The planetoid Ocean One, in violation of the laws of physics, was nothing but a single drop of water orbiting the Sun. Watery down to its very core—Moo, the young Delfin, recited the lesson obsessively, for it provided a picture of her soul today—watery down to its very core.
The lesson on water continued: if one is incapable of holding any shape, then one is empty. What was wrong with this reasoning?
Moo had committed mirror-assassination, the worst crime imaginable. The crime left no evidence but an empty mirror. Now she too felt herself to be empty—a predictable consequence—and forever alienated from the society of Delfins swarming in their millions through the warrens of Asia, a spherical mountain that rolled in the depths of Ocean One.
She had committed the crime without premeditation. Indeed, the crime could only be a spontaneous act, carried out in a flash of “blindsight.” Yet, in retrospect, she knew with certainty that she had intended to do it. How, she wondered as she swam into the ancient wreck known as Spacewhale, could an act be both spontaneous and intentional?
The gigantic carcass had become her place of refuge, away from the constant bloom-and-zoom of the Delfin city. She had come here often in the days leading up to the crime—to meditate, she had told herself. To receive messages from the origin of the world. Moo had, to the mild disapproval of her family, become fascinated by the ancestral trash caught up in the wake of Asia. The greatest relic of them all was Spacewhale. What message had she received from it?
Along the interior walls of Spacewhale, fingers of iridescence followed Moo, always falling short of her shadow as it crept over the technoid outcroppings. Moo was not afraid, having become accustomed to conditions inside the relic. “Who!” she called softly, “Who! Who!” In the aftermath of her crime, it comforted her to invoke the name of the first Delfin to step out of his own reflection. Who, of course, could not protect her now. She would be pursued—the Symmetry-keepers would know where to find her.
Moo slipped easily through the dear old petrified bones. She imagined herself to be Spacewhale, alive and plunging through faraway red nebulae. Moo had never seen the stars—she had never swum to the Surface to breach that utterly smooth, waveless ceiling and gaze for one freezing instant at the Sun. Those who had done so—scientists and mystics for the most part—returned with their faces blackened, spiritual light spilling from their mouths.
It was not a crime to breach the Surface. To witness the wheels of heaven, to confirm what was already attested in the sacred records, was to uphold the shimmering O whose mirror-face was 0. Who said that. Only the violation of symmetry was a crime. Because of Moo’s rash deed, one of heaven’s wheels was missing now—Moo felt its absence, even here, inside the beloved carcass of Spacewhale.
They would find her here. They would take her back to Asia, imprison her—gently, but without forgiveness—in a tesseract. Desperately, she sought some small item, some souvenir of Spacewhale that could keep her company, succor her as she languished for a lifetime in that cell. But this mile-long tunnel contained nothing but the remnants of life-machinery. There, what was that?—a shiny orb lodged in a crevice. She pried it loose; it fit perfectly in the palm of her hand. It weighed almost nothing, but felt heavy nonetheless. It had somehow escaped petrifaction. She clutched the orb to her chest, as if Spacewhale had gifted it to her.
Best to leave now, return to the city. Moo did not want the Symmetry-keepers to break into Spacewhale in order to apprehend her. The relic’s interior had become identical to Moo’s own, a thought-cavern where she concocted stories without characters or events. She did not wish to see this place invaded by the police.
Moo waited, as usual, for the fingers of iridescence to point toward an exit, never the same one. This time they showed her a spiral-shaped sphincter near the head of the relic. “Thank you,” she whispered, worming her way out, out, out into the world-ocean and all the wild wave-action of Asia’s detritus trail. Moo clung to Spacewhale’s hull for a moment—Ocean was warm and good to breathe after the stale effluvium trapped in the carcass’s entrails.
Daylight filtered down from Surface, dappling the hull. Miles ahead rolled the great round rock of Asia, home of Delfin humanity. A played-out utopia, a prison-house for Moo. Why not seek refuge in one of the other great rocks—America, Africa, Aust, or Arctica? They were all uninhabited now. But she would have to journey far to reach them. And she would probably die of starvation along the way.
Besides, the scent of her crime—like the taste of Spacewhale’s effluvium—lingered in her. She wanted to purge herself of her own poison, make an obscene bubble of it that would explode in the face of her captors. Perhaps she needed to take other actions corollary to the crime. . .
Moo pushed herself away from Spacewhale’s pitted and corroded body. She needed to dive sideways, tacking across the turbulence of the wake toward stiller water. Carrying the orb, she swam awkwardly. Its weight, or lack of weight, steered her the wrong way. In fact, it seemed to be pulling her deeper than she wanted to go. As Moo struggled with it, she realized she had already passed beyond the wake, more quickly than usual—thanks to the orb? Now, in calmer currents, the orb, as if sensing her intent, veered back toward the rolling rock of Asia.
What a strange device she’d plucked from the innards of Spacewhale! It was helping her to get back to Asia in half the usual time. Yet no delight or wonder stirred in her—only a grim gray gratitude.
Once she entered the city, she would seek out the Symmetry-keepers, surrender herself to them. Why not? She had cut herself off from the rest of humanity. Nothing mattered now—yes, it was all that mattered, this new vacancy, this lack of feeling she felt inside her. She would sit on the floor of her cell, the orb placed before her, and think upon nothing.
Moo had lost the Precepts, the guides to good action, that she was born with. She had always known they were poorly formulated, even fallacious when set against the night of Time. Rather than devise a better set of precepts, she preferred to have none.
She remembered the day she’d first emerged, fully formed, along with all her sisters—Loo, Soo, Foo, Roo, Boo—in the room of birth-mirrors. She remembered crying with them: “Not again! Never again!” But a voice, a wavering presence, within their mirrors—who? Who—showed the little brood of sisters how to overcome this Primary Aversion. All of them were reconciled to Re existence—all except Moo.
Not long after, her sisters went who-who-who-ing through the corridors of Asia, ready to assume their positions in society. Only Moo hung back, lingering near her birth-mirror. She had emerged at a different angle, a fallen angle. She could have been a “child,” a type of unformed human that no longer existed. But a child cognizant of the history of the world, and wanting to play dangerously with it. Who said, “Don’t.” But his voice must be, she reasoned deviously, mirror reversed—so Moo heard “Do, Moo.” And also: “Doom.”
She was shaken from her reverie by a downward yank of the orb. She was nearing home, close enough that the city no longer looked spherical but flat. Below her spread a landscape of wells and windows. She heard the Groan, the ground-tone of Asia’s progress through the waters. Once more she had to battle turbulence, her sleek naked Delfin body slicing artfully through the heavy waves. It was likely that she would never again swim freely in Ocean. She didn’t care. Moo grabbed a handhold next to a public window; the window’s membrane knew her as Delfin and allowed her to slip inside.