Here, we go. It’s Tuesday, and the Wee Horde are on Thanksgiving Break as of this afternoon. I’m not enormously thrilled by this development. I just barely survived the last five day weekend, and I’ve developed some delightful upper respiratory crud recently. While I’m hitting it with a full court press (minus prescription antibiotics, which require a middleman) and actually feeling fairly decent, that still grinds on the ability to do, well, anything. Aaaaaand, we’re charging headlong into the holiday season. Plots are in motion, games are afoot (and sometime a-hand), and I’m not ready. I’m never ready. Can one be ready?
But you aren’t here to be subject to the vagaries of the Dave Experience. You’re here for writing! Writing is a weird discipline. Mostly it seems, we have to teach ourselves. The process is at once straightforward – I put words together on a page, and they form story – and ultimately very complex and subjective. I write standing up. I find I work best in the mornings. Especially if I do the Coffee Ritual first. Story requires a soundtrack, but not that one for this story. Unless the sun is shining, and Mercury is in retrograde. Maybe. Depends on how much sleep I’ve gotten recently, and if the tide is out. Why? I don’t know. Take it up with the Author, but don’t expect an immediate answer. He’s busy writing.
As writers, we can get a lot of wisdom from our fellows. Sometimes, it’s the wisdom to realize we Can’t Do It That Way. Or shouldn’t. Often times, we get bits and pieces of useful data, and occasionally there’s a “here’s how you do this” kind of teaching, but mostly it seems we have to reinvent the wheel with each of us. I’m not sure why that is, and I do plan to take that up with the Author at some point. No, I don’t expect an answer.
Chapter 15: Drowning Mind
He opened my mind and poured the universe in.
I screamed. I must have. The sensation was excruciating. To call it overwhelming was as useful and evocative as calling the Void cold. Or the heart of a star hot. Or my horror at what I’d been shown a little uncomfortable. My consciousness fractured and reformed, over and over and over and over with a slamming, juddering rhythm that itself stole the ability to form coherent thoughts.
Even if I’d been able to string two ideas together, the flood of information would have prevented it. Ever after, the whole thing was a blur; a chaotic, consciousness bludgeoning descent into madness.
I saw – remembered later, rather – snatches of recordings, static images of schematics, entire pages of some indecipherable alien script. The rest was just noise. Once, during routine maintenance, I’d somehow managed to tie my ship’s public address system, still known as the 1MC for some reason, into the main data conduit between the communications nexus and the command console after running the signal through the main media center in the common area.
The sounds of most of recorded knowledge all trying to compete with each other about destroyed my eardrums. Through polyphonic roaring whispered almost understandable bits of speech, music, and I swear I started to experience synesthesia before I could turn it off. My crew hadn’t let it drop until they and the ship itself had been blown to fragments over Axilon Minor.
What was happening between my ears was worse, by far. And it went on, and on. I wanted to succumb to the sweet embrace of unconsciousness. I wanted, frankly, to die. It was as if someone had stimulated all my nerve endings at once after removing my skin to make the job easier.
I don’t know how long it lasted, but eventually I must have passed out. I may have simply retreated into catatonia. I don’t know. Eventually, the cold woke me. I opened my eyes to blackness.
The darkness was absolute. Silence lay heavy in the still air. And I was cold. I shivered, and tried to remember, but it was impossible. Nothing was clear after the AI said goodbye. It hadn’t even had a name, that I knew of. Millennia of lonely, mad existence, hoping against hope – if it was even capable of hope – waiting for someone, anyone to arrive to deliver its warning. Only to die in the giving. I wept there, in the dark, for a being who had died to pass on what it knew.
After a time consumed by grief and simple reaction, I got up. Or I tried to. My muscles wouldn’t obey. I focused all my effort on simply raising my arm. In response, I got twitches. Twitches that became rapid trembling. Trembling that spread to my other limbs. It was annoying, but I thought about my time floating in the AI’s memories, and it was at least good to have a sense of my body back.
I think I fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion. The mining had been strenuous labor, but it hadn’t been more challenging than life in the Theban Assault Corps. It hadn’t even been as onerous as a rapid unloading of cargo, let alone a rough day mining asteroids. What I’d just been through was the worst experience of my life. Considering the AC drop missions, the political maneuvering as a member of Andi’s Guard, and then the beating at Perseus’ hands and subsequent imprisonment, that was saying something.
There in the cold dark, I dreamed.
I saw places that made no sense. People I’d never met, clad in shimmering garments spoke a language that almost made sense. At one point, those around me wore uniforms at work, and while I recognized what their labors, I’d never before seen the devices they used. Many of them looked like they were largely intangible. Glowing fields extended from one woman’s hands, and while she held some kind of rods, there wasn’t anything else to explain how she deftly carved away bits of gleaming metal.
In another dream, a man stood over a prone woman. Delicate, glowing lines extended from his fingers as he seemed to be working within the recumbent’s torso. The two continued conversing in that unknown language. The man hooked his fingers and lifted, and a glob of something caged in those luminous field floated out of the woman’s chest. She heaved a sigh and he smiled down at her.
Somewhere else, I stood at the edge of a cliff, looking down at a massive door made of shining silvery metal. The portal stood open, and in an instant, I stood before it. And then inside, where people in brightly colored coveralls cluttered an enormous cavern. Without exception, they demonstrated many of the same peculiar abilities. The combined glow of their hands was enough to maintain the cavern in a gentle gloom.
Some of the laborers moved slabs of cut stone through the doorway to the outside. Others cut more of those same slabs from the underside of the hill I’d seen from outside. Their fellows caught the multi-ton slabs in nets of glowing force and lowered them gently to the impossibly flat cavern floor. Yet others shattered other stones using nothing but the seemingly magical forcefields they controlled with their bare, if luminescent hands.
Another place, I looked down at a page covered in unknown script. The writing crawled and rewove itself into Standard and I puzzled through a portion of a treatise on power fields that seemed written like a child’s fantasy book.
My hand lifted on its own and sketched a shape in the air. Lines of light glowed, and then burned, and with an odd inversion of a flash, opened a hole into somewhere else. I reached through into somewhere cold and withdrew a glass of something amber and probably alcoholic. Condensation beaded on the glass as it joined me in the heat of the late afternoon sun.
I spun through dozens of scenes, all impossible by the rules of the universe I knew. In half of them, I could tell what was going on. In the other half, I had no clue. And then things really got weird. People dancing – the only word I could come up with for the writhing, twisting motions of arms and torsos – around vats of liquid silvery something. Which rippled and danced itself, as though alive. More people walking into a vertical curtain of the same stuff. I felt like I should have recognized it.
They didn’t show any fear, though a few of the younger ones looked apprehensive. They laughed and conversed in a language I felt like I should have known. One appeared to be arguing vociferously with empty air. One by one, they walked into the shimmering wall and disappeared. One child had to be pulled in at arm’s length, resistance eloquent in every line of the stiff, little body.
Then it was my turn. My feet carried me toward the portal. My hand lifted to the rippling curtain and I pressed my fingertips against the strange object. The surface resisted, dimpling around my hand. It was cool to the touch, but somehow energized, almost alive. My hand pushed through, and a feeling of subtle electricity traveled up my arm. The silver surface distorted my reflection, though it seemed somehow humorous rather than sinister.
The tip of my nose touched the curtain, and then my feet propelled me wholly through the membranous barrier, and I heard a phrase in my head. The language meant nothing, but the meaning was there, and simple. Where would I like to go?
I wanted to say, “Home,” but for some reason I couldn’t speak. Couldn’t even think it. My mouth said something my ears didn’t comprehend. There was an acknowledgment in the same unknowable language. I felt a sense of enormous energy unleashed, and an understanding of incredible speed without an experience of it.
I walked out of another shimmering curtain into a city of climbing, silvery spires nestled amid rolling, forested hills. Only everyone was staring upward, and screaming. I looked up, and beheld fiery death.
I awoke gasping. My throat felt raw. My mind felt raw. I sat up in the dark. Whipsawed up, really, and fleetingly very glad I didn’t crack my skull on something unseen. I said as much, and froze.
I hadn’t spoken Standard. I hadn’t even understood the words my lips had formed. I’d intended to make one set of sounds, and instead made another. The stone under me seemed to swoop back and forth. My skin felt tight. Of all things, I don’t know why this shook me.
I licked my lips.
“I’m glad I-“ I started shaking as my thoughts and words lined up. I continued aloud, as much for reassurance as a diagnostic. “Gods, what I wouldn’t give for some light.”
My thoughts shivered, and I froze, again. My time submerged in the AI seemed as much a dream as the scenes from which I’d just awoken, locked behind a mental pane. This, however, this sensation was uncomfortably alien. Something inside my mind – something that wasn’t me – rearranged data, and I remembered something I didn’t know before.
Almost of its own volition, my hand rose and traced out a design. As in my dreams, the shaping of the symbol left glowing lines in the cool air. As I connected the last line to the first, the whole flashed and brightened. I squinted against the sudden light. Light that I’d made. Out of nothing.