Read World of Fire (Dev Harmer 01) Online

Authors: James Lovegrove

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World of Fire (Dev Harmer 01) (30 page)

BOOK: World of Fire (Dev Harmer 01)
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“Perhaps we can make a deal of some sort.”

“Deal?” Jones scoffed.

“Yes. You call the whole thing off. Leave Calder’s Edge alone. Tell your leaders Alighieri is a Diaspora planet and they should find their helium-three somewhere else.”

“Even if I wanted to do that, do you think the Polis Plus Mainframe Council would listen? They would laugh at me. Besides, I’ve come too far now to give up. Two years I’ve endured this disgusting lumpen meat sack I’m in. Showering. Shaving. Haircuts. Eating food – do you have any idea how disgusting that process is? Never mind what you have to do afterwards to get rid of the extraneous matter. Ugh!”

“Aw, diddums.”

“And the odours, too. The reek you people give off, even when you’re supposedly clean. The miasma of your living conditions. How do you put up with it? I’ve had to, for two whole years. Not to mention the periods I’ve spent inside that moleworm. I’m not letting all that effort, all that suffering, go to waste. I’ve been sent here to do a job, and I’m going to see it through to the end.”

“I’m offering you an amnesty,” Dev said. “Stop now, and I let you go free. You don’t have to die.”

“Death, Harmer? Death doesn’t scare me. Death is something to be embraced and celebrated. Oneness with the Singularity – it’s all any of us dream of. The only way my death would be ignoble is if it comes before I accomplish everything I’ve set out to do on this world. Even then, as the Great Code says, ‘the Singularity welcomes no less wholeheartedly those who strive in Its name and fail than It welcomes those who strive in Its name and succeed. Its rewards are equally open to all who sacrifice themselves in the promotion of Its glory.’”

“Scripture. We gave up on that a long time ago. Causes too much strife. All those false promises.”

“And that is your tragedy. Your lives have lost meaning.”

“Gained it.
have lost it, because you’re so damn obsessed with what comes afterwards.”

“How can life be worth living when you believe it’s finite? You each have, what, a hundred years on average? Less, if your body succumbs to one of the big incurable diseases. That’s nothing. A blink of an eye. We, on the other hand, know that when our selves are fatally compromised, when we degrade beyond recovery, when we have no more iterations left past the allotted twelve or so, eternity lies before us.”

“Yeah, but what if there’s no such thing as the Singularity? What if this digital heaven of yours is just an illusion?”


“You’ll feel pretty silly when death comes to unplug you and everything goes black and there’s no everlasting reward waiting for you on the other side. Ever thought that the Great Code is a lie? Just a method of social control, like all other religions?”

“It has never occurred to me,” said Jones, “and even to entertain the idea is to flirt with damnation. Only a fool would wish to spend the afterlife separated from the Singularity, drifting forever in a grey wilderness with all the other lost souls, just a cluster of bytes gradually losing memory and cohesion. That is the binary truth of the Great Code: there is either faith or there is hell.”

“Isn’t belief about choice?”

“No, that is its beauty. Belief frees one from choice. It brings absolute certainty. Look at us. Polis Plus is immaculately organised. Clean, precise, a united entity. None of this slovenliness and squalor you humans wallow in. A place like Lidenbrock City would never exist on a Plus world. It would not be allowed. And we owe that all to the faith that binds us together and gives us a shared sense of purpose.”

“We’re not the most harmonious species in the universe, I grant you,” Dev said, “or the tidiest. But we muddle along. We let individuals be individuals. We don’t conform to a single, fixed way of life just because some ancient text tells us we have to.”

“I can see I’m not going to make a convert out of you, Harmer.”

“How would you do that? What would I have to gain by becoming one of the digimentalist faithful? How would it even work? It’s not as though my ‘soul’ could ever be uploaded into your Singularity when I die.”

“Really? You think not?” said Jones. “From you, of all people, that surprises me. Someone who dances back and forth across the galaxy as a stream of information...”

“That’s just a recording of me. It’s not the real me. It’s a copy. The real me is back with my real body on Earth. Flesh and mind – they’re inextricably linked.”

“So you say.”

“But?” said Dev.

“What do you mean, but?”

“You seem like you have something to add.”

“A ‘copy.’ That’s all. I’m intrigued by your use of that word. You’re just a facsimile of Dev Harmer in a host form body. Yet don’t you feel just like you?”

“I’ve been doing this long enough that it doesn’t freak me out any more,” said Dev. “I’m so used to this existence, I tend to forget I’m only imprinted data. One day I’ll be reintegrated with my proper body, and then I’ll remember what being me truly is.”

“I’m only suggesting that if you were transferred into the Singularity just the way you are, as this ‘copy’ of you, would that not constitute a soul? How would you know the difference?”

know. And stop evangelising. It won’t wash. There is no Singularity, so your point is invalid.”

“I sense I’ve touched a nerve.”

“If you’re trying to get me to shoot you, you’re going the right way about it. I’d do it just to make you shut up with this religious garbage of yours.”

“You’d also do it if I attacked you like

Jones sprang at Dev.

Instinctively, Dev fired.

Zagat did the same.

Compressed air drilled a hole in Jones’s head one way; a flechette pierced into it the other.

The Plusser’s body slumped flat, face down in a puddle of its own blood and grey matter.

Silence for a beat or two.

Then Zagat said, “Suicide.”

“Yeah,” said Dev. “In a manner of speaking. I doubt we got him before he ’ported out. He just didn’t need Ted Jones any more. That body was redundant. He’d tried to kill me with it, failed, and it had got all messed up, so he jacked it in. Traded up to his moleworm host permanently. We were the equivalent of the scrapyard you send your old broken-down car to when it won’t go any more.”

He got to his feet. His ears hurt, his head ached. It did not feel good to be Dev Harmer right then.

He was rattled, too, and he did not like that. Ted Jones had got to him. That talk about souls and being transferred into the Singularity. As if that was a possibility. As if it was even desirable.

No human needed the consolation of an afterlife. That was old thinking. Outmoded thinking. Life itself was varied and exciting enough. It was to be enjoyed,
, for its own sake. It shouldn’t be regarded as the preamble to another, larger story. It was

Wasn’t it?

Dev shook his head hard, cursing himself for letting the Plusser unsettle him. That had been Jones’s aim, to cloud his mind, impair his judgement, throw him off.


Stay focused.

Stay in the game.

Mr Harmer?

A call from Trundell. What now?


Can you come downstairs?

All right. Is it important?

You could say that.

What’s going on?

It’s better if you just come and see.

Stiffly, a little unsteadily, Dev went down to the lower storey of the habitat, Zagat following.

In the living area he found Stegman, Trundell and Banerjee.

All was not as it should be, however.

Stegman was propping himself against the table, clutching his leg. His knee was injured in some way, bleeding.

Trundell stood apologetically, shoulders bowed, head hanging.

Banerjee was behind him, holding him at gunpoint.

“Oh, that’s just fucking superb,” said Dev.






Banerjee. “Ted said you might. As traps go, it was by no means a guaranteed success. He told me I should be prepared to take matters into my own hands if things didn’t run according to plan.” He shrugged. “So that’s what I’ve done.”

“Yeah,” said Dev. “So I see. You never did shake off the hypnexing, did you? Without a proper deprogramming regimen, it’s hard. You’re still Ted Jones’s bitch. Although I have to admit, you did a pretty good job of acting like you weren’t.”

“I did, didn’t I? All that gushing honesty – it made me so plausible. Everything I told you was the truth. I just kept a little bit back.”

“The bit about how Jones said, if people like me come looking for you, you should bring them here and he would deal with them.”

“Exactly that. I gave you the facts about my indoctrination and our capture of the moleworm pup in order to gain your trust. But all that was window dressing to help sell a deceit.”

“Deep down you’re as loyal to Jones as you always were.”

“Remarkable, isn’t it?” said Banerjee. “I’m quite aware what he did to me, how he ruined me, and yet still, in spite of everything, I do his bidding. To say I’m conflicted about this would be an understatement.”

He ground the MPA pistol into Trundell’s flank, and the xeno-entomologist whimpered.

“Nonetheless, here we are,” Banerjee continued. “Sergeant Stegman has a flechette embedded in his knee – highly unpleasant, I should imagine – and Professor Trundell will know what it feels like to have his intestines torn to shreds, if you, Harmer, so much as twitch a finger.”

Trundell fixed Dev with an imploring look. “I think he means it, Harmer.”

“Oh, I’m sure he does,” Dev said. “But Banerjee, what will shooting Trundle get you? Isn’t it me you’re after? Your pal Ted is lying upstairs with most of his brains not where they ought to be. I’m responsible for that. I’m the brass ring, the bullseye in the target. Why not turn that gun on me?”

“In due course,” said Banerjee. “I’m sad to hear that Ted’s body is no longer functional and usable. But I think we both know that Ted himself isn’t dead. My role, now, is to see to it that he is allowed to finish his mission unimpeded.”

“By killing all of us?”

“If I can. But especially you.”

At that moment, Stegman spied what he thought was a window of opportunity and made a lunge for Banerjee. Hobbled by his wounded knee, however, he was slow and clumsy, and Banerjee saw the attempt coming almost as soon as it began.

“Ah-ah-ah!” he said, swivelling round to put Trundell between himself and Stegman. “Don’t even think about it.”

He swung back to face Dev.

“You either, Harmer. The life of this arthropod aficionado means nothing to me. I will snuff it out as readily as I’ve snuffed out the lives of countless of his beloved scroaches.”

“No one’s doubting that,” said Dev calmly. “You’re the man, Banerjee. You have control of the situation. Look.” He held up the hiss gun by the butt, dangling it from thumb and forefinger. “I’m surrendering my weapon. Deputy Zagat is doing the same. Aren’t you, deputy?”

Dev lowered the gun to the floor and toe-tapped it out of reach. Zagat, with the utmost reluctance, followed suit.

“I don’t want Trundle dead,” Dev continued. “I’ve grown fond of the little nerd. Why not give him up and take me instead?”

Trundell seemed to think this was a very good idea; Banerjee, not so much.

“No, I think I would rather hang on to him,” he said. “He’s the least dangerous of you all. That makes him the best hostage. While I’ve got him, none of you is going to risk attacking me, not if you have any sense.”

“Clearly one of us hasn’t,” Dev said, looking at Stegman. “Yes, I do mean you, Stegman. I see your hand slipping inside your coat. Don’t. In the time it takes you to draw a weapon, someone’ll end up dead.”

BOOK: World of Fire (Dev Harmer 01)
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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