mirrus-8471697712815 Mirrus V. Cothe

Enter a universe in which four surviving members of the remnant of an ancient Anu delegation, Cade, Maramore, Chloe & Tolen; an empath, an assassin, a priestess and an alchemist search for the elusive First Iteration of Earth, in the hope that making changes there, will restore the ecosystems of its sister worlds, a system of interactive realities built by the Anu, called, the Euna.

Фентези эпический 18+. © 2008

#contemporary-fantasy #meta-myth #ecological-fantasy #the-shaman-s-journey #alternate-history #mandella-effect #extraterrestrials
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They had traveled on foot several kilometers, topside, through the blowing, polluted sands of the ruined Giza Power Station complex. The elbows pumped madly; the blood rushed furiously in the ears and made the teeth throb. Tolen couldn’t push the avatar any further. His run came to a crumbling halt and he hunched forward, cupping hands over knees, commanding the eyes close and open again, allowing sweat to stream over the face barely registering the passage of time. “Maramore!” he called.

Maramore turned around and came back, jogging in place, irked with his comrade’s avatar, so frail that even threat of death could not tap hidden strength.

Maramore sensed movement a heartbeat too late to take decisive action. A half stroke later, pairs of amber, glowing orbs appeared—goggles held to the the face with cloth wrappings. Maramore made no moves, only watched as several more figures closed in around them, two more, then four and another, all in heavy, shambling robes, holding javelins ready.

Maramore and Tolen watched as their host demonstrated the machine. Well into the dewy, autumn night, the very same night of their capture, Maramore and Tolen listened to the the calm flow of the Jordan river and the odd clink of coin tumbling from a cast iron device resembling a drum-style coal shuttle.

“Vahel,” he said, speaking over the murmur in the huddle of cousins, nephews and brothers-in-law. The youngest of the clutch lifted his head above the rest. “Come,” said the chief, and the young man obeyed. Tolen became acutely aware the ochre tent smelled of damp camel hair and burnt lambs fat, and registered Jabir’s nostalgia and sense of ease in these surroundings. The chief addressed the youth. “You are wanted for soliciting facts, no? The constable would have you before the magistrate. Is this true?”

The young man, unashamed and without hesitation said, “Yes, master. This is true.”

Immediately a heavy green coin with a hole through its center tumbled from the device and fell to the carpeted floor in front of it. The boy picked up the coin and brought it to his master. Taking it into his hand he spoke, “Friends, I believe you when you say you are not from here. It is obvious you understand nothing.” He held up the green, metallic coin so it shined dully. “All truth has a common source. This source makes our money from the true word said.”

“Interesting,” Tolen said,” Transmutative blockchain.”

“The irony is,” the chief continued, “Vahal becomes a nameless one if I feed this coin to the Machine. His truth is consumed.”

Tolen could not check the avatar’s widening eyes and lifted brows.

While the Anu ability to perceive the avatar’s consciousness, its memories, its thoughts was nothing unusual, commanding the Jabir avatar was an experience different from most because it was impossible to exert full control over its faculties and gifts. Tolen normally avoided using it but there was nothing for it.

Tolen and Maramore, were indeed intractably interred, unable to access any other iteration, entangled or otherwise interacting with any other node of the Euna. Keron’s plan for them, it seemed, was an experience similar to most Sapien; a present-past-future compartmented, rule-bound, linear reality, with a twist.

One Hour Prior…

Drenched and cold, Tolen awoke, gasping for breath, relieved to be alive. He pushed his exhausted avatar to move. Maramore’s hand found his as the variable glow in the chamber went cold, leaving them in the dark.

The chamber lit again, in the normal way, as any receiving other chamber, light from nowhere and everywhere, a soothing, familiar, aquatic radiance. Then it grew dark again and light again. Something was wrong, he thought, as his consciousness faded away again. “How did we land here?”

He came around again to find bones littered the granite chamber. Tolen counted two skulls, Sapien form, and heard a rush he could not decide whether it was moving air or of moving water—either sound would have been out of place inside the Tenochtitlan substation.

“Proctor, restore operating conditions,” Maramore said. Briefly as if to answer, the aqua glow returned and gradually dimmed into blackness.

Tolen kicked through bones, almost tripping. He felt with his hands in front of him for the power stone slide switch on the outer wall. He found a sconce where the regulator should have been and brought his hand to his nose.

Perfectly at ease in total darkness, Maramore mused, toeing a femur, “These remains . . .” he could not finish.

The torch was fresh enough to burn. But combustion was never to be used near the vents, which, during normal operations, were pressurized with hydrogen gas. Something was wrong. He tugged at the sconce and it held firm—not temporary construction.

“Try it again,” Tolen demanded. Hydrogen, odorless, tasteless, flammable.

“Proctor, initiate diagnostic,” Maramore commanded.

A flickering hologram stabilized long enough to show readings of excessive pressure building in the gallery and a tenfold volume expansion within the south vent.

The moment of silence stretched to an impossible fineness before Maramore snapped the thread. “I don’t like the look of that,” he said.

“That’s three-quarters of a million tonnes of limestone and granite moving in all directions almost four centimeters?” Tolen mused.

“That is exactly the reading,” Maramore said.

“Proctor, can you provide an interface?” Tolen asked. For what seemed an eternity there was no response. Then without a sound, the east vent filled with a golden glow bright enough to reveal a thick blanket of salts encrusting the walls of the duct. They went to it and Maramore began brushing away the thick deposits, revealing the baffles carved into the stone that would allow him to climb. As Tolen’s the discomfort being near the conduit was turning into nausea, Maramore said, “We can reach the gallery from here.” He jumped and held the stone lip. He pulled himself into a square space preparing to climb.

Tolen’s attempt ignoring the dramatic Jabir avatar, failed altogether when his sickliness turned into pain. He called out, “Wait. That way is a trap, maybe, or an accidental hazard, I cannot sense which, but it is fatal to us, whatever is ahead.”

Maramore paused his ascent and considered. He dropped down and abandoned the vent. He looked around. In a tone that implied anyone with any sense can see in the utter dark, he asked, “Where are the bones?”

“What do you mean?” Tolen asked.

“They’re gone, Tolen. The bones that were all about only a moment ago, aren’t here.”

Annoyed, “Proctor, is a command terminal possible?” Tolen asked the intelligence. There was no response.

Maramore tried, “Proctor, interpret data,” he said.

The light in the shaft brightened again, letting Tolen briefly scan the room. It was indeed clear of bones, but he also glimpsed something else—gaps in the seams of the chamber walls, and, on closer examination, scorch marks. He was awed “What happened?” he asked. The light, usually cool and comforting, went dark again. “None of the normal holos come up. No backup systems seem to be online. And the linking inscriptions are… missing,” he said.

“We need to figure out where we are. I don’t think this is Tenochtitlan. I see no gold and the granite is different, assuming it is granite, and the shafts—there should be two, in the center— instead there is one in each of the four corners,” Maramore said.

“Also, there was a torch, over this way,” Tolen said.

“Wait,” Maramore said. “If there is hydrogen…”

“…there would not be a combustable source bolted to the wall,” Tolen said, his hands patting the stone searching for it. “I think you might be right about these wa—” His foot struck something heavy and stiff, blocking his path. As he bent to investigate, the west channel glowed, casting into the room cool, aquamarine light. When he looked again at his obstacle he saw it was body that had apparently been a tall woman, finely boned and with long hair, of noble lines, perhaps

Maramore, at its lip, studied the newly activated vent.

“You need to see this,” Tolen said. Maramore moved in Tolen’s direction.

Her death clothes were a many-layered, expensive set of robes and she sat with her back against the wall. The skin, browned and cured in the dry, sterile air, as leather, had completely mummified. No trace of a struggle, impossible to know how she had met her end in this chamber.

“What do you make of this?” Tolen asked

“The first thing I notice is there is no smell. There should be a smell.”

“I noticed, that too, but coming from you, that is something. What else?”

“The skin—to your eyes brown—is red.”

“Mm. Possibly Gragona. These walls… should be plumb and block-cut limestone. These are black granite,” Tolen said. “…but no longer polished.”

“Not black. And not exactly red but speckled”

All at once Tolen’s mood elated as it did when solved a puzzle and he shouted “We are in the Narrows!”

“If so, what of the harmonics?” Maramore asked. “I hear only moving water.”

Ignoring his companion, “We must’ve been rerouted,” Tolen mused aloud. “Rose granite…” he tipped his head into his hand and tapped his forehead, calculating. He paced into the dark and back toward the steadily dimming light. He turned again and again each loop waking past Maramore, lost in his thoughts, “Four-forty…five-twenty eight,” he mumbled , “eighty-eight—” On each pass the shaft was dimmer by a little. He stepped through something sticky and there was a concentrated coppery smell where the air had been only seconds before odorless.

“Avatars and the blood does not decompose.” Maramore said. “I was watching this time. These three materialized, it seemed, twisting into form out of vapor from the floor. There is one, a female or a delicate male, to your right and forward a meter, leaning against the wall. The other two, a female and a male are here, behind me.”

“What if this is our diagnostic?” Tolen said. But he was talking to Maramore’s back. And he knew this, he realized because the glow from the east shaft had intensified. Maramore lifted from the female’s hands resting on her chest, a pendant, a jewel he had not seen since he and Nahdi spent a quarter darr together on Maurtia.

Under barely a sliver of Luna, the captain again scanned the Pacific Ocean of Earth’s ninth iteration. The old sea dog grunted, not because he had observed anything significant, but because it was his rum-sodden habit to affect, in spite of his rotted mouth and pocked visage, a man given to the contemplation of the immediate. In high relief against the man’s wit, the red beard reminded Maramore of a leprechaun. And he smelled, not of the dewy green hills of Ireland, but reeked of twice-smoked tobacco and dark rum and trace vomit. The captain mumbled trying to make sense, I swear I never did see so ill a smoke that the wind, she sheers past it in like manner a rock face—I never did see, he whinged. He pulled on his flask on last time before stopping it up and dropping it into the breast pocket of his shabby coat.

The Artemis listed, as her helmsman, a bony youth of flint eye and leathered skin, gently tacked, as he had been ordered, into the southeasterly wind and the deck crew adjusting the mizzen to use what blew past the wall of smoke, filled again the mainsail. The first mate hollered orders pacing fore and aft masts, cracking his whip in the direction he shouted, between her fore and aft masts. It was tedious work tacking into and out of the wind this way, but essential. The smoke of another massacre was their best cover for approach, even if the wind opposed them. The captain, Maramore noted with amusement, was preparing a space in which to air a grievance and seek compensation for it. The captain required no encouragement and for the fullest entertainment value it was best to simply be patient, allowing the man to eventually ramble into his demand, based upon a “fact” unrightfully withheld or neglected at the time of their bargaining or a changing condition. Apparently, the man thought of little else than ways breach his contract, and his circuitous, verbal contemplations eventually led to his need and his men’s needs for assurances. Angsty sorts, the Sapien of iE77.

“In all the seven hundred leagues we traveled, many choice ports, many a laden ship we passed, unmolested, treasures left intact in the Company hold. Me men are a’feared of what they can’t see. And they ain’t seen no gold which you seen fit and was for me own eyes, alone. But you see, I’ve only the air of your promise. There be no valued cargo in me holds. We aren’t reavin’ ashore nor piratin’ at sea. Do you reckon me, lad?”

Maramore’s grin at the man’s habit of addressing him as lad, betrayed resignation to the fact that the man would never understand he spoke to an immortal—in many other iterations, a god—even if were explained to him in two-syllable words. “If it is action your men crave, our final destination is very near,” Maramore said.

“Aye and such a foul vapor so to crawl upon the surface of the sea—I heard tell but never myself seen’t. ’Tis a black omen, mm indeed black, goodman,” Captain Taus C’Din-Nedr admonished.

Though he knew the answer before he asked, he found the captain’s tireless creativity nonetheless amusing. “You crave some facile relief. Out with it. What now?”

The schooner listed, taking its heading northwesterly, tracing a line nearer the thick smoke.

“How is this possible? This smoke that does not move as it should, is a mountain against the sea breezes. Impassible. So you see, it turns me crew, this sorcery and we might lay our eyes, put our hands to the gold in your cabin, we may find some peace in our rum, if you’ll reckon me.”

Maramore, though amused at the veiled threat to mutiny, betrayed no sign he’d heard the man and continued consulting his chart, an ancient fusion of art mastery and nautical precision, painted in three colors on cloth sewn to a bamboo mat. The captain, usually a bit cleverer, abruptly changed tactics. The cloying odor of charred flesh and smoldering bone that traveled from the smoke bank must have provided proof enough for his simple mind that indeed he was not being paid to indulge a wealthy crackpot, but that the mythical island of Mauritia did exist and that it was presently ablaze.

The open question troubling Maramore was whether the attack underway had been planned to coincide with a volcanic eruption, or, if the two, simultaneous events were incidents of pure chance. “I believe I was clear from the start, Captain; your crew, their morale and the operation of this ship are your obligations.” As for the captain’s habit of devolving a failed appeal into whinging, under almost any other circumstances, Maramore might have been happy to have a slit the length of the captain’s carotid artery. The cold and unfortunate truth was that neither Captain C’Din-Nadir nor his crew, rapists and pillagers—naturals at it fresh off the teat—will likely survive an encounter with Dahni. But, on the chance she had been killed or captured, he would need the schooner and its crew to depart.

“This gold,” the captain began, “the gold I may see but not touch…”

Ah, so he did understand he had been bought and for no trifling price. The sleek schooner listed, her bow coming to, as the heavy vapor, again thickened, seeming to pool on the surface of the water. The signalman announced, “Land, ho!”

A few seconds later, Maramore heard canon fire. “Tend to our bargain, Captain. It is not only your gold hanging in the balance,” Maramore said.

A sailor since he was the helmsman’s age, the captain went to the helm and took the wheel in one gnarled hand. “Hand her steady, lad and stand relieved.” The captain instructed the young helmsman. Taking the helm, Captain C’Din-Nadr filled his chest and belted out over the open deck, “Mainsail to starboard! Y’ smarmy lasses!” he bellowed, as he expertly swung the bow, unconcerned with creaks and groans of an aggressive list. Filling her mainsail again and gaining speed, the Artemus slung low and moved swift as the tip of a rapier in the Captain’s capable hands, all her sails full, her blocks and tackled, hemp lines taut, her deck crew busy tending, heaving, tying.

Guam had been the site of the first massacre. Maramore and his hired crew had followed the destruction Keron’s forces had left behind endeavoring to apprehend Cade. Though Maramore followed the same signal, he was days, at times weeks behind the mayhem. He found many the middling port and seaside village rendered to cold ash. But the heavy smoke in this strange bank was still warm and rank with smells of burned hair and marrow. Maramore, possessed of hearing sensitive enough, had by the sounds of shed blood located the battlefield, down in the once lush valley. He stood beside the captain and spoke so that only he would hear. “Do you see?” he asked the old seaman. Like most of his crew, the captain had raised the kerchief around his neck over his nose.

In a moment ,the silhouette of twin peaks loomed large in the smoke for an instant and faded again from sight. “Keep the smoke hard to our port, Captain,” Maramore commanded. The first mate shouted strings of unintelligible orders, showing capable his whip.

“Seven degrees port, Captain,” Maramore called. “Bearing two-one-three.”

“Aye,” the captain grunted. “Mind the mizzen, Mister De’un,” he shouted below to his first mate. Two crew, directed with epithets, drew the sail and stayed it athwartship herding wind into the mainsail. The topsails, fore and aft, flagged empty. Two haggard men, a flabby man called Papps, tended mainsail and the other, a wisp of a boy they called, Skint, line snaked up the forearms and thrown behind the backs and held taut, bodies leaning out, each with foot against line secured to large, brass cleats, stayed the topsail and mainsail beams.

Hand over gnarled hand, the wheel went, as the old captain deftly brought the ship around seven degrees. From far to port, came a sound Maramore had not heard since Wars of Terror. The bank of sluggish, bruised smoke shifted. “Captain, give the order to abandon ship. Now!”

The captain might have heard Maramore had he not been dazzled by an intensifying red glow resembling a rising sun. And in that instant, death was upon them; the ship broke at her keel almost without a sound and entirely without resistance. The masts, fell together as trees fall in a forest, and the boiling sea and thrall smoke swallowed them all whole. Maramore’s last thought before his avatar lost consciousness was that he must reach Dahni. He must reach her because only she possesses the knowledge to stop Keron and keep Cade safe.

Maramore drew his boji and began tuning a skien, crackling in the dry air of the Khufu’s interior. Tolen went to him and pulled the boji from his hand. Panicked, “What. Are you doing? There’s at least a half million tons of granite and limestone between us and any other chamber,” Tolen asked.

“These remains are us, depending upon choices we make,” Maramore said.

Tolen thought for a moment before speaking. “Listen, we’re in the Narrows, which means the resonators are defunct, which means the entire power grid in this node of the Euna relies entirely upon its ley line network. It means we are effectively quarantined. We are isolated from the rest of the Euna. There is no celestial link, and no advanced network. It’s a trap. A damned good one.”

Maramore, stared at the Twilight stone in his hand, set in a teardrop and nodded. “This pendant. You should remember it,” he said.

“Let me see.” Tolen moved closer. Maramore gently placed the chain and pendant in his companion’s hand.

Tolen rubbed dust away with his thumb and the smooth stone began flickering to life. Tolen let the heavy gold chain take the gem from his hand. Had there been any less light, Maramore would not have witnessed the mixed register in the famed Alchemist Jabir’s facial expression of horror and nostalgia.

“That is Nahdi,” Tolen said, much louder than he intended.

“Yes. And those are us, over there. If we remain—apparently we were waiting for Nahdi’s help—we all die on an isolated node of the Euna. Do you understand what it means if these avatars expire here and now?”

“It means we will die.”

“I am glad to know the erratic moods of that thing are not a hazard to your intellect.”

“It also means Cade has only Chloe to protect him.”

“How can you be certain the boji will work here?”

“What an irony, Maramore coaches Tolen in Framework coding.”

“That is probably a first,” Tolen said.

“From iteration to iteration our structures, and the code for said structures is consistent. At Origin, I placed the ampule in the Khufu’s aquifer during construction so that it would persist throughout the Euna.” The boji now hummed, waiting for an ampule.

“It is the only one, nearby that I am positive will not land us in the middle of rock.”

“Do it,” Tolen said, “Cade and I used to sneak away to a small cove down there when I was supposed to be coding.”

“Ha!” Maramore jabbed. “Why do you think I placed an ampule down there?”

+ +


The Bedouin chief believed Tolen to be a woman and pressed Maramore in a way that promised all his suspicions would vanish with the right answer, as if allowing him this delusion promised to make the two of them best friends. Tolen, his avatar with a habit of sleepwalking, had been found near the the coin chests. Though it had not been part of the plan, Maramore had advantaged the distraction by stealing the item they sought.

“The tile our hand desires,” Maramore said, “It is called Jabir’s Riddle.” The coin machine clinked and another coin fell to the carpet.

Tolen had to say it to make the piercing pain in his stop. “The pen. You asked about that earlier,” Tolen said. “It is metaphor. Anyone claiming their pen was Jabir’s Iron Pen does not understand his writings. We will have Jabir’s Riddle and trouble you no further.” The machine made a noise and stopped and started again, spitting out another green coin. Tolen was unaware Jabir, the physical form giving Tolen agency within the Spiral Dance, struck an unimposing figure. He was of slight build and pale constitution, draped in woman-sized clothing that only just fit. The sharp ridge of his nose and clean, high cheek lines implied a small-boned build. His two most striking features were his thick, jet hair and ponderously large, brown eyes with their long black lashes.

Tolen, having arrived only hours ago, had failed to reckon the limitations of his appearance and the actual conditions of the iteration, before deciding he had an advantage. He issued a bold warning. “We will reward you for safekeeping, or, if you refuse, we will relieve you of it, and the lives of any hindering our purpose.” The machine made another coin.

The chief’s amusement waned and his grin dipped for a second as a darker intention, its form still hidden, even to its author, began forming in the mists of his mind. “Tell us, a thing, first.” The chief signaled that the serving boy should bring food and drink.

Though limited to a comparatively narrow spectrum of senses, both Anu possessed flawless understanding of the Sapien body and its unconscious signals. A single glance and they each knew what the other thought; this man and his family, eyeing one another, half sneering, thought themselves very clever.

“As you desire,” Maramore said.

“Why insult us. Bring a woman into our midst dressed as a man, playing at abominations?”

“Wise chief, your observation is keen. My companion is a eunuch, since his early youth,” Maramore said. “A man, he is, but in species alone.”

“And have you coin? We have seen none and that bodes you ill, my friends,” the chief observed.

“What of gold and jewels; joys, perhaps enduring one lifetime?” Tolen asked.

Roaring laughter swept away the chieftain’s stern expression. “Yes, yes. You begin to understand.”

Sensing an energetic imbalance that indicated deceit originating with the chief, Tolen and Maramore glanced at one another. The two casually closed the distance between them. “If it please the Mighty Man, I would confer with my servant, for he it is that keeps my accounts,” Maramore said.

The chief assented and the Bedouin drew together into a huddle.

Tolen whispered, “We may have no choice but…”

“The Tile is in my possession; why do you provoke, so?” Maramore asked. “This world is foreign—broken.”

From a fold in his robes Maramore produced his boji and ran his finger along its skein. Excited, blue plasma formed and entwined the humming line. The light from this could not be hidden. Gasps and shock soon led to the Bedouins charging them, weapons drawn. Kill them, the chief commanded and had it not been for the boji’s effect of creating a liminal bubble in space time, that is, clocking down all local atomic movement to almost a full stop, the seven or so armed men would have fulfilled their chief’s desire. As it was, the boji finished tuning and Maramore opened a fold in the fluid of reality and brought Tolen into it with him.

They washed out at the encampment they had used while scouting the caravans coming and going in the oasis, a mere kilometer’s distance from the Bedouins.

“Nothing is chasing us. I’ve looped back, twice—nothing there,” Maramore said.

The avatar’s inclinations were incidentally useful this time, but the increasing strength of its projected will had begun to worry Tolen. And yet, its intuition was nearly impossible to stifle. “I’m telling you, it’s something.”

Clearing the camel pens on the outskirts of the encampment, other pursuers had taken chase, but quickly backed away when the Bedouins loosed their hounds. Tolen, through his avatar’s intuition, had felt the unknown pursuers press, and lose ground, press in again. Now that the hounds had gone wide to the east, the unknown pursuers closed again. Tolen felt another push, harder than all the other times. It left the impression of a ring of air sent to search the desert.

They had halted next to a clover field grown tall and lush a thousand meters inland the sea cliff’s edge, where, several dozen meters down its face, was the one overland boji point Maramore was willing to risk using.

“Don’t you think it’s odd one of the imprints is broken off the tile,” Tolen asked.

“Odd? You’re interested in what I think odd?” Incensed, Maramore waded into the clover field casting chlorophyl into the salt coast air.

Keron had designed the trap so that Tolen, ordinarily capable, could not access Framework. As a consequence he relied far more than he liked upon his avatar’s intuition. “Bullshit,” Tolen said.

Maramore stopped and half turned back to Tolen, annoyed. “Adrenalin, weak breathing and an uneven heartbeat,” he said.

“Body-skill is trained,” Tolen said.

“We both know extrasensory input from the avatar is iffy. It may be Cade, trying to get a sense of what we’re after with that animal thing he does.” A crescent moon swam through the swaying stems. Beyond the field lay the lip of a cliff, over which they should find Cade’s first avatar interred in a hollowed shelf on the face, and a reliable ampule.

Maramore turned away from Tolen again. He looked into the night, over the field, beyond the edge, scanning the wind’s source in the dark. “Iffy means suspicious,” Maramore said.

“I know what it means. There are three. And how could it be Cade?”

The forms in double-breasted brown pinstripes and black bowlers walked out of the wind, drawing single action Colts—silver, floral-engraved frames, ivory handles, thumbs drawing back hammers. At first glance the figures bore the artificiality of the Mephis moving through an avatar—only these animated beings were formed of wood. “What fresh hell is this?” Tolen asked.

Maramore dropped two broadleaf blades into his hands, lowering into a crouch. His eyes chiseled down the two that looked like the best fight—a ginger haired target sporting round tinted spectacles and a waxed handlebar mustache, wide as its cheeks. The other one, most of its nose burned off, had survived the axe as well. Its charred cheek, hinting at facial hair, was half covered by an eye patch sewn of Imperial Monarch butterfly wings. One tinted yellow eye peered at Maramore then at Tolen.

His first thought on sight was they had seen this kind of animation before. Programed usually to fulfill a specific task, most are the odd Engineer’s rubbish left within reach of the even rarer tinkering fool, usually harmless, forgettable creatures with a short life. But these were different. They each carried personal items, forgotten until now. The chain on Handlebar’s watch, unmistakable, it belonged to device actually designed aboard Ascendency. He’d made it so Cade could get the hang of time dilation executing the boji maneuver. The strange figure, One-eye, its eyepatch was an item Maramore had long ago crafted Cade for viewing parallels among the various nodes of the Euna. The third was of finer woodcraft than One-eye and Handlebar. In a skirt painted on carved wood, its two Colts akimbo, it walked toward Tolen. Its hips swaying correctly, in bad light, may have affected feminine grace if not for the faint knocking of its parts, wore a cyr bindi Keron had eons ago fashioned for Tolen.

Quick glances at one another communicated between them they had never encountered any with such apparently independent agency, and in this disconnected world, the form shifting, the wind walking, anything able to track Anu—none of that should have been possible. A long time ago these constructs may have been discards, but they had obviously since been upgraded. Maramore effortlessly flanked his targets. Handlebar, unalarmed, trained his weapon. He removed a watch from his waist pocket and opened its cover. He and One-eye vanished.

The one remaining, the feminine one, holstered its massive revolvers into its shoulder harnesses. Taking its bowler by its brim, it removed the hat. Thick raven curls fell free to its shoulders. A slender, gently rattling hand, reached into the hatband and produced a pale green business card, held between its fingers. It extended its hand as if to offer Tolen its card and instantly stood within arm’s reach. Tolen accepted the card and the thing rejoined the nothingness, devolving into grains of desert sand taken on the wind.

“What does it say,” Maramore asked.

Tolen focused on the letters, pale whispers, a synchronicity waiting a hundred lifetimes to express. “It says, ‘Osborne Tuttle, 11567 Barroom Road, Detroit,” he answered. The wind changed direction and blew against their backs. Several kilometers to the east, a Saliki hound bayed.

+ +


In the early Darr, before the Ennead was formed and gave rights to the Gragona, they were permitted only their native, draconian form throughout the Euna. It was for this reason that, for eons, all of the Earth’s iterations hosted dragons. And even after their emancipation, though technically freed from Anu bonds, this restriction led to another kind of servitude—as instruments of sapien designs in waste and devastation—a status quo not universally involuntary, and not without its entertainments. As Maramore recalled, it became evident almost immediately that limiting the Gragona, all of whom are female, to the forms of beasts four stories tall and assuming peace would be the result, was insanity.

Tolen immediately wrote the code to amend this disaster-in-waiting, though it was almost a century before an Ennead inclined toward equity could be elected, seated and finally authorize the change to Framework.

To avoid glitching, and to encourage the eventual evolution of abilities to change between forms at will, Tolen coded the change so that initially, maintaining the Vitruvian morphology of the female Sapien body required the Gragona to inhabit a moist climate. The immediate, mass migration to tropical climes throughout the Euna caused the overnight disappearance of the dragons. So sudden was their disappearance, so indelible was their mark, that certain of the Sapien today still search, still believe they inhabit hidden reaches.

So it was here, on this very island, that he and Dahni had found refuge and watched Keron’s deluge destroy everything within sight beyond, their perch, Mu’s three tallest peaks. They watched Keron’s ship, laden with sedated, Sapien evacuees, lift from the landing platform. Abandoned, it was here, on Mauritia they endured the destruction while the Anu waited in orbit, or aboard Ascedency for the span of a quarter Darr, for the renewal of Origin, hoping the Eva survived.

It would not have been surprising to find an Anu reluctant to inhabit a dwelling scarce in orichalcum, but Nahdi, being forced to wear it, did not crave it as did the Anu. Maramore watched the sun glaze the edge of falling water, lost in thought about how Nahdi could stand the constant reminder of every crime committed against her. Though to anyone else, Dahni’s approach wild have been silent, Maramore heard her the instant before her fingers traced the scars on his back. “You muse, again,” Dahni said.

“Mm, “ he said, “I do.” She had taken possession of Keron’s compound, itself an ancient flying disc, embedded into a hillside so that the bridge, now west-facing veranda, its outer lip defined with tangerine trees in massive stone planters. Maramore, folding his arms over his chest, leaned back against one and raised a foot against the cool rock. Dahni found a place in his arms and tucked herself into him.

“You must never reveal this new skill to them—to Keron, especially,” she warned.

A mystery. She yet feared them, yet wore the collar used to compel her, the Anu masters of the Earth, no doubt Keron chief among them and she occupies the very quarters within the private dwelling of her owner, Keron Anu-Atum, a noble of the oldest surviving line, a master at Theorem, ordained the Origin’s Protectorate by decree of the Cira Niru. “I cannot imagine what use they would have for a technique attainable to the Sapien,” Maramore argued, “Besides, a new darr will dawn before they return. I do not ponder upon what you imagine,” Maramore said, “Rather, I see this place, remember what it once was, that pool, for instance… and the creatures Keron long ago grew in it. I do not want to imagine what he’s done to you, there.”

Dahni unfolded her arms and pressed herself, bare and damp, even closer. She traced a jagged scar on his back over the right scapula and down to the opposite hip. “There is a remedy,” she whispered. Her lips touched his neck. “Your hands to my skin,” she said, “there, within the mists, beneath the boughs of cinnamon trees.”

Dusk had well advanced and the heavy twilight pressed the sun’s remaining copper glow into the horizon, by the time Maramore found his inner quiet. Sitting upright, his back against a planter, he breathed deep the cool, damp air. Slowing his body, he concentrated his attention upon the distant sound of water falling between the twin peaks, the first leg of his projection. Though he was slightly longer reaching the appropriate mediative state, once he was there, matching his resonant frequency with the orichalcum materials around him was as natural a thing done as bathing. His plan was to project his consciousness far as it would go, for as long as the avatar itself was able to maintain the state.

Both exhilarating and terrifying, this was a far different affair than the boji jump and had the added benefit of being untraceable. He felt a rush of air and the surreal effect of water’s force, despite the mists at rest over the jungle canopy, through which his consciousness traveled. Though he had made the attempt, hundreds of times, he had yet to reach the twin peaks at the opposite end of the island, let alone his true goal, the sea beyond it. This evening was different. He had found and matched the resonant frequency of the orichalcum alloys surrounding him, the alloys typical in the ancient Origin class of the Anu celestial ships. His mental frame was also different. He no longer practiced the skill, worrying it may fail him, but expected the avatar to maintain the state. “As a matter of course and in accordance with my will,” he recited. Methodically and with the ease of long habit, Maramore put the avatar to sleep and kept himself awake. If he had learning anything in his encounters with this phenomena it was to embrace the random or at least entrain its inevitability.

To the eye of his traveling consciousness, the landscape and every living thing in the air and the trees below and the cataract breaching the gap, shined with auras of every imaginable color. His focus turned to the red form resting upon the horizon and it was gone, and all at once the heavenly constellations were the only lights in the world. The horizon disappeared and with it his focal point, but he did not lose the state. Quite the opposite.

Peace flooded his being and all the anxiety, the fear he’d failed his goal vanished and in the place of fear appeared a crazy idea. Why not go through the mountain? Vaguely he registered someone near his avatar as the his vision narrowed and his speed increased creating a cottony corona around him. When he tried adjusting the angle of his descent he found he could not and neither coupled he decelerate. A force had taken control of him and drew him into the mountain of twin peaks.

Maramore, aware his hands had been immobilized, roused himself once more and managed to open his eyes. He might have been forgiven mistaking the machine towering over him for an Origin class flight reactor. He was, after all, strapped into a pilot’s chair. But as the grogginess fell away, his surroundings gave him the truth. He was somehow free to roam. The volcanic cavern vaulted high overhead and small, active vents oozed the molten blood of the Earth. The machine reached for him again, and almost laid hold. He wondered what powered it, wondered why its draw felt so sinister, so incomprehensibly seductive. Pain his avatar suffered darted through his awareness. He would be unable to resist another attempt to. . . capture him. Yes, that is its goal, he thought. He tried rousing his body, forcing it awake and ending this attack. It was no use. The avatar itself held life by a mere silk thread. Powerless, now, an invisible hand reached and took fast hold of him. He heard a voice, his familiar lover’s and yet it was new.

“Agama, cease capture!” his lover roared into the cavern. Maramore lost consciousness entirely. When he came around again, he was in the pilot’s seat again, unrestrained. The machine before him had indeed been an Origin class flight reactor, but it was something other, now. Its shell gleamed white and resonated energy that manifest in a sheen of pearl essence. Cold gas vented and fell in great white puffs, lasting a second before the arid heat devoured it. Opposite him someone stood at a control panel inputting commands. He recognized the movements, understood in a moment the machine’s power and why sensors would read its energy as Cade’s.

The rail encompassing the machine, gleaming white with a line of gold laid in it, visibly vibrated and the pitch of the machine’s hum changed, and his mind cleared enough to apply meaning to what he saw. Solid phase Compendiums, each ported as one would prepare to enter an avatar—only there were no avatars waiting.

“Dahni,” he called, “do not this thing,” Maramore pleaded.

“Oh Maramore, my Maramore. I will. I must, as you must know I shall never again be in the thrall of another.”

With the transduction rigging suspended on a patchwork catwalk-ladder system around the machine and the constant fall of coolant, Dahni was only a moving figure with a voice attached it it roaming the darker corners of a red-lit cavern. His normal abilities were somewhere he could not reach them, try as he may.

“The Imperative, of course, is but a cautionary tale, at this point and I only mention it because it is a universal reference throughout the Euna, though not the only. Another, is the universal and systematic domination of the female of any species by the male of the same, and though the Accords forbid it, at least among us, the code and its resulting permutations remain hardwired into the Euna’s Framework, though, mysteriously not that of Earth, Origin. Wait, Keron, master at Theorem, always said, darr after darr, insisting entanglement was a force sufficient to propagate from Origin the Natural Way and gently begin the Imperative process in all the known Euna. Lies.

“Dahni,” Maramore pleaded.

“That name is but air leaving the master’s lungs and falling with sound to the ear of the slave. It is hard for a slave to know her master’s thoughts—when his words were true and when he falsely mused. But alas that is the Natural Way in parcel is it not? Remain in the wings ready, remain ever ripe for the taking. Accept fawning and praise knowing you are being salted for abject humiliation, after which you’ll be hung to dry. Our fate, our lot by law and custom, a sickness plaguing our entire existence; in it lay the root cause of evil in all the Euna: it is Keron’s poison that has contaminated the whole. And this is a dilemma for me, Maramore. The natural way shall die and so shall every soul enthralled with it.”

She walked into plain view. Her bearing was different. Dry as the air was, her features showed not a trace of dragon feature in her Sapien form. She wore a long, blue dress through which was visible a patterned silk wrap. Though Maramore had always found her physique mesmerizing, the orichalcum choker she wore stood out to him. The bloodstone centered upon her throat only exaggerated the jagged aura of the control device. Her fingers dug under the collar and she locked eyes with Maramore and he watched them change to slits as fine, black scales covered her high-boned cheeks and her stature grew and she broadened slowly into the massive creatures of yore, a dragon, black scales gleaming as a raven’s feathers. The choker, the device used to compel, to force, to ensure obedience, had snapped and was in her hand, now. “I am Nahdi, Mother of the New Origin, and with this machine, I now am master of the Anu race.

31 октября 2023 г. 0:00 0 Отчет Добавить Подписаться
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