The Scar (Bas-Lag 02) By China Miéville
"In time, in time they tell me, I'll not feel so bad. I don't want time to heal me. There's a
reason I'm like this.I want time to set me ugly and knotted with loss of you, marking me. I won't smooth you away.
I can't say goodbye."
Part One: Channels
Interlude I: Elsewhere
Interlude II: Bellis Coldwine
Part Two: Salt
Interlude IX: The Brucolac
Part Seven: The Lookout
Coda: Tanner Sack
“Yet the memory would not set into the setting sun, that green and frozen glance to the wide
blue sea where broken hearts are wrecked out of their wounds. A blind sky bleached white the
intellect of human bone, skinning the emotions from the fracture to reveal the grief
underneath. And the mirror reveals me, a naked and vulnerable fact.”
-Dambudzo Marechera, Black Sunlight
A mile below the lowest cloud, rock breaches water and the sea begins.
It has been given many names. Each inlet and bay and stream has been classified as if it werediscrete. But it is one thing, where borders are absurd. It fills the spaces between stones andsand, curling around coastlines and filling trenches between the continents.
At the edges of the world the salt water is cold enough to burn. Huge slabs of frozen sea mimicthe land, and break and crash and reform, crisscrossed with tunnels, the homes of frost-crabs,philosophers with shells of living ice. In the southern shallows there are forests of pipe-worms and kelp and predatory corals. Sunfish move with idiot grace. Trilobites make nests inbones and dissolving iron.
The sea throngs.
There are free-floating top-dwellers that live and die in surf without ever seeing dirt beneaththem. Complex ecosystems flourish in neritic pools and flatlands, sliding on organic scree tothe edge of rock shelves and dropping into a zone below light.
There are ravines. Presences something between molluscs and deities squat patiently below eightmiles of water. In the lightless cold a brutality of evolution obtains. Rude creatures emitslime and phosphorescence and move with flickerings of unclear limbs. The logic of their formsderives from nightmares.
There are bottomless shafts of water. There are places where the granite and muck base of thesea falls away in vertical tunnels that plumb miles, spilling into other planes, under pressureso great that the water flows sluggish and thick. It spurts through the pores of reality,seeping back in dangerous washes, leaving fissures through which displaced forces can emerge.
In the chill middle deeps, hydrothermic vents break through the rocks and spew clouds ofsuperheated water. Intricate creatures bask in this ambient warmth their whole short lives,never straying beyond a few feet of warm, mineral-rich water into a cold which would kill them.
The landscape below the surface is one of mountains and canyons and forests, shifting dunes,ice caverns and graveyards. The water is dense with matter. Islands float impossibly in thedeeps, caught on charmed tides. Some are the size of coffins, little slivers of flint andgranite that refuse to sink. Others are gnarled rocks half a mile long, suspended thousands offeet down, moving on slow, arcane streams. There are communities on these unsinking lands:
there are hidden kingdoms.
There is heroism and brute warfare on the ocean floor, unnoticed by land-dwellers. There aregods and catastrophes.
Intruding vessels pass between the sea and the air. Their shadows fleck the bottom where it ishigh enough for light to reach. The trading ships and cogs, the whaling boats pass over the rotof other craft. Sailors’ bodies fertilize the water. Scavenger fish feed on eyes and lips.There are jags in the coral architecture where masts and anchors have been reclaimed. Lostships are mourned or forgotten, and the living floor of the sea takes them and hides them with
barnacles, gives them as caves to morays and ratfish and cray outcastes; and other more savage
In the deepest places, where physical norms collapse under the crushing water, bodies stillfall softly through the dark, days after their vessels have capsized.
They decay on their long journey down. Nothing will hit the black sand at the bottom of theworld but algae-covered bones.
At the edges of the shelves of rock where cold, light water gives way to a creeping darkness, ahe-cray scrambles. He sees prey, clicks and rattles deep in his throat while he slips the hoodfrom his hunting squid and releases it.
It bolts from him, diving for the shoal of fat mackerel that boil and re-form like a cloudtwenty feet above. Its foot-long tentacles open and whip closed again. The squid returns to itsmaster, dragging a dying fish, and the school reknits behind it.
The cray slices the head and tail from the mackerel and slips the carcass into a net bag at his
belt. The bloody head he gives his squid to gnaw.
The upper body of the cray, the soft, unarmored section, is sensitive to minute shifts of tideand temperature. He feels a prickling against his sallow skin as complex washes of water meetand interact. With an abrupt spasm the mackerel-cloud congeals and disappears over the crustedreef.
The cray raises his arm and calls his squid closer to him, soothes it gently. He fingers hisharpoon.
He is standing on a granite ridge, where seaweed and ferns move against him, caressing his longunderbelly. To his right, swells of porous stone rise above him. To the left the slope fallsaway fast into disphotic water. He can feel the chill emanating from below. He looks out into asteep gradation of blue. Way overhead, on the surface, there are ripples of light. Below himthe rays peter swiftly out. He stands only a little way above the border of perpetual dark.
He treads carefully here, on the edge of the plateau. He often comes to hunt here, where preyare less careful, away from the lighter, warmer shallows. Sometimes big game rises curiouslyfrom the pitch, unused to his shrewd tactics and barbed spears. The cray shifts nervously inthe current and stares out into the open sea. Sometimes it is not prey but predators that risefrom the twilight zone.
Eddies of cold roll over him. Pebbles are dislodged around his feet and bounce slowly down theslope and out of sight. The cray braces himself on the slippery boulders.
Somewhere below him there is a soft percussion of rocks. A chill not carried by any currentcreeps across his skin. Stones are realigning, and a spill of thaumaturgic wash is spewingthrough new crevices.
Something baleful is emerging in the cold water, at the edge of the dark.
The cray hunter’s squid is beginning to panic, and when he releases it again, it jetsinstantly up the slope, toward the light. He peers back into the murk, looking for the sourceof the sound.
There is an ominous vibration. As he tries to see through water stained by dust and plankton,something moves. Way below, a plug of rock bigger than a man shudders. The cray bites his lipas the great irregular stone falls suddenly free and begins a grinding descent.
The thundering of its passage reverberates long after it has become invisible.
There is a pit in the slope now, that stains the sea with darkness. It is quiet and motionlessfor a time, and the cray fingers his spear with anxiety, clutching at it and hefting it andfeeling himself tremble.
And then, softly, something colorless and cold slips from the hole.
It confuses the eye, flitting with a grotesque organic swiftness that seems to belie intention,like gore falling from a wound. The he-cray is quite still. His fear is intense.
Another shape emerges. Again he cannot make it out: it evades him; it is like a memory or animpression; it will not be specified. It is fast and corporeal and coldly terrifying.
There is another, and then more, until a constant quick stream dribbles from the darkness. Thepresences shift, not quite invisible, communing and dissipating, their movements opaque.
The he-cray is still. He can hear strange, whispering discourses on the tides.
His eyes widen as he glimpses massive backbent teeth, bodies pebbled with rucks. Sinuousmuscled things fluttering in the freezing water.
The he-cray starts and steps backward, his feet skittering on sloping stone, trying to quiethimself but too slow-small shattered sounds emerging from him.
With a single motion, a lazy, predatory twitch, the dark things that huddle in council belowhim move. The he-cray sees the darks of a score of eyes, and he knows with a sick-making fearthat they are watching.
And then with a monstrous grace, they rise, and are upon him.
Part One: Channels
It is only ten miles beyond the city that the river loses its momentum, drooling into thebrackish estuary that feeds Iron Bay.
The boats that make the eastward journey out of New Crobuzon enter a lower landscape. To thesouth there are huts and rotten little jetties, from where rural laborers fish to supplementmonotonous diets. Their children wave at travelers, warily. Occasionally there is a knoll ofrock or a small copse of darkwood trees, places that defy cultivation, but mostly the land isclear of stones.
From the decks, sailors can see over the fringe of hedgerow and trees and bramble to a tract offields. This is the stubby end of the Grain Spiral, the long curl of farmland that feeds thecity. Men and women can be seen among the crops, or plowing the black earth, or burning thestubble-depending on the season. Barges putter weirdly between fields, on canals hidden bybanks of earth and vegetation. They go endlessly between the metropolis and the estates. Theybring chymicals and fuel, stone and cement and luxuries to the country. They return to the citypast acres of cultivation studded with hamlets, great houses, and mills, with sack upon sack ofgrain and meat.
The transport never stops. New Crobuzon is insatiable.
The north bank of the Gross Tar is wilder.
It is a long expanse of scrub and marsh. It stretches out for more than eighty miles, till thefoothills and low mountains that creep at it from the west cover it completely. Ringed by theriver, the mountains, and the sea, the rocky scrubland is an empty place. If there areinhabitants other than the birds, they stay out of sight.
Bellis Coldwine took her passage on an east-bound boat in the last quarter of the year, at atime of constant rain. The fields she saw were cold mud. The half-bare trees dripped. Theirsilhouettes looked wetly inked onto the clouds.
Later, when she thought back to that miserable time, Bellis was shaken by the detail of hermemories. She could recall the formation of a flock of geese that passed over the boat,barking; the stench of sap and earth; the slate shade of the sky. She remembered searching thehedgerow with her eyes but seeing no one. Only threads of woodsmoke in the soaking air, andsquat houses shuttered against weather.
The subdued movement of greenery in the wind.
She had stood on the deck enveloped in her shawl and watched and listened for children’s gamesor anglers, or for someone tending one of the battered kitchen gardens she saw. But she heardonly feral birds. The only human forms she saw were scarecrows, their rudimentary featuresimpassive.
It had not been a long journey, but the memory of it filled her like infection. She had felttethered by time to the city behind her, so that the minutes stretched out taut as she movedaway, and slowed the farther she got, dragging out her little voyage.
And then they had snapped, and she had found herself catapulted here, now, alone and away fromhome.
Much later, when she was miles from everything she knew, Bellis would wake, astonished that itwas not the city itself, her home for more than forty years, that she dreamed of. It was thatlittle stretch of river, that weatherbeaten corridor of country that had surrounded her forless than half a day.
In a quiet stretch of water, a few hundred feet from the rocky shore of Iron Bay, threedecrepit ships were moored. Their anchors were rooted deep in silt. The chains that attachedthem were scabbed with years of barnacles.
They were unseaworthy, smeared bitumen-black, with big wooden structures built precariously atthe stern and bow. Their masts were stumps. Their chimneys were cold and crusted with oldguano.