Continuing the first drafts of Splintered Demons. To learn more about this book or view the table of contents for these first drafts posts, visit the novel page here.
Dyson and Evangeline Sartori had what could generously be described as a contentious relationship. After more than a decade of continual fighting, which his father had attempted to moderate until his untimely death, Dyson had hoped that he might finally shake off his family and make a name for himself, but now that seemed less likely than ever. Indeed, to all appearances, his mother had selected this ship and this crew specifically because it would be able to help him enter the Spire, though to what end he did not know.
“Dyson, may I come in?” a voice whispered in his mind.
Dyson started, sitting upright on the sofa and nearly sliding off the slick leather. The voice did not feel as if it had come through his implants. Rather, it was as if he were remembering somebody speaking to him an instant ago. Somebody who he could not see and who he was certain he had not actually heard with his ears.
The voice cam again. “I didn’t intend to scare you. I can come back later if you’d rather.”
“Who are you?” Dyson snapped, his voice ringing from the walls of the small chamber.
“I don’t rightly have a name yet,” Anomaly replied, drifting into view.
Dyson leapt to his feet as the third mysterious resident of Zau/Heraxo shimmered into existence around the edge of the doorway. When he had first seen the entity, earlier this wake, he had presumed it to be a poorly coalesced midge swarm. The thing, which seemed to go by the name Anomaly, drifted through the air like a wisp of glowing smoke, distorting the space around it such that anything on the far side was retracted as if through a wavering cloud of superheated steam. Moira had not explained the mysterious being, saying only that she had picked it up on her travels and did not completely understand it herself.
The Anomaly moved into the equipment bay, though as soon as the thought entered Dyson’s mind he decided that “moved” did not adequately describe the manner in which the entity seemed to shift through space in a manner which the human eye captured as a series of stuttering half advances, as if the point of light at the center of the entity was simultaneously moving forward and back, but still ending up closer than it had been an instant before. A part of Dyson’s mind began cataloguing the spatial-temporal phenomena which might be at work, even as another portion was screaming at him to run away as fast as he could.
He chose a course somewhere in the middle of the two.
“I’m Dyson Sartori. Dyson’s what people call me. Sartori is my family name. That’s an old human custom in many Zones, sharing a name with your family.”
“So I have learned from the mind of the one you call Moira, though she does not appear to have such a name. Rather, I believe she shares a name with her female progenitor, though she prefers to be addressed solely by her chosen name.”
The mystery deepens, Dyson thought. A mononymous mercenary from a culture which practiced both matrilineal name transfer and Jesuit theology. Who was this strange woman who had both delivered the Evangeline midge payload and rescued Dyson from it?
“Yes, I am also attempting to understand Moira. We will, I presume, find some means of cooperation.”
“You read my mind.”
“I merely observed your mind state. It’s not terribly different from listening to your words, with the exception that minds move more rapidly than physical bodies.”
So you can understand me if I just… think about what I want to say? Dyson thought.
“Yes,” the voice in his mind replied.
What are you?
In answer, the Anomaly dumped a series of memories into Dyson’s mind that knocked him back onto the sofa. His head hit the cushioned back, then he slipped down and collapsed to the floor beside the sofa. The images assaulting his mind were so entirely alien that Dyson feared that he was in the midst of a seizure. He concentrated, trying to tease some sense out of the morass of tangled images which assaulted his mind, but he could only find brief flashes of concrete imagery:
A crack in the void, through which an insect with glowing wings crawled.
Jumbled piles of objects which were alien at first glance, but when he studied them he managed to tease out patterns which were reminiscent of spatial visualizations he had encountered while studying unified field theory.
An emotion to which he could assign no name, but which tasted of parsley and reminded him of loneliness.
A voice cried out to him through the confusion. “Dyson? Dyson, can you hear me?”
He grasped at the voice, pulling on it to guide him through a labyrinth of amber glass, each pane fractured into a thousand fluttering butterflies with the scent of mercy on their wings.
“I’m sorry Dyson. I did not mean to harm you.” The voice was stronger now, and Dyson thought that he could see the familiar outlines of the storage racks on the far wall of the cargo bay shimmering as though seen through a mirage. “Ah, there are your eyes. So strange to require such delicate structures for perception. I much prefer observing the full spectrum with my entire cognition envelope.”
“What happened?” Dyson tried to ask. His lips were numb and the words came out in a vague slur that even he could not understand. “🖕🏽. Did you just give me an aneurism?”
“Aneurism. I am not familiar… ah, yes.”
“What the 🖕🏽?” Dyson shouted, his words coming more clearly now.
“Oh, no. I mean. Yes, I know what an aneurism is now. No, I did not give you one. Nor did you experience one.”
“Then what the 🖕🏽 was that?” Dyson managed, speaking with painful slowness. Even if the entity could read his mind, he was now more concerned with ensuring that he could still speak.
“I believe you have suffered a minor seizure as a result of synaptic overload. Essentially: I overloaded your brain with too much data at one time. It is rather remarkable to watch how you mind recovered, however. Upon reflection, I am actually impressed that you understood as much as you did.”
“Multiple doctorates will do that for you,” Dyson muttered.
He pulled himself back up onto the sofa and sat with his elbows resting on his legs, his head sagging between his knees for a long moment, waiting for the swarm of bees in his head to calm themselves.
Eventually, he looked up to find the distorted space where the Anomaly hovered less than a meter away. “What are you?”
“I believe that I have settled on calling myself an anomaly, though the designations of ‘extrusion’, ‘aberration’, and ‘fluke’ all carry their own unique and enticing connotations. I am still in the process of learning your language, having only achieved sentience in the last three waking cycles of your species. A peculiar method of measuring time, wakes that is. I have only had opportunity to observe two of your species, and as of yet neither of you have conformed to the twenty four hour cycle that the term wake designates within your mind. Of course, I have also only studied the language which your mental states designate as ‘main’. I have seen some evidence of other linguistic structures within your records and it may come to be that I find a more accurate name for myself within the corpus of those languages.”
Dyson blinked slowly at Anomaly. His head still ached from the mental assault and he felt as if his brain, which usually ran along multiple paths of inquiry and cognition at once, had slowed to a single painful crawl. The entity still spoke directly into his mind, though after the jackhammer blow of visual overload, these whispers of auditory hallucination were beginning to feel gentle, even natural by comparison.
“Yes,” Anomaly said.
Dyson started, then realized that Anomaly had been answering an unspoken question that had, after much fragmentation, finally coalesced in his mind: You’re only three wakes old?
Dyson had studied synthetic cognition at university, it had been his third doctoral program and quite frankly it had served as a relaxing stint of half-effort after earning his initial degrees in applied theoretical physics and field theory.
Humans had been attempting to build artificial life since long before the Enclosure and it had been those primitive cognition engines, not true synthetic intellects, but a game try, which had been responsible for many of the societies which had recovered rapidly after the Enclosure. It had still taken at least a hundred cycles for even the most advanced cultures to reconstruct the level of comfort and technological sophistication at which much of old Earth had existed before the Enclosure, but without the fragments of memory housed within those cognition engines humanity might be just rediscovering solid fuel rockets this cycle. Indeed, some occupied Zones still maintained an agrarian existence, having failed, or chosen not to, to develop the technology necessary for inter-Zonal travel and communication.
To learn more about this book or view the table of contents for these first drafts posts, visit the novel page here.