Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Edge

After barely a whole day of traveling, we had to stop this morning; the road had come to an end. For that matter, so had the ground. The road led straight off the edge of a sheer cliff.

This is not what one expects to find on the Scalps. After months of flat plains, it's easy to forget that the world even has vertical surfaces. I certainly wasn't expecting a cliff.

The River KleMit skirted dangerously close to the cliff, but only a small branch of it actually went over. it vanished into the mist that rose up from below. It was impossible to tell how high the cliff was. Looking to either side, it was equally impossible to tell how wide it was. There was just the edge, tufted with grass and small bushes, winding away into the mist.

The Edge, as I found out later, is one of the areas most hotly debated by theoretical geographers. If it truly is the Edge of the world, it would prove the round-world theorists entirely wrong, as a sphere cannot have an edge. They maintain, of course, that the Edge is merely a very large hole. The flat-world theorists insist that it is indeed the Edge, while the mosaic and amalgam theorists don't really care one way or another. According to the mosaic-world theory, the world is neither round nor flat. It's merely a bunch of small pieces of ground that happen to be connected to each other at random (and constantly changing) points. The world doesn't have a shape; it just shares edges. You might as well say that literature has a shape because books share words.

To be honest, this has always sounded like the most reasonable theory to me.

The amalgam theorists maintain that space is an illusion and that every place in the world is simply a different facet of the same single location - similar to the way that, in geometry, an infinite number of circular slices can be taken from the same sphere. Every place is the same one looked at from a different angle.*

The debate between the four theories (and numerous more eccentric ones) has been going on for centuries, and everyone is still unsure whether the Edge is the actual edge of the world or just an unusually large hole. The mist never clears, so it's impossible to see. No climber or flier has ever found a bottom. Explorers have walked along the Edge for months, even years, and never returned to where they started. The cliff doesn't appear to curve in either direction. Of course, the constant mist makes it hard to tell; it just sits there, drifting up and down in plumes, wafting through the cliff's fringe of hanging grass, making it impossible to see any distance below or beyond the Edge. Possibly the Rain Dragon could be persuaded to do something about the mist, but no one ever knows where to find him.

I heard all of this from a team of experimental geographers staying at the Edge. It's a popular place for them, as you might expect. Some of them have been here for years. They have that disheveled-but-enthusiastic look that scientists often get when they've found something interesting; they're too busy to care if their coats are inside-out.

While I talked to the geographers, FlunDitChukk sat on the wagon and didn't look at the road. Every few minutes, he'd take a quick glance at it, just in case it had decided to lead somewhere else while he wasn't looking. So far, it hasn't. Maybe the dunderblub has been peeking at it. I doubt anyone could tell.

The geographers have a small forest of instruments set up at the Edge. There are telescopes, mist-lenses, all manner of surveying tools,** and dozens of other things I couldn't identify - devices like giant sextants and exploded clocks on carefully calibrated tripods. One geographer was inspecting the Edge with a sonograph and a trio of specially bred echo-frogs. Salamander lanterns burned everywhere, more for heat than for light. The mist makes it almost chilly near the Edge. A group of large samovals - research assistants, I assume - were gathered around one lantern, scribbling busily in tiny notebooks like a scientific sewing circle. Their thick fur is less help than usual here. The mist condenses in it, making it stick out all over in damp spikes.

The assistants, when they aren't busy, amuse themselves by throwing things over the Edge. If there's anyone down there, they're probably not amused.

* I have probably explained this entirely wrong. I don't pretend to understand the amalgam world theory in the slightest.

** Contrary to common belief, these actually have some practical uses and are not merely amusing mechanical curiosities. Surveying is not as pointless a pursuit as cartography. It can be quite useful in measuring the heights of large objects, such as mountains or termite mounds.

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

  • Stats Tracked by StatCounter