News spread fast in Oolong Morblock but not instantaneously, and, by the time Sable departed from Ibrahim's office, the TV was showing not massacre reports but live coverage of the national spaghetti cooking competition.
Sable walked along the waterfront, her destination the ferry terminal. Her interview with Ibrahim had taken longer than expected, and she was running late for her next appointment, which was to interview yet another entrant in the draw for the Omblock Prospadaplus Consultancy Prize, a guy called Smath Hangleiron, who had a one-man battery recycling business at Cupid, and who was locked in a legal battle with his neighbors, who were trying to close him down on environmental grounds.
"My destiny as a girl," said Sable.
It had never occurred to her that her life would have anything to do with pulling apart old batteries, but that was what was in store for her in the next phase of her life as an intrepid reporter.
With Sable having departed, Ibrahim, left to his own devices, felt a wave of unmotivated and completely unprecedented weariness roll over him. There was no fighting it. He switched off the TV, locked the door, turned the door sign round so the word "CLOSED" was outermost, then dragged himself upstairs, where he fell onto his bed and collapsed, almost immediately, into a dreaming slumber.
He dreamt that he was walking through Mozley Maze near Orkel Pariah, the ancient stronghold of the exorcists of Oolong Morblock. It was a bright sunny day, a day on which Omblock's customary haze had given way to brilliant blue skies. Ibrahim walked past a foreigner who was standing outside a cafe.
"Ibrahim," said the foreigner.
Ibrahim stopped, but the foreigner, a man dressed in dark blue overalls, denied having accosted him. Even so, Ibrahim felt that he had a responsibility to show the man around, so led him to the cafe, where an elegant woman who was dining at an outside table showed them two large loquats. She cut a piece from one and gave it to the foreigner.
Then, to Ibrahim's acute embarrassment, the foreigner started feeding the woman with slices of tinned peaches, long slippery orange slices. Where these slices of tinned fruit came from Ibrahim had no idea. Certainly there was no tin anywhere in sight. The woman kept accepting them and kept smiling.
At that point, Ibrahim woke and, as he sometimes did, puzzled over this dream, looking for hidden meanings or insights into his life. But finding none.
Loquats. He remembered the loquats very clearly from the dream. He never ate them as an adult but they had been a feature of his childhood. A small fruit with not much in the way of fruit flesh and with a huge pip -- or, sometimes, more than one pip -- at the center. The pip brown, and slippery with juice. The flesh of the fruit sometimes pale yellow, sometimes tending toward orange. The skin, which was not eaten, peeled away in strips as his fingers worked on it.
Loquats had always been his father's favorite fruit, and there had been two loquat trees in Upla Menzo, the house in which Ibrahim had grown up, the big old house on the outskirts of Melos, on the island of Sclag.
Loquats, then, reminded Ibrahim of his father. It was his father's death, five years previously, which had brought home to Ibrahim the impermanence of human life, and which had given him the push he needed to start up Marine Charters, to take a shot at living his dream in this life, this one and only life which he had.
Lazily, Ibrahim replayed his dream once more. How had he known that the foreigner was a foreigner? He just had. In dreams, facts declare themselves without a supporting structure of logic and reason.
Sleep had not made him feel refreshed. Rather, he felt waterlogged. He felt as if he could sleep forever.
"Just a few more minutes," said Ibrahim, deciding to indulge himself.
He closed his eyes and, effortlessly, drifted off into sleep again. Only, this time, he was ambushed by nightmare.
In Ibrahim's dreams, the buildings of Jumbletown trembled. Why? Something to do with him. Something to do with the wheel. There was a huge wheel turning inside him. Inside his belly. Monstrous. Aggressive. A wheel of power, revolving without mercy. The wheel amplified gravity, made his body feel huge, cumbersome. His belly was swelling with the wheel, was becoming grotesquely distorted.
"The one true wheel," said Ibrahim to himself, trying, in the course of his dream, to find a meaning for the dream.
The one true wheel. For a moment, that seemed to make a kind of sense. Then he realized that, no, there was not just one wheel. There were many wheels, and these were both inside him and outside him at one and the same time. Cogged wheels that were meshed with each other and that were constantly on the move, revolving in spirals which rose and sank. The wheels were the machinery of change, the machinery of destruction. Doom: that was the message of the wheels. Doom. Everything that is born dies. Everything that is built crumbles. And here was the ruthlessly dynamic mechanism which controlled that process of unstoppable change.
Then the vision of wheels was gone. And now? Instead of the wheels, Jumbletown. Buildings trembling. People shaken from their sleep. Men made women, women made men. Privacy made publicity.
At that point, Ibrahim woke.
"Privacy made publicity," he said, muttering words heard in his dream just before he woke.
It had been a strange, disconcerting dream. A nightmare, really. Jumbletown shaken -- by what? Ibrahim as earthquake? And the wheels, where did they come from? But the most ominous part of the dream was just those words, "Privacy made publicity". They seemed to contain an annihilating threat, though why that should be so he could not say.
The heat of the day had increased and it was hot in his quarters upstairs from the office. In fact, it felt stifling. He went downstairs, put on some water to heat and turned on one of the two air conditioning units. Money was tight to the point where electricity bills were a major issue, so he did not like to run the air conditioners unless he had to, but the heat was making him sick.
Once he had made a cup of coffee, he thought of sitting down to check his e-mail. But he found his dream -- his nightmare -- was still very much in his thoughts.
"I am the destroyer," said Ibrahim.
That seemed to be the message of the dream.
But the dream was just that -- a random mirage, no more. Unless it was a signal. A signal from Ibrahim to Ibrahim. A signal saying ... what?
Destruction. Change. Ibrahim as a menace to the stability of the standing world.
Maybe what he had realized, in his dream, was that he was capable of glorsting.
That thought came without warning. But, once it had arrived, it was hard to resist. He was an astral, some astrals could glorst, and it was not beyond the realms of possibility that he was one of them. That wheel! The first wheel, churning in his belly -- huge, monstrous, invincibly powerful -- surely that signified, if anything, that he contained a destructive power within his own body. The power to detonate. The power to glorst.
"Grown men are not scared by idle dreams," said Ibrahim, figuring he should be ashamed of himself for taking the dream so seriously.
But he did not feel ashamed. Rather, he felt afraid. Your body, at times, tells you things. You feel a cold coming on, for example. Why shouldn't your body send you a signal warning you that you had become glorst-capable? And that wheel, that huge wheel, turning remorselessly in the belly -- if it was not a signal of glorsting capability, then what was it?
"You were worried about privacy," said Ibrahim to himself. "When you woke."
But that was then. This was now. Privacy? He couldn't imagine why he had been thinking of that. What was on his mind now was the possibility that he had become glorst-capable. That he had become a suicide just waiting to happen.
"But you wouldn't find out like this," said Ibrahim.
Surely he was too old to just be discovering that he was glorst-capable. If you were one of those few astrals who were capable of glorsting, then the knowledge of your own nature generally came to you at about age eighteen, which was typically the age at which a capacity to glorst developed.
But how did that knowledge come to you? Ibrahim had never inquired into the details. It was one of the many things, such as the details of how toothpaste is made, which it had never seemed necessary to research.
"And astrals are not uniform," said Ibrahim.
True. Everyone's astral talent tended to be a little different, to mature along lines of its own. It was most unlikely that Ibrahim, at the age of thirty-four, was just discovering in himself a talent for glorsting. But it was not impossible.
"But what's most likely?" said Ibrahim. "What's changed?"
A good question. And a question with an obvious answer, now that he thought about it. What had changed was that the even tenor of his days had been disturbed by the delinquency of Egon Turow. Ibrahim, undoubtedly, would not be the only person in the city state to have nightmares caused by the drama of a suicidal astral on the loose, bent on a massacre glorst.
Assuming Egon to be a true fanatic, one of those extremists who saw glorsting as being, improbably, a means to discover the messiah hidden somewhere amidst the astral population -- assuming that to be the case, then Egon's motive for going out to glorst had been to attack the underlying structure of reality.
"Well," said Ibrahim, "he certainly succeeded in attacking the structure of mine."
The world felt more fragile than it had the day before. More fragile and, in its fragility, infinitely desirable. Precious. Sitting there in his office, Ibrahim was conscious of the world stretching out around him. The waters of the port of Taris. The streets of the port area. The buildings of Zisperhaven-Chilp. And the larger city beyond that. The setting of his life, his one and most precious life.
"This life that I love," said Ibrahim.
By now, he felt he had pulled himself together. A dream -- to be disturbed by a dream? Nightmares have no hold on the adult mind. Do not. Or, at least, should not. And, even if you believed that some dreams had prophetic intent -- and Ibrahim did not think that he did -- dreaming that you had a wheel in your belly did not necessarily prophecy that there was a glorst in your future. It might simply be warning you that you were in for a bout of bad indigestion.
"The world is as it was," said Ibrahim.
But that was not true. Egon Turow, by going forth to glorst, had rendered reality more fragile.
In so thinking, Ibrahim was under the impression that Egon's glorst had been thwarted. He was going by the last news he had heard, which was that the coast guard had captured a suspect on a fizz boat heading for Parkes Pilkem. For Ibrahim, Egon was a story which was over.
In the wider world, however, Egon was a story which was only starting. Egon's successful massacre glorst was dominating the world of TV, radio, text messages and Internet comments. On the part of the norms, the Xalbardoz, the reaction was a combination of fear and fury. More fury than fear. Anger was dominant. And along with anger came a sense of power. The power to fight back.