U muss want somthen, u woodin b heer otherwyse.
U got me thare, I sed. Am here lookin 4 sumbodi.
Loss a frend ov mine. Roost-mate. Like 2 trace her.
We all got frenz we like 2 find.
This 1 very recent; ½ hour ago. Taken from thi septentrynil gargoil Rosbrith.
Meens - (this is complicated, referin 2 thi uppir data levil whyle am down here in thi furst circle ov thi basement, but I do it) - meens northern, I sed (blimey). Rosbrith. Norf-west on thi grate hol.
Taken by whort?
Lammergeier, I sed. (Didn no that neevir til now.)
Reely. Whot u given in return?
Am heer amn I? Im a tellir. U got ma eer now. Il not forget u if u help. Luke in me if u want; c whot I say is tru.
Didn fink u wer.
This bird; u catch eny distingushin marx on it?
It woz a lammergeir, thas oll I no, but ther cant b oll that meny ov them aroun thi norf-west cornir ov thi grate hol ½ a our ago.
Lammergeiers r a bit funy theez days, but Il ask aroun.
(flutr ov wings, then:)
Well, u mite b in luk—
- then ther waz a mega-sqwak & a screem & I had 2 turn roun & luke & ther woz a huge grate bird beetin in thi air behind & abuv mi, holdin anuthir torn bird in 1 ov itz talons; thi big bird woz red-black on black & feerse as deth & I cood feel thi wind ov its flappin snappin wings on ma fayce. It hung in thi air, wingz spread beetin like somethin feersly crucified, shaken thi ded bird in its talons so that itz blud spatterd in my Is.
Y u askin qwestions, child? it screemd.
Tryin 2 find a frend ov mine I sed, keepin cam. I clumpd aroun on mi perch 2 fayce thi big red-black bird. Twig stil in ma beak.
It held up one foot; 3 talons up, one down. C these three clawz? it sed.
Yup. (Mite as well play along 4 now, but Im checkin thi exits, finkin ov ma leg-ring wif thi wake-up code on it.)
U got 2 thi count ov 3 2 moov yoor beak bak 2 realty u skin job, thi red burd sez. U heer me? Am startin countin now: 3.
I juss lookin 4 ma frend.
Iss juss a ant. Am only lookin 4 a litil ant who woz my frend.
Wass thi fukin problim heer? Doan a creetch get no respect 4 - (& am shoutin now angry & I drop thi twig from ma beak).
Then thi big red birdz foot cums out like itz bleedin leg is telescopic & zaps itself 2wards ma hed & raps round it & sqwishes me down b4 I can do anythin & I feel maself trapt & sqwelched down thru thi fabric ov thi metalic bird am perched upon & down thru thi bildin its part ov & down thru thi city & down thru thi grid & down thru thi erf beneaf & down & down & down & whots wurse I can feel that thi ring roun ma leg that had my wake-up code on it has gon like that big red bird swiped it when it hit me an shurenuf I cant fink whot thi hel thi wake-up coad is meenwhile am stil goin down an down an down an am finkin,
O shit ...
‘Ah, this must be she. Good morning, young lady.’
‘Good morning, young lady.’
‘I beg your . . .? Ah, well, no, though I am half flattered.’
‘You not young lady, no?’
‘Neither young nor remotely lady-like. My name is Pieter Velteseri; I understand you may not know your own name, but—’
‘No, I do not.’
‘Quite. Well, first let me welcome you to our estate and to our house, both of which are called Jenahbilys. Please; do sit down . . . Well, I meant . . . Ah, perhaps the seat might be more appropriate? There; behind you. You see? Like this.’
‘Ah, not floor; seat.’
‘There you are. Just so. Now . . . Ah, would you excuse me?
... Gil, I can see this young lady’s pudenda, and despite my surfeit of years it is most off-putting, if more in the memory than in the tumescence. Might we clothe her in something more, ah, complete than what would appear to be merely your jacket and fundamentally nothing else?’
‘... What are you looking at me for?’
‘Come on, Lucia; you could lend her something of yours.’
‘Tech. She hasn’t even been
or anything yet; have you seen the state of her feet? Oh, all right . . .’
‘. . . My nephew’s friend has gone to fetch you some further attire. I thought she might take you, and . . . well, never mind. Perhaps you would like to come to the window over here? The view of the formal gardens is particularly pleasing. Gil, perhaps our young guest would like something to drink.’
‘I’ll attend to it, unc.’
The second man - of course not a lady, which was to do with women, like herself (and she had to search for the word she now felt; it was
) - the second man, who was old and a little stooped and had a crinkled face, motioned to one of the windows, and they both walked there while the first man, the young one, closed his eyes for a second. The view from the window was of a gravel and flower garden, arranged in a strange, half-swirling, half-geometric pattern. Small tracked machines rolled amongst the blooms, clipping and sorting.
A little later a small wheeled thing appeared in the room, humming quietly and carrying a tray which held four glasses, several bottles and some small filled bowls. Then Lucia Chimbers appeared with some clothes and took her to a side room where she showed her how to put on shorts, pants and a shirt.
They stood looking at their reflections in a long mirror for a moment. ‘You on something deep?’ Lucia Chimbers asked quietly.
She looked at Lucia Chimbers.
‘Because if you are, I’d like to know what it is.’
‘On something deep,’ she repeated, frowning (and watched herself frown, in the mirror). ‘
something deep, mean you? I mean; you mean?’
‘Never mind.’ The other woman sighed. ‘Let’s wheel you out there. See if the old man can get any sense out of you.’
‘I believe she may be an asura,’ Pieter Velteseri said, over lunch.
He had spent the morning patiently questioning the girl in an effort to determine what memories she possessed. From this he knew that she had appeared in the clan vault a few hours earlier, seemingly artificially rebirthed in the manner a family member might be were there no clan member suitably pregnant at the time of their scheduled reconstitution. Being born without warning, alone, and in adult form did make the girl unique in his experience, however. She had an extensive vocabulary but seemed uncertain how to employ it, though he had gained the impression that her linguistic skills had developed considerably just in the two hours or so of their conversation.
Gil and Lucia had sat in on his gentle inquisition for a while, then grown restless and gone for a swim. Lunch-time had reconvened them, though if he had been hoping to impress his nephew and Lucia with their guest’s new-found articulacy it seemed Pieter was to be disappointed; the presence of large quantities of food seemed to have temporarily driven all thought of conversation from the girl’s head.
They sat at one end of the dining-room table. The windows were open to the veranda and the curtains billowed slowly.
Pieter sat on one side of the table while the young lovers sat on the other, with their strange, fey guest at its head, a generously proportioned napkin tucked into the neck of her blouse and another spread across her lap while she frowned and sighed and dipped her head down almost level with the table while she attempted to manipulate a knife, fork and spoon to the end of eating the food on her plate.
Gil and Lucia exchanged looks. Pieter watched the young woman at the head of the table attack a lobster claw with the wrong end of a heavy spoon, and sighed.
‘On reflection, perhaps seafood salad was a mistake,’ he said.
Bits of red-white carapace spattered across the table; their guest made an appreciative growling noise at the back of her throat and after sniffing at the meat revealed, sucked it out and sat back, chewing open-mouthed and smiling happily while looking at the other three diners. A cleaning servitor hummed and clicked from under the table and busied itself on the floor, gathering up the bits of food and debris the girl had let drop. She looked down at it, grinning, and swept more shards of lobster off the table and onto the floor.
‘What,’ Lucia asked Pieter, ‘exactly is an assurer?’
‘I can’t find it either,’ Gil said, smiling at Lucia and squeezing her hand. Like her, he was eating one-handed.
‘An asura,’ Pieter said, secretly pleased, though wondering if the two young people really couldn’t find the word in their habitua or were just being polite. ‘A Hindi word, originally,’ he told them. ‘It used to mean a demon or a giant opposed to the gods.’
Lucia wore that annoyed look Pieter had come to recognise as her reaction to anything that was not expressed through implants and which she thought ought to be. It was fairly common for those in the first inflationary rush of infatuation, lust or love to embrace almost exclusively the inner voicelessness of implant-articulation in preference to the somehow physically off-putting and clumsy medium of normal speech, and although Pieter did not think Lucia jealous of their guest - any more than Gil seemed able to spare the girl more than the most cursory attention - she did seem to resent both the simple distraction she represented and the fact Pieter had suggested they communicate by speech in deference to the girl’s seeming total lack of implants.
‘Hindi, hmm,’ Gil said, obviously having to look the word up. ‘So what does “asura” mean nowadays?’ He smiled at Lucia, squeezing her hand again under the table.
‘A sort of ... natural, one might say,’ Pieter replied (mischievously, knowing they would both have to look that up too). He spooned a little crabmeat and ate contemplatively while watching the girl flick bits of shell further and further away across the floor so that the cleaning machine described a zig-zag course towards the windows. ‘Something generated semi-randomly by the corpus or some separate system for reasons of its own,’ he went on, dabbing at his lips with a napkin. ‘Usually to do with some required change impossible to achieve from within. A non-predictable variable; a wildness.’
Lucia glanced at the girl. ‘Why does she have to appear here, though?’
Pieter shrugged. ‘Why not?’
‘She’s nothing to do with the clan, is she? She doesn’t belong to any of our families,’ Lucia said, her voice low, though the girl didn’t seem to be listening, still throwing lobster-chunks towards the window. ‘So why does she have to pop out of
vault; bit cheeky, isn’t it?’
‘I think it may have been sheer chance,’ Pieter said, frowning a little. ‘Whatever; she is here now and we must decide what to do with her.’
‘Well what does one normally do with . . . asuras?’ Gil asked.
‘Gives them shelter and does not try to impede them when they want to move on, I believe,’ Pieter said. ‘Rather like any guest.’
The girl aimed and threw; a piece of lobster-claw bounced at the edge of the window between the softly blowing curtains, ricocheted through the rails of the balcony outside and disappeared down towards the garden. The pursuing cleaning machine trundled as far as the rails, and then stopped. It clicked a couple of times, then retreated into the room. The girl looked disappointed.
‘Why, where’s she going to go?’ Lucia asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Pieter admitted, nodding at their guest. ‘Though she may.’ He sipped at his wine.
They looked at her. She was holding another section of lobster above her, squinting up into it, one-eyed. Gil and Lucia exchanged glances.
‘But what exactly is she supposed to
?’ Gil asked.
‘Again, I have no idea,’ Pieter admitted. ‘She may provide some fresh input for some section of the corpus, or possibly - indeed probably - she is what one might call a system test; a specimen signal-carrier whose only purpose is to ensure everything is in working order should the medium require to be used in anger - as it were - at some point in the future.’
Lucia and Gil looked at each other again.
‘Could this have something to do with the Encroachment?’ Gil asked, his expression serious. He squeezed Lucia’s hand again.
‘It might,’ Pieter said, waving his fork while inspecting the oysters on his plate. ‘Probably not.’
‘Suppose she isn’t just a signal test?’ Gil asked with deliberated patience. ‘What does she do
?’ He refilled Lucia and his glasses.
‘Why then, she will probably find her way to wherever she is supposed to find her way and deliver her message.’
‘She can hardly talk in joined-up words,’ Lucia snorted. ‘How is she going to deliver a message?’