Chapter Five

Rhewenia, or the Unfinished World

Rhewenia was the last and, according to many persons, the greatest creation of the Sarlang. Towards the end of their existence the Sarlang lost interest in the Manifest Occurrent (what you call physical reality) and spent the greater part of their time exploring the Manifest Non-Occurrent. The latter may be described as a sort of half-world, composed of wishes, expectations, archetypes, unfulfilled desires and the like but for all that possessing considerable persistence and plausibility. The Sarlang succeeded not only in exploring the inhabitable part of this vast domain (which exceeds the Manifest Occurrent many times over) but by employing ‘witr-consl’ (literally ‘image construction’) they brought into existence a completely new region which came to be known as Rhewenia or the Unfinished World — ‘rhewen’ means ‘unfinished’ in Sarwhil Katylin. After the dissolution of the Sarlang it remained unvisited by humans for some time but was eventually accidentally discovered by several persons under the influence of Extasense, or so it is claimed.
Though still technically part of the Manifest Non-Occurrent, Rhewenia has acquired considerable autonomy and the flora and fauna to be encountered there are definitely not to be trifled with. Those who have been there claim that the land-masses of Rhewenia are far more beautiful than those of the Manifest Occurrent but the main attraction for people in our era is that Rhewenia is most definitely not part of the Conglomerate and so is not under the control of the Parthenogens. People who seek ‘frae-dein’ (‘freedom’) at all costs are attracted to it like moths to a flame,  likewise persons who wish to strengthen physic-emotional bonds between each other, whether erotic or otherwise. It is said, I do not know how reliably, that the ringleaders of the ill-starred ‘Revolt of Kaghin’ took their vows and made their futile plans on an island in Rhewenia since there was no risk of being overheard there.
I have long known that depth-exchanging can, by mutual consent, be used as a means of space-transiting and even of accessing Rhewenia but I have always prudently declined any invitations to do just this on the rare occasions when they have been offered to me. In this case, however, it would seem that my consent was not required or was considered to have already been given by my choice to remain in the Hymen-bower after Xinthia’s warning. Whether by accident or design, then, at the climax of our physical paroxysm I found myself projected down a long tunnel which had, at its end, a flickering green light. The sensation was neither agreeable nor disagreeable and at this stage I did not feel any apprehension. It was not unlike travelling below ground in the normal way and the voice I heard was similar to recorded voices at subterranean platforms.

“Very soon you will be crossing the frontier into the Non-Occurrent destination Rhewenia” the VOICE-OVER announced. “You will experience a certain lightness due to personality loss but this is entirely normal and you will soon become accustomed to it. You will be recalled when your time has been used up and we advise you not to attempt to overstay the allotted period as this may prejudice any further travelling in this region. We wish you a pleasant visit and look forward to seeing you again.”  

I felt a tremendous acceleration and the pinpoint of green light got closer and closer. Other objects swished past me, apparently sucked into the vortex as well, and the air pressure increased without becoming unbearably intense. All this happened in a very short space of time ― time is perhaps not the right word.
Then, I suddenly found myself standing on an enormously long but quite narrow beach. It curved round slowly on both sides as if about to meet up again and form a lagoon though it did not in fact quite do this. There was sand beneath the soles of my feet, or something very like sand at any rate. And there were waves coming in towards the shore, I could see the foam forming and subsiding. But strangely enough there was no water as such, nor was there any sun. The sky was a superb purplish blue shading off toward emerald at the edges. From time to time flares of brilliant yellow light burst against the blue like celestial fireworks.
At my feet half-buried in the sand was what I took to be a toy aeroplane. Looking at it more closely, I realised that it was not a toy aeroplane but a ‘real one’ which had been scaled down in size. It was not a modern craft, more one from your era or earlier still, to judge by what I have seen on Past-view programmes. I had vaguely heard something about size being distorted on Rhewenia so that objects which in our world are large appear small and vice-versa. It occurred to me that rather than the aeroplane having been miniaturized, it was rather myself and Xinthia that had been shrunk to the size of  ants ― but this did not, at the time, worry me in the least.
Behind us was thick vegetation which gave the contradictory impression of being intensely alive and entirely artificial. The flowers were absolutely enormous, their petals flimsier than those of poppies, one would have said they were made of tissue paper. And the shrubs were tightly tangled together forming compact bundles: it occurred to me that they could be used directly as ‘brooms’ without having to be tied together. I found myself staring into a distant orange bloom a bit like your sunflower. It seemed to be blown forwards and backwards by a strong wind which was odd since there was not even the slightest breeze. I got the impression that the ‘flower’ was intimating that it knew all about my past life and the reason for my presence at this outlandish location. While I was wondering how this could be so, I felt a hand gently but firmly turning my neck so that I once again faced the non-existent sea.
‘Some of the flowers here have hypnotic properties and it can be dangerous to look at them’.
I did not exactly hear these words; they were more like emotional fragments exploding inside my head where they got instantly translated into a verbal message.

‘The shrubs and plants in this part of Rhewenia are more predatory than the animals’, the transmitter continued. ‘I am not sure how or why this came about. In any case it is not for this that we have come. Look into the emptiness in front of you ― where you expect to see but do not in fact see water. For a long time you will perceive nothing except lines of foam and then even they will disappear. But do not give up watching. Life-bubbles will eventually materialize drifting in from the Unmanifest. Your own life-sphere and mine will be amongst them and you must will yourself inside it.’
I was visually aware of my companion without actually seeing her if that makes sense. We were entirely unclothed but this was ‘normal’ since we had been thus anyway prior to our arrival. But the nudity had a completely different sense here. It was as if we were animals who had never had worn any clothes. I wondered whether other people visiting Rhewenia felt the same.
‘Ssssh!’ whispered my companion. ‘Bubbles. Concentrate on the bubbles.’
For what seemed an eternity I could make out nothing in the vaguely bluish emptiness in front of me except streaks of foam which became more and more infrequent and eventually ceased altogether. At last, just when I was about to give up entirely, there was a sort of flickering and very far out to ‘sea’ small shining globes began to appear out of nowhere. Soon they were forming all around me, in the ‘air’ as well, becoming incredibly numerous and blotting out both the beach and the vegetation behind it.
‘Keep watching until you see one which stops in front of you’.

The ‘voice’ seemed to be coming from a long way away as if someone were speaking down a flexible tube.
The shining bubbles continued to form, apparently out of nothingness, and after a while many of them burst, all in ridiculously slow motion. I found I could even make out minute tears and deformations  in the sides of the bubbles just before they broke; I could even predict where the next bubble would form and where it would eventually burst. I became so utterly engrossed in observing these bubbles that I forgot completely what I was supposed to be watching out for. Each of the bubbles was, I realized, a miniature world, but one that did not concern me and never would. Then the process started speeding up: there were bubbles emerging from all sides, drifting about, colliding, bursting open with a faintly audible plop. There were literally thousands of them, hundreds of thousands, millions, everywhere, in every direction, like globules of steam in a gigantic pan of water.
It was some time before I noticed that one of the bubbles was no longer moving: it had stopped right in front of me. And as I looked directly at it, the other bubbles moved away and eventually disappeared until there was only this one left. On closer examination it turned out not to be a bubble at all but a sort of capsule: it was clearly an artificial construction. Inside it there were numerous white lines a bit like fibres criss-crossing, or perhaps like veins. The capsule also contained a substance that recalled mercury. Originally I conceived the bubble as being quite small, hardly bigger than a soap bubble, but now I realized that it was enormous. It would for example easily contain a skilther or even a small Sky-drift (our machines for air transport). As  I gazed it grew larger still: there seemed in fact to be no upper limit to its size. Although the other bubbles had by now completely disappeared, no sort of landscape or seascape replaced them. And still I could no longer see my own body, merely sense its presence, likewise for my companion. There was in fact nothing else but the capsule; it was growing so fast that it threatened to engulf everything. It was the aullunn, the original unit in Sarlang arithmetic from which all numbers can be generated, or the piece in the game of that name which is worth all the others. But then, just as suddenly, it dwindled into insignificance, becoming no more than a grain of sand at my feet. It oscillated wildly for some time but eventually stabilized at about the size needed to take two biologicals of average size crouching together.

Up to this point I had been rapt and attentive without any fear. But now the dreadful reality of what was happening came to me: we were part of an alien space probe. In a very few moments we would be sealed up alive in the capsule and put into suspended animation. The capsule would be ejected by remote control out of the Rhewenian system and despatched into the Manifest Occurrent to end up in some such place as a planet in Alpha Centaurus. Alien intelligences would receive it and, in specially controlled conditions, open it; I could feel in advance the sensors of these deadly creatures running over my body and puncturing my skin. I and Xinthia would be observed in our most intimate functions, would be weighed and tested for electrical discharges incessantly. Eventually, we would be made to exchange productively and her bodily transformation would be carefully monitored. In this way the insect-like aliens would know how life came about elsewhere in the universe. We were a biological package culled by spies sent down to Sarwhirlia to entice us into this very situation. Cold neutrax minds had planned the entire operation: the  monstrousness of the scheme revolted me.
‘No! no, no!’ the ‘Voice Over’ screamed. ‘There is no compulsion ― it is entirely your choice to take part in this or not. But whatever you decide, be quick. For the life-bubble will not remain in front of you for much longer and you will never get such a chance again.’ 
I got the impression that what I did next would have vast consequences and not only for myself. Either I would persist in my previous existence or would accede to a more extended but at the same time much less definite one. All this was part of some plan which involved many more beings than myself and Xinthia and the original idea had not come from her at all ― she had indeed hinted as much in the Hymen-bower. Were the beings who had arranged all this benign or malevolent? There seemed no way of telling for sure and my first reaction had been the latter. But for some reason the ‘Voice Over’ had convinced me that I was mistaken.
        All at once we were inside the capsule which closed around us like an amoeba. A viscous yellowish fluid trickled all over my skin; the touch was strange but not disagreeable. I could no longer see or hear anything: all I knew was that I was being connected up to the being alongside me in a conclusive way. It was not at all an exhilarating experience, more like the assembling of a mechanical device ― I was also reminded of diagrams of covalent chemical bonds. It occurred to me that I was withdrawing altogether from the Manifest without hope of return but the thought was not at all frightening. Confused memories of my past life rushed on me, replays of straylkha contests, episodes in the Y-57 cluster, meetings with Tarla and Asrynn, various fam I had exchanged with at Lunkod or other sites. Then I was in an enclosure with other mamling : high above us was a blue dome and the feet of a giantess straddling us like a tower.
Now, now!’ came a neural scream which I sensed in the abdominal region. A vast turbulent flood of  life-experiences surged through me like liquid in a tube being transferred to another container. Into my awareness came sensations almost too quick to register, some exquisite, others frightening and repulsive. But before I could begin to make any sense of these experiences  I was overwhelmed by quite different sensations : it was as if a commotion had raised a layer of sediment in the lower depths of a loch. Life-forms long since extinct reached out to me like tendrils of climbing plants. Around me were vast plains covered with grasses as high as trees, swamps heaving with enormous worms covered in yellow scales. Then I sank further back still, into a mucous submarine environment inhabited only by jellies and monstrous weeds. Then even such sensations dissipated as, apparently still connected to my companion, I passed beyond the limits of bio-form. We were before life, before history. Nothing of all that had yet been actualized : the Manifest Occurrent around us consisted exclusively of vague pre-forms, there were as yet no distinct entities. The capsule was ceaselessly being plunged into a sort of froth: at every moment it and we within it were shattered into a thousand pieces, only to emerge an instant later entire and unharmed. I could feel all this happening within me, but at the same time it was as if I were looking in from the outside: I could even make out my own features and those of my companion within the capsule. It was as if there was no longer a clear demarcation between inside and outside, between this and that. Now there was no capsule, no stable forms at all, only flashings emerging and receding, surface scintillations which from time to time exploded into the most magnificent patterns only to be dispelled as soon as they had formed. This must be, I thought, the sea of half-form from which the Manifest Occurrent itself comes. I and Xinthia still existed but were no more than very slightly more persistent oscillations, we were being merged into the very groundswell of existence, the  nexus from which all these evanescent patterns emerged. Nothing existed now except these patterns forming and dispersing. Nor was there need for more : this existence was entirely adequate and in fact beatific.
Suddenly I found myself stretched out on the sand : I could see the bubble moving away rapidly until it became no more than a distant speck indistinguishable from the lines of foam. An immense sadness swept through me: we were apart. We lay there like two beached fishes, gills opening and closing. The sparse vegetation and sand gradually materialized, and I became conscious of a dull ringing sound at the back of my mind, a sound which grew louder and more insistent, making the whole landscape throb and shiver.
‘You have been here already for six hours and others are waiting!’

A sharp-faced official with a raucous voice was bending over us, shaking us like two dogs while the alarm was still sounding.

‘Degenerate! Scum! Half-neutrax! We do not tolerate space-trippers here!’ she screamed. ‘It is strictly forbidden by the regulations. Go to Rhewenia in your own precincts and never come back ― what do I care? Here, what cluster do you come from?’
I waved my hand limply to reveal the identity imprint on my wrist giving my personal number and cluster. The official transferred it to a pocket memorial.
‘You can be sure that I shall report this incident to the authorities. Now get dressed both of you and get out of here at once.’