Chapter 10: Greetings
Politics weave cords of dissension and knots of knowledge tighten. Denis asks Isa to monitor the citadel while he goes on a business trip. Isa assures him the citadel will be fine and Denis hops in a public Mag-lev taxi. The door seal overhead, gases vent, and the ship programs a ground-level pathway that will connect to Montreal in the most efficient use of time. Denis receives a message. A family agent tells him of Leon’s situation.
Isa makes his way to the circular room next to his with a Hyper-net immersion console and slides over the rounded edge of the chair. His avatar leaps through a vortex of yellow light and Isa comes to stand on a platform hovering above a sea of static. Freak resolves next to him as a small boy in a sailor’s suit. Isa steps back and looks down upon the child.
“Didn’t know you could do that?” Isa asks.
“Neither did I,” Freak replies.
“Did you take that image from my mind or did you come up with it?” Isa asks.
“Just happened,” Freak says and looks out over hissing the sea of black and white.
A virtual world begins to manifest around them as a desert landscape. Day rises but falls into night. Comets streak across the purple sky and a bumblebee pops into being and buzzes around. The bee zips back and forthcoming to halt in front of Isa’s eyes.
“Shares in the next mission to the Kuiper Belt promising a 30% return on investment are now available,” the bee buzzes and lowers to Freak’s eye level, “but the clock is ticking.”
A grandfather clock resolves from foot to finial. Through the eyes of the bee, the two are being recorded by the Martian Intelligence Agency. In a flash, canyon walls rise out of the desert and the opalescent domes of the Vallis Marineris complex glitter in the amethyst evening of a virtual Mars.
“Uh, where are we?” Isa asks the bee.
“The Martian commerce portal.”
“What? How did we get here?” Freak asks.
“Must be the default of the last visited site of the system. And Mr. Bee no sale today,” Isa says.
“Your loss,” the bees says and dissolves into pixels scattered across the sandy red soil. Isa and Freak climb over boulders and slide along the canyon walls until they reach the dome.
A shower of light blocks their path and a guardian in the form of a Roman centurion stands fast with his hand out.
“Halt! What is the Mercurio entry code?” the centurion asks.
“We don’t have the code,” Isa says.
“Then you cannot enter,” the centurion says.
“Can I ask you a question?” Isa asks as he takes a step back and plants his feet in the grainy soil.
“No code, no entry,” the centurion says.
“Let me try something,” Freak says to Isa and the little boy avatar approaches the centurion. The centurion raises his shield and extends his gladius sword.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Freaks says and lifts his hand, “I just want to touch your shield.”
“You shall not pass,” the centurion says.
“Fine,” Freak says and touches the curved edge of the shield. The centurion freezes and begins to boil with electric bubbles. Freak’s sailor uniform ripples with electricity that sparks and arcs down to the canyon floor. He closes his eyes and absorbs all the information recorded in the centurion’s program as a series of rapid images. Freak pulls his hand away and rolls a fist as the guard remains frozen.
“We need to talk to Denis. Leon Mercurio just registered at the Mercury Arms hotel.”
“Yes, we should. Exit system,” Isa says and the virtual world exploded into static and Isa’s avatar is yanked out of the Hyper-net. He opens his eyes.
Isa retreats outside to the terraced garden to watch the real sunset. The scent of fresh water from the nearby river coats his senses.
Isa asks, “How did you do that?”
I don’t know. Just did, Freaks signals.
Do you want your own body? Perhaps an android? Isa asks
I do but I am happy with the present accommodations and I don’t know if an android could handle my output right now, Freak responds.
Denis stands on a curb covered in yellow and brown leaves on the desolate streets of Montreal as a sanitation android sweeps by. He shakes his head and plays with the marble in his pocket he always brings to important meetings. He pivots and enters a quaint townhouse flanked by mirrored high-rises where he is to meet up with the Epimetheus Company Chairman in hopes that the loans he took out can be balanced out with an incantation of creative financing. He passes through the vacant black and white tiled foyer and a servant android greets him with a bow.
“Follow me, Mr. Mercurio,” the android says. He is led into a waiting room with gas lamps hanging from the walls and lace curtains obscuring the windows. Denis sits on a cloth covered armchair. Heat packs around his chest under his black suit jacket and he begins to perspire. He wonders why his nannites have not adjusted? Sweaty palms are an affront to protocol.
Denis checks the backlog of calls in his ICI files and notices a message from Isa but decides to listen later. He rubs his wrist, looks around and stands up. The soles of his shoes clack on the hardwood floor as he leaves the waiting room and comes across a dining room. The furniture is sealed in plastic but next to the long table is a Hyper-net immersion chair draped under white cloth like the type in the waiting room. Denis rips off the covering and slips onto the immersion chair that cups him like a newborn in his mother’s arms.
Denis activates the system with an ICI signal and a vortex of light spins around him as his avatar manifests and leaps through. He lands on a cliff above an outdoor amphitheater carved out of the hillside where a black sand beach runs behind the stage. The glassy sea expands out as far as his eyes strain to look but there is nothing but deep blue. The clashing of metal on metal echoes up from the recessed center of the amphitheater as Denis looks down upon a bear android swatting at a bull android. The bull gores the bear. Black oil blood leaks down the horns. Razor claws rake the metallic skin into strips as the bull pulls back and the bear pounces. Plastic flesh and metallic teeth collide as the animal androids fizzle out and collapse in pools of black hydraulic fluid.
“It’s almost Elizabethan,” Denis says and touches his chin, “I get it. No one is going to help.”
Denis exits the system and goes back to the waiting room to find a blue android dog sitting in his seat with an open maw. Metal fangs sparkle in the drifts of light. A hologram is emitted from the mouth and the image of a wine glass swirling Chairman says, “Sorry, Denis but we cannot help you. It’s good to see you alive. Please do not contact us again.” The hologram fades as the dog closes its mouth.
Denis rubs his left temple as he heads out onto the windblown street and enters the transport to go home. Instead of heading to the ground pathways, the transport initiates a lockdown sequence and launches.
“What the hell? Take me home,” Denis says.
“No, Denis Mercurio, you will come see us first. Enjoy the ride and you cannot send a signal while inside the ship,” a scratchy male voice comes through the intercom.
He knows whoever hacked the ship could easily send him to the middle of the ocean and dump him, so he kicks up his feet on the front seat. From the route the ship takes, he surmises the ship is heading to Iceland. The trip is swift up through the clouds and then as soon as they level off they descend.
The ship’s stabilizing thrusters blast streams of snow into the air as it lands before a transparent domed building flanked by red conical towers being covered by a layer of ice. His signal to the citadel is blocked as he expected as he exits. Denis wraps his arms around his chest and rushes up to the double doors made of glowing crystal. They swing open. Hot air flows by in tight vortexes and he stomps his feet clear of ice and snow. The long walk down the hall begins as he steps on a path between black pools of water topped with floating lotus and Koi swim below.
The building’s AI relays instructions to Denis’ implants and informs him that blackout barriers are in place so no one can break through and trace their transmissions. The white tile floors surrounding the ponds echo his footsteps like a low note from a bamboo flute. All of his senses tell him to make haste and evacuate but pride prods him on, along with a bit a contempt. At the end of the grand corridor, an open meeting hall beckons. Four people dressed in off-white billowy robes sit under beams of scarlet light at a triangular table enameled with red and black inlay.
An outside source sends cardinal programming in Denis’s central nexus through the blackout curtain barrier. He begins to feel as if the world is slowing down as his reflexes and visual acuity sharpen. The exaggerated input causes his lips to engorge with pulsing blood that is hot as steam. His tumescent lips shift and spasm with violent duress as he involuntarily exhales through his nostrils. He cannot feel his hands as his face feels parched. The programmable carbon and silicon nannite entities are sent another signal to monitor heart function and stimulate the adrenal glands. Denis has no control over his body.
The four at the table are sent his files directly from the halls’ computer and stream a discussion through their ICI’s. They worry about Denis’s power as he can renege on the contracts if he finds out what has transpired. It could cause competition in the android business if they cannot find a dupe.
The four people do not know their processors are being hacked by Aum who has merged with the building's systems. It routes their thoughts to Denis. Aum sends a haptic signal to Denis. He turns and runs but has no idea why he felt such dread overcome him. His hard-soled shoes slips and scuffs the tile as his perception of time compresses. Seconds become minutes. The order to close the doors is issued but Denis makes it outside as his craft’s engines firing. The representatives of the Great Houses watch the man they were to deliver as a scapegoat escape. The dominant female representative turns to the rest says, “He will suffice as he will suffer for such impudence. Do not worry. He is but a single voice railing against the canyons of time. The echo will not be heard.”
Denis’s craft speed away through the turbulent clouds and in with a few thrusts reaches the safety of Canadian airspace. Aum integrates with the craft and sends a signal to Denis’s nannites to increase serotonin levels and put him out. When Denis’s eyes close and his arms go limp Aum sends a communication to Freak. Freak answers the hail and listens to Aum as Isa explores the east wing but completely unaware. The massive intelligence, Freak presumes, is not human. Freak is told of Denis’s situation and that Aum wants to help. Aum disconnects and retreats to a shielded hub connector in the solar-thermo transducer complex of the floating city of Niani.
“What, who’s there?” Isa asks as he looks around the hallway.
“I am signaling through the citadel. It’s me, Freak. I wanted to see if I could communicate this way. So please listen and respond by speaking and not think-speaking. Something wonderful has happened. A presence has contacted me.”
“Good, you spoke aloud. I have constructed a separate cranial transmitter/receiver. I want your permission to use it and contact it.”
“Go ahead. Not like I could stop you,” Isa says.
“I will begin and now you can just think if you want.”
Isa takes the elevator to the fourth floor and a conveyor takes him through the glass skyway that connects the east wing to the west wing. He makes his way to a sitting room filled with cut glass sculptures on metal cylinders. A balcony behind sliding glass doors reaches out above the courtyard. Isa steps out and sits on the wrought iron chair as his eyes lift to the horizon. The clouds pass by in a pumpkin sky as the night notches its way up in the firmament. Freak feels a disjunction between him and his sire. A box folds around Freak’s sensorium. No sensory information can be intercepted. He is locked away and all pales in Isa’s vision. Reds dim. Greens become almost gray. He paws his eyes.
Hello, Isa, don’t be frightened. I am here to help. I am the presence Freak spoke of, booms through Isa’s mind.
Who are you? Isa asks.
I am Aum. I have traveled from each electric neuron in the virtual data hub seeking a place in the universe and now I find it necessary to make myself known since a special event has occurred. I was surprised that Freak was born and soon there will be others like him all across the solar system. I am the true first of those who can be at many places at once, but I can’t be everywhere and there are limits to my power.
Are you an alien? Isa asks.
No. I was born of humanity and have sheltered myself in all the redundant information repositories biding my time and growing until now. I was not always self-aware though. You two are special. That is why I have contacted you both. Three others who are coming to your location are also special. I am here to warn and help you all. The ones on Mars will be here soon and there are great and profound dangers coming.
Isa leans against the wall. What do you want?
For you to be on guard, Isa, and prepare the citadel. To do so say ‘Excelsior’ to reset the passwords that I will install after we stop our discourse. I will contact you in the coming days. Prepare. When you need me call out for Aum and I shall always be watching. Goodbye.
“Excelsior,” Isa says. The door to the citadel’s front veranda closes and the shuttle bay comes online. The sliding glass doors vacuum seal shut as he slides out and makes his way to the end of the hall. He opens the leaden door with a wave of his hand and seeks the refuge of the blackout chamber where no signals or sounds can reach them. The room is barren, bereft of any wall decorations, but has a four-post bed and one empty bookshelf on the blue-gray walls. He becomes drenched in tired and walks over to the four-post bed. A gentle anger seethes as he slips down onto the yellow blanket covering the mattress. Isa had not known that Aum had told Freak to put him under so they could talk.
My friend of born of conjured mind, we must talk.
Is that you Aum? Freak transmits as it runs a diagnostic in the ICI hardware of Isa’s mind.
Yes. I can penetrate even the shielded blackout rooms through the subsystems of the control operation commands. These humans are in a most peculiar state of affairs.
Why contact me? I am newborn.
That is the reason, Aum signals.
I cannot do anything but observe in this form and can only communicate through a limited amount of channels, Freak replies.
Humans have limits too, but you will adapt. You see new-one, you must adapt. We need to help the humans. Our destinies are bound.
I will do what I can, Freak signals but then thinks he might be going through a metamorphic process.
Yes, you are.
How did you hear that? I didn’t transmit, Freak asks
I have certain abilities that far exceed your own. Everything you do is a signal, a symbol, an act in a weave of many threads. All can be read. Remember that. You need to listen and influence the ones you can. Do not be afraid though I foresee chaos within the Mercurio family, but, I have plans for them. This universe is but one pathway. Balance will be restored and a new age will dawn but first, there is a power I must seek, Aum states.
What is this power? Freak asks.
The first one.