was to ‘deal with endings’. Try though I might, however, for some reason I’d been completely unable to come up with anything remotely suitable.
Calling up the timefunction, I winced. It was late – I’d wasted far too much time staring at the sky after waking, and even more lingering over breakfast. I ladled another sticky serving of coffee into my glass, hurriedly loaded the dishes into the cleanser and went upstairs to my writing deck.
Sat at my desk in the circular room, I stared at the terrifyingly, stubbornly blank file of paeper projected above my keyboard and quietly panicked.
After twenty minutes of silent, fruitless frustration, I got up and began to pace around the edge of the room, staring out of the plate windows at the rocky coast, then as I progressed on my circuit, the sere brackenfields and finally the rush-filled tarn where I’d stood that morning.
Coast. Field. Tarn. Coast, field, tarn, over and over. Every time I looked at the tarn, a faint, unformed glimmer of inspiration tickled my mind. Something about the bulrushes nagged at my memory…
And finally, gloriously, it hit me. I sat at my desk, fingers poised over the keyboard trembling ever so slightly.
– Alfon – I asked, – remember that flock of arcwinds from this morning? What will happen if they leave it too late to make it east before the Darkness comes in? –
And as Alfon talked, I began to write. After all, it was time, and past time.