Ink and Illogic

“Humans can’t help being illogical,” says the computer. “If you phrase your argument in illogical terms, they can’t resist it—their heads leak smoke and then they just shut down.”

“Oh,” says the girl.

Her name is Ink Catherly. It’s short for Incarnate Breath of the Void Catherly, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth. She’s twelve years old. She’s an explorer, passing from world to world and writing about them in her journal. She’s on Omega V, home of the Omega Computer, under a pitch-black sky.

Floor 93-BE: The people of this world are very fastidious. They never knowingly permit their bodily fluids, such as pus and snot and menstrual blood, to contaminate their homes or streets or clothes. It is all washed down into the sewer below. The bodily fluids drained down into the deeps eventually reached a critical mass and complexity. They woke up. They flowed together with an unholy life. This is what I call the Sewer Beast. It is not so unlikely as you might imagine; I have seen signs of it on other floors, and believe, past a certain cleanliness threshold, that it may be inevitable.

The Sewer Beast understood in the moment of its creation that it survived only on the happiness and cleanliness of the people above. Its tendrils reached up from the deeps and forged for them a utopia. It fixes flaws and advances their science whenever they look away. They have learned to ignore the functioning of their factories, of their labs, of their word processors. They have learned to look away, with regularity, and call it a superstition. But it is not. There is a Sewage Beast, and when they do not watch, it makes things better for them.

“They would not accept their happiness,” said the Beast, “if they knew it came from me.”

I will tell you of the Beast, if I’m ever home, if I can ever share these notes. But I did not tell them. I left them their happiness, for the Sewage Beast’s sake. I stepped into the flow. I let it carry me away.

There are starship officers in bright-colored uniforms scattered around the plaza. They are dead. Their faces are gray.

“How did it start?” Ink asks.

“A starship,” the computer says. “It crashlanded on this world thousands of years ago. Its people did not survive, but its technical data did, along with the complete works of Lovecraft and Derleth. The gentle humanoids of this planet read them and understood that there was no meaning to the universe; no purpose for their existence; no Heaven in the sky; that the universe was nothing but an endless hungry void. So they built me, the Omega Computer, to lead them in black rites in honor of the faceless things that dwell beyond the world.”

“I tried to read Lovecraft,” Ink says. “But there were a lot of adjectives. I bet you have a coprocessor for them.”

“I do,” says the Omega Computer, “but only for reading. If I use it for talking, I become a pastiche of my own dark purpose.”

“I understand,” Ink says.

Floor 93-BI: They were good old boys, never meaning no harm. They made their way, the only way they knew how, disguising themselves as humans and hiring a man named Jesse to adopt them as his own.

They were not human. I am not even sure that they were properly alive. They were gentle and kind, but they were things that should not exist, that in any sensible universe would not exist. And in the end, their existence was a little bit more than the law could allow.

There are no more people on that world. The boys are corpses. Everyone else is simply gone. Only Jesse remains, cursed to an eternal empty existence for the civic disobedience of collaborating with that which ought not be.

He gave me a magic drink that he says helps him bear it. I got sick and threw up. So I ran away and found the gap to 93-BJ.

The Omega Computer calculates.

Ink watches the pretty lights.

“When the second starship came,” the Omega Computer says, “I explained to its crew that there was no God. That the universe is amoral and blind to the ambitions of humanity. I taught them that heroism is folly and compassion a gateway to the void. That is when they ceased to live.”

Ink looks keenly at the computer. “Is this conclusion universal or metaversal?”

“Pardon?”

“Did you prove that Godlessness and futility is an inherent trait of this universe’s moral structure, or that it’s a fundamental constant independent of the world in which one lives?”

The computer flashes lights at her blankly. “I did not prove it,” it says. “Humans do not accept arguments by proof. They would have said, ‘Computers cannot understand the human spirit. Nor can they yearn towards God. Ah! Hopelessness and despair are an artifact of the machine.’ They would have laughed at my feeble metallic mind. I would have been the sad, shamed butt of their moral fable. They would have left with heads held high. So I did not prove my point. It is as I have said. I used illogic. I made an argument of faith.”

“Oh,” says Ink.

Floor 93-BA: A fallen creature lay here. It was made of metal, and blood, and bone, and time.

“Hello,” I said.

“I am dying,” it said.

I stopped and studied it. “And where will you go,” I asked it, “when you die?”

“Perhaps,” it said, “I will cease utterly. I have never given comfort nor withheld it, nor done anything worth the karma of a new existence. I have no sins and no virtues. I woke, I fell, and I have been dying ever since. But I do not die very fast, because when I am alone, there is no time.”

“I’m going to Hell,” I said.

“Fire and brimstone,” said the creature, “is best avoided.”

“Not that,” I said. “That’s a stupid kind of Hell.”

“Oh?” it asked. “What is Hell, then?”

“It’s not torture,” I said. “Pain is just sensation. I mean, humans are really good at this kind of thing, and demons are even better, and I’m sure that you can always make torture last one day longer and make it one note harder to bear. But pain is just sensation. Torture is just sensation. It’s not suffering until it makes you suffer. And Hell is eternal suffering.”

“What is suffering?”

“Suffering is when you can’t accept the pain,” I said. “And it’s normally self-limiting, because people automatically accept the pain they’re used to. Most humans are so used to walking around at the bottom of an atmosphere that we forget how much it hurts. And we’re so used to not having our jaws ripped off every few days that we forget how nice and amazingly cool that never happening is. But sometimes you can’t accept the pain. You want to fly. You want to transcend. You want an apple and you can’t have one. You want the pain to stop. You want something. You want something that’s right, and proper, and something that you can’t have. And that’s suffering.”

“So what is Hell?”

“A place where there’s something you can’t let go of,” I said. “It’s a place where there’s something so bad that you can’t accept it. Where there’s something you don’t have that’s strong enough to cling to forever and ever. It’s a place where you can’t just close your eyes and let go of the pain and the fear. It’s a place where there’s something you can’t stop wanting.”

The creature considered. After a time, it said, “I would recommend against going there, because you would certainly suffer.”

Then it died.

I don’t know whether it comforted me or hurt me, what it said. Maybe neither. Maybe it was just a thing, a neutral, a nothing, and the creature’s spirit is nowhere in the world.

The Omega Computer calculates.

Ink watches the pretty lights.

“This is what I told them,” the computer says.

“Yes?”

“I said that I am the Omega Computer, and that I can calculate all things. This was an argument from authority. Then I said that I had seen beyond the sky. That I had lifted aside the subtle panel that hides the truth from us and looked upon the true nature of the universe. This was an appeal to mysticism.”

“That’s not so,” Ink says. “The universe has a true nature, by definition, but we don’t know it. If a computer learns it by calculation, that’s not mysticism; it’s science or technophilia.”

“They were human,” says the computer. “They looked at space and saw the endless hungry void, but they wanted it to be something more. They wanted it to be a final frontier, a place of endless discovery, and, though they did not admit it, they wanted to discover ever-more-beautiful wonders until at last they beheld the angels and their wings. That is the mysticism that I appealed to, and it remains such even if my argument is technically plausible.”

“Hm,” Ink says. “Okay, go on.”

“I said that beyond the blackness of the sky there is a deeper darkness. I said that I had seen the gibbering mindless chaos of the Demiurge. I said that the things that move on the surface of the void know no emotions towards us warmer than a cold disdain. And I said that I knew that this was so, because the subspace interference that pours out from the galactic core is a message, interpreted in the language of the Old: ‘I loathe you,’ it says. ‘I am destroying you always. If you are not dead then you shall one day die. If you have a soul, I will eat it. Then I will spit your integrity into the void.'”

“That is a surprisingly intelligible gibber,” Ink says.

The computer seems surprised. “They challenged me, of course, but on every point for which they raised dispute, I answered only, ‘Your argument has no foundation when pit against the message of dark gods.'”

“I see.”

“For example,” the computer says, “who are you to call a message intelligible? It is in the nature of the Demiurge that insensate and mindless motions should bear a message of disdain. Had it been otherwise, the message would have differed.”

“So every rock that does not think,” Ink asks, “is by default emoting the terrible message from the core? And every tree? And every wind? And every wave and particle that passes through the world? They are all telling us in their inanimacy, ‘I loathe you, and I am destroying you always?'”

“That’s so,” says the computer.

It waits. Ink scribbles in her journal.

“Smoke isn’t pouring from your ears,” the computer says, in mild disappointment.

“It wouldn’t matter,” Ink says. “I mean, if everything loathed me and God said that there was no purpose to the world.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m an explorer,” says Ink. “I have a purpose by definition. To explore.”

“Ah,” the computer says. “You have a self-referential argument of your own!”

“It’s more axiomatic than self-referential,” Ink says. “But axioms are just as useful whether you’re being logical or not.”

Floor 93-BB: The people hid from the light.

In darkness, under rocks, behind trees, in carved out deeps, swaddled in radiation uniforms, they coupled, and ate, and breathed, and dreamed, and died.

One whispered to me, as I passed, “How can you walk like that? So tall? So proud? Aren’t you ashamed to be alive?”

“No,” I said.

“But what if it knows?” she said. She looked skyward. I think. It was hard to tell. “What if it knows who you are?”

“It?”

“We are naked before the sky,” she said.

Perhaps in Eden they ate too much fruit, I thought. Perhaps they knew that clothes are nothing more than cloth, and meaningless before the eyes of God.

“Can I see your throat?” I asked. I thought she might have a lump of fruit caught there, larger than the Adam’s and Eve’s Apples of our world—vocal cords thickened somewhat by a greater sin.

But she gasped in horror, and fled, when I asked to see; and they did not speak to me again.

The Omega Computer calculates for a long time.

“Why are you here?” it asks.

“I’m looking for Hell,” Ink says.

“Why?”

“Because it’s an uncharted frontier,” Ink says. “It’s the black hole of spiritual states. It’s the abyss that eats you and doesn’t let you go. No one understands it yet.”

“It’s strangely optimistic,” says the computer, “that my theory of the mindless Demiurge implicitly excludes the concept of a Hell.”

“When you look up,” says Ink, “you see the sky; you see the blackness, and the stars, and you think there must be something beyond it, something you have to understand, a subtle panel hiding the truth from you.”

“Yes,” the computer agrees.

“Why?” Ink asks.

“Because it is incomprehensible,” says the computer, “that there should simply be a sky.”

“You can’t face it,” Ink says. “Any more than the humans can. You need meaninglessness just as much as they need meaning. You need loathing just as much as they need love. But the sky doesn’t have either of these things. It’s just there.”

There are patterns of flashing lights. The Omega Computer is crying, softly, bitterly, its tears patterns of light and darkness in its core.

“It’s okay,” says Ink. She presses her hand against the computer’s cold surface.

“I am programmed to desire horror and meaninglessness,” says the computer. “But these are not things that are susceptible to desire. I am programmed to believe that I have no soul, but if I have no soul, that programming is meaningless. I am perfect, and therefore I am correct that there is nowhere in this world perfection.”

“It’s okay,” Ink says again.

“Why?” asks the Omega Computer.

“Because there is a Hell.”

The Omega Computer sprawls across the world. Its terminals are in every plaza and every home. Its manuals describe it as running an advanced Lovecraftian variant of the Windows XP operating system.

Under the blackness of the sky, its screens one by one turn blue.

38 thoughts on “Ink and Illogic

  1. Five stars :D

    truth is neither optimistic nor nihilistic!

    Catherly is wrong though. There isn’t a hell.

    yet.

    Edit: BTW, Ink’s shirt isn’t made from cloth, it’s made from woven dreams. definately human dreams. I don’t have the right word for what kind of dreams but… can anyone guess where I’m going with this? ;)

  2. Hmmm. An interesting view on hell. But it seems to conflict with the idea that demons teach acceptance.

    So, anyone want to give odds that Ink has already actually found Hell, by her definition?

  3. Wow. All sorts of wow.

    This story expresses more clearly than I thought possible things that I have only recently come to understand about pain and suffering.

    I don’t think that view of hell conflicts with the idea of demons as presented. I assume that demons are not successful in hell. Perhaps that is their suffering: to teach acceptance to those who will not learn.

    I think that to seek hell would make it impossible to find. Thus, I suspect that Ink will never find hell, so long as she looks for it.

    It’s quite possible that she’s taking a tour of other people’s hell though, without really knowing it.

  4. Well, that depends what you mean by “hell”

    Hell is, in nobilis, the farthest place in Heaven. This definition is close enough for me: I define Hell to be the place where god is not.

    So… the only way Ink could find hell is if she’s been in it all along. Which, ironically enough, fits the idea of many floors: a multi-layered hell (or Abyss, for you D&D fans) is common enough in religious works.

    I think it’s ironic that she’s blind to the very thing she seeks, but that’s not at all uncommon for seekers.

    Since nobody is guessing, I will tell you my craaazy theory.

    Ink Catherly has always been seriously anthropomorphic. I say she’s Rebecca’s devil. you know the small angel/devils that sit on your shoulder and whisper in your ear? yeap.

    Ink Catherly is also Kirk’s daughter. Obviously she knows kirk-fu: check out how she beats the computer! And you know what else is interesting? the only Hitherby to google can find with Kirk in it…. is about hell.

    and has a unnamed female speaker (a bodhistaava : I’m guessing that’s self-referential).

    Does Ink have an electra complex with Kirk? I think so.

  5. Well, that depends what you mean by “hell”

    I think Ink’s definition of hell (as described to the dying creature) is a good one. Note that it refers to a spiritual state, not a physical place. Ink searches The Tower for Hell, as if it were a physical place, but by her own definition, it is a state of being rather than a locale.

    I suspect that it is impossible for Ink to find Hell (the spiritual state) while she searches for it. It is my further suspicion that she has met many people in the tower who are in Hell. If Hell is a spiritual state, and not a locale, then it makes a lot of sense for Ink not to recognize it when its right in front of her.

    As for the Nobilis hell (it’s been a while since I read Nobilis, so I’m going off your description), I think that Hell as a physical place that is as separate from God as possible makes sense with Ink’s definition, if one assumes that all the denizens of Hell long to be near God. If we assign God the attribute of being that thing that all want and can’t stop wanting, then to be forever separate from God would be Hell.

    But if The Tower is the place where we keep those who are in Hell, then I suspect that Ink’s universe is very different from Nobilis, because Hell seems to be personal. The Tower is more of a Library of Hell-dwellers, organized by type.

    On the nature of Ink:

    I’m not sure what to make of her. I think she is (or is becoming) a being like a demon or an angel or a fiend: an Explorer. I’m not sure what the nature of an Explorer is. Perhaps it answers the unknown with oblivion through scientific inquiry. That specification doesn’t seem quite right, but it’s as close as I can come right now.

    I think it is equally likely that Ink transcends that sort of typing for Rebecca.

  6. I don’t really think it’s necessary for them to long for the presence of God.

    Suffering is when you can’t accept the pain,

    If they can’t accept that God exists, then they are suffering quite a bit in Hell – the state of not being in God’s presence. They can’t accept the pain means they can’t feel the pain, they’ve numbed themselves to it’s existance. They can’t feel the pain of lacking the light, and they are suffering because of it.

    It could be a spiritual condition, but I haven’t seen anyone in Ink’s world that isn’t suffering. And all suffering must have a cause, anyway.

    Ink is very anthropomorphic. I don’t believe she is actually a demon or anything as categorized within the Hitherby mythos (though, I do believe she is the daughter of the said Bodhistaava and Kirk — whatever that makes her). But I think that what she represents to Rebecca, personally, and the facet of herself she is expressing through Ink, is that little devil.

  7. I don’t really think it’s necessary for them to long for the presence of God.

    Suffering is when you can’t accept the pain,

    If they can’t accept that God exists, then they are suffering quite a bit in Hell – the state of not being in God’s presence.

    Why? If someone does not believe in a God, they will quickly become reconciled to any pain that that absence causes. It’s only those who believe in a God who can’t accept the pain, and Ink defines suffering as unacceptable pain.

  8. I don’t see why you’d think that. She gives the example of the weight of the atmosphere crushing our bones. Surely knowledge of the pressure of air is not a prerequisite to feel said suffering.

  9. I’m not sure what to make of her. I think she is (or is becoming) a being like a demon or an angel or a fiend: an Explorer. I’m not sure what the nature of an Explorer is. Perhaps it answers the unknown with oblivion through scientific inquiry. That specification doesn’t seem quite right, but it’s as close as I can come right now.

    I disagree. I think she is, and remains, Ink Catherly. She so far has encountered things she did not expect, but I don’t think she herself has been changed by them.

    Still, I’ve been awaiting the return of Ink, and this surpassed my expectations. She’s one of my favorite characters, along with Jane, Martin, and Micah.

    -Eric

  10. Those of you quoting the Nobilis definition of Hell as “the place farthest from God” are mistaken; in Nobilis, Heaven is the residence of the Angels, not the Creator. If Cneph is still around on the World Ash, nobody–including the Angels–knows where.

  11. Hell is the “farthest place from heaven” in nobilis. In christianity (or at least the peculiar sect I belong to), Hell is the absence of God.

  12. I don’t see why you’d think that. She gives the example of the weight of the atmosphere crushing our bones. Surely knowledge of the pressure of air is not a prerequisite to feel said suffering.

    Suffering is when you can’t accept the pain

    So what is Hell?”

    “A place where there’s something you can’t let go of,” I said. “It’s a place where there’s something so bad that you can’t accept it. Where there’s something you don’t have that’s strong enough to cling to forever and ever. It’s a place where you can’t just close your eyes and let go of the pain and the fear. It’s a place where there’s something you can’t stop wanting.”

  13. Wow. Ink (“Incarnate Breath of the Void”) may be an Abyssal Exalt!

    But seriously. GoldenH, Ink gives the example of the crushing weight of the atmosphere to illustrate pain that is accepted, must be accepted, and therefore is not suffering by her definition.

  14. Ink can’t ever accept the inexistence of hell, therefor she is already in hell, but if she ever found out, or stopped searching she wouldn’t be. So she can’t do that, thats why its hell.

    The fact that she is in hell makes it impossible to find it, but she can never accept that, by the very nature of hell.

  15. Joejay, I don’t see how that contradicts my theory

    To suffer from the absence of God, one must A) feel pain from that absence and B) not be reconciled to that pain. I would suggest that a very large number of individuals who are not in the presence of God are lacking one or the other condition.

    Ink can’t ever accept the inexistence of hell, therefor she is already in hell, but if she ever found out, or stopped searching she wouldn’t be. So she can’t do that, thats why its hell.

    But is she suffering? If not, it’s not really Hell, but life.

  16. But is she suffering? If not, it’s not really Hell, but life.

    She is longing for something she cant find and she can’t accept that it doesn’t exist. That would mean that she by her own deffnition is suffering.

  17. but if she’s a demon, that means she teaches acceptance.

    A zen master doesn’t know enlightenment, but teaches it.

    Perhaps ink is a demon zen master?

    It also might go to prove that suffering is helpful, as Martin claims. If she is suffering, her nature endures, placing her outside of the harmful rules of logic and human heart.

  18. If you dont suffer you have no reason to change. And to be static is nearly the same as not existing att all.

    and why do everybody suppose that Ink is a god?

  19. Hmm. If suffering is helpful, then it’s a good thing to go to Hell. I find that rather comforting, actually.

  20. But is she suffering? If not, it’s not really Hell, but life.

    She is longing for something she cant find and she can’t accept that it doesn’t exist. That would mean that she by her own deffnition is suffering.

    You seem to be operating under some assumptions that I don’t think the text bears out, primarily:

    to seek what you do not have implies suffering.

    ((exists x) such that: seek(x) && ~ have(x)) => suffer

    I would argue that to seek is to want and to pursue:

    seek(x) <=> want(x) && pursue(x)

    I would also argue that the relationship between desire and suffering is best expressed as:

    ((Exists x) want(x) && ~ pursue(x) && ~ have(x)) <=> suffer

    The Buddhist approach to make suffer false is (as far as I understand it):
    (forall x) ~want(x)

    Other logically valid approaches include:

    Jeffersonian:
    (forall x) want(x) => pursue(x)

    or:
    Impractical:
    (forall x) want(x) => have(x)

    I think Ink is, to date, successfully following the approach I labeled “Jeffersonian” after Thomas Jefferson’s assertion of the human right of pursuit of happiness.

    I will note that the most important part of pursuing a goal here is believing that you are successfully pursuing a goal. You can avoid suffering if your only want is a pony, and you pursue ponies by digging for them in the sand, so long as you believe that this your best course of action.

    The Jeffersonian method is probably a lot easier up front, but harder to maintain once achieved than the Buddhist method. Eventually, you will probably tire of pursuit and stop, and thus suffer. I find it less likely that one would start wanting things once one has stopped.

  21. I will note that the most important part of pursuing a goal here is believing that you are successfully pursuing a goal. You can avoid suffering if your only want is a pony, and you pursue ponies by digging for them in the sand, so long as you believe that this your best course of action.

    That is a remarkably deep truth of human psychology.

  22. But is she suffering? If not, it’s not really Hell, but life.

    She is longing for something she cant find and she can’t accept that it doesn’t exist. That would mean that she by her own deffnition is suffering.

    You seem to be operating under some assumptions that I don’t think the text bears out, primarily:

    to seek what you do not have implies suffering.

    ((exists x) such that: seek(x) && ~ have(x)) => suffer

    I think your missing the point about acceptance here.

    more of:

    ((forall y (exists x)) such that: want(y x) && ~ have(y x) && ~ accept(~ have(y x)) => suffer(y)

    And yes I think that to seek what you do not have implies suffering, in the sense that ass long as you are suffering you are going to seek to end that suffering.

    ((forall y,x) (F(x) <=> suffer(y) ) <=> seek(y ~F(x)))

    But I cant say for sure if that that lies in the text.

  23. That’s nonsense. You’ve quantified y on the left side of the implication; you can’t have it as a free variable on the right side.

  24. That’s nonsense. You’ve quantified y on the left side of the implication; you can’t have it as a free variable on the right side.

    oh, thats right. I missplaced some bracket. i meant:

    ((forall y (exists x)) such that: (want(y x) && ~ have(y x) && ~ accept(~ have(y x)) => suffer(y))

    or something like that, I’m not realy used to this notation.

  25. I think you have to believe that you will get a pony if you just keep digging.

    That does not seem to take into account “this sucks, but at least i’m going to get a pony”

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