Authors: David Louis Edelman
Tags: #Fiction - Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #General, #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction - General, #Corporations, #Fiction
He saw the empty husk of her at the top of the Revelation Spire.
He stood in the courtyard at Andra Pradesh watching her corpse as the
self-appointed guardians of wisdom pontificated about the passing of
ages and the withering of flowers and other such nonsense. Yes, Margaret Surina is dead, there can be no doubt about it. Why then does
she keep blatantly disregarding her nonexistence? Why does she keep
appearing to Natch and intoning words of solemn absurdity?
MultiReal is becoming part of you, Margaret tells him. You're not just
its owner anymore, Natch-you're the guardian and the keeper. That grating
habit of enunciation to the point of ludicrousness, the way she treats
each syllable like a wayward child to be nurtured. MultiReal is yours
now, Natch. I was foolish to have held on to it for so long. I am not my father.
I'm not strong enough to make these decisions. But you ... Natch, I picked you
for a reason-because you'll resist Len Borda to your dying breath. You will
resist the winter and the void. Understand this-something my father was trying to tell me. The world is new each day, every sunrise a spring and every
sunset a winter. I know you'll understand this. You will stand alone in the end,
and you will make the decisions the world demands. The decisions I can't make.
I know this. I know it.
Natch has heard this rant before. It's what Margaret told him just
hours before her demise, sitting in the pinnacle of that cold tower with
Quell the Islander at her side, her mind permanently broken. It made
no sense to him then, and it makes no sense to him now.
Margaret segues into a new stanza of insanity that Natch doesn't
recognize. Onwards and upwards, she says. That was the dream of Sheldon
Surina, my ancestor and the father of biologics. Towards Perfection, no matter
what the cost. But it was not Sheldon Surina's fate to pay that cost, any more
than it was Marcus Surina's any more than it is mine.
Now that fate has fallen to you and you alone, Natch. You are the geosynchron of the human race.
Natch wants to shut out the visage, to banish Margaret back to the
elaborate sepulcher where the Surinas laid her, with its gold and pearl
and its bas-relief carvings. But Natch has no eyelids in this place, no
way of banishing the apparition floating before him. The bodhisattva
keeps talking about momentous choices for him to make and earthshaking decisions in his future. But what are they? What does she
want from him? How can he decide anything when Margaret won't tell
him what it is he's supposed to decide?
Go away! he tries to shout. Leave me the fuck alone! I don't know what
you're talking about, and I don't want to know. He tries to shout, but he
has no voice.
And then the nothingness enfolds Natch in its bosom and he sees
The nothingness loosens its hold on him. The world is still black, yes,
but Natch is there. Arms legs torso head all intact; lungs breathing
oxygen; body occupying space and slogging forward through time's
amber one second at a time. Alive. Alive. Alive.
He is lying on something cold and metallic. Fluid rushes through
his ears, signaling steep vertical movement. Climbing. Something
thunks against the platform below him three or four times. It sounds
A male voice, a real human voice, from somewhere nearby: "That
Heavy breathing, more climbing. The thunks disappear.
"So now what?"
"I don't-I don't know." A second male voice, weary and pensive.
"After all that, you don't know? For process' preservation ... I just
got hit with a fucking pipe. In the shoulder. Do you even know how
much that hurts? Thing was probably covered with rust too."
The identities of the voices elude him. Natch's brain feels like a
machine jammed in low gear. He can't process the words. He can't
open his eyes. He can't move or speak.
"I'm sorry about your shoulder," says the first voice in a condescending tone that indicates no sorrow whatsoever. "You didn't have to
"Shut up, you bloody idiot. Of course I had to come. I couldn't just
let you go fetch him alone, could I? Get yourself killed. And then I'd
have to pay for a fucking funeral." Restless shifting around. "So there
he is, the bastard. Why are we even discussing this? He makes my skin
crawl. Send Magan Kai Lee a message and let's get paid already."
A pause. "It's not that simple."
"Not that simple? Would you rather Len Borda get hold of him?
Listen, we don't have much time. It's getting violent out there. Didn't
you hear about that gun battle in Melbourne? A hundred Council officers firing on each other in the middle of the street-"
"Of course I heard about it."
"There's two sides, point I'm trying to make. Borda and Lee. We
picked a side. Getting in on the ground floor, that's what you said. Why
are you suddenly changing your mind?"
"That was before we knew the truth."
"The truth?" Coarse, mocking laughter. "Face it, what we used to
think of as the truth is dead. Too much confusion. Truth doesn't exist
"Just give me some time to think this over. A day or two. We can
fend Magan off for that long. And it's not like he's going anywhere." The
inflection of the voice seems to indicate the prostrate body of Natch.
"Well, don't take too long. A day or two is all we have before Magan
realizes we've got something to hide and starts asking questions."
The two men descend into troubled silence as the fluid sloshing
through Natch's skull levels off. He slides back into unconsciousness.
Natch awakens with a feeling of profound, wearying disappointment.
He is still enveloped in blackness, but this is a blackness free from
magic or mystery. He is sitting in an ordinary wooden chair with his
arms and legs lightly tied to it and a blindfold over his eyes. The light
seeping through the blindfold and the ambient noise around him indicate that he is sitting in a large, enclosed space, perhaps a gymnasium
or even a small auditorium. Natch rocks the chair side to side for a
moment and feels a hard, tiled surface beneath him. Where he has
ended up, he can't imagine.
Natch tries to untangle the thread of events that have led to the present moment. He fled the carnage at the Tul Jabbor ComplexCouncil officers firing on Council officers, Council officers firing on him. He leaped into a waiting hoverbird with Petrucio Patel's black code dart embedded in the back of his leg. He was taken to Old Chicago, where his old enemy Brone persuaded him to join his Revolution of Selfishness. (Multiple lives experienced simultaneously! An end to the tyranny of cause and effect!) But when Natch discovered the pattern of lies beneath Brone's stories, he ran. He ran into the wilds of Old Chicago, and then ... and then ...*
After that, an impenetrable void of blank memory. A big smear of nothingness. Natch can't remember if he was pursued, or how that pursuit ended. Certainly Brone would not have let him leave that old hotel without consequences. But the thread of memory simply ends on those streets. Natch's internal systems tell him that barely forty-eight hours have passed since he escaped the hotel in Chicago. That hardly seems possible. If someone were to tell him he actually spent ten years enmeshed in that web of nothingness, he would accept it as fact.
When he awoke, there was an opaque conversation between two gruff men in what Natch now realizes was the rear compartment of a hoverbird. Did these men drag him onto the hoverbird from the streets of Chicago? Did they rescue him-and if so, from whom, and why?
Natch wonders if his mental inbox might hold some clues, but the thought of checking messages makes him ill. He prived himself to the world shortly before that fatal day at the Tul Jabbor Complex; he has neither checked his messages nor read the news since. He can picture all that pent-up information as a towering heap of debris at the mouth of a river, spilling over the banks until it clogs the horizon.
And yet why should he try to relieve that pressure? Let the mail pile up until the calendar cycles to the end of days and the Data Sea
comes stuttering to a halt. Natch has abandoned that life. He does not
want to know what happened in Old Chicago, or what has become of
Brone and the disciples of his creed, or who picked him up in the hoverbird, or where he has gotten off to.
He recalls a conversation with Jara, right after he achieved number
one on the Primo's bio/logic investment guide. Standing in his apartment with bio/logic programming bars in hand. Flush with accomplishment, ready to challenge the world.
Do you really think number one on Primo's is the end? he told her. Then
you don't understand anything, Jara. Getting to number one on Primo's isn't
an end at all-it's a means. It's part of the process ... Just a step on the ladder.
Jara was skeptical. So what is the end? Where do all these means lead to?
It was once so simple, so visceral. There was a wall and a ladder and
a shining, radiant thing on the other side for the taking. Then Natch
reached the apex of that ladder in Brone's hotel in Old Chicago, and he
saw what lay in wait for him. Possibilities 2.0: a world of complete,
unrestricted possibilities. A world without restraints or boundaries,
where multiple realities can exist and commingle freely.
A world of utter void.
He saw what was waiting for him, and he ran from it.
Natch flexes his forearms, testing the tensile strength of his bonds.
He can still feel the tremors and the throbbing pains that have been
plaguing him since that black code attack in Shenandoah, many weeks
ago. Quiescent for the moment, but not gone. Obviously his captors
noticed them too; these ropes are clearly designed to do nothing more
than prevent him from tremoring right out of the chair.
Around him, Natch can hear the echo of footsteps, possibly within
shouting range. The faint whir of machinery thrums in the distance,
indicating the presence of civilization and all it entails. The musty
smell of mold wafts through the air. There is a puzzle here to solve, but
Natch resolves not to expend any mental energy in solving it. He has no doubt that he can free himself from the chair, even without the aid
of MultiReal. But ... why should he? Better to just sit and do
nothing. He will eventually find out where he is and who has captured
him-or he will sit here until the shaking takes control of him at last
and his OCHREs give up their dance of sustenance and the Null Current pulls him under. Either result is the same.