Dashel’s First Day – pt 3

When the entire Pacific Northwest convulsed eleven years ago, I was there.

I remember my guts knotting as the ground beneath me heaved and flung itself in every direction until it felt like liquid sloshing in a bucket. I was ten and I was terrified the earth was going to swallow me.

Up and down the West Coast from British Columbia to Northern California, except for a single, inexplicable zone of exclusion around Seattle, cities were shaken to their foundations. Some of them shattered. About a quarter hour later, over fifteen hundred kilometers of the North American west coastline began to be scraped bare of human habitation. A sizeable chunk of Southern California became an extension of the Pacific Ocean. Ten hours later, a wall of water reached Asian shores.

Several locations around the Pacific Rim’s legendary Ring of Fire awakened, along with the Yellowstone caldera, punctuating the so-called “End Times” with a little episode they called “The Long Winter”. The addition of Gonji rot was just a bonus.

But during that initial violent oscillation, the surge and pitch and collapse and swell of what had been, moments before, solid ground, something astounding happened. Out here in the wilderness of the mythical State of Jefferson, a mountain split apart. What diastrophism could not accomplish over millennia, the force of a tectonic plate suddenly whiplashing against centuries of escalating pressure was achieved in a matter of hours.

For an undocumented age, the rocky ridgeback had been just another undistinguished example of folded earth among hundreds, blanketed nearly to the top of its elongated, stony spine in coniferous forest, barely able to peek over the tops of its nearest neighbors. The shock exploding through the foundations of the Siskiyou Range broke its back open diagonally, fractured it, and thrust it upward. In the prolonged churn and upheaval, each half sheared away from its counterpart, mated jigsaw pieces forced asunder.

One side presents a sheer vertical concavity over three hundred meters from root to crest. Its opposing half, a raw, jut-jawed moai, lifts startled, abstract features to the sky.

Arrayed along the crest, flanks, and faces of each disjointed segment, is Lithia. The inhabitants call it Prime, the first redoubt.

Arrayed around the base of the sundered mountain’s southern flank, a secondary accretion of souls has gathered to build Down Town. The suggestion of a feudal community clustered beneath a castle’s walls is an unfortunate one.


.     .     .


The sensation of crossing the null-field is momentary and technically painless, I suppose, but I can say this without fear of contradiction; it is remarkably unpleasant. It feels like being dissected vertically, head to toe, front to back, and reassembled in the same instant. Painlessly. Try to imagine that again.

Mind and body flinch from the interface as it reads living tissue, passing it through unharmed and, in principle, unaffected.

Devices, however, do not generally fare as well. Within the field, unless powered by something referred to colloquially as a “spark”, all else become inert—undamaged, but inoperative.


The shuttle came to rest upon a precarious-looking balcony on the busy concave north inner face of Lithia’s divided peak. Everyone piled out in orderly fashion.

“Catch up with us when you can,” Benae said with a wave on her way out.

Rohnee started to say something, changed her mind, gave me another enigmatic half-smile, and joined the rest at the vestibule of a small grotto cut into the rock. I saw a people-mover slide into the rear of the grotto. They got on and it took them somewhere.

The man with the white hair and moustache showed me where to go next. He and the odd kid got me on a different people-mover and showed me where to get off. I know we talked some, but I still can’t remember what about.

I remember finding myself in an antiseptic, clinical environment.

A very kind, patient woman, I think her name was Julie, or Julia, asked me a lot of questions and monitored my vital signs while another technician, focused on her own task, did something with the mesh in my head. It didn’t hurt, but I don’t remember her name, or how long I was there.

What I remember most about the next part is a series of sharp images floating in nothing much. Like many of my early childhood memories, these little scenes swam up from a murkiness, played out in sharp relief, then a nebula flowed in from all sides to obscure whatever might have come next, and nothing seemed to connect these vivid instances to each other. But I remember, even now, each of them.

Then, I remember being in a room with three other people. Two of them were familiar, Mr. Germane and Mr. Crozier. The woman I’d never seen before.

I’m certain I’d know if I had. Face neither pretty, nor unfortunate, but very much her own, a singular composition of pale features framed by a tumble of copper-red ringlets. Her lips, also pale, never quite broke into a smile, and her eyes, an unremarkable brown, sought to identify what little facade I might still be attempting to employ. I’m pretty sure her name was Erica.

We all talked. I don’t remember clearly what about, but I remember noticing the sound, a brass instrument, trumpet maybe, playing a melody with some busy, rhythmic band behind it.

“Mark,” said the woman. Her foldie was laid on a tilt-table in front of her. Her hands moved across it with deliberation.

“Mark what?” I asked her.

She looked up. “Chuck Mangione.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“The music you’re hearing. Chuck Mangione.”

“That him playing the trumpet?”

“Flugelhorn, actually.”

“Was that ‘mark’ some kind of threshold?”

I saw her blink and nod a couple times. Her attention returned to the media in front of her and resumed her fluid passes over it surface.

“Say, that’s kind of…”

I have no clear idea what I was thinking then, but I searched for an adjective for a second. Or a while. Hard to say.

Something began to flash in the upper right corner of my vision. I focused on it.

“Mark.” Erica again and it stopped pulsing.

I saw a familiar face. “Hi, Mr. Crozier,” I said to the image. “This is unexpected.”

His image said, “Mostly around here, the crews refer to me as Mr. Cee. I will invite you to consider doing the same, Mr. Crippen. A moment ago, when you looked at the alert, what did you see?”

“Your face.”

“What did you hear?”

“I heard your voice.”

“Anything before I spoke to you?”

“No. Another test?”

“Calibration,” Erica said. “Baseline references and thresholds.”

A tone intruded in our little conversation before she was finished speaking.

“Mark,” she said.

Mr. Cee turned to Erica and I heard him say, “Go to channel four.”

She nodded.

They said some things to me.

I said some things back.

We all smiled and the man with the white hair and moustache took me for another ride and showed me to my room. Rooms, actually. Two of them. A suite. One of them was my own bathroom. Sweet.

“Who are you again?” I said to the man.

“My name’s Harland. My title here is Uncle.”

“Uncle… Harland.”


“Do I call you by name or title?”

“Like most everything else, it depends on the circumstance. You’ll pick it up. I’m the Push of this little group, all of whom you’ve met. Debo, the Hook, answers to me and I answer to the Council.”

“What Council?” I asked.

A nice man named Mr. Patel showed up with greetings and profuse apologies for interrupting our conversation. He handed me an armload of linens, offered sincere encouragement, and left.

“Plenty of time for all that after breakfast,” my new uncle said. “Settle in. I’ll see you in the morning.”

I realized I had no idea what time it was, but knew I was remaining vertical on sheer inertia.

“Okay,” I said and he let himself out.

I carried the armload into the next room. It had a bed in it. I might have hit it running and I don’t remember anything after that until it was tomorrow.



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