Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rist News

Good things do come in small packages. We're in the process of revising and laying-out the Rist stories in an eBook/pdf format. This will allow us to better introduce Rist's world to you, and to give little Rist some more special features. Watch this blog for updates.

Gnosiomandus, Part One

Rain spattered the delicately sloping windows of the Panopticobservatory dome, creating peculiar patterns in the accumulating black ash and dust that came with a coke-and-coal-driven society. Gnosiomandus relaxed into the heavy catoblepas leather recliner and sipped his jimbiri tea. It was good to take a break from things, if only for just a little bit. Things had gotten fairly hectic around the Mechispherium ever since that damnable simulacrum of the Corsican Emperor had taken the field only three months past. What was his name? Napolean. Yes; Napolean--one of the great emperors and generals from the history books. He'd massacred seven golem-legions in under seven days. It had come as a great shock to the High Council that their war wagons and armored treaders were far from invincible. No one had counted on their simulacrum of General Arnold being abducted in the middle of the night, right in the very heart of the capital city itself. It had been an audacious thing. Daring. Reckless. Brilliant. They were still looking for a replacement for the kidnapped simulacrum. He hoped that they'd get on with it and get someone suitable out into the thick of things before it was too late.

Too late.

For Gnosiomandus the whole affair was now some vague, peripheral reverie.

He had other things to focus his attentions on.

Like the Gem.

Green and smooth and cool; the Gem whispered to Gnosiomandus of strange, distant, terrible things.

He clutched the Gem tightly.

For the better part of a month he had slept only fitfully, restlessly, his dreams a constant torment of temptation and terror. He learned things in this feverish state of disquietude. Words slithered across his lips and leapt into a bizarre mist-like opacity that formed a sphere all around him. And everything grew quiet. Still. Not even his heartbeat could be heard.

The Gem told him that he would have use of this spell where he was going.

It taught him several more such spells. He learned how to defend his soul, protect his mind and to barricade his dreams. Ectoplasm extruded and formed itself to his merest thought and gesture. Dreamstuff likewise responded to his will and his exertions, but it was difficult, demanding, not natural in this place and this time.

It would all work much easier in that other place.

That broken, dark and dangerous realm of which the Gem whispered endlessly.

The Gem had led him to discover the device. It was what the Gem termed a 'Transition Mechanism.'

The damned thing had tried to attack him. He had only just barely been able to enclose the infernal contraption behind a spherical shell of force and secure it atop one of the marble pedestals in the Panopticobservatory.

Gnosiomandus looked over at the niche on his left. The Transition Mechanism hung in the center of the force-shell like a leaf suspended in mid-fall.

His mind itched where the Mechanism tried to establish some sort of rapport.

The Gem instructed him in the use of the Mechanism. How to let it navigate the interstitial gaps in-between universes. How to let it take him to Zalchis.

Three weeks now he'd known that name as his intended destination and not one scrap or rumor could he dredge up from any of the libraries, archives or scholariums within the capital city.

Zalchis. It might as well be a made-up place, some phantasm of the nickle-dreadfuls or those horrible yellow-tinted pulp-paper magazines that were becoming more commonplace now that the wars in the colonies were finally over and done.

Then it dawned on him.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Gnosiomandus laughed.

Yes.

He would use the Gem and that hungry Mechanism, but not in the manner that they presumed to be used.

He would let the Gem continue to whisper to him and give him weird dreams--that was exactly what he needed from it if he was going to make his newfound scheme work.

Gnosiomandus was going to write his own series of adventures for the nickle-dreadfuls or even one of those smelly pulp magazines. Whichever one would pay him the most.



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Gnosiomandus will be returning over at the Hereticwerks blog and there are several more short-stories in the works for this character...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Rist's New Friend, Part One

Rist sat quietly nibbling on his latest pigeon as he watched another one of the Great Towers collapse in upon itself from the after-shocks of the latest tremor. The merchants from the Botanica-Souk had mumbled warnings to one another about another quake hitting Talibarr and many of them had cleared their tents and folding pavilions from the inner plazas, moving to more secure locations closer to their ships and the dirigible tethers along the Wet Wharves. Rist wasn’t sure what an earthquake was exactly, but the little egg he wore told him that he would be safe in this spot so he watched so he could learn. Rist was going to become smarter. He was a professional now. The dark lady Komeedra had said so. She had also given him the little egg that he wore. Rist liked the egg-thing. It was warm to his touch and it spoke only to him, whispering secrets and teaching him many useful things like how to make his pitiful little sling much more accurate and powerful by bending some wire and scrap metal into a frame that fit around his forearm and using a length of the stretchy spider-silk he had been using to climb down gullies and trenches with as the elastic part. The oily bit of sharp metal he had killed his first pigeon with had now delivered his fifth and he was as proud as only a drijj with a full-belly could be.
Massive clouds of dust rolled upwards into the otherwise still, oppressively hot air as the great structure fell to pieces. There’d be a lot of scavengers in the area soon. They’d want to grab anything uncovered by the falling building, loot anything spilled out of the upper sections that might have survived the ancient riots behind once impregnable armor-doors. Then there’d be the ones who preyed upon those in a hurry to loot the debris. It was no place for a self-respecting drijj to be and Rist had learned how to respect himself. It had been one of the first lessons the egg-thing had taught him. He was worthwhile. He was a living, breathing, walking, talking, thinking being in his own right and the egg-thing was teaching him everything he asked for and then some. Rist’s brain was rapidly assimilating everything the egg-thing fed into it, creating hundreds, then thousands of new synapses, pathways, connections in a feverish frenzy of intellectual development that no child of the Tower Arcologies had ever matched. The egg had identified Rist as a prodigy and continually upgraded the lessons it streamed into the little creature’s cortex and consciousness, talking to his unconscious even as it spoke to his waking mind. Rist was a fast learner.
Finishing with his pigeon Rist wiped his clever little hands on the rags he wore and repositioned himself so as to best watch the place where the Broken Tower had once been. He felt safe in his high perch across the wide plaza overlooking the garbage-strewn and rubble-mounded boulevards that ran in-between the regularly spaced dead husks of the Great Towers like the one that had just collapsed. He settled in and watched intently. His nostrils flared and itched with the scent of opportunity. Maybe someone would uncover something that they couldn’t take away before something got them. Often the best spoils came to the third party to appear on the scene, after the finders got eaten or run off. It paid to pay attention to such things, especially for a drijj that no one would give a second thought to and no one in their right mind would try to eat. Drijj were poisonous to most predators and tended to make scavengers painfully sick. Things might kill them, if they noticed them at all, but for the most part drijj were rarely noticed, like the beetles crawling all over the dusty broken walls or the geckos that hunted the beetles. They were tiny, moving parts of the background, not anything to worry about or pay any attention to and Rist liked that. It made it so much easier to pluck shiny-bits from under the noses of other looters and debris-pickers.
Warm, snug and well-fed Rist fell asleep watching the ruins across the plaza from his perch. He dreamed of lovely, easily-climbable trees without any owls or strixae to hunt him. He imagined a place where no one was allowed to hurt a drijj ever again. Rist slept deep and only awoke when the reverberating thunder shook his perch and the rain began to fall in a cold, dark late Summer or early Autumn torrent. Rist still wasn’t sure how to tell the seasons apart yet.


To be Continued...



Part Two
Ristdex / Index Page for Rist

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rist, Part Six



Continued from Part Five
Ristdex / Index Page


"Hello Rist. Do you have something for me, or should I just stick you now?" There was an incredibly sharp, translucent whisker-thin blade poking his belly from right in front of him. He had been watching intently, unwaveringly and still she had been able to sneak up on him. The dark lady walked silently and unseen like the merchants said that an afrit or asurreh could. Slowly, calmly Rist replaced his knife up his tattered sleeve and made the placatory gesture he hoped would mollify his client the best. There was no mistaking her icy, sneering voice, nor the violence that seethed behind her violet eyes. Rist moved to stand up and as she did not thrust her blade through his belly he brushed off his rags and smiled crookedly at his client.

“It is considered badly fortunated to kill a drijj during the retrograde phase of the Lesser Inner Moons of Mother Shuubra.” Rist lied smoothly. Years of practice and surreptitious eavesdropping upon the merchants of the Botanica-Souk and the D’phinn Fakir himself had sharpened his wits, if not his astrological competency.

The dark lady laughed. He admired her smooth jet-black skin and the sardonic smile she always seemed to have. Try as he might Rist couldn’t avoid looking into her luminous violet eyes. She not only looked through his paltry little lies, she looked through him into the depths of his soul and on down into the murky depths of the very well-spring of his being. He could hide nothing from her and she liked to remind him of that terrifying fact.

"Rist have the shiny-shiny. I have it.” He whined pathetically.

“Of course you do Rist.” The dark lady purred sinisterly as she contemplated the squirming little wretch of a drijj before her. Perhaps she wondered if the thing’s corrupt blood would pit her blade? Rist certainly hoped so, in both cases.

“You let me go when I give it to you yes? Please?" Rist proceeded to whimper like a beaten dog. Ugly to begin with, he was heavily scarred both by past fights and by the spurious protection rituals taught by the Dermamancers in the more notorious parts of the Lower Precincts. He had practiced his whining and groveling technique for years as just another way to earn some small morsel of food or momentary shelter from those who clung to the outmoded ideals they called ‘mercy,’ or ‘compassion.’ Rist was quite good at appearing pathetic — and more importantly harmless - a good and useful talent if one wanted to survive in the warrens surrounding the Fallen Domes and Broken Towers. He tried to look as inoffensive and subordinate as possible, going so far as to lower his head to the ground before his clients’ elegantly booted feet.

The dark lady looked down at Rist. He amused her. Of all the feral gene-trash infesting the devastated core of the old city she despised him the least. He had adapted to the harsh realities of life in the Lower Precincts. He had survived and even proven himself useful to her. No one would ever look at the wretched little thing twice and that made him an ideal agent. No one would ever suspect such a servile and obsequious creature as Rist of being anything more than just another filthy, degenerate urban parasite.

The dark lady scanned her immediate environment. The area surrounding the Empty Temple was once a sprawling complex of pleasure palaces and garden-domes built by members of the now all but exterminated genetic-aristocracy who were the once and future rulers of Talibarr. During the Angry Years following the Severing, the Lower Districts had been overrun by rioters, looters and renegade bands of neo-tribalists who saw their chance to end the tyranny they had endured for generations at the hands of the genecastes. It had been nearly five hundred years since the gates closed and the rioting began. Five hundred years of being trapped on the wrong side of the slowly rotating black disks that once opened onto hundreds of other worlds.

Looking down at the writhing self-effacing creature before her the dark lady recalled how a charismatic leader had arisen from among the ranks of the dispossessed mobs of hybrids and brought a majority of them together to cast down their so-called oppressors. They had called themselves the Azure Wrath and they had raged across the Lower Precincts of the city even as someone else killed the gates. The Azure Wrath proclaimed themselves liberated from their outmoded or vestigial sense of humanity. They declared themselves free to create new, non-human strains of sentience, to bring about a Garden of Eden isolated from human taint. But a garden filled with what? Pathetic, warped little creatures like Rist? She snorted derisively, making the little drijj nearly impale himself on her extruded blade.

Komeedra, for it was none other than the notorious black assassin who served Orothazz himself who stood before Rist, looked at the remains of a collapsed arcology tower across the spider-infested canal. Where once had stood a noble shaft of faceted carbon that had glinted and twinkled like ice entwined with slender minarets and faery ramparts now was a tumbled, jumbled mass of broken shapes buried under layers of dust, ash and the runaway growth of myriad competing vines, lichens and other plant-derived things it was often best to just ignore.

“You have done well Rist. Do you know that once upon a time Talibarr was a shining, glittering jewel of a city, a wonderful place filled with all imaginable good things?”

“No. Rist not know much past-things. Rist live here. Now. Might no be tomorrow.”

“An excellent answer my little friend. Very wise indeed. But nonetheless, five hundred years ago Talibarr, this city you live within, was a beautiful place. Then everything went wrong. The Gates were closed down even as the city burned and riots broke out all over the Lower Precincts. A group who called themselves the Azure Wrath claimed responsibility for a lot of things, but they couldn’t have done half of what they claimed. They were mostly outcasts from impure lineages and mongrel or hybrid genestocks that had not been given any place in Talibarrian society. Shut out from the majestic towers, cut-off from the palatial estates of the Genartists, Genomancers and other favored scions of the Noble breeding programs, the dregs of society had been relegated to the margins of society. But what is not seen can fester and seethe unchecked and unbridled until it eventually boils over into chaos and violence. But none of this means anything to you little drijj, does it?”

“Not understand all words you use, but dark lady say this once pretty place, like her, now not so nice. Others, not so nice as her make things this way, on purpose. Yes?”

“You impress me even more Rist. You must have more sentience that I gave you credit for earlier. You intrigue me.”

“You let me go now? I have shiny-shiny. Here.” Rist tugged the foil-wrapped cube from his special pouch and held it out to the dark lady as if it were a dancing wisp of cold blue non-flame. He offered it to her and hoped that she would go away and leave him to his pigeon-hunting and sleep; he felt very sleepy. It wouldn’t be good to fall asleep in front of the lady-client.

"If you truly have what I asked you to get for me, then you can certainly go on your way— -until I require your services again. If you have failed me, then you'll wish that I had just killed you the first time we met." She picked the shiny foil-cube from Rist’s hands and re-sheathed her sword all in one fluid, seamless motion that left the drijj wondering when she was going to take the thing from his scabby little hands.

"Rist already wish that almost. You beautiful, yet you not be so nice to Rist. This bad. Very bad for Rist. Do as you say. Get the shiny-shiny from the bone lady. Bring it back to you. No one see Rist. Now you take it and leave Rist, yes?"

Komeedra smiled and flicked her long, black braids back out of her face and shook imaginary stars out of her intricately braided hair. When she tipped her head back to look down upon Rist her features flowed until they were those of a ferocious faery tale dragon and her jaws distended outwards to become a snout filled with cruel teeth. Rist squealed and tore at his pouch where he had slipped the poison vial when he had hoped she wouldn’t notice. Komeedra laughed in a deep, rumbling voice as he peed his filthy pants.

"No-no: you not need kill Rist. I gave it you. Rist did what you want. Rist professional. Rist keep his part of deal." Fumbling and shaking with fear, Rist tried his best to stand up to the dark-skinned woman whose features resumed their previous slickly-molded obsidian elegance and seamless beauty. It had been the very first time Rist had ever tried to assert himself before. His spontaneous display of backbone amused Komeedra. She didn’t kill him where he stood, though she had destroyed or maimed myriads of others for lesser displays of insubordination. She looked at the cubic foil-packet with glittering violet then green eyes. Gently, almost kindly if such a thing could ever be said of dread Komeedra the black assassin, she bent towards Rist, keeping her eyes locked on his and with a flutter of her fingers the foil packet disappeared within a fold of the robe-like sleeves of her stylish half-jacket. She quietly stared at the little drijj courier and made sure that Rist understood that this had all just been a game to her, a momentary distraction, nothing more. After all, it wouldn’t do for the hired help to get uppity.

“Thank you Rist.” She sweetly said as she fixed him with a baleful, malevolent amber glare that made him shiver uncontrollably. There was a dull thunk from between his feet. His knife had slipped out of its make-shift sheath and fallen into the fresh puddle of urine Rist had just made involuntarily.

Komeedra laughed. Rist shuddered and practically convulsed like a rabbit dangling from a hawk’s talons. She smiled even more sweetly down at Rist making him pee himself even more. His fear was a rancid, noxious haze of pheromones, musk and perspiration that she breathed in, delicately sorting out every component and deciphering the biological tell-tales and details that radiated from Rist. Where others were ignorant or oblivious to such things, Komeedra was a skilled interpreter and uncanny diviner of secrets. She learned as much or more from how a person smelled or the cloud of excretions and secretions surrounding each living being as others did from trying to interpret language, posture or emotional cues.

“Rist did like you asked … like you said to do. No one see Rist.” He pleaded for his life.

Sadly, terrorizing the little drijj had grown stale. He was still potentially useful so she decided to let him live. For now.

“You did well tonight. Of course you may go Rist, however I may have further use for you in the future. In the meantime accept this as a token of my appreciation.” She casually tossed a small, ovoid object on the ground next to his knife in the puddle of his own urine.

“What is it?” Rist hunkered down to stare at the thing. He poked it with a dirty finger.

“Pick it up.”

“But … “ he whined. He suddenly feared the egg-thing as though it might bite or sting him. He had heard of such things from eavesdropping on the sailors and traders.

“Now.” She practically whispered, making the command intensely more frightening and effective than if she had lost her temper or raised her voice.

Rist picked up the smooth ovoid object. It was warm. He wiped the urine off on his rags and turned it this way and that in his delicate seeming little hands. He thought it might be alive. Maybe he’d pray to it later, after he appeased the knife for his having dropped it.

“Good. Now find the more tapered, almost pointed end of it and pinch it hard.”

Rist adjusted the egg-thing in his hands, found the more tapered end and pinched it as hard as he could. There was a snapping noise then his fingers slipped off of the thing and a loop of flexible, white material extruded soundlessly and smoothly from the ovoid like a snaky noose.

“What is it?” asked Rist in a tone somewhere between awe and panic.

“Now you can wear it around your neck, like another one of your quaint if disgusting rat-bone talismans.”

“Is it goodly fortunated?” croaked Rist, tickled beyond his wildest dreams to receive a charm from someone as obviously godlike and powerful as Komeedra herself. He quickly looped the egg-thing over his neck just as Komeedra instructed. It settled into place like it belonged there, smooth and pliable, pulsing in perfect synch with his rapidly fluttering heartbeat.

“In a manner of speaking, perhaps. Long, long ago such a thing was considered a child’s toy but for you it may well prove to be much, much more than that.”

“Oooooh … old magick is bestest magick.” Rist clapped his scabby hands in joy at his excellent good fortune – not only was he not going to be killed or eaten, he had been rewarded with something old and amazing, whatever it was.

“Give it a little while so the pod can complete its integration protocols and it will be keyed to you and you alone.” Komeedra shook her head ever so slightly at the way the little drijj capered and carried on. He had probably never received any sort of a gift before, let alone anything so extravagant as the little oval-shaped pod.

“Mine!? It’s all mine?” Rist screeched incredulously.

“Yes, Rist. It’s all yours; it won’t work for anyone else now that it is bonded to you.”

“Aaaaaah … then the little egg is all mine, no one can take it away from Rist?” He mused to himself shrewdly.

“That’s right. Once it wakes up you can name it and help it learn so it can help you.”

“Little egg help Rist how?” He looked up at her dumbfounded.

“It will teach you.”

“Teach Rist what?”

“Anything you want to learn.” Komeedra suppressed a shudder at the thought of what a socially retarded and emotionally stunted thing like Rist might spend his paltry, inconsequential life learning. But a gift was a gift and it was his to waste however he saw fit.

“That sounds very muchly fortunate. Rist very happy thankful.” He danced a little dance for her, still not sure just what it all meant, but extremely grateful to just still be alive.

“Good. Have fun Rist. Until next we meet.” Komeedra turned away from the dancing drijj, melted into the darkness and was gone.

Once he noticed that he was all alone again, Rist retrieved his knife from the pool of urine and quickly ran off in the other direction. He hated being at the mercy of fickle gods and demons and wished he could be an atheist. Maybe the little egg could help him with that.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

By The Sea

Gulls screamed as they wheeled lazily through the salty morning breeze coming off of the dark, cold sea. Galyssa looked out across the crescent-shaped bay at the whitecapped waves crashing upon the blackened rocks and gray shingle. Fog slowly drained away from the wet and dreary walls of the slate-roofed structures that made up the village as though it had sucked out all the color, draining away what remained of life or joy or enthusiasm from the very walls of the place. Like most such old-timey fishing villages or touristy cottage-clusters, this village was dreary, mostly empty and depressing the way only these sorts of places could be.

What a dump.” Galyssa spat on the still frosted rough-cut flagstones of the observation plaza where she had come to watch the suns rise. Chelmsford, the world of the nostalgic fishing village of Connlach-Exeter, orbited two close-paired suns and even then the place was unpleasantly dim, perpetually overcast and drearier than the moldy bog-woods of Badjeth.

Even with two suns this place can’t ever get warm or stop drizzling.” She watched the Eastern horizon and all that was visible through the sea mist, fog and scudding clouds was a silvery haze behind the rain, a muffled light that remained indistinct, distant and diffuse. It was the kind of environment that would only appeal to the congenitally suicidal, the English or the Irish, those who still recalled the old ways of living off of the cold, capricious seas and the pursuit of schools of fish between storms. It was not a life that appealed to Galyssa at all. Her folk were hunters, not fishers. She came from deep green forests, not cold and rocky coastal regions best left to the gulls and flotsam. She could hardly wait to get clear of this damp, dismal place where even the suns couldn’t be bothered to look too closely at things probably best left forgotten like sleeping dogs.

But that wasn’t the way things worked. Not for Galyssa.

Hunter. Do you seek some sign from the suns this morning?” wheezed the old fisherman who reeked of old guts and stagnant brine.

Just a bit of warmth, maybe a spot of sunshine, if that isn’t asking too much of things.” Galyssa stood with her hands on her hips, not quite menacing, not immediately threatening.

Ha! Not bloody likely lass. It’s the height of summer, just past the solstice; it only gets darker and colder from here on out until midwinter.”

This is your summer?” she asked even though she already knew the answer from her briefing. The local datasphere provided a streaming record of the time, temperature, calendar and all the other essential pieces of information necessary to the day-to-day lives of civilized people like current exchange rates, weather forecasts, and what passed for news. Galyssa’s implants maintained an ongoing connection so that her software could sniff out potential leads and keep tabs on things back home.

Aye. You're not enjoying the balminess of it then?” the old-timer laughed, then practically doubled over in a coughing fit until he hawked up a nasty bit of yellow-green phlegm onto the cobblestones of the viewing platform.

I don’t know how anyone could stand to live in a place like this. It makes me want to drag a razor through my wrists and I’ve only been here two days.”

To each their own lass. There’s those as love the land, even the bitter-dry deserts and bad lands as there are those who are loved by the seas, called out by the salty winds unto the bosom of the ocean-mother Herself.”

Ah so you’re religious?”

Hah! Practical more like. We don’t have any churches in this village, just a few decorative shrines for the handful of tourists we get every couple of years and our own traditions.”

You people are oral traditionalists?”

As good a description as any. Half the village is descended from Arcadianists or Greenlanders, the rest are one or another type of Irish, Welsh or Hebridean by way of Aegron, except for the three Danes and the one Orkney family that tends to keep to themselves.”

I’ve already read the village’s genomic and cultural profiles.”

The registered stuff, aye; but what about the living, breathing reality of the place, eh? What aboot that now?”

I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

Books and records, database entries and all that are so much myth, legend and I suppose; what goes on day in and day out between real people isn’t clean, clear nor concise. You won’t really appreciate nor understand anything about a place from reading about it, especially not while you’re standing around in the middle of it like ye are. Open your eyes lass. Breath the salt air, let the mist chill you a bit, feel the wind; until you experience it for yourself you don’t know nothing about it and never will. Mark my words.” He tilted his ratty old fisherman’s cap beneath the grubby rainslicker hood and continued on his way. Galyssa could hear the oldtimer whistling some obscure folk tune as he made his way down the causeway past the lonely little shacks interspersed down the length of the jetty towards the sheltered moorings and the smaller, one or two-person row-boats, sailboats and the like that were kept there.

Gulls wheeled across the early morning sky swooping down to snag morsels and tid-bits from the surf. Galyssa leaned against the cold, wet stones of the low wall and watched the sea birds and the green-black waves. She missed the moons of her homeworld. This godsforsaken place was so perpetually overcast that even if it had a moon no one would ever see the thing. Scuttling brown-shelled robots dragged driftwood into artfully arranged piles either to dry for municipal beachfront fire pits or to keep the shoreline more aesthetically attractive to the few intermittent tourists who visited the village. With a rueful shaking of her head Galyssa realized that she was pretty much the only visitor in the place currently. But she was no tourist.

Is it a good day for your hunting then?” yelled the old-timer from just outside his shack.

Galyssa turned away from her reverie and began to wave him off. There was work to do. Serious work. Deadly work.

Fair enough for what I have to do, I guess.” She shouted back to the fisherman.

As ye will then; I’d invite you to sit with me a spell. You ever met a selkie afore?”

Selkie?” she yelled back in consternation. A flash download from her background datahandling software streamed a packet of images and vital details describing the selkies of Connlach-Exeter- -they were a mythopoetically oriented aesthetic offshoot of the Aquatics who’d taken up residence on Chelmsford three hundred years prior to the founding of the village and who occasionally traded with select individuals from time to time.

I’m going to play a few tunes for my friends;” The old-timer yelled; “There’s a righteous storm coming in that’ll swamp my poor little boat, but the selkies’ll trade me a few buckets of mussels or some tasty redfin for my music. They do love the concertina.” He smiled broadly as the winds kicked up the waves and a frigid spray shot up over the retaining wall.

Yoor welcome to pull up a seat; I’ll get a little coal-fire going in the shack. It’ll be cozy-like.” The fisherman bent forwards and busied himself unlocking the door to his shack.

Thank you. That sounds nice.” Galyssa shouted across the distance and the crashing waves. “Maybe later. I have-“

To get back on the hunt, eh? Well, good hunting to you lass.” He waved back to her and slipped into his little shack, out of the increasingly fierce winds.

Time to get back to work, I suppose.” Galyssa muttered to herself as she pushed off from the slick wall. Her drones were still prowling around the village, each one tuned out of phase with the normal range of human visual perception so that they could scout things out without drawing any attention to her efforts. They were discrete and would allow her to track Vruekaczi down without having to run all over the place like a chicken with its head cut off. She took a good look around her, letting her gaze linger almost longingly on the promised warmth and camaraderie of the fisherman’s modest little shack. With a visible scrunching up of her resolve, Galyssa headed back along the jetty towards the tiny knot of slate-roofed buildings all huddled together against the near-perpetual drizzle. The stout, regularly spaced and tree-like lamp-posts glowed with hazy haloes in the chill mist, not so much illuminating anything as dispelling the worst of the darkness and contributing to the persistent, pervasive dimness that characterized the general ambiance of Connlach-Exeter more than anything else. It was almost as gloomy as Salonta, Oradea or Satu Mare had been. Ice-locked Odense with its eternal midnight was downright cheerful compared to the dim, wintry seas of Chelmsford. At least it’s not another inbred mountain village like Dundrajevo or Gornijo she reminded herself. Galyssa didn’t much care to remember her brief time in Gornijo. It had been colder there, darker too. Her left hand had needed three weeks to properly heal after…what had happened. She fumbled through her sleeve-pockets and counted the smooth, hard outlines of her personal wards; the sigillized chips of nanivory from Morokozz, the heavy-edged platinum trapezoid from Csurgo, and the delicately filigreed beryllium-bronze lozenge from Bjelovar that had been guaranteed to have been prayed over for a minimum of at least three hundred lunar months by a dedicated robot acolyte. Galyssa wore the usual gun-wards on her belt as well as a few more esoterically-oriented psi-wards, but those she took for granted. They were standard equipment. The other tokens were what she hoped would afford her some measure of protection that had been sorely lacking last time. Vruekaczi wasn’t going to leave her mutilated and bleeding to death in the middle of nowhere. Not this time.

//Query: Location and status of Alderman Dunleavy.// She accessed the Localnet.
//Green Lion.// The pub’s icon rotated slowly in the hallucinatory overlay of her implant commsystem.

I should have known.” Galyssa shook out the cold droplets of sea spray that had accumulated in her exposed hair and set off back towards the village and its only pub.

She knew better than to try to call the Alderman- -if he’d been inclined to make himself available then she wouldn’t have gotten the pub’s icon, he’d have accepted her query. Since he was at the Green Lion and not at home or at his mistresses’ place meant that he was either drinking or meeting someone, probably over a steaming mess of cabbage, potatoes, sausage and eggs, the local breakfast specialty. Galyssa grinned ferally; she’d just have to interrupt hissoner’s breakfast. She was on the hunt and there was only so much time allotted to her before her quarry would find some form of sanctuary or escape. It’d be hard to escape from this forsaken village, but it could be done. Vruekraczi had managed to elude her on a world with three suns and only one hour of darkness during one third of the year. She knew better than to underestimate her one-time nemesis, her target, her prey. Her regrown left hand throbbed with the memory of the lesson she had learned the hard way back in Gornijo. She was not going to be the one left bleeding out their life onto the cold, hard rocks of some godsforsaken backwater world this time. Galyssa’s internal subsystems automatically ran a full-spectrum diagnostic of her weapons and defenses while she walked through the increasingly wild and erratic winds of the fast approaching storm. It reflected her mood perfectly.

The Green Lion was the only three-story structure in the entire village besides the central clock-tower. It was also the single oldest building on the world, according to the polished brass plaque just to the left of the main entrance. Galyssa didn’t even break stride as she kicked her heavy boot into the double doors, smashing them back upon their reinforced hinges with a loud crash as she continued along her trajectory right towards Alderman Dunleavy who sat in his chair next to the main fireplace, a forkful of sausage and eggs halfway to his gaping mouth.

Now Miss Galyssa there be no need-“ started Moriarty the publican who froze in place under Galyssa’s glare. He’d been married to an Irish woman for the better part of half his life and knew better than to risk ending it all by needlessly incurring this woman’s wrath without having an escape planned.

Good morning-“ smiled the Alderman as he sat down his still-loaded fork. Galyssa came to an abrupt stop directly in front of the bearded, paunchy elected leader of the little community.

She stared at him.

He squirmed.

Can I offer you some breakfast? You’re welcome to join me-“ the Alderman began to muster his wits and his voice began to take on the oily pseudo-brogue that he only used on tourists and visitors.

No. I didn’t come here for breakfast. I’ve played by your rules and spent the night in this godsforsaken place. Now I have work to do.”

Ah yes. Hunting. Who exactly is it that you’re looking for lass?”

Galyssa glared at him. He knew. They all knew. It was a matter of public record. They were stalling her.

You know damn well who I hunt. Who and What.” She hissed the last in barely controlled anger.

But you must forgive us our backwards ways lass; we’re not sophisticated urban-dwelling iconoclasts. We’re just simple fisherfolk who prefer to live and let live.”

You’re a fucking hypocrite who’s harboring a dangerously Infected plague-bearer-“

We harbor none but our own, except as the rules of comity and hospitality demand. We’re not savages here Lass. Not barbarians clutching at knives in the dark, tearing each other down into the wailing darkness like some folks are wont to do.”

Galyssa flinched at the obvious insult. The Alderman did not approve of her. No matter.

Do you wish to file a formal objection to my hunt?” she challenged the politician. He was small-time and he knew it. All he could do was delay her hunt, not stop it. Within two hours of any objection he might raise she’d have it struck down by the magistrates back in Bournemouth, the so-called capital of this world. She’d already invested a day and a half setting her contingency plans up before setting off for Connlach-Exeter. Galyssa knew better than to trust the locals. Vruekaczi was nothing if not persuasive. He knew how to turn things around, twist them to his advantage and politicians were especially vulnerable to his wiles and charms.

The Alderman hesitated beneath Galyssa’s intense stare. His hand shook, spilling scrambled eggs off of the fork back onto his plate. Sweat beaded up on his splotchy and windburned forehead. He looked away in defeat.

No. No, lass I cannot do that. Not that’d do any good, would it?”
No. It wouldn’t.”

You’re sharp as a fish knife, aren’t ye lass?”

Better not to try me.”

I imagine you speak truthfully.”

Where is he hiding?”

I cannot stop you, Huntress, but I do not have to help you, either.”
You would put your people at risk to harbor this…this monster?”

You judge him thusly, perhaps we do not. It’s a matter of perspective, surely you can appreciate that.”

Apparently you can appreciate his sick predation, his unnatural appetites-“

He is a guest here. We do not judge our guests unless they violate our laws. He respects our ways. He has our respect in return.”

Respect? For that vermin? Don’t make me laugh.”

You’d do well to learn a measure of respect for other folk, Huntress.”

Don’t threaten me Alderman.”

No threat lass. Just a few words to the wise.”

I don’t need your respect. I need to find Vruekaczi and to kill him once and for all.”

And by rule of law I cannot stop you, but can I dissuade you from this course of action? Can I not entreat you to abandon this pursuit of yours, to let him go free and in peace?”

Are you insane? Do you have any idea what he’ll do to you all if I let him?”

He has given his word-“

The word of a confirmed mass murderer who’ll do far worse than just murder you all in your sleep if he’s left to his own devices. I’ve seen what this bastard can do when he sets his mind to it.”

Thus you know why I wish to avoid any unfortunate repercussions from both your presences here in our village. He has given me his solemn and binding word that he will leave this village unspoiled and blameless if you agree to leave him in peace. Walk away from this place Huntress, walk away and we all live. Stay and we most assuredly shall all die in the most horrible ways imaginable.” He looked down at his breakfast.

Galyssa adjusted her stance uneasily. This was not how things were supposed to work.

Please. Just walk away.” The Alderman looked up from his plate imploringly. She looked away from the Alderman’s pleading gaze. This was different than the usual gambit. Something out of the ordinary.

A predator does not make deals with its prey any more than lions lie down with lambs.” She sneered. It made no sense for Vruekaczi to come all this way in order to just abandon the place, to surrender it as soon as she arrived. It was out of character. It did not fit his profile. It was unheard of, unnatural, so unlikely as to be impossible. And yet there it was; he had made a deal with the Alderman. It put her in an awkward position.

Please. For all our sakes.”

Galyssa tried to contain her anger at the Alderman’s cowardly, foolish complicity. Hunters never backed down, not when they had their quarry cornered up against the wall like she had Vruekaczi right now. She saw the overlaid telemetry of her drones as they pin-pointed his hiding place. Predictably Vruekaczi was in the cellars. He seemed to prefer subterranean places, sewers rather than alleys, cisterns instead of towers, catacombs and crypts not manors or enclave-estates. He especially had a fondness for basements. The drones relayed their coordinates to Galyssa’s implants. Vruekaczi was beneath the Green Lion. The arrogant bastard was asleep immediately underneath where she stood. Directly below her feet.

She flexed her fingers and felt the alloyed blades slide quietly into place at the tips of her left hand even as her customized pyroneedler oozed into shape within the palm of her right hand. The blade-ward she had acquired back in Koblenz flickered with soft blue light along its artfully raised edges as it came online. Outside the wind began to batter the window shutters and howl through the chimneys. Inside Galyssa braced herself for violence.

Lass, please, I implore ye- -let this one go. Walk away. You’ve been outmaneuvered. You can’t win this one.”

Enjoy your breakfast Alderman. I won’t be long.” Galyssa smiled coldly then walked crisply, disconcertingly fast to the back of the pub and the stairs that went down into the storage cellars. Without a thought she tossed herself over the rim and landed cat-like in the dark, dusty cellar, blades extended like claws, her pyroneedler poised and ready to spew fiery hyper-actinic death wherever she pointed. In less than three seconds from leaving the Alderman she stood before the sleeping form of Vruekaczi. He was tall, dark, slender and as harshly featured as some Neo-Carpathian warlord. A thickly brocaded cloak draped down over the makeshift platform upon which he reclined. His boots gleamed like oil in firelight, his trousers and blouse were immaculate, spotless and the demi-cuirass he wore was heavily scarred and scorched by countless duels, battles and fights including several previous encounters with Galyssa. Pale, bloodless and excruciatingly well-groomed, he lay there silent and aloof like a corpse.

Wake up before I kill you Vruekaczi.”

He ignored her.

Wake up damn you!” She shouted at the pseudo-corpse.

I’m tired, Huntress.” His yellowish eyes snapped open as he sat up without the slightest effort.

I’m old, Huntress.”

You’re a disease.”

And you are the cure. I know. I’ve heard it from your predecessors. It’s not terribly original, but I suppose it is an apt analogy, as far as it goes.”

Like you’re anyone to criticize someone else’s fucking originality! Over thirty-seven thousand kinds of undead out in the Known Worlds and you’re one of the most pathetic, a fucking Host leftover from the plagueyears. You’re not even all that scary-” Galyssa snorted derisively.

Touché, Kitain.” Vruekaczi cut her off peremptorily.

But you do have to admit that I have managed to lead you on a merry hunt. I’m so glad that your hand appears to have healed nicely.” He smiled wickedly at the memory of the taste of her flesh. He had eaten her hand in front of her, dragging out the biting and the chewing until she had fallen unconscious.

Galyssa went cold, hard, professional at the mention of her title. Kitain. It was the name she had earned during her trials and testing on Kuud itself. It meant hunter of the unlawful dead. She earned the title after having destroyed over one hundred undead minions and slaves in service to the Lamya Empress Herself. Galyssa scowled in anger over her previous mutilation, her past shame at the hands of this…unclean thing that masqueraded as a human being. Her eyes narrowed into slits and she brought her pyroneedler to bear. There was no escape for Vruekaczi this time, there would be no appeal to the Huntress' mercy, not after what had happened back on Gornijo. For a brief instant Galyssa could almost hear the wind sighing through the dark, heavy hemlocks overhanging the mountain pass where she had lost her left hand. Phantom pain stuttered through the regrown cloneflesh of her new fingers.

We really do not have to do things like this-“ Vruekaczi began to make the expected offer, a negotiation that Galyssa had no intention of listening to whatsoever.

Yes. We do.” Galyssa held out her left hand, the one with the delicate but lethal viblades protruding from her fingertips and made a simple, ancient gesture that triggered the nanoextraction routine that she hadn’t been able to use the last time. A throbbing hum rippled out from the air precisely halfway in-between the two figures. Vruekaczi screamed as his skin peeled, curled and cracked like curdling paint. A fine silver mist erupted from every surface of his body. A glinting, gleaming cloud surrounded the nobleman as he staggered, his skin going sallow and translucent, the very unlife leaving him, rejecting him, abandoning him.

The cloud coalesced down from a spherical mass into a slowly rotating silvery whirlpool that drained away into the receptor surfaces embedded in the palm of Galyssa’s left hand.

For a breathless, timeless moment Vruekaczi faced her in the dim cellar beneath the pub. Blood oozed from his nose, his eyes, his mouth. She glowered at him in his ruin, his final downfall, but felt no thrill of victory in watching his slow collapse into mortality as all his internal organs began to fail, his blood congealed into a scabrous mass within his veins. She kept vigilant watch as his heart stopped beating and his lungs collapsed into a wet mucousy mess within his chest with a hollow sounding wheeze. The once devilishly handsome features of his face drew back in a grotesque rictus.

Finally, once she was satisfied that he had been fully and completely drained of the nanological virux that had remade him into a second-rate monster and that he had suffered all that it was possible for him to experience Galyssa calmly triggered the pyroneedler and played the stream of hyper-accelerated femto-droplets of counter-antimony carried along a beam of spectrally-compressed ultraviolet radiation directly into Vruekaczi’s eleven hundred year old form. He didn’t even get the chance to scream before he was reduced to a small quantity of clingy ash and a fading afterimage.

He was destroyed.

Once and for all.

Utterly.

Absolutely.

But somehow she still felt as though he was laughing at her.

It ony made her mood more foul.

Galyssa ordered her drones to examine the cellar.

They found nothing.

She had the drones run a complete analysis of Vruekaczi’s ashes before gathering them all up and bonding them into a polycarbonate ingot that would cure into a diamond-hard reliquary from which Vruekaczi’s viruxically tainted remains would never be recovered.

It was over as far as she was concerned.

It had to be over.

It had to be.

The old timer sat on his stool and played his concertina. It was a jaunty tune he played in contrast to the howling wind outside. The slicked black coats and stiffly bristling whiskers of his audience bobbed and rocked in time to the tune. Slowly, gently a fine silver viruxive mist played out from the old fisherman’s skin and enveloped the selkies.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Diaspora Stories: Options and Decisions


Knowledge that is not applied is worthless. Andrew had lived his life by that maxim for most of his one hundred twenty two years. It was the guiding principle that he had clung to throughout three divorces, six children and eighteen operations that had replaced various and sundry joints, bones and organs with either synthetic substitutes, cloned analogs or mechanical prosthetics.


Now he looked down at the spiraling vortex of the commode and felt his life slipping away from him in a way that even cancer hadn’t threatened to do. Biometric nanoware embedded in the facilities of his modest home had detected early indications of the onset of dementia. Alzheimers. There was no doubt about it. He could almost feel the impending wave of incipient memory loss coming in towards him like a gentle wave on the beach at low tide. It was only a matter of time before his memories were compromised, his behavior shifted and his identity degraded into a sad parody of his accustomed self.

At least cancer only devoured one’s cells, claiming your body bit by painful bit. This was worse. Far worse. It was the slow death of the personality that would eventually consume even the ability to know what was going on. 

Andrew looked in the mirror at his well-maintained face and reasonably toned body. He was still fit and in decent condition for a man his age, all things considered. With luck and good choices he could expect to live another hundred years, barring accidents, violence or acts of random bad luck such as walking into an urban riot or falling victim to some pointless act of terrorism. 

It wasn’t fair.

But then little, if anything was ever really fair in life.

Comfortable but not super-rich, Andrew occupied a modest flat overlooking the reclaimed parkland skirting the Northern Exurb-cluster of the Greater Minneapolis Reclamation-Zone. He lived in the midst of an artistic community that claimed over a hundred years of continuous responsible occupation and eco-stewardship of the region. His studio was one of thousands in the immediate area. It was a comfortable, post-Bohemian community filled with established artists and fashionable galleries. Eudyce would have loved it.


It had been his last wife who had selected this community.

It had been her choice. He had only gone along at the time because that was what one did with Eudyce in their life.

He had never been so good at going along before her.

He'd always been something of a rebel growing up.

Now he wondered to himself if he had made the right choices in his life.
Doubts and regrets have a way of poisoning even the happiest thoughts.

Did he have many regrets?

Art and culture had always been essential, central to his identity and the overriding passions that drove him, fuelled his ambitions and guided his course. Sculpture, photography and digitography, mask-making, costumery and theater; it had all called him onwards with a siren-like intensity that had carried him past every obstacle, through all the challenges, onwards ever onwards into the unknown with the unbridled enthusiasm and insatiable curiosity of a man possessed by his Muse. 


Now he plunked down upon his ratty old leather-upholstered futon and looked around himself at the accumulated bric-a-brac and debris from all his various ventures and shows, all the experiments, projects and showings.

It all felt cold.

Dead.

The taste was gone flat, all the excitement had been bled dry like an old fashioned internal combustion motor devoid of oil about to seize up. It was only a matter of time before his brain stopped working right, betraying him into a shadowy half-life of misremembered and mangled memories. It terrified him. After so many years of intellectual activity, of decades of artistic enterprise to have it all torn down by a slow motion descent into dementia seemed like a bad joke.

A terrible joke.

It wasn't funny.

It’s not right.” Andrew whispered into the silence of his apartment. He sat on the futon and looked blankly at the empty wall before him. It had been left devoid of ornamentation and free of shelving so that it would challenge him, act as a spur to his creativity. Now it mocked him in its barrenness. He grew angry with the wall’s impudence. How dare it ridicule him after all they’d been through together.

I do not accept this.” He yelled out loud, making a fist and shaking it menacingly at the blank wall before him.



A ridiculous display of impotent emotions.

He felt embarrassed, almost ashamed.

Then he got angrier still.

He stood up, glared at the wall and walked to his old fashioned kitchen nook. Brewing coffee and unraveling a piece of hydroponic fruit from his own greenhouse alcove. He looked at the cold piece of fruit. It was a hybridized peach-tangerine that his last wife had designed decades ago. He missed Eudyce. She had died in the protests. When such things still seemed to matter.

Andrew sat down at his counter and watched the brewing brown liquid in the coffee machine’s transparent carafe as it sloshed around. He bit into the tangy, sweet yet tart flesh of the hypertrophied pink-orange fruit and let his mind wander around like a bruised animal within his skull. Self-pity was a lousy hobby. He'd spent decades trying to replace it with better things. Now it was sitting on his heart like a gargoyle.

He was scared. Not for his flesh-and-blood life, nor even for his career or any of the usual things. He was afraid of losing himself. He did not want to go quietly into the good night.

He poured himself a cup of coffee and sipped it black and hot. It reminded him of the old days, back when he had been younger, angry and hungry, an ambitious man consumed with his passions and pursuing the Muse with the zeal of a flagellant-monk crying out for salvation. The taste of the hot, bitter brew awakened something deep within Andrew. Memories stirred. Anger wasn't the only thing that had occupied his waking days and sweaty, passionate nights. Nor was it the only thing that seeped and echoed up from the depths of his memories, buried under so many layers of contentment, comfort, complacency. He set down the coffee and stared at his half-eaten fruit. Then it came to him full force.

“I don’t have to accept this.” 

The words spilled from his lips.

For a moment he wondered if it truly had been him who had spoken.

Maybe the dementia was already playing cruel tricks upon him?

But no. He knew better.

He balled-up his fist and shook it at the walls around him.

He was getting angry. Truly angry. The diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's was not a death sentence. It wasn’t a verdict without appeal. Alzheimer’s could be fought, even beaten, if one was willing to pay the price.

Machines built at the molecular level could record his memories, preserve them, make them accessible even if his brain degenerated and eventually failed. Nanosystems had been developed that could take up residence in his central nervous system, maintaining his personality, modifying his behavior so as to mitigate the worst effects of the disease. There was talk out on the Nets that some folks had even been able to fully beat the scourge and upload themselves entirely into a cyberlogical prosthetic neural network. Where once such a thought had filled him with trepidation and a cold dread now it gave Andrew a sense of hope. For a man who had already replaced elbows, hips, knees, pancreas and various other parts of his anatomy the idea of supplementing his brain with cybernetic processes to assist his endangered memory, to stave off the degrading effects of Alzheimer's no longer sounded quite so bizarre or outrageous.

So what if his mind had to be propped-up by implants and resident nanoware? It was just another form of prosthetic, a different kind of technological replacement for failing and ailing biology.

Andrew closed his eyes and sent a query to the local Net requesting a search for all available information on options for the treatment of Alzheimer's. In a matter of seconds his internal diagnostics and analysis filters were hard at work sorting through all the data, advertising packets and infomercials. Testimonials, medical studies, research white papers and a host of other materials flooded past his subsidiary AI and integral software, each item sorted out according to his already established personal preferences and in direct response to his current mood. Significant patterns emerged from the onrush of chaotic inputs, shapes began to present themselves from out of the morass of live data and ever expanding information sets drifting down from the Nets like digital snowflakes in a blizzard of unmediated knowledge, hyper-prejudiced data and raw opinion.

Andrew let the information surge through his buffers. He relaxed and let it all play across his consciousness as the filtration routines sorted it all into some sort of sensible order for him. He had already accepted numerous forms of mental enhancements such as the data filtration subsystems that allowed him to work within the Nets that operated at bandwidths and processing velocities far in excess of anything an organic brain could hope to match. It wasn’t that far a leap from accepting the things he already took for granted to uploading his brain, his memories, his mind into a nanolitic or even an artilectic prosthetic.

Less than three minutes after beginning his search Andrew’s resident systems had downloaded everything deemed pertinent to his situation and sorted it all into appropriate sub-sets that were then arrayed before him in an integrative gestalt that soaked into his conscious awareness.

Fear drained away.

Anger receded back into memory.

Knowledge filled his mind and Andrew sought out some kind of understanding. He intended to make his decisions from a place of certainty, not doubt and definitely not out of ignorance. There had to be options. Choices. A way to beat this thing.

There were thousands. Millions. Even more if he wished to expand his personal parameters a bit.

He poured over the offers and enticements of thousands of clades, clans and other factions who offered one version or another of the core technology that he now knew beyond all doubt that he needed and would accept. His internalized subsystems carefully analyzed and compared the thousands of pitches, slogans, enticements, blandishments and inducements of the various recruitment presentations. Thousands of options boiled down to hundreds, simmered down to dozens, evaporated into three choices that fit all his personal criteria. Three options presented themselves from out of the babbling morass of choices pleading for his attention, asking for his consideration, begging for his acknowledgement.

Andrew ran the three pitches against each other looking for differences or some sort of contrast that would help him make a final decision.

The Meergazzi Hivist Clade offered him the unparalleled opportunity to join into a collective consciousness, a meta-group awareness that would integrate his individuality into a dynamically collaborative existence within one of the techist hive-states claiming entire worlds. The notion of contributing his personal sense of style and artistic vision to such a collective appealed to him, but the inevitable loss of old fashioned independence nagged at his vestigial sense of autonomy. It would be a radical departure from the sort of linear consciousness that he had grown up within, but perhaps it was time to experience such a radical shift, like a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly, or a mass of bees more appropriately.

A consortium of Orbital Clans offered Andrew the opportunity to join their ranks and earn his way into whichever clan he found to his personal preference over the course of his acclimatization and indoctrination process. They would outfit him with the nanoware he needed to maintain his identity, he would retain his rights and privileges as a citizen without interruption and would gain access to the various habitat-states where he could expect to live for multiple hundreds of years thanks to the cybrist technologies he could subscribe to as a clan-member. It was claimed by some that the cybrists could offer a form of technologically-enabled immortality, so long as one didn’t mind becoming more machine than human. Where that had once seemed vaguely distasteful to him, now it intrigued Andrew. He had lost his fear of embracing technology first in terms of supplementing his failing body, and now in the face of losing his mind and identity to a biological condition that he could escape. There were worse things than becoming a Cyborg.

But then there was the third option before him. The black trapezoid of the Necrosophic Enclaves blinked slowly, demurely before his inner-vision, an induced interactive hallucinatory daticon offering him access to the mysterious, ultra-selective faction known to only accept the terminally ill, the dead and the dying into their ranks. They offered a chance at preservation of consciousness, continuity of memory and identity in a variety of modalities suited to the individual. And more. Necrosophics believed in the transcendence of physical death as a right of passage into a form of adulthood. They looked down on the living as immature, neotonous forms of proto-humanity at the mercy of unbridled emotions and lacking the perspective that comes only from having died to the world and become something other than hormonally-enslaved organic accidents at the mercy of chance, heredity or environment.

Andrew mulled over the three options before him

He could join something much bigger than himself, perhaps risking the loss of his ego but gaining a strange, wondrous sort of shared continuity that might be as close to an enlightened socialist immortality as one could ever hope to accomplish.

Taking the second option opened up the possibility of joining a society dedicated to truly long term meta-projects scaled for millions of years, projects that their ever-updating technology offered the chance of his actually seeing come to fruition. The notion of helping to terraform entire solar systems according to his personal aesthetics or assembling cloudlike Dyson spheres and even more ambitious pursuits was tantalizing, slightly daunting but extremely tempting. Who wouldn’t enjoy playing God for a few centuries?

But then there was the third option. What lay beyond organic consciousness? Who would he become after passing the threshold of the gates of life and death guarded by the Necrosophics? That too pulled at his mind with the seductive allure of an altogether different kind of immortality, what they referred to as amortality. What would existence be like as an amalgamation of man, machine and hyperconscious AI that had transcended the limitations of fallible flesh and decrepit biology? To become so much more than he could even imagine from his limited, living perspective.

That was heady stuff indeed.

Three roads ran out from where he was now, off into wildly divergent futures.

Behind him lay a rich and varied life of artistic accomplishment and achievement that was now effectively coming to a close. The curtain was falling and the audience was clapping their final ovation. The show was over and would not go on in the same way ever again. 

Falling into the decaying behavior of dementia was not an option.

Not for Andrew.

Not for anyone who valued independence or who had fought in the Revolution as he had done during his forties.

He scanned the three choices laid out before him. Each one had distinct, obvious benefits that appealed to him in their own, unique ways. All three were definitely alluring, offering him some version of the things that sang to his imagination, piqued his interest, offered him adventures and excitement that would both incorporate and challenge his artistic vision to the fullest, offering him forms of expression beyond anything that he had ever experienced before. The options for personal transformation he contemplated were exhilarating and exceptional, intoxicating and overwhelming. But he had to decide on which one to pursue.

Or did he?

Andrew made another query of the Net and almost instantly had his theory confirmed as a possible option.

Instead of choosing one over the others he would elect to undertake all three choices simultaneously. If they could enhance his central nervous system, back-up his memory and capture his consciousness within their respective technological milieus, then why not let each of them copy, transfer or upload him into all three options at once?

Smiling to himself Andrew solicited the Public Access Representative for each of the three factions and enlisted a probationary client with the stated intent to advance towards citizen-shareholder status upon completion of integration protocols and assimilation training, but under the express contractual condition and legal contingency that he be accepted into all three at the same time.

It was a novel solution. The Reps collected his information and initiated the preliminary induction process while the Local Authorities sorted out the legalities and details of Andrew's tripartite enrollment.

Seconds later, as he bit into the remainder of his fruit and poured himself a fresh mug of coffee, Andrew received confirmation of his acceptance into all three factions. The Local Authority approved his decision and he was still considered of sound mind, so there was no way for anyone to contest his decision, beyond the conscientious objectors who always protested such things. He closed down his public access address and converted all his personal communications to a black box filtration routine to keep the crazies out. His public access inbox had already been spammed, slammed and attacked over 2,700 times as   all manner of earnest pleas, well-meaning petitions, and religious form-letters requesting him to reconsider his 'obviously ill-informed decision to endanger his immortal soul' flooded his inbox. He purged it without looking at any of it.

None of that mattered. It wasn't their choice, it wouldn't be their mind that paid the price of their heartfelt convictions. It was his mind, his brain that was going to fail. It was his choice.

And he'd made it.

He would not slip away into that dreaded miasma of nightmarish dissolution and dementia. Not at all.

Instead, he would potentially live forever, his life splitting into three new selves growing apart, developing, learning, becoming far, far more than he had so far managed to become on his own.

It was a fitting denouement to a lifetime of pursuing his Muse.

Within a few more seconds he had arranged his tripartite induction at a local clinic and the integral subsystems residing in his bones and blood set his affairs into order.

His Living Will would become enforceable within 24 hours of his Induction.

That would take care of the children and relatives, most of whom had been too caught-up in their own lives to visit him in over ten years. And that was fine. He had always raised them to become self-sufficient, to go out into the world and build good lives for themselves. He was proud of his children and his grand children.

He had led a good life.

Andrew considered the implications of his decision. How it would impact his family. How it might affect the few friends he still kept in touch with.

He scheduled the transition ceremony for three days out in order to give his friends and family a chance to say their goodbyes and to tender their regards. It would have to be enough. He didn't want to lose his newfound confidence.

For the first time in a decade Andrew was beginning to feel the nervous excitement brought on by making an irrevocable, life-changing decision that he had lost without realizing it.

It was good to be alive again. Really alive, and not just going through the motions.

It was going to be even better to get on with what awaited him just around the corner.

The future was bright and exciting, and he felt like a small child anxiously waiting to open his birth-day presents. It was going to be hard to wait three more days for his three new lives to begin in earnest.


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To Be Continued over at the Hereticwerks blog...
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