Thoughtcasts from the Edge:
The Braid of Demmaraine
In the first of our monthly Mindscape Updates, David Donachie brings us the first in the series of Thoughtcasts From the Edge, travelogues uploaded to the Mindscape by the myriads of transhumanity exploring the vibrant worlds of Commonality Space. Welcome to Demmaraine…
Demmaraine is not a hard planet to reach, lying as it does in the heart of the Dorsine subsector. I came there by way of Morvald and King Mab, but other routes are possible.
Regardless of your choice of starting point you will come to land in Tralaine, the planetary capital. All orbital traffic must make its way here, threaded into the constant stream of automated lifters and cargo pods by eidolon pilots. Manual control, human or synthetic, is not permitted in the vicinity of the Braid.
If the city, when you finally make your way from the sweltering crush of the spaceport out into the sun-baked daylight, presents a slightly prosaic face, all slab sides and elevated skylons, it is easy to forgive. Tralaine is an ancient place that has borne the inrush and retreat of many cultures and despots in its time. If they have left the place a jumble it is nevertheless a vital one. The Justine, or the Juliette or the Racine, who pilots your taxi into the city proper – the commercial drivers of Demmaraine identify female – will wax proudly lyrical on the wealth of history and culture sliding past the tinted windows.
Tralaine sits on the shore of the Circle Sea, an impact crater of great antiquity and immense size that lies at the heart of Demmaraine’s most populous areas. Numerous smaller towns ring the sea, squeezed artfully between the white beaches and inland bocage, with purple mountains visible at their backs. A dedicated tourist may find countless opportunities for drone-diving and carefree rambles through the sleepy vineyards, while the monastery at Banquo, carved laboriously from the peaks of blue-grey gneiss, is said to be worth the climb up its one thousand steps.
But no one comes to Demmaraine for water sports or monasteries.
By day the Braid resembles a countless mass of contrails, or the bleached white bones of a fish, or a languid skein of smoke that spans the sky from horizon to horizon. You catch glimpses of it everywhere: reflected in the mirror glass of windows, sweeping overhead along the length of an avenue or park, arcing above the tallest buildings. It casts shadows even in a cloudless sky, twisting ephemeral things that leave me constantly anticipating non-existent rain showers. When one of the seven Braid Moons happens to cross the sun it causes a brief eclipse – you come to savour these moments of coolness.
By night the Braid truly comes into its own. You will gather, as I did, on the rooftops, or the balconies of the many bars and restaurants (always uncovered and oriented in the direction of the Braid) as night falls. First from one direction and then from quite another, the Braid illuminates itself like flashes of distant lightning. With accelerating rapidity, keeping pace with the indrawn breaths of the crowd, the flashes spread until they become one – a luminous tangle of light that put me in mind of jellyfish, or the phosphorescent ink clouds of an abyssal predator. Pulsing, sparkling, intertwining bands of colour, race and tremble along the whole length of the sky. Now and again some co-incidence of pattern conjures up a face, an animal, the shape of a heart or an eye. Parents point them out to children, lovers to their loved ones.
If the Braid were merely the remnants of a world-girdling ring (I use the word merely with due awareness of irony), like Troy or the plateworlds of Arcturus, it would still be breathtaking enough – but it is not mere size or technological renown that brings travellers to the Braid. Its long extinct Builders (on Demmaraine the proper noun always indicates these mysterious aliens) chose instead to spin a structure of dizzying complexity and uncertain purpose. Countless strands, ranging in diameter from hundreds of meters to less than one, twist and turn in close orbit. Many are fragmentary, broken by age and meteoric impacts such as the one that created the Circle Sea, but the structure maintains its own gravity field and the broken segments dance along with the rest.
Seven planetoids, known prosaically as the Seven Moons, are embedded in the Braid at regular intervals. Polished to a mirror smoothness by the Builders they resemble soft burnished pearls, though the surface of some have been marred by craters in the time since their placement.
The Braid permeates the culture of Demmaraine. You see it in the helix columns that front every official building; in the countless trinkets to be found in Tralaine’s markets; in the ubiquitous braided bracelets and the long intricate tails of hair that are the crowning glory of Demmarainian men. Impossible makepoint sculptures, field supported, adorn the windows of the finest galleries and braid bread – a sweet egg plait as long as your forearm – is the snack of choice. Real-time images of the Braid, supplied by drones in orbit, form an ever-shifting backdrop to every shop and restaurant, till you begin to feel that the whole city is at sea.
The ‘scape artists of Tralaine do a brisk industry in fictionals purporting to put one in the bodies of the Builders. The bodies in question being as varied, and as fanciful, as the imaginations of the artists. Each new announcement from the Braid Academy (which come with great frequency and precious little content) gives birth to a new wave of speculative re-creations.
More discerning tourists can ride along with one of the drones on regular tours through the ring structure, but I am with those who feel that seeing it with your own eyes is the finest experience of all. One sultry evening I joined a select and expectant group at the spaceport. It had taken two weeks and a sudden cancellation to secure a spot. The crowd was garrulous, excited. I was excited too – all the more so as our vessel, who introduced herself as the Madeline, approached the Braid. Close up the scale is astonishing, the complexity dazzling. Seeing it thus, I thought no more of smoke or ink; instead the Braid reminded me of a tie-died hank of tangled hair, patiently awaiting the smoothing touch of a lover’s hand.