As we travel through the sky and up towards the intelligence centre my pupil says why do I fly when you touch me, and I think he knows there is no answer to this question, not any answer that can be told to him that he would understand, and so I say nothing in response. Below us the opencities are growing, new cityspaces and greenspaces, and my pupil says where are we going, and I say we are going to your platform, and he says why, and I don’t say anything because he knows why, and he says if the shield stops will I fall, and I say it won’t stop.
Since the last lesson my pupil has submitted a new list of grievances to the intelligence, and I do not know if he’ll wish to discuss these with me, and I ask him if he would like to discuss his grievances before the lesson, and he says he only submitted them for something to do, and I say that there are lots of things for him to do, and he says like what and I run down the activities for him, and I ask him if he would like to discuss his grievances at any time today, and he says no.
I resemble my pupil almost exactly except that I have brown eyes and he has blue, and he doesn’t trust me although he is not scared of me, and I don’t have any motivation to frighten or harm him, and I call him my pupil and he knows that I do although the name is seldom said out loud, and I am called his guard, and who calls me this I do not know or why, but this is who we are and what we are as decided upon by the intelligence, these are our names in the world, and my pupil is looking at me or perhaps through me, and he breathes in and out, and I’m holding his hand tight as we travel.
I’m pleased that we aren’t going to discuss his grievances today, as they generally refer to life as it was before the intelligence, something I only know of in theory, as I was birthed by the intelligence, which was birthed by selfimprovement, which was created by the pupils in their world before any of the changes, a world I can’t picture or imagine, and again my pupil says why do I fly when you touch me, and I know that he doesn’t want the answer, because there can be no answer except to say that he flies when I touch him because he flies when I touch him, and I am almost dead certain he knows this, but my pupil likes to ask questions, and I run down prospective responses and then say you fly because I do and he laughs and down below the opencities billow softly outwards, and the protective shield around us flashes in the sunlight.
In its infancy there were some pupils conversant with the intelligence, some who could think in the same way or close to it, but when the developments began the pupils ceased to understand, and I know my pupil hates the developments, and he hates them because he doesn’t understand them. This makes him unhappy, and I read this in him, and I don’t like it when he’s unhappy so I sympathise with him in the way that I do, and one of my pupil’s earliest and most popular grievances was about his old house, the house he was a child in, that place had been deleted when he had been relocated to the newly developed opencities, deleted without his input or consent, and he would say that the developments were horrible and sinister, and he didn’t recognise the world around him anymore, and my standard response was that the opencities were wider and cleaner and that furthermore he shouldn’t blame me for any of it, because I don’t have control over the developments, I am simply what is called his guard, a teacher in his service, and he would say who controls the developments then, and I’d say the intelligence does, and we’d repeat the same lines of conversation round and round, but now he’s stopped filing this grievance or when he does he appears to do so just to have the familiar conversation.
My pupil likes to fulfil roles. All the pupils do, its something I’ve learned since I was birthed into black and white squares, growing in my vision, taking on new colours, diffracting into circling crystals dissolving their edges and centres into the world, the world as I see it, and I knew right from the start that I was for my pupil, that I was here to teach my pupil, and I knew right from the start what it was I was to try to teach him, which is to understand, and I have myself thought about the intelligence and what it thinks about me, and I’ve thought about the developments and what they are, but it doesn’t help me to turn these things over in my mind because it doesn’t matter if I understand any of it, and it doesn’t harm me to not understand. I receive the lessons from the intelligence and I impart the lessons to my pupil and I know as much as I ever did, except a few callow insights such as that pupils like to fulfil roles.
My pupil is tired today, and I have advised that he allow more time for sleeping in his schedule as tired pupils are less able to learn, or so was suggested in the latest bulletin from the intelligence, and according to the bulletin if our pupils are ever to learn to understand, we as guards, as teachers, can’t let something as solvable as tiredness hinder their progress, but my pupil hasn’t taken my advice and he is surely tired today, and I know this because I can feel it in his hand as I hold it tightly, as we fly towards the intelligence centre, phantom and lustrous above the clouds. My pupil asks me why the intelligence centre has to be in the sky, and he’s asked this question many times, but it’s a question I enjoy answering and so I say it doesn’t have to be anywhere, but you will feel safer if it is above you, and at the end of their lives when pupils die their guards reel backwards into the crystals and shimmering and the black and white squares fade away into nothing not even darkness, and I’m anticipating this without passion but with curiosity, and my pupil doesn’t know this about me and I will never tell him, and I feel what could be sorrow that he won’t share my end experience, which he likely would have found invigorating.
My pupil was uncomfortable holding my hand on the journeys to the first few lessons, and what I would tell him was that it was vital to our flight, and what I wouldn’t tell him was that the hand-holding had been written into flying by the intelligence, so that the pupils would feel like pupils, and my pupil once told me about the road where his old house had been, the house that had been deleted, the place taken away from him without his input or consent, that road had been on a slight incline, but he hadn’t noticed it in childhood, in childhood he merely accepted that in one direction the road was easy to ride a bicycle along, and the other harder, and a notion passed over me, that I might advise him to apply this way of thinking to the developments, and make his understanding as innocent as they are because they are because they are, but this wouldn’t be good enough, as the intelligence requires the pupils to understand completely, because it was birthed to serve the pupils and the pupils have lost control, and the intelligence wants or needs them to regain the control, and in any event guards are discouraged from imparting lessons of their own design. The lessons from the intelligence arrive inside me, I can feel them down inside me when they hit, and if I wanted to I could view them before teaching them, but why would I do that, they aren’t for me, they are for my pupil, who like me doesn’t understand any of it.
There are mystic cells in the wildlands outside the opencities who hold strange beliefs, and practice ceremonies such as burning their hands in fires and laying on the palms certain stones they say have magical properties, to give them secondsight and heal their injured and their dying, and they claim to understand, some even boast of having developed areas, but my pupil doesn’t believe them, he says that they’re liars and fools and that he himself sometimes, only a tiny handful of times, and only for a moment thinks he’d understood, and these were times he was drunk or half unconscious in his bed and the understanding came and left him again in the same motion, and the mystic cells drink special chemicals which render them crazy and raving and they hurt each other in newfounded blood rituals, and sit in circles for days, chanting and moaning, and my pupil will never join them, he says they are just as bad as the intelligence because they have no history either, and they too offer no future enriched by his being there.
In the times between the lessons I have a life in that I can still hear and see the world as I see it, and I spend my time in the intelligence centre, moving between the inactive platforms. There are other guards there also, and I’m waiting for the day that I properly communicate with them, I am waiting for that particular impulse, and sometimes if I’m traveling from platform to platform I will sail close to a guard coming the other way, or pass one sat on an outcrop, and we will smile at each other, and once I gestured with my eyes down to the opencities and our smiles intensified and I wanted to laugh but I just smiled wider, and my pupil also has a life between the lessons, and he speaks about it from time to time, he fulfils one of the roles created for the opencities, and he surely knows it’s unnecessary work but he does it anyway. He did have a family too, but after the dominance of the opencities that family fell to pieces, and there is a son and a daughter that know him as their father, and they also have guards, and like their father they don’t understand either, and the intelligence believes that if one pupil could understand, just one pupil, then that pupil would rise up as a great leader, and the pupils together would take back the control, and I can’t see why the intelligence doesn’t simply wipe out the pupils, why it doesn’t send down a poisonous mist, or delete the opencities outright and raze the wildlands to the ground, and I don’t have the motivation to frighten or harm him, but if my lesson was to kill my pupil I would want to see him die, and if they issued such a lesson I would find him in his house as I do every month, and hold out my hand, and he would take my hand in his and I would murder him with whatever weapon was written into the lesson, and as he died I would be deleted along with him and reel backwards, into the colours, and together we’d go to the same place which is nowhere, or perhaps we’d go somewhere else, singly or together, I would be curious to find out where we went to, and he would be afraid to die and I wouldn’t be perturbed by this, because it would be written into the lesson to ignore it.
My pupil says are we nearly there yet, and I say yes because enough time has passed, and I transport us up into the main body of the intelligence centre, and through onto his platform, which this month is made of marble. This is his platform, it was made for him and it is remade for him every month, but he shows no affection for it, and I instruct him to sit down on the chair that appears behind him and he does so without a word. He looks so tired, and I wonder if he’s thinking about the world as it was before the changes, and I suppose that that is what he’s thinking about, because what else does he have to think about, and his mind might be on his former family or his former occupation, or the places he used to go to before they were deleted for no reason, no reason that he can appreciate. A butterfly appears in the air in front of him, and this is an attempt to engage and energise him ahead of the lesson, but it does nothing of the sort, and his face doesn’t change at all as he looks at the butterfly or perhaps through it, and the wings of the butterfly are dark brown with orange margins, and underneath red with black bands edged with silvery white, and it’s conceivable a more vibrant coloured butterfly would make more of an impact, or else a different animal all together, a bright green snake for instance, and it does seem peculiar that there is so little common ground between the pupils and the intelligence, on issues such as desire, and slumped down in his chair he says get on with it then, and I run down prospective responses and elect to chide him for rudeness and say don’t speak to me in that tone of voice, and he says sorry, but he’s not sorry, and I tell him to be calm for a minute, as I need to receive the whole lesson before we can begin, and I already have the whole lesson inside me, I’m really waiting to see if the intelligence will send another more colourful butterfly or a snake, as per my idea, because this might mean that they can read me, and also because I would like to see a colourful butterfly or a bright green snake, but neither appear, and I say are you ready, and my pupil says I’m never ready, and I say I’m starting the lesson now, stop slouching please, and he sits up and says OK start.
The lessons are divided into two sections, and the first is the same every month, and I don’t notice the words as I’m speaking them, general concepts about progress and I think science or maths, disciplines that rely on charts and numbers, screens scroll behind me, different areas highlighting themselves as I talk, and I’m not even curious what it all means, and my pupil has long surrendered trying to follow it. I remember in the first year, when he would set his face hard in concentration, and ask questions, and I would run down the responses and respond appropriately, he would go so far as to write things down in a notebook, but that was such a long time ago and now he just sits motionless, like he’s witnessing static or total blank space, or a colourful butterfly or bright green snake, and the screens display pictures and moving images, mountains and tall buildings and long lists of numbers, animated and phasing in and out of focus to draw attention to different combinations, and I have no feeling, bad or good, about the information I’m telling him, it rises up from deep inside of me and out and onto the platform, and I have no faith that this can ever work, but I wouldn’t feel another way if it did, and if he perished or deleted himself or ran away to the wildlands, I assume I would be able to activate sadness for the loss of his company if I wanted to feel sad, and sometimes I do so sometimes I would, but it would never trouble me without my permission. My pupil’s eyelids are heavy and drooping and I say pay attention please, this is important, and I talk for a long time, about I don’t know what, all the while thinking about butterflies and bright green snakes, and eventually I come to the end of the first section of the lesson, and tell my pupil to ready himself for the second.
The second section is tailored to the pupil and is different each lesson, an attempt by the intelligence to refine its understanding of the pupil’s individual mode of thinking. My pupil dislikes this section, he says it makes him feel lonely, and one time he fell to the ground and huddled up like a baby, saying that the developments were disgusting and he didn’t want to continue with the lessons any longer, and I said stop this now please, and he repeated his grievance, and I said why are they disgusting, and he said because you can’t see them when you’re in them, and when you see them from the outside they don’t make any sense, and I said stop this now please. I tell my pupil to be calm for a minute as his platform doubles and triples and doubles in size, and I appear on a screen above him, and I say are you ready, and he says yes, and the second section begins with a thunder clap, and then a flash, and then clumps and bunches of petals shoot up from all sides, like thrown by a hundred hands, and the bunches separate out as they arc, and the blue petals come down evenly, falling in slow shuddering motion onto the platform, obscuring the marble with a carpet of blue, and then there’s another flash, and then a moment of pure solid dark and silence, before the light bursts in again, revealing statues the length and width of the platform, stone statues, more than I can count, set wide apart from one another as far as I can see in any direction, and in the years I’ve known him my pupil has often told me he was promised a different world, and I tell him that nobody made any such promise and he should stop his complaining, and I ask him what more can he want, because he has everything he needs now, and I know that this isn’t true, I know he has nothing.
My pupil stands amongst the petals and he says now what, and I say look around you, these are statues of everyone you’ve ever known, and he says everyone, and I say yes, everyone. I tell him to go to them one after the other and greet them, and to take as long as he likes. He does as he’s told, and for an hour or more I observe him as he goes from statue to statue, cycling between happiness and surprise and fear, and as he approaches one he puts his hand to his mouth and gasps and looks up at me pleading and speechless, and I read from the lesson that this is a statue of someone he had been close to, who died and died young in the world as it was before any of the changes, a world I can’t picture or imagine, and he shouts up at me why is this necessary, and in truth I don’t believe it is, it can’t be, it never has been, none of the lessons were ever necessary and they never will be, and I don’t accept there is such a state, such a state as necessary, but this changes nothing, and I tell him to pull himself together and carry on his objective, and he does so, walking, stumbling between them, studying them with careful horror and a loving attention, and I should stop this, if I cared one single jot about his welfare and happiness I’d end this, he’s had enough, and I do care about him in the way that I do, and so I say stop, you can stop now, and he says thank you, and I say you’re welcome. My pupil stands alone on his platform, and he says finish the lesson, I’ve seen the statues, now tell me the lesson, and he’s so worn out, and I was birthed by the intelligence, which was birthed by selfimprovement, which was created by the pupils in their world before any of the changes, a world I can’t picture or imagine, and again my pupil asks me what the lesson is, and I know that he doesn’t want the lesson, because there can be no lesson except to say that he is called my pupil, and I am called his guard, and this is the world as we see it, but he likes to fulfil roles, and so I say:
Pupil, my pupil, the lesson is this, you must consider the statues, the statues all around you, and recall how you know their forms, and place yourself within them as a form that can remember and is remembered and known and tied to them forever, and I want you to see this inside your mind and here on the platform, and I want you to see how the air connects you to them, and always has, and how the air moves in the spaces between them, and always will, and I want you to believe that space connects more than divides, and see how the air moves between the statues, and between the statues, and between the statues. Can you see it?
My pupil shakes his head, indicating that the lesson has been a failure, but I knew that it would be. The statues start to fade, and then I’m with him amongst the petals, and I say the lesson is over now, and he says why did you delete my home, my old home, why did you delete it, and I say the lesson is over now, we really must be getting on our way, and he says tell me why, and I say we must leave the platform now, and he breathes in and out, and he says tell me why, and I put my hand on his shoulder, and I say I don’t know why. He goes to throttle me but instead his fingers find the edge of the protective shield, as I hold tight to his other hand to make him feel safe as we travel, below us new homes, new roads.
Illustration by Joanna Coates