The way of telling time in Mudland was ingenious. Double A had a row of sticks stuck in the mud in the blackness before his eyes. With his great spongy hands that sometimes would have nothing to do with him, he gripped the sticks one by one, counting as he went, sometimes in numbers, sometimes in such abstractions as lyre birds, rusty screws, pokers, or seaweed.


He would go on grimly, hand over fist against time, until the beastly old comfort of degradation fogged his brain and he would forget what he was trying to do. The long liverish gouts of mental indigestion that were his thought processes would take over from his counting. And when later he came to think back to the moment when the takeover occurred, he would know that that had been the moment when it had been the present. Then he could guess how far ahead or behind of the present he was, and could give this factor a suitable name – though lately he had decided that all factors could be classified under the generic term Standard, and accordingly he named the present time Standard O’Clock.


Standard O’Clock he pictured as a big red soldier with moustaches sweeping around the roseate blankness of his face. Every so often, say on payday, it would chime, with pretty little cuckoos popping out of all orifices. As an additional touch of humour, Double A would make his pendulum wag.


By this genial ruse, he was slowly abolishing time, turning himself into the first professor of a benighted quantum. As yet the experiments were not entirely successful, for ever and anon his groping would communicate itself to his hands, and they’d come back to him, slithering through the mud, tame as you please. Sometimes he bit them; they tasted unpleasant, neither did they respond.


‘You are intellect,’ he thought they said, ‘But we are the tools of intellect. Treat us well, and without salt’.


– Brian Aldiss. Starswarm. 1964





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