by John Chilver
published in Schizm, issue 5, London, September 2012, p3
She looks weathered. Her style is deceptively ramshackle. She scours the institutes for personnel. With a keen eye for future prospects, she appraises the novices. The blind must be led. It is the duty of someone who understands. She is unimpressed by the sparkle of young flesh in and of itself. She prefers people whose lives have more corrugated surfaces. If blessed with bold voices, imaginative spontaneity and a capacity to endure local ordeals, she says, they can work and be happy as the day is long. If they fall short she will be lambasted as, at best, an incompetent, at worst, a false prophet. No one wants to fund a failure. She recalls meetings with aged sifters withered by protracted suffering. She insists she will go to any lengths to shield her recruits from such a fate, to stop them from being led into the disenchanted fold, to fend off the revision of their dreams. The harvesting of the world is her constant task. She plays the quiet collator. Towards the close of the dry season, she watches as the storms that hover on the plains gather force. Her measured tone reflects the reality that the prospects of finding uncharted reserves have dwindled in recent years. Yet she has never conceded to that frigidity and fright from life that renown feeds on. She is uniquely experienced. On her return from S48-4 her de-briefing alone took two years. Today her influence is felt is many fields. Her designs for weight-reducing perforations in vectored tiles still inform standard approaches to compression stresses and flexural strength in hulls; while her work on the significance of small thermal movements in the inner leaf of capsule walls has spawned several new genres of materials research. Notwithstanding the quality of her pure science, it is for the work with the novices that she is most likely to be remembered. The fact is that more systems commissioners have passed through her hands than through any of the official schools, which she describes as “overweening and sclerotic.” She admires her raw apprentices - as she sometimes calls them - less for ascending from the depth of their bruises, than for habituating themselves to loss. “First you see them with their soft, malleable, unpainted faces, looking like continents waiting to be discovered,” she says, “Then you watch them shed skins.” But this season will be her last. “My life has been dominated by the consecution for the past twelve years and I’m about ready for a fresh challenge.” As to what that new path might be, she remains uncharacteristically reticent. It’s a safe bet that whatever comes next for all of us, she’ll have a hand in forming the armature of our endeavor.
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