Igms issue 15, p.5
IGMS - Issue 15, page 5
"Your finger is knitted," the drone said. "However you appear to have a rather brutal bacterial infection in your gonads. Shall I take care of that too, Fadid?"
"Fadid?" the girl said. "As in Fadid, the singer? Fadid the Longing? The unrequited lover-minstrel?"
"Guilty," he said. "But please don't make a fuss about it."
"Of course not," she said. Her eyes grew bright. "Take me out for a drink."
"Didn't you just hear the drone?" he said. "I've got one bitchy VD."
"Who cares," she said. "You're Fadid. Sing me a song, one of those songs you wrote for the woman who left you."
"She didn't leave me, we just kind of drifted apart," Fadid said. The girl looked skeptical. "I'm sorry, but I really can't stay."
"Didn't you come for the auction?" she said.
"It's not quite what I expected," he said.
"Beyond your means?" she said.
"Not to my tastes would be more accurate," he said. "Thank you for healing the finger, but really, I must run."
The girl watched as he hurried out of the Second Kingdom Palace.
"Does no one have any artistic sensibilities these days?" Levitz-Prolific said. "She was tripping over herself to talk to you, and you haven't had a hit since those silly song-scapes you wrote fifteen hundred years ago. She wouldn't be able to grasp the most obvious meaning in my poem-equations."
"What poem-equations?" Fadid said. "You haven't published anything."
A sudden cramping in his bladder made Levitz-Prolific's answer, and an off-tune song from the culture-opera started again. He regretted his words as he filled a flower box in the alley behind the palace, then bought more papaya wine from a street vendor.
"You're really going to impress her, aren't you?" Levitz-Prolific said. "Wine-breath and a venereal disease. No one has ever said I love you with more elegance."
"Won't you shut up?" Fadid said, but it was impossible to ignore the bacteria-poet's words.
The papaya wine helped. After several more bottles, Fadid climbed back to his hotel room and discovered that gravity had been obliterated therein: the room seemed to spin about its own axis in a most sickening manner. While Levitz-Prolific taunted him for his drunkenness, Fadid crawled under the bed covers. Tomorrow, he'd see her again. For the first time in two and a half millennia.
He awoke to his internal alarm and remembered why flesh could be such a pain: the hangover stuffed his mouth with sand and his head with mud. Night and day were only different settings on the glass fishing bulbs suspended in the lava tubes, but when he slid out from beneath the rock, the world seemed brighter than it should be. A different slidewalk took him to the edge of town, where he borrowed a communal bicycle and pedaled to the Bayfront beach.
The waters reflected the too-bright sun. Hilo's civic engineers had installed wave dampers around the city and her suburbs after the San Andreas tsunami had obliterated much of the town, and the dampers, which could absorb any magnitude wave, appeared to be set on glassy calm that morning. Fadid rented a gill-pack and flippers, slid into the ocean, and swam to the rocky point at the north end of the beach. Small, non-sentient fish clustered around lava and coral formations beneath Fadid, and a sentient eel told him to keep away from its breakfast. Other marine critters sent greeting, none of them Kabime.
Levitz-Prolific sang the mariner's theme of his culture opera while Fadid waited.
"I guess I have to believe it," Kabime's voice poured in over a private band. "You're here."
She appeared from the blue limit of his underwater vision. A sea turtle, her shell at least five metres across, she thrust through the water on flippers longer than his rental body. Barnacles covered her shell in rows and spirals, like pre-Gutenberg Greek frescoes.
"This is the Kabime who spawned a thousand songs?" Levitz-Prolific said. "A mouldy turtle?"
"You're looking great," he said to Kabime.
"Wish I could say the same for you." she said. "You realize you're carrying a disease that will leave your body quite sterile and eventually quite dead if you don't do something about it, don't you?"
"Don't get me started," he said. "I would have done something about the disease, but let's just say someone's throwing a temper tantrum in my gonads."
"You always surprised me, Fad," she said. "Why don't we go for a swim. Hold onto the crest above my neck."
She was the size of a nation-threatening asteroid. A thrill flowed through him as he brushed her cool, soft shell: for centuries, he'd lamented in song and verse that he might never touch her again. He wanted to weep for the joy of it, but he couldn't be sure she felt the same, so instead, he opted for small-talk.
"How long have you been a turtle?" he said.
"I've been this turtle for near sixty beachings," she said.
"Beachings?" he said.
"Turtle-talk," she said. "We measure time in return trips to the beaches where we were born, usually two to three standard years. I've been this turtle for one hundred and forty-three years in my case. Before that, I was this turtle's mother; and earlier, her grandmother. I spent a lifetime as a right whale, but they are frightfully stupid. Can you imagine singing the same song for a century? Dull, dull, dull."
"Only one hundred?" he said. "I've been working on a culture-opera for the last two hundred, and I was never bored."
"Some new song-project you'll send to me?" she said.
"More than just a song," he said. "When it's done, the virtual world I've created will be populated by an entire society engaged in a living opera that spans the dawn and demise of their culture."
"You mean a socio-song-series," she said. "I took one in for a few months when I was a hatchling. Interesting idea, but a bit drawn-out, don't you think?"
He couldn't respond. He'd thought he was the first to conceive of a culture-opera. All those decades of work, and all of it for her, suddenly seemed laughable.
"I never thanked you for those landscape-songs you wrote for me," she said. "They were lovely. They reminded me of those years we spent on the archaeological dive in the Mediterranean. I know this comes a little belated, but, well, thanks."
He'd composed and rendered the song-scapes fifteen hundred years earlier. They'd been a minor hit in the Galilean communities orbiting Jupiter.
"Why wouldn't you meet me last night?" he said.
"I was at a going away party," she said.
"Who was the party for?"
"Didn't your friends want to say goodbye to you?"
"Oh," he said. The fresco of barnacles across her back snagged the flesh of his belly.
"So you didn't come to keep our pact."
"I came here for you," he said. "Not some stupid pact we made thousands of years ago."
"I never thought it was stupid."
"That's not what I mean," he said. "You didn't really come here expecting to merge with me, did you? You haven't returned any of my comm-calls for the last two millennia."
"I've been busy."
"Doing what, eating algae?"
"Migrating, reproducing, being a turtle," she said "That includes eating algae." Her great flippers pulled them up to the choppy surface. She exhaled a stinking cloud of old air and took a breath that sounded like a bucket filling. "You gave me no reason to respond to any of your calls."
"How can you say that?" he said. "I begged you to join me in so many of the places I made home after we made the pact. You wouldn't come to me."
"The ocean's always been my home," she said.
"You've never left the ocean, in all those years?" he said.
"This is the only place I've ever been happy," she said. "Those centuries we spent together, decades as dolphins, months as sponges, years as octopi, those were the best. The oceans are big. I thought if I kept looking, I could find something like it again."
He'd been searching the solar system for it too, those lost moments they'd had together. The dolphins had been marvelous, but the years as amphibious human had been
"Do you really want to merge, just because of an old pact?" he said.
"I don't know," she said. "I told myself, if you were willing to do it, I'd do it too, but now, even if you said you would . . . I'm not even sure we could do it. Who knows if our sentience-seeds are still there?"
"What if they were still there?" he said. "Would that change your mind?"
"It's been so long, Fadid."
"Couldn't we try living together, go on all sorts of adventures like we used to?" he said.
"After seven thousand years, what adventures remain?"
She was right. Most sentients chose death or stasis after only a few thousand years. In his time, he'd seen most of what the solar system had to offer, but during all those trips, the wonders of the solar system -- Europa's globe-spanning ice-covered ocean, Neptune's hazy ring, the distant Oort cloud with its silent, brooding comets -- had seemed empty without her there to share them with. Extra-solar probes continued to reach new star systems, and they could explore one of those systems together, but the infrastructure in the new systems was microscopic, buried within the probes or the small stations the probes constructed. Corporeality wasn't possible outside the solar system. They could dive into one of the millions of virtual worlds that different sentients and collectives had created over the millennia, but they'd both already spent decades in virtual worlds. They could always opt for stasis, and return to full consciousness after several millennia and explore the new world that had evolved in their absence, but the last few millennia had been filled with cosmetic changes, nothing fundamental. He had little hope for the next few thousand years.
"This is delightful," Levitz-Prolific said. "The great lovers can barely talk to each other. I can't wait to broadcast this system-wide."
"You wouldn't dare," Fadid said to the poet-turned-parasite, but then Kabime banked in a wide arc, and paddled back the direction they'd come.
"Where are you going?" Fadid said.
"What's the point?" she said. "Neither of us is willing to go through with this."
He couldn't let her go. Not after so long. He clung to the crest of her shell and said: "Let's go on one last adventure before we say goodbye. Let's go to Lo'ihi and see it, with our own eyes, one last time."
After a long pause, she said, "Okay."
She turned again and they swam in silence a few metres below the surface of the Pacific. The ocean here was deep blue; they saw nothing larger than phytoplankton for most of an hour. He could almost believe it was seven millennia earlier. They'd both been so young then. He just approaching his first millennia when they met, she two hundred and two years young. For seven hundred and sixty years after that, they'd been together. Their friends at the time all thought they were crazy. No one stayed together that long, not even when they spent months and years apart on their own projects. But those sabbaticals never lasted long; they always returned to each other, two stars caught in each other's gravity. Only after Fadid refused to merge with her did their orbits start to drift, until millennia passed in which they'd never been in the same room, real or virtual. Those years seemed senseless now; why would he ever willingly spend time away from her?
"Have you noticed the hunter-krill count?" she said. "It's rising. They are only monitoring us, but they let me know we are nearing the one kilometre exclusion zone. They won't let us go any further. Let's see what we can see."
She surfaced in warm water. Halfway to the horizon, the ocean gave birth to a new island. Steam and ash hung in a long plume that extended to the southwest, and obscured the view of the sea-mount itself. The waters swarmed with boats, shark and whale fins, flying fish, and drones. A massive air-ship floated north of them and from its hanging decks, hundreds of sentients crowded for a view of the nascent island.
One of the boats motored toward them, the Clairvoy Realty girl at the controls.
"You again?" Fadid said.
The girl cut the motor a few metres from the place Kabime bobbed and drifted in toward them.
"We keep bumping into each other," the girl said. "Maybe someone wants us to be together. I like your ride."
"She's not the fastest," he said. "But you know what they say about slow and steady. Could I get any closer to the Lo'ihi?"
"Sorry," she said. "We expect breach in a few hours; Clairvoy can't risk anyone else laying claim to his little project. Maintaining a security watch for twelve hundreds years is expensive, you know."
"I've seen enough anyway," Kabime said over a private band. "I'll take you back to the beach, unless you want to stay with this bimbo."
"Hold on a minute, Ka," he said. Kabime dove beneath the surface and shook him off.
"Goodbye, Fadid," she said.
She swam faster than he could, and in a few moments, she disappeared into the blue limit of his underwater vision. She was gone. Fadid felt like he was drowning, though his gillpack told him it was working fine. Fadid climbed to the surface, but the ocean air still left him breathless. The Clarivoy girl bobbed a few metres away.
"I've come from beyond Neptune to see this," he told the girl, and copied the signal to Kabime's private comm line. "How much will it take to get closer?"
"You saw what people bid for the properties last night," the girl said. "Think ten-year ocean-front, and I might be able to do something."
Fadid forwarded half of the funds he'd socked away in the last few millennia. "How close will that get me?"
"As close as you want," the girl said. "Use this greeting code. The security crew will think you're one of Clairvoy's volcanologists."
"What are you doing, Fad?" Kabime said privately.
"I touched Lo'ihi's lava last night," Fadid said over the private band. "Our sentience-seeds survived. Once we unlock them, they'll be ready for us. I'm going to give them my code."
"Don't play games with me," she said.
"It's no game," he said. "Another thousand years without you would be unbearable, Kabime. Another day without you seems about as bleak as a vacation to Charon. Since we split, I've spent millennia trying to get you back. I won't do it again."
The waters grew warmer with each stroke. Sharks swam towards him, but he sent them the code the girl had given him and the sleek killers turned away. The krill that frothed about him sent constant demands for the same code and the fact he could still think proved the code worked.
An alarm sounded in his skull. His body's manufacturing facilities were sub-standard at best, but he set them to work extruding a thermofilm to protect his skin from the increasingly hot water.
"Maybe we can try something," she said. "You could be a turtle with me for a while. What you're doing is crazy, Fad. The krill will rip you apart when they realize what you're trying."
"Listen to the turtle," Levitz-Prolific said from his reproductive organs.
"Leaving you was crazy, Ka," Fadid said. "This is sane."
The Clairvoy Realty girl followed in her boat. The water grew hot enough to boil him into a tasteless, disease-filled soup, but his thermofilm bled off enough heat to keep his skin from cooking. In the haze of steam and ash, he couldn't see where he was going, so he relied on his internal sonar to guide him toward the mount.
"Don't do this," Kabime said. "I can't lose you again."
"Then come with me," he said.
"So melodramatic," Levitz-Prolific said.
The heat-bleeding film along his arms registered critical levels, then failed. His arms poached, though he felt no pain. The rental body informed him his contract was voided and that he'd be responsible for all the repairs the body suffered.
"You'll kill us both," Levitz-Prolific said.
A wave pushed him against recently-solidified rock. His senses were pulverized by the heat, ash, steam, and roar of boiling water and rock, so he used his cooked hands and feet to find his way. When his hand plunged into molten rock, the flesh bur
The seeds filled the lava, fed off it, merged with it, the seeds were the lava, the lava the seeds. More than enough seeds to house millions of sentiences, maybe more. All they needed were both their base codes.
Fadid transmitted his code to the sentience-seeds.
A microscopic scum sat between the cells of his body and the sentience seeds. The scum didn't block the transmission, it couldn't -- Fadid had direct contact with the sentience-seeds through the bones in his hands -- but his base code transmitted through the scummy film.
"Half of what I need," the Clairvoy girl said over a private band.
The girl had followed him to Lo'ihi. Fadid tried to log into the public camera drones observing the scene to get a better view of what she was doing, but something blocked his wireless transmissions.
"My mother named me Clairvoy for a reason," the girl said. "I make a living by seeing what's coming. You didn't really think that ridiculous purple creature was me, did you?"
Fadid tried to shout a warning to Kabime, but his comm links was blocked as well. Clairvoy had him. It was her scum that had sat between him and the sentience seeds; he'd given her his base code, and with it, she could control most of his exterior interfaces. She couldn't control his thoughts or his base personality processes, but she could play him like a puppet.
"It's working, Kabime," Clairvoy said with Fadid's voice. "The Realtor's guards won't hurt you; use this security code."
The krill in the water swarmed over him, but it didn't digest him. Instead, the krill stabilized his wounds and secreted a heat-bleeding film over his remaining flesh, while at the same time, the sentience seeds opened and drew his personality into the fertile processing core that had waited millennia for a sentience to fill it.
"What the bug is happening, Fadid?" Levitz-Prolific said from inside the rental body. With his base code, Clairvoy could control most of his functions, but not even that kind of access could block intracellular transmissions.
"The realtor's got me," Fadid said. "How could I have been so blind?"
by IGMS have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes