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Igms issue 15, p.3

IGMS - Issue 15, page 3

 

IGMS - Issue 15
 


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  MickyD glanced at the rig, and for a moment Saskia thought he hadn't noticed her in the tangle of cables. But like a cartoon character, he did a double-take and pointed the gun at her.

  "Hey! There's a chick back here."

  Piercing Boy leaned through the small door between the cab and cargo area. "What are you talking about?"

  "Look." He pointed the gun at her again, but the bulk of the rig was between her and Piercing Boy. Letting the gun drop for a moment, MickyD shoved a bunch of cables to the side.

  Piercing Boy ducked under the cables. "Who the hell are you?"

  Saskia sat up, watching herself move in third person. The rig shifted around her as if it were manipulating her. She pulled the VR headset off, and her point of view shifted violently.

  Piercing Boy loomed over her, closer than she expected. "I said, who are you?"

  "I'm Saskia Dorlan." She paused, waiting for Metta to tell her what to do.

  "I don't care about your freaking name, what are you doing here? What is this?"

  Without the VR headset, Metta could not secretly talk to her. She was cut off. Saskia's stage instincts kicked in with adrenalin to spare. Spin it, girl. This is a stage show gone wrong, just find a way to end the scene. If you couldn't hide a mistake, try to work it in. She didn't even need to wholly convince them, just keepthem off-balance long enough for Patel and the rest of the FBI to come to the rescue.

  "I'm one of the puppeteers on the show." She smiled. "You guys are doing a great job."

  "What are you talking about?"

  Trying to mask her shaking fingers, Saskia started undoing the sensors on her arms. eDawg must be having a seizure. "Sorry. My bad. I just figured since the camera crew wasn't here, you'd drop character."

  The words came out of her mouth as if a prompter were standing offstage. Saskia turned her attention to the buckles on the legs. "I hate these reality shows, but it's a living, right, Wade?" She looked at the boy, willing him to go along with it.

  He startled, visibly, but before either punk turned, Wade was nodding.

  Piercing Boy said, "What do you mean, reality show?"

  Saskia let her mouth drop. "Crap. You didn't know? I thought you were actors, too." She stood, dropping the leggings on the ground. Only her torso remained attached to the rig. "Oh good grief, you must be the contestants. The director is going to kill me. I just figured since you were here, he must . . . Look, if you could not say anything, I'd really appreciate it." Without the VR headset on, she had no way of knowing if Metta would get the hint. Trying to keep her panic from showing, she glanced around. "Where's the rest of the crew?"

  Piercing Boy screamed at her. "I want to know what's going on, and I want to know now!"

  Saskia widened her eyes, leaning back to show apprehension. It took all her acting skill to keep from gibbering like an idiot. "Okay, okay. Just don't say you got it from me. I don't want to get fired. We're shooting a new show called 'To Catch a Thief' and I didn't realize you weren't briefed beforehand. Wade and I only met last week. Say, Wade, can you undo the strap on this for me?"

  She reached her arm behind her, as if there were a buckle there too. Wade levered himself off the ground, and slid past the cables. He was smaller than she thought. His every movement screamed of fear.

  Saskia kept babbling to distract the two punks. "It's a great concept, because they can use my puppet to do the filming when they can't work in a camera crew. Although, man, when you kicked the dog down the stairs, I thought I'd never get a clean shot again." She laughed, as if she were sharing a joke in the green room, and stepped forward so she was between them and Wade. "So where'd they find you guys?"

  "Cruise hired --"

  The truck slammed to a stop.

  Saskia let the rig catch her, while MickyD and Piercing Boy tumbled backwards, tripping over cables. Wade slammed into her. She heard his breath wuff past her ear.

  Skinny leaned through the little door at the front of the truck. "The road's blocked! What do I do?"

  Saskia's breath caught in her throat; Piercing Boy had said, "Cruise hired . . ." Wade's father had sent these punks? Why?

  She looked over her shoulder at Wade. "That's the film crew."

  He nodded, almost imperceptibly.

  "The director will probably want to reset for the last scene."

  Piercing Boy scrambled to his feet. "I don't like it when people screw with me --"

  The back door of the truck flew open. Patel bounded up the steps. His coat was gone and the sleeves of his shirt were rolled up. He held a clipboard in one hand, his other hand was poised behind it as if he held a pen. "Babe! What are you doing to me?"

  Babe?

  She turned to face Patel, because that's what she would do with a real director. But the thought of having a gun at her back made her scalp prickle with fear. Wade's eyes were huge.

  Patel nodded at Wade, "Doing great, kid. Head out to wardrobe."

  Patel's back was too stiff; he didn't have the relaxed confidence of a director. He moved like a cop.

  She heard MickyD's weight shift.

  Saskia turned her head as MickyD leaned forward, raising the gun. She pushed Wade down, falling toward him as Metta yelled over the loudspeakers, "Get down!"

  Patel dropped the clipboard, bringing his gun out to cover MickyD.

  Wade hit the ground. The rig caught Saskia, suspending her.

  A gun fired.

  The sound ricocheted through the truck, and pain screamed through her back.

  Despite Saskia's notes, her understudy botched his first scene as he overplayed the moment. Saskia fidgeted in the auditorium seat. She shouldn't be in the audience, but she couldn't even climb the ladder to the bridge.

  Her PDA vibrated in her pocket. Saskia eased out of her seat and slipped out the side door of the auditorium to answer it.

  "Saskia? This is Metta."

  She sounded so human. It was easy to forget she was a machine. Heck, it was like talking to an old crew member long after a show wrapped. "The arraignment just ended. I thought you'd want to know."

  The thoughtfulness of the A.I. continued to stagger Saskia. The entire time she had been in the hospital, Metta had kept a small part of her consciousness keyed into the interface in Saskia's room, just in case she needed anything. "Thanks. I'd been wondering."

  "The D.A. agreed to a plea bargain of involuntary manslaughter. In exchange, they won't try Wade as an adult."

  Saskia closed her eyes with relief. The kid had been through enough. She had been terrified that they would go to trial and she would have to testify. "And his dad?"

  "That was part of the plea bargain. His father is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy; he confessed to trying to cover up Wade's involvement in the body guard's death. After Wade ran away, Cruise erased the security tapes. When he realized that it was only a matter of time until we cracked the encryption on Wade's eDawg -- which would have shown exactly what happened -- he made the 'ransom demand' to send in the toy so they could wipe the memory."

  "So that's why Wade had a reset key." Saskia remembered him pulling it out of the saddlebags.

  "Correct."

  "Did you crack the encryption?"

  Metta laughed. "Puppets are hard, encryption is easy. Wade was trying to get Taylor to let him hold his gun. Taylor wouldn't let him. They wrestled. The gun went off. If he'd reported it . . ."

  "What about the skate punks?"

  "Cruise hired them to make the kidnapping look good. Once they figured out how much money was involved, they decided that actually kidnapping Wade would be more profitable." Metta paused. "How are you?"

  "Getting better." She used her good shoulder to shrug. The bullet had gone in her back at an angle, skating across her shoulder blade and ripping a hole through her trapezius. It wasn't life-threatening, but played havoc on her ability to perform. "The deal you guys signed with my agent means the feds are paying my bills till I'm healed. It's better than most theater contracts."
<
br />   "But it is healing, right?" There was a strange insistence in Metta's voice.

  "Yeah. I'll be offline -- so to speak," Saskia winced at the turn of phrase, "for another couple of months."

  Metta cleared her throat, which was such a strange thing, when Saskia thought about it. "Patel is giving me no end of grief because of my sudden fascination with puppetry."

  "Well, you tell him that it's an old and noble profession. And then make him buy you a puppet."

  "I did."

  Saskia nearly dropped the phone in her astonishment. "Really? A puppet?"

  "I know it's peculiar. I've never envied a flesh and blood person before, but riding your signal while you were controlling eDawg, I did. I could feel the puppet's responses to you and watch how you manipulated it to give meaning to its movements. It's the closest I've come to having a body. When I worked the puppet at headquarters, it was . . . It was an external thing. I didn't understand the visceral way character relates to movement. Which brings me to a question . . ." She took a breath, like a person steeling herself for disappointment. "Would you be willing to teach me?"

  Saskia leaned against the wall and let it hold her up. Teach her? "You'll have to practice, you know."

  "I know. I'm willing to learn this in real time. No uploads."

  Saskia smiled at the obvious, entreating enthusiasm in Metta's voice. God, how familiar was that need to breathe life into a puppet.

  "Absolutely," she said. She stretched her shoulder a bit to test it. "I'd like that."

  Lo'ihi Rising

  by Geoffrey W. Cole

  Artwork by Dean Spencer

  Deep within a comet that slipped through the empty space between Neptune's orbit and the Oort Cloud, Fadid broke two hundred years of concentration to answer an ancient subroutine. The subroutine's message: Lo'ihi breach anticipated in the next week. Fadid took the mental equivalent of a deep breath and synthesized a transmitter, but what could he say? More than twenty-five hundred years had passed since Kabime last responded to one of his calls.

  Fadid's increased mental activity alerted one of the comet's other resident artists.

  "What do you think you're doing?" Levitz-Prolific said. Though Fadid shared a processing core of three cubic micrometres with six other sentients inside the comet, Levitz-Prolific made the mental space seem infinitely smaller.

  "Go back to your poem equations," Fadid said as he completed the amplifiers on the communicator.

  "This is a composition retreat," Levitz-Prolific said. "Communication with the outside world is for emergencies only. I don't care how famous you were --"

  Fadid squirted his message across the vacuum: "Kabime, I'm coming home. Lo'ihi will be born this week."

  The message would take ten hours to reach Earth. It would take even longer to beam his personality home and the transmitter he'd synthesized had neither the capacity nor sufficient encryption to accomplish the task. Only the emergency transit beacon had that kind of power. He'd need help from the comet's other artists and a share of their processing power to operate the beacon.

  Fadid sounded the general alarm.

  Five other personalities pulled out of their respective composition states.

  "I'm in the middle of narrative labour," Hawthorne Maythorpe said, the retreat's leader. "Your interruption risks still birth. Our workshop isn't scheduled for another fifty-three months."

  "Apologies," Fadid said. "You'll believe me when I say I have no choice. I need to return to Earth."

  "No one can leave until the comet's returned to its perihelion," Levitz-Prolific said. "We signed a contract."

  "Shut up, LP," Hawthorne said. "We have an emergency transit beacon for a reason. What's the emergency?"

  "Lo'ihi is about to breach."

  "The Hawaiian sea mount?" Levitz-Prolific said. "You've interrupted my creative genesis so you can go sightseeing?"

  "If you had a face and I a hand, I'd slap you," Fadid said. "Almost seven thousand years ago, I made a pact with someone: if we were both still alive when Lo'ihi breached, we would merge. I've been monitoring the volcano since then, and it is due to rise above high tide in the next few days. I'm still alive. I intend to return to earth to see if she lives too."

  "Let me guess," Hawthorne said. "Your ancient muse Kabime is the one with whom you made this pact. I'll lend you my mind for the transit. How about the rest of you?"

  The other four personalities grumbled their acquiescence.

  "My poems don't derive themselves," Levitz-Prolific said. "I refuse to bend a mind as sublime as mine to such a moronic task ."

  "I vote we send Levitz-Prolific back too," Hawthorne said.

  The grumbled agreement from the other four personalities was much more enthusiastic this time.

  "No!" Levitz-Prolific said. "I paid my dues just like everyone else."

  Fadid shut out the poet's pleadings. The rest of the personalities put their minds to the task of packaging Fadid and Levitz-Prolific for transit. While his lesser subroutines were encapsulated, Fadid logged in to an external view port. Beyond the cloud of ice and dust that surrounded the comet, Sol was but a bright star, the planets recognizable by the orbits in his memory. The comet was a lonely place, far from in-system distractions, and the perfect venue to craft his culture opera.

  When completed, the culture opera would be unique in the artistic accomplishments of the solar system. For the last two hundred years, Fadid had crafted a virtual world that consisted of a continent-island adrift in a vast sea. Boat-loads of refugees from a distant planet wrecked on the island, and it was their songs that would make the opera. The inhabitants were not yet sentient -- Fadid would invoke the spark of sentience in them when he was ready to perform the opera, and set the island's inhabitants free to live their virtual lives, or migrate into the real world as they chose -- but when they gained sentience, they would live their lives through song. Every conversation would be sung, every private thought accompanied by harmonies of doubt and hope. Their great laments would be for the old planet, the homeland to which they could never return but to which they ceaselessly dreamed of returning.

  Those same laments were Fadid's. His lost homeland was a woman, Kabime. But there was a difference. With Lo'ihi about to rise from the sea, he'd been given a second chance to return to his lost home. The unfinished culture opera could wait.

  "Will you merge with your muse if she still lives?" Hawthorne said over a private band.

  "I can't," Fadid said. "I would lose myself. But I have to go back. She hasn't spoken to me in millennia; this may be my last chance."

  "Good luck then," Hawthorne said over the public band. "And good riddance to you, Levitz-Prolific."

  The remaining sentients fed Fadid and the protesting Levitz-Prolific into the emergency transit beacon. Fadid retreated to a low-level subconsciousness for the transit. He hated the scattered feeling that came with personality transfer.

  When the transit completed and his personality reassembled, he joined the long queue at the Hilo transit station in Hawaii. He wasn't the only one here to see Lo'ihi born. Fadid realized he was whistling one of the themes from his culture opera. He hadn't been this excited in centuries: Kabime could be waiting for him, and to make this fine day even better, he no longer had to share processing space with Levitz-Prolific.

  The transit authority apologized for the wait, then showed Fadid the rental models that remained for sentients wishing corporeality: several drones, a humpback whale with a steering problem, a school of fish the authority assured him wasn't bait, a variety of gulls and sea birds, and finally two human-types. The first was a post-menopausal woman who'd been modified for flight, but the authority informed him the tattered wings couldn't carry the model's considerable weight. The second was a young adult male type that bore a strong resemblance to a body Fadid had inhabited for several years during his initial romance with Kabime.

  "We haven't had the chance to clean that model, sir," the authority said. "It carries several social d
iseases that could make your trip uncomfortable."

  "Nothing a trip to the autodoc won't fix," Fadid said. "Give me a discount and I'll take it."

  The transit authority reconfigured the young male's programming so that only Fadid's base code -- the digital signature that formed the back-bone of his personality -- could operate the rental body's myriad functions, and then Fadid transferred into the body.

  He promptly sneezed.

  It felt good to be flesh again. He wiped the previous renter's nano-mites from his upper lip and put on the tourist-standard clothes neatly folded beside the stasis coffin. He stretched and followed the steady stream of new arrivals -- drones, sea-birds, a stinking monk seal that pulled itself along its belly -- down the corridor that led to the Old Hilo Town slideway.

  When he slid out of the transit station, the slideway pulled him toward a field of granular a'a lava rock dotted here and there with stunted trees and sparse grass. The black rock marked the spot where Hilo used to stand. Thirty-five hundred years earlier, Mauna Loa had erupted, and when the lava flow destroyed every barrier Hilo's civic engineers erected to redirect it, the civic engineers coated the city in a thermo-transmitting nanofilm. As the lava engulfed the town, the nanofilm transmitted heat away from the mostly wood buildings and into the ocean. When the steam cleared, Hilo survived, though buried in rock.

  Fadid hadn't returned to Hilo since the eruption, and now he scanned the lava field for the Grand Hilo Hotel. A few buildings poked out of the black wasteland -- the twin spires of the Second Kingdom Palace, the five-pointed steeple of a shrine devoted to an archaic THC ministries holy site, and the roof of the original police station -- ancient buildings that had withstood subsequent earthquakes and eruptions thanks to their protective igneous shell, but if the Grand Hilo survived, it remained below the high lava mark. Millennia earlier at the Grand Hilo, he and Kabime had made their pact. That day had proved another high lava mark: in the years that followed the pact, their relationship cooled until it was nothing but dull rock.

 
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