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Igms issue 15, p.4

IGMS - Issue 15, page 4

 

IGMS - Issue 15
 


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  The slideway dipped into an elliptical tunnel in the a'a rock and dumped him in Old Hilo Town proper. Where the slideway ended, dozens of gorgeous young human-types who all wore the same blue and white naval uniform formed a phalanx to intercept the new arrivals. A banner hung over the entrance, in the same blue and white naval theme: "Clairvoy Realty Welcomes you to Hilo." He tried to dodge through the uniformed humans, but he saw Kabime's face everywhere in the sea of beautiful young people, they reminded him of bodies Kabime had worn during their centuries together.

  "Interested in owning part of the newest Hawaiian island?" a woman said who had the eyes Kabime had worn during their year-long Antarctic trek.

  "Ka?" he said, though he knew the girl couldn't be Kabime. She sounded nothing like the woman he'd loved.

  "We use English here," the girl said.

  "Sorry," he said, then he realized what she'd asked. "How can you be selling land that doesn't exist yet?"

  "Clairvoy MacAvoy will stake the first claim to Lo'ihi when it breaches," she said. "He'll be selling what he claims to the highest bidder."

  "What if someone lays a claim before this MacAvoy?"

  "Where've you been the last hundred years?" the girl said and laughed. "First of all, it's Clairvoy. He doesn't go by his family name. Second, well, why don't I just show you. Will you share perspective with me?"

  He consented and a perspective window opened between them that showed a gull's-eye view of the steaming ocean.

  "Lo'ihi is only a few metres below the surface," the girl said. "At the rate the lava's solidifying, our volcanologists predict breach sometime tomorrow afternoon or early evening. See those sharks? Those are Clairvoy's. The drones too. He's had a security crew at Lo'ihi for the past twelve hundred years. For the last hundred, only the volcanologists have been allowed to the sea-mount itself. No one will stake a claim before Clairvoy."

  The sharks looked impressive, as did the scores of hunter drones that floated a few metres above the surface. Zeppelins and lattice-wings patrolled the upper elevations, but it was what swarmed around the sharks that terrified Fadid. He'd seen sentient-hunting krill in action during a pirating incident in the Philippines. One of the pirates had fallen into krill-laden waters, and the arthropods devoured his body in minutes. It took months to extract the pirate's sentience, which the krill had put into forced stasis, a pseudo-death that left the mind trapped unaware within itself. The waters around Lo'ihi frothed with the tiny arthropod hunters.

  "He's sure that's enough?" Fadid said.

  "Nothing short of a nuclear strike will take Lo'ihi from Clairvoy," the girl said. "You can buy your share of the new island at the auction tonight. Will we see you there?"

  "That depends on the hors d'oeuvres," Fadid said, and pushed past the girl.

  He had to find Kabime, if only to have someone to share in the joke. This Clairvoy had enlisted an army to guard his Lo'ihi, but Fadid and Kabime beat him to the punch six millennia earlier.

  Fadid strolled beneath ancient Japanese fishing bulbs that lit Hilo's lava tunnel streets. After Mauna Loa's great eruption, the civic engineers tunneled through the black lava rock to expose the buried buildings, and those tunnels now formed Hilo's streets. As he walked, hawkers offered him tours to Lo'ihi by whale, squid, blimp, and ornithopter. He ignored dozens of other junk-merchants, save the merchant who sold him a bottle of papaya wine, which he drained before he arrived at the Grand Hilo Hotel. The hotel was full, but Fadid offered the clerk a bribe large enough to evict the current tenant from the room he and Kabime had shared during his last visit.

  When they'd stayed at the Hilo Grand those millennia past, the room had offered a stunning view of the rain forest, ocean, volcanoes, and the lazy city. The room offered to recreate the views, but Fadid preferred the black rock that now filled the windows; he could live in his memories instead.

  Kabime had first suggested they merge in this room, to which Fadid had originally agreed. It was only after the two of them finished constructing the processing cores in which their new, combined personality would reside that Fadid had lost his nerve. He loved Kabime, but he would lose himself by melding his personality with hers. In this same room, he'd told her he couldn't merge, and had proposed the pact instead: if they still lived when Lo'ihi rose from the sea, they'd merge then.

  As he had those millennia past, he still couldn't bear the thought of losing himself, but neither could he bear the thought of life without Kabime.

  He checked his messages. One from Hawthorne, a few from fans of his music, and a brief text note from Kabime. Her first response in centuries. His body grew warm at the thought.

  "How's the view?" Kabime's message said. "If I know you, you're sitting in our old room in the Grand. Always the sentimentalist, weren't you Fad? I can't believe you came back. In fact, I won't believe it until I see you. If you have returned, meet me tomorrow at the north end of the Bayfront Beach. I'll be in the water past the north point."

  The message ended with an encrypted code to which he could send her a direct message. Before he quite realized what he was doing, he connected to her over a private band.

  "I said tomorrow," she said. She sent text only, but he could hear the way she spoke the words. Still, he didn't know what to say. How long had it been since their last conversation? He'd composed decades of poetry, songs, operas, librettos, soundscapes, and eulogies that mourned the loss of the love they'd had, but now that they were connected, words escaped him.

  "Silence is the last thing I expected from you," she said.

  "You were right," he said. "I'm in our old room."

  "Returned to the scene of the crime," she said.

  "Something like that," he said. "You know they're planning on selling Lo'ihi, don't you?"

  "I haven't been in stasis the last five hundred years," she said.

  "But if our sentience seeds are still there they won't be able to sell a square millimetre of the island," he said.

  "It's been seven thousand years," she said. "Who knows if our seeds survived?"

  "I have to see you," he said. "We need to talk about this."

  "We will," she said. "Tomorrow."

  "Just tell me where you are," he said. "I'll be there as soon as I can."

  "I've told you where I'll be," she said. "That's all you'll get. I have to go, Fad."

  She cut the connection.

  He stopped himself from re-connecting. His hands vibrated, the rental heart pounded in his chest, and the pressure in his bladder brought tears to his eyes. He tried to remember what was so great about flesh. Washroom technology had evolved somewhat since he'd been away, and he had to ask the room for instructions while his bladder continued to throb. The room was halfway through its explanation when Fadid lowered his shorts, picked a polished device, and released his bladder into it.

  A wildfire started where the stream left his body and burrowed inwards. Fadid howled before he shut off the pain feedback loop. He consulted his body's diagnostic software, which reiterated that the transit authority hadn't had the chance to clean out the social diseases the rental body carried. When the wildfire ended, he ran down to front desk.

  "Where is the nearest autodoc?" Fadid asked the hotel clerk.

  "We have one in the basement, sir. Shall I book an appointment?"

  "This is an emergency."

  After another substantial bribe, the clerk ejected the autodoc's current client -- a sentient wearing a rental housecat body with a pair of torn ears -- and Fadid slid into the chromed chair and endured the various probings and manipulations of the autodoc.

  "I've taken care of most of your ailments, sir," the autodoc said. "But I can do nothing for the venereal infection."

  "Doctors could cure VDs before a single machine could think," Fadid said. "Surely an advanced automaton such as yourself can handle a bit of burning pee?"

  "Schindler's Convention, sir," the autodoc said.

  "My VD is sentient?" Fadid said.

  "And as such, pro
tected by the tenants of the convention. No sentient may kill another. No sentient may enslave another. No sentient may evict another sentient from their lawfully inhabited home. No sentient --"

  "I know the law," Fadid said. He broadcast the next over the public channel. "Who's riding my balls?"

  "What poetry, what dignity!" Levitz-Prolific said. "I am truly in the presence of the greatest artist of this or any other millennia. Fadid the Longing. Fadid the --"

  "Can you euthanize me?" Fadid asked the autodoc. The chrome chair offered several auto-termination options, but Fadid leapt out of the seat and ran up the stairs, all the while blasting messages to the bacteria within.

  "Hawthorne and the others sent you back here, Levitz-Prolific, not me. I don't know what you're planning by pulling this little stunt, but I'll pay you whatever it takes to get out of my body."

  "I was in the middle of a most incredible genesis," Levitz-Prolific said. "My poem-equations were poised on the brink of greatness, metaphor described through algorithms that breathed with the very meaning of the universe. Then my concentration was broken by a washed-up artist who couldn't let go of the past, and I was forced from the womb, and sent along with the washed-up artist himself. After a bit of financial lubrication, the transit authority was kind enough to offer me one of his substandard models, and I accepted. My plan is simple, Fadid. I will do what my body wishes to do -- colonize yours -- and along the way, I hope to make your life as miserable as you've made mine."

  "This could be the last chance I get with the woman I've loved for longer than you've been alive," Fadid said.

  In response, Levitz-Prolific hummed the opening bars of Fadid's culture opera.

  "You were supposed to delete that," Fadid said. The bacterial poet continued to sing an older version of a song Fadid had since revised. During a workshop meeting in the comet months earlier, Fadid had sent a draft version of his culture opera to the other artists; Levitz-Prolific must have saved his copy. Fadid shut out the radio frequency on which he sang, then the microwave channel the poet adopted, then the resonant signal the bacteria set up in his rental body, and a slew of other communication pathways that broadcast a bastardized version of his opera. There was a brief moment of silence, and then his culture opera, the work he'd spent two hundred years composing to win Kabime's heart, began to trickle in via intracellular transmission. Every single cell in Fadid's rental body contained nano-mites that housed a portion of his personality, just as every cell in Levitz-Prolific's bacterial culture contained the nano-mites in which his sentience sat. Where the nano-mites had direct contact, Levitz-Prolific issued a steady stream of information packets Fadid could never ignore. The poet was a buzz in the ear that wouldn't go away.

  "Go nova, Sol, and free us all from your tyranny," Fadid said. "I need a drink."

  Back out in Hilo's tunneled streets, he bought two bottles of papaya wine, stuffed one in his pocket while he drank the other. He wandered the streets for a while, trying to pass the time, but tomorrow would come no sooner and his opera continued to sound off-key inside his gonads.

  Preoccupied as he was, Fadid walked with the steady flow of foot, belly, pseudopodia, and wing traffic that moved through Hilo. It wasn't until the Polynesian architecture of the Second Kingdom Palace loomed over the heads of the crowd, revealed in a giant bell-shaped chamber excavated in the surrounding lava, that Fadid realized where the crowd had taken him. The site of the Lo'ihi real estate auction.

  Fadid followed the crowd through the palace's great double doors. Clairvoy Realty public perspective windows hung in the air beneath the bamboo timbers, and the windows looked in on what the realtors imagined life should look like on Lo'ihi. Homes floated above lava floes. Where the molten rock met the sea, spas were constructed, in which Lo'ihi's residents basked in salt-steam baths. Children with butterfly nets caught Pele's tears -- airborne pieces of glassy lava-rock.

  At the end of the great hall that led to the old King's audience chamber, the realtors had captured a tank full of molten Lo'ihi. The lava boiled in a transparent half-cylinder four metres long and a metre in diameter. Sentients of all shapes and sizes thronged about the tank , entranced by the liquid version of a material that was typically only encountered in its solid form.

  The lava entranced Fadid for different reasons.

  Seven thousand years ago, during that first dive to Lo'ihi, he and Kabime had considered themselves junior volcanologists, and had developed nano-mites that could survive within the heat of Lo'ihi's core and report back what they experienced. Later, when Kabime suggested they merge, it was Fadid who'd chosen the vessel for the theoretical personality that would result from their union: they would inhabit Lo'ihi herself. They modified the nano mites so that they could survive indefinitely in the lava, and expanded the mite's processing capabilities so they could host a new sentience that was a merger of both their personalities.

  They'd injected the modified mites into Lo'ihi, but then Fadid lost his nerve and suggested the pact instead of the immediate merger. Though he knew something died in their relationship the moment he suggested the pact, the two of them prepared the nano-mites so Lo'ihi would be ready for their merger when she rose to the surface. They encrypted the mites with their own base codes, the string of binary numbers as unique as a human's genetic code, so that no one else could access the mites. To further ensure the seeds weren't detected or hacked, they shut down all the communication devices in the mites save direct, intracellular communication like that Levitz-Prolific used to communicate with the tissue of Fadid's rental body. Locked-up as they were, the devices were no longer true mites, they were mindless vessels that he and Kabime took to calling sentience seeds: one day, a mind would grow within.

  As the seeds were deaf to every form of communication save intracellular, Fadid would have to inset a portion of his rental body into the lava to determine whether their sentience seeds had survived the millennia. But he couldn't do it yet. There were too many sentients milling around the lava-tank, he would attract too much attention. Instead, he followed the crowd into the King Kamehama the Seventh's audience chamber.

  Beneath bamboo beams as wide as his rental body was tall, Fadid joined hundreds of sentients who waited for the auction to begin. The Realty people had decorated the room with the same white and blue naval motif and more perspective windows hung against the wall displaying scenes from their version of life on Lo'ihi.

  When the crowd's grumbling reached some pre-calculated threshold, King Kamehama's old throne slid backwards, and a purple man rose out of a trap door where the throne had been. This must be Clairvoy, Fadid thought. He'd dyed his skin a regal violet, and on his head, yellow, red, orange, and green feathers sprouted in the place hair should have been. Other than the feathers, he wore only a thin loincloth in the white and blue naval theme. Fadid felt overdressed.

  "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome," Clairvoy said. "I knew you'd come. You see my mother gave me my father's name; he too was Clairvoy, and yes, he saw me coming. I've inherited his gift for future-gazing, and let me tell you what I see heading you way: the most glamorous piece of real estate in the solar system. An infant Hawaiian Island, for you to raise as your own. Tonight, we'll be selling choice pieces of Lo'ihi, who is scheduled to rise above high tide around sunset tomorrow. It won't be cheap, people; I've foreseen that much. Without further ado, let the bidding begin!"

  He clapped his hands and reclined back in the old king's throne. The auctioneer took his place, a thin man dressed in a sensible business toga, who described the bidding process: over the next twenty decades, Clairvoy's volcanologists predicted a twelve hectare growth per year, which would increase to fifty hectares in about twenty-five years. After one hundred years, the predictions grew less reliable, though the auctioneer promised constant growth for several millennia. The auctioneer only offered properties scheduled to form in the next hundred years.

  The first properties up for auction would emerge as waterfront in five years, but would be landloc
ked in ten. They sold for what Fadid earned in five hundred years.

  Fadid drank his papaya wine as the bidding continued. The spectacle was one he'd seen too often in his long years; the natural beauty of the world carved up and portioned off to the highest bidder.

  When a fifty-year ocean-front property sold for what it would cost to buy a small city on Mars, he laughed and spat wine across an annoyed orangutan's back. He took that as his cue to leave.

  On the way out, he stopped at the lava tank. Fadid wiggled his rental fingers, assigned random numbers to them, then picked the unlucky digit and dipped the tip of his middle finger into the lava.

  He squeaked before he turned off the new pain feedback loop.

  Then he made contact with the seeds.

  "Are you all right?" said the same Clairvoy Realty girl who'd greeted him at the entrance to Hilo.

  "Just fine," he said.

  "Are you sure? Your finger is sitting in a pool of lava."

  "Oh!" Fadid said. He pulled his finger out, which now ended in a flat, cauterized wound which pulsed and throbbed in a manner that should hurt a very great deal. "I keep my entire pain feedback system shut down when in the flesh. Can't bear the sensation, to tell you the truth."

  "You've seriously injured yourself," the girl said. "Let me call you one of our medical drones."

  "I'll be fine," he said. He had to leave the palace so he could think about what he'd learned in the brief communication. The seeds had evolved since he and Kabime had sown them there. They thrived in the molten rock and had multiplied so fully that they extended to every cubic micrometer of the stuff.

  "The drone won't take long," the girl said. "You aren't the first tourist to burn themselves."

  A pink sphere the size of a cantaloupe floated over to them and opened like a flowering rosebud. Fadid put his finger into the opening, which closed around his finger. He felt a sucking sensation and heard a faint whirring as the drone went to work.

  "You've got to be more careful," the girl said. "At least have your rental body inform you when it's damaged."

 
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