I’m finally returning to writing the sequel to Dyson’s Angel, which I’ve tentatively titled Splintered Demons. For the next few days you’ll see the backlog of pages that I wrote over the last few months. Beginning in July 2018 you should start seeing my daily writing output. I’ve put together a page about this process here if you want to know more about how and why these posts will be happening.
And now… let’s get to the story.
The ship rested in the center of the cavernous space, a glowing insect trapped in the gullet of a monstrous bird. It was not large, so far as void ships go, but with its carapace the ship carried secrets that many would kill to learn, though few would be able to comprehend. Even those aboard the ship knew little of how it functioned, for the governing intellect of the ship had long ago been driven mad, and that was before it had developed a severe case of multiple personality disorder.
“Zau!” Moira shouted, slamming her fist against the wall. “Open this 🖕🏽ing door now.”
“Are you sure that is the most effective means of persuasion?” Gamayun asked. The guardian drone pulsed its aura fields gently, wreathing its filigreed silver skin in a yellow haze.
“Don’t give me any of your proctor bull💩,” Moria snapped, turning on Gamayun and jabbing a finger towards the end which she thought of as its face. It was covered in worked silver feathers, as was the rest of the drone, but here the feathers seemed to part and cluster, giving the drone the appearance of a benevolent metallic owl grafted onto the body of a feathered banana. “I’ve been living with this ship more than five cycles. I know how to make 💩 work.”
“Yes. I have observed this in recent days. Tell me, Moira, is your method of shouting at the syntellect generally more effective than your efforts at repairing the power subsystems.”
“Right. You can go 🖕🏽 yourself, too,” Moira growled, turning her back on the drone and pulling the manual airlock crank away from its nook in the wall below the operation board.
“And I thought you were impulsive,” Gamayun said, intentionally speaking aloud instead of sending its message directly to the implants of the human man standing beside it in the cramped airlock.
“I’m just obsessive. She’s a 🐶,” Dyson replied, absently, his eyes unfocused as he studied a projection of the chamber into which they had jumped overlaid on his vision. The doors at the upper end of the Spire were still gaping open, the gap between them wide enough to fly a cargo drone through, but nothing had come through yet.
Moira ignored the other two and continued to work the manual override. The addition of a recompiled adapter, which snapped into the metal handle and adjusted the grip to her human hand rather than the original alien dimensions, made the job significantly easier then it had been when she first cranked this airlock open years before. The aliens who had built this ship had been similar enough to human proportions and environmental needs that many of the ship’s systems had been easy to adapt, but that only made the differences all the more irritating when they cropped up. To this wake there were nonessential doors which were still difficult to open because their mechanisms had been built to be used by six-taloned insectile bipeds, rather than humans. And that was to say nothing of the 🖕🏽ing matter recompilers, which still seemed incapable of holding a calibration to produce palatable food. Even the third hand recompiler she had purchased in Zone [name] had tended to meander when producing food aboard the ship, resulting in coffee which tasted vaguely of chicken stock and sandwich bread which had the consistency of three day old pizza and tasted of peppermint. Of course, Moira mused as the next revelation of the crank finally closed the inner door of the airlock, it was entirely possible that Zau/Heraxo had been intentionally ruining the food compiles all these years, simply to 🖕🏽 with her head.
“Heraxo? Are you listening?” Moira shouted, pausing in her cranking.
“The ship’s syntellect appears to be offline,” Gamayun stated, pivoting in mid air to face Moria with its owlish end. “I have been hailing it on all frequencies and protocols for nearly a hour.”
“They’re not offline,” Moira replied.
“But it is not responding.”
“They,” Moira replied, speaking more forcefully now, “are never offline. They’re always listening. Heraxo is always looking for some way to screw me over whenever Zau gets into a fit, and she takes advantage of their fugues to assert dominance.”
“I think you’re oversimplifying,” Dyson muttered.
“Oh?” A lacework of black climbed up Moira’s cheek like a living tattoo, emerging from the maroon scarf she wore wrapped in broad loops around her neck. Sensing their master’s distress, the combat midges arrayed themselves to deploy across her mouth, nose, and eyes in the event of an attack.
Dyson blinked away his visual overlay and shrugged. “Speaking as somebody with an advanced degree in synthetic cognition with extensive experience in the design of parallelized multiprocess intellects, yes. It’s highly unlikely that your girlfriend’s intellect even exists as a unique entity any longer, let alone that she and the other-”
Dyson choked into silence as he suddenly found himself slammed into the wall, toes barely touching the floor.
Gamayun’s fields flared, but he did nothing to remove Moira’s fingers from around Dyson’s throat. “Humans, please. There is no need for this crass physical altercation.”
“I’m going yo warn you one more time, you little 💩: Don’t pretend to know anything about Zau, or about me. The only reason we’re even together is because your 🐶 of a mother hired me to deliver a message. The sooner we can get out of this place, the sooner I can dump your sorry ass in Abrigeist and get back to my life.” Moira relaxed her fingers on the collar of Dyson’s black and yellow jumpsuit, allowing his heels to settle to the floor.
Dyson met Moira’s eyes and for a moment she considered slamming him into the wall again. There was just something… wrong with Dyson’s eyes. Some strange weight to his gaze that immediately set her defenses on full alert. It wasn’t as if his eyes were hollow passages to an empty soul. Moira had seen that expression plenty of times before in the eyes of mercenaries, drug zombies, and 🖕🏽 dolls in many a zone. No, it was just that Dyson had an air of self absorption that she had rarely seen in a human. Studying his face or gazing into his eyes was like staring into the face of a restrillect’s avatar: After a short while, you started to get a sense that every expression was merely playing on a loop.
Dyson looked down at Moira’s hand, still resting on his collar, and cleared his throat. Even that simple response irritated Moira, its studied moves played out so precisely that it appeared more an act than a genuine need. “I do not intend to aggravate you.”
“Well you’re doing a 👎🏼 fine job of it.”
“I…” Dyson trailed off, his eyes narrowing and darting to the side, obviously unsure what to say next.
“Forget about it,” Moira replied, turning away. She returned to cranking the manual override handle. “You might want to put on that helmet now, the outer door will be open in a few more rotations.”
Dyson pulled the black and yellow striped helmet from its mounting point on his belt and slipped it over his head, wiggling it back and forth until he felt the neck of his suit rise up and meld with it. The backup air reservoirs hissed, pressurizing his suit against incursion by hostile midges or pathogens.
“Aren’t you going to put on a helmet?” he asked.
In response, Moira pulled a translucent mask up from the folds of her scarf and snapped it over her mouth and nose. “The air outside is short on oxygen and high on sulfur, but there’s nothing that will kill us. Especially not me.”
Dyson shot a glance at Gamayun, who cycled their fields and said aloud, “Moira might look like a baseline human to your eyes, but I read heavy modifications to her muscular and neurological systems, as well as a medical midge load nearly three times the standard.”
The outer door cracked with a brief hiss of equalizing pressure. Dyson glanced at the barely visible gap and scowled behind the tinted visor of his helmet.
A crack appeared in the side of the insectile ship’s carapace, spilling a tall beam of red light out into the cavern. The slit widened with laborious slowness until it revealed two humans and a crescent drone crowded together in an airlock just wide enough for them to stand side by side.
On the far side of the cavern, the red light spilled across the wall, revealing a broad mural traced in lines of silver and black. Figures reminiscent of old-earth crabs scuttled between stars, their armor scribed with white sigils. The mural spread away in either direction from the red glow, the figures fading into the darkness, broken at regular intervals by outcroppings of twisted metal gantries and patches of light emitting panels.
“It says something about the residents of the Spire that our first contact with them may be through art,” Dyson said. He commanded his helmet visor to magnify the image on the distant wall, allowing him to inspect the figures on the far wall.
“You’ve never been to Zone [name1], have you?” Moira asked, studying the spotlighted artwork through her own enhanced vision.
“Never heard of it.”
“Twelve degrees azimuthal, forty anti-polar from here,” Gamayun said. “Visible with sufficient magnification, but there is nothing in particular to recommend it.”
“You’re helpful to have around,” Moira quipped, sparing the drone a glance. She looked up at the visual pickup mounted in the ceiling of the airlock and added, “And a lot less ornery than my usual companion.”
Zau/Heraxo said nothing.
Gamayun shimmered behind a curtain of refracted light for a moment, then bobbed up and down and said, “I recommend securing yourselves. I am reading some unusual gravitational fields beyond the threshold.”
“What sort of unusual?” Dyson asked.
“Down is all the way down there,” Gamayun replied, flickering a field towards the distant narrow end of the vast chamber. “Based on the readings that Zau/Heraxo took before going… silent… the gravitational floor of this chamber is half a kilometer away.”
“Half a kilometer,” Dyson repeated, his voice flat.
“That’d be quite the fall,” Moira said. She slid aside a panel in the wall of the airlock, pulled out a grav harness, and began strapping herself into it. “I’ve only got the one. You should keep back from the edge.”
Return to the Splintered Demons page to read more…