(I didn't know how to title this post since I am jumping way ahead for a moment here. I've still got a few posts about Baldanders, the Autarch and Severian as a Christ figure that I am working on. But right now I'm reading The Urth of the New Sun and I came across this passage that simply confounded me so deeply I almost found it laughable. Read on.)
Alright, below I am reproducing a few pages from Gene Wolfe's The Urth of the New Sun, the fifth book in his Book of the New Sun saga, although published much later and more a coda than an actual sequel. This is only the second time I've read the book, so my footing is indeed unsteady. But when I read these pages, I was badly confused. I had no idea what was going on, so I re-read them several times. Finally, I had to go online and scour several sites so I could figure out just what the hell happened and even now I am not sure. So I ask you, dear readers, if you are familiar with Severian, please read this and tell me WHAT IS GOING ON?
Oh, wait, sorry. First, some background. Severian is on the Ship of Tzadkiel, a spacecraft powered by vast solar sails that is taking him to a higher universe known as Yesod in order that he, as Autarch of Urth and Epitome of Humanity, be judged by the angelic beings known as Hierogrammates. The voyage has just begun and a mutiny seems to be raging through the ship. Crewmen known as jibers, a motley grouping of intergalactic mutants and other non-human beings, are fighting the crew in the corridors and holds. They have also freed the apports, which are strange monsters that are occasionally caught in the areas between the mirror-like solar sails of the ships. Severian is in the company of Sidero, a mechanical suit that has actually gained sentience and become, in effect, a hollow robot. Sidero's right arm has been torn off in battle with the jibers and is an empty hole, and Severian is assisting Sidero in his self-repair. Their relationship is antagonistic, although Sidero is loyal to the Ship and its Captain and hates the jibers. Both have just been ambushed by a monstrous, winged apport. Now, I am going to reproduce the text exactly, with breaks where the paragraphs and sections break and not one word omitted, so read on and tell me WHAT IS GOING ON?
I twisted it as I snatched off my cloak and rolled into Sidero's open body. I did not so much as try to see what creature those wings bore until until I had thrust my head, with some pain, into his and could look out through his visor.
Even then I saw nothing, or almost nothing. The airshaft, which had been fairly clear at this depth earlier, now seemed filled with mist; something had carried the cool upper air lower, mixing it with the warm, moist, reeking air we breathed. Something that roiled that mist now, as through a thousand ghosts searched there.
I could no longer hear the wings, or anything else. I might as well have had my head locked in a dusty strongbox, peeping through the keyhole. Then Sidero's voice sounded - but not in my ear.
I do not know just how to describe it. I know well what it is to have another's thoughts in mu mind: Thecla's came there, and the old Autarch's, before I grew one with them. This was not that. And yet it was not hearing, either, as I had known it. I can come no nearer to it than to say that there is something more that hears, behind the ear; and that Sidero's voice was there, without having passed through the ear to reach it.
"I can kill you."
"After I repaired you? I have known ingratitude, but never such depths as that." His chest had closed tightly, and I struggled to get my legs into his, pushing with hands braced against the hollows of his shoulders. If I had been able to take a moment more outside, I would have removed my boots; then it would have been easy. As it was, I felt I had already fractured both ankles.
"You have no right in me!"
"I have every right. You were made to protect men, and I was a man in need of protection. Didn't you hear the wings? You can't make me believe there is supposed to be a creature like that loose in this ship."
"They have freed the apports."
"Who has?" My sound leg had at last straightened itself. My lame leg ought to have been easier, because its muscles had shrunk; but I could not summon strength enough to force it down.
I felt myself bent forward, as one sometimes is in wrestling. Sidero was sitting up. He stood, and in standing shifted my position just enough for my lame leg to straighten. It was easy then to thrust my left arm into his. My right entered what had been his own right arm equally easily, but emerged from the damaged brassard, protected only at the shoulder.
"That's better," I said. "Wait a moment."
He sprang up the stairs instead, able now to take three at a stride.
I halted, turned, and descended again.
"I will kill you for this."
"For going back for my knife and pistol? I don't think you should; we may need them." I stooped and picked them up, the knife with my right hand, the pistol with my left, inside Sidero's. My belt had half fallen through the grillwork floor; but I retrieved it without difficulty, threaded sheath and holster on it, and buckled it round Sidero's waist without a thumb's width to spare.
I fastened my cloak about his shoulders. "Sidero, I've had people inside me too, though you may not believe it. It can be pleasant and useful. Because I'm where I am, we have a right arm. You said you were loyal to the ship. So am I. Are we going to --"
Something pale dropped from the pale mist. Its wings were translucent as the wings of insects, but more flexible than the wings of bats. And they were huge, so wide they wrapped the landing where we stood like the curtains of a catafalque.
Suddenly I could hear again. Sidero had activated the circuits that conveyed sound from his ears to mine; or perhaps he was only too distracted to prevent their functioning. However that might be, I head the wind that roared around us from those great and ghostly wings, a hiss like the quenching of a thousand blades.
My pistol was in my hand, though I was not aware of having drawn it. I looked frantically for something, head or claws, at which to fire. There was nothing, and yet something gripped my legs, lifting me and Sidero too as a child lifts a doll. I fired at random. A rent - but oh how small rent - appeared in the titanic wings, its edges just defined by a narrow band burned black.
The railing struck my knees. As it did, I fired again and smelled smoke.
It seemed that it was my own arm that burned. I cried out. Sidero was struggling with the winged creature without my volition. He had drawn the hunting knife, and I feared for a moment he had slashed my arm, that the burning pain I felt was that which we feel when sweat is carried to a wound. I thought of turning my pistol on him, then realized that my own hand was in his.
The horror of the Revolutionary gripped me once more; I fought to destroy myself, and I no longer knew whether I was Severian or Sidero, Thecla to live or Thecla to die. We spun, head downward.
The terror of it was indescribable. Intellectually, I knew we could fall but slowly in the ship; I was even half-aware that we fell no faster at the lower levels. And yet we were falling, air whistling by faster and faster, the side of the airshaft a dark blur.
All of it had been a dream. How strange it seemed. I had boarded a great ship with decks upon every side, climbed into a metal man. Now I was awake at last, lying on the icy slope of the mountain beyond Thrax, seeing two stars and imagining, half in dream, that they were eyes.
My right arm had shifted too near the fire, but there was no fire. It was the cold, then, that made it burn so. Valeria moved me to softer ground.
The deepest bell in the Bell Tower was ringing. The Bell Tower had arisen by night on a column of flame, settling at dawn beside Acis. The iron throat of the great bell shouted to the rocks, and they reverberated with its echoing sound.
Dorcas had played the recording "Deep Bells Offstage." Had I delivered my final lines? "In future times, so it has long been said, the death of the old sun will destroy Urth. But from its grave will rise monsters, a new people, and the New Sun. Old Urth will flower as a butterfly from its dry husk and the New Urth shall be called Ushas." What fanfaron! Exit Prophet.
The winged woman of Father Inire's book awaited me in the wings. Her hands she clapped once, formally, as a great lady summons her maid. As they parted there appeared between them a point of white light, hot and flaming. It seemed to me that it was my own face, and my face a mask that stared into it.
The old Autarch, who lived in my mind but seldom spoke, muttered through my swollen lips, "Find another..."
A dozen panting breaths had passed before I understood what he had told us: that it was time to surrender this body to death, time for us - time for Severian and Thecla, time for himself and all the rest who stood in his shadow - to take a step toward the shadows ourselves. Time for us to find someone else.
He lay between two great machines, already splattered with some dark lubricant. I bent, nearly falling, to explain what he must do.
But he was dead, his scarred cheek cold to my touch, his withered leg broken, the white bone thrusting through the skin. With my fingers I closed his eyes.
Someone came with hastening steps. Before they reached me, someone else was already at my shoulder, a hand behind my head. I saw the light of his eyes, smelled the musk of his hairy face. He held a cup to my lips.
I tasted, hoping for wine. It was water; but cold, pure water that tasted better than any wine to me.
And it goes on from there. So...WHAT JUST HAPPENED?