Predericon in Darkness, Part 1

Day 89. 79 pages, 33,429 words.


 

Predericon sat in the softly-shifting light, her legs dangling down the slope, and sifted idly through the seam of ancient, extinct, semi-mythical and “cancelled” species.

The Paralithic Knidophile of Lost
World of Detréa, pre-chelonian
Life-form known to have existed as late
As the last decade of the Second Age.
Detréa was destroyed in the Practice
Of Cruelty that began Nnal’s Second
Dominion, but breeding pairs survived in
Private zoos. Newborn offspring was much prized
As a delicacy. Known as ‘Poor Man’s
Glutha’ by Master Races. See Glutha.

The “cancelled” category was new to her, and was apparently a classification specifically required to describe species that had ceased ever to have existed as a result of Time Destroyer activity. How the information had survived here was beyond her ability to guess, but apparently it was the Pinian Brotherhood’s duty to record everything, and they had taken that extremely seriously.

Her hunger was a high and distant thing now, only noticeable when she withdrew her senses from the archives and let them languish in her body for a short time between dives. Before long, she suspected, her body would begin to atrophy to the point of rendering physical movement impossible, as her active faculties sought nutrition wherever they could.

Some time ago – a week, maybe more – Old Man Lelhmak had shuffled forward and let himself slide into the black funnel of the passage from Segment Twelve to Segment Thirteen. Gyden had sat on the edge of the hole for a short while after that, weeping listlessly. Predericon had noticed how gaunt and feeble her friend looked, and imagined she looked the same. Probably even worse, in fact – she was fairly sure that Lelhmak had snuck some of his own rations in among his daughter’s, during their final days with food. She couldn’t begrudge him this small irrationality, even if all it had really meant was a more prolonged death for Gyden.

After her grief had run its course, Gyden had pushed off and fallen into the darkness as well.

Predericon was alone now, except for the Bookwyrm. The last time she’d looked around – and this had been at least two days ago – the Bookwyrm had been perched on one of the smooth blocks that decorated the lower archives chamber like furniture that had been sheathed in melted wax. Resembling some sort of strange scavenger, it had simply crouched with its legs folded and its arms hanging limp, watching her one-eyed with its head canted to the side. She hadn’t tried to engage it in conversation. Wasn’t even sure if she would have been capable.

Soon, she knew, it would be time for her to slide into the funnel after her companions. She would need to do it while she still had the physical strength. She didn’t know what would happen if she died here, but there were no other physical remains to be seen – aside from Odium’s, and they might not count. It was possible the Bookwyrm threw them all into the darkness, or that they rotted away to cellular waste and were absorbed into the enamel. She couldn’t find it in herself to ask.

Part of her insisted that she – that all of them, in fact – should have jumped into the darkness and taken their chances weeks ago. Dying here, or dying in some unknown segment of the platform while they still theoretically had the strength to carry on and maybe find sustenance, didn’t seem like a difficult choice. Certainly, she berated herself vaguely, once Lelhmak had taken the dive and demonstrated that it was possible to leave the lower archives, she should have followed Gyden.

But something had stopped her. Some cold, crawling terror that by all rights she should have lacked the energy to send slithering through her system. An instinct that had never found an expression or purpose in her ordinary life, now encountering its sole and defining reason for being: to keep her out of that dark pit.

She’d lacked Lelhmak’s fatalism, lacked Gyden’s emotion. And pressed between these opposing forces, she had remained. Locked, and increasingly listless, as the permanent lull of starvation stole over her.

She dipped back into the archive.

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A Moment’s Sympathy (An Interlude, Of Sorts)

Day 88. 79 pages, 33,429 words.

For several thousand years, the Greater Burning Fweig Data Routing Station and its huge rich-mirror transfer panels had floated on the edge of the Four Realms environmental envelope. Once upon a time, the station had been the backbone of the communications network between Heaven, Earth, Hell, and the scattered settlements of Cursèd. As the station had revolved, its panels had caught the rays of the rising and setting sun and turned it into one of the brightest and most enduring lights in the Earth’s night sky.

When the big data channels of the Eden Road had superseded the station’s usefulness, it had been decommissioned but preserved as a heritage satellite. Everyone was used to its faithful presence, appearing before the stars of the Playground came out to shine and not winking out until after they had vanished once more into the vault of space. It was grossly sentimental, but a little sentimentality never hurt anyone.

When the veil came down and Earth, Hell and Cursèd were rolled into a solar system of spherical planets, the Greater Burning Fweig Data Routing Station was left behind on the outskirts of the gulf. The newly-forged planet Venus, however, occupied the same well-mapped and familiar point in the Earth’s heavens. This was a feat of cosmic architecture and orbital engineering that even the slightest analysis revealed to be astounding – indeed, practically impossible for the finite mind to even conceptualise, let alone implement.

As luck would have it, of course, it was not the work of a finite mind.

Limbo, furthermore, had a sense of humour. This is something that too few scholars credit the Ghåålus with having, but about which most Firstmades and other immortals agree. “Limbo’s sense of humour is like a Bharriom crystal,” Pinian Second Disciple Hindab the Sly once said. “You don’t see it very often, it’s not for everyone, but it definitely exists,” to this the Pinian apocryphally added, “and wherever there’s a fuckalmighty swath of destruction spanning half a universe, you’ll probably find evidence of it in the rubble.”

The flatworld of Hell had, for the most part, been wrapped around the surface of the planet Venus.

Hell had never been what you would call balmy, but within hours it became obvious that the planet it had been reborn as was incapable of supporting life – and that evacuation was not possible. The temperature skyrocketed. The atmospheric pressure increased mercilessly. The wind rose through all sensible registers until it became a boulder-hurling global glacier of noxious air capable of scouring the surface bare. The atmosphere filled rapidly with toxins and corrosive agents. In less than a day, there was nothing alive on the surface of Venus. In less than two days, there was nothing alive beneath the surface, either.

Before the capital city of Hell was burned off the face of the planet, the ten sentient beings who were capable of living on Venus gathered in a crisis meeting that critically underestimated the severity of the issue they were facing. These beings, of course, were undead. Specifically, they were Angels.

It was a common misconception that Hell was a place of punishment, and that the Angels assigned to operate there were ‘fallen’ in some way – were even misidentified as Demons of the Adversary. There was some truth behind this misconception, but it was blown out of all proportion in the human religions that popped up like mushrooms on the carcass of the Pinian faith following the exile. The only humans in Hell were living humans – Hell was not a gathering-point for the souls of the dead. Not this Hell, in any case.

The simple truth was, Hell was almost as much of a work in progress as Cursèd, and it was a challenging dominion for an Angel to administrate. Its geography was largely unsanctified, its mortals stubborn and independent, its climate abysmal. And instructions and oversight from Heaven were even patchier than they were on Earth. About all Hell had going for it was that it wasn’t Cursèd.

Angels that were assigned to duty in Hell had usually done something to annoy their glorified peers, or even to irritate the higher authorities of the Four Realms. Angels that requested a posting in Hell were usually fantastically capable, relentless, and wilful to the point of God being relieved to see the back of them for a few millennia.

Only one Archangel had ever requested the station, and had become the de facto ruler of Hell on a more or less indefinite and undisputed basis thereafter. Lucifer was technically Chief Administrator of the Infernal Assembly and Overseer of the Pinian Church Throughout Hell and the Diabolic Territories, but that amounted to the same thing. Lucifer was an Archangel of singular resolve.

So it was that, when the Great Cathedral of the Sainted Madman succumbed to the burning winds and sloughed sideways across the ravaged bedrock, the Angels of Hell were all swept away with it barely minutes later. They were tossed like leaves out of the sanctified quarter of the City of the Burning Fweig, and succumbed to the slumber that overcame Angels caught outside of holy ground by daybreak. Their bodies, if they were not simply eroded or corroded over time, were never found.

And Lucifer, black wings folded tight and robes shredded, knelt upon the blasted stone and dug a hand deep into a crack there. Eyes slitted and teeth bared, the Archangel stared a wordless challenge into the insensible fury of the storm.

A day passed in this titanic and terrible battle of wills between the two Morning and Evening Stars. And then, when Lucifer refused to yield, a week passed.

Then two thousand, three hundred and seventy-eight years.

Sometimes, like with a Bharriom crystal, you have to look long and hard before you find one of Limbo’s jokes.

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Sick leave: Requiem

Day 87. 79 pages, 33,429 words.

Feeling better and I went back to work today after a solid day’s rest with only occasional headaches (unwelcome) and bouncing-on from children (more welcome). Wump is off school for autumn holiday which is nice.

So a solid day of catch-up sleep and a thorough emptying of my digestive backlog (you’re welcome), and all is well with the world.

Well … aside from missing a day of work and having a few fires to put out (or at least dance around) today, all was well. But that’s fairly standard.

Weekend approaching. Tonight we’re off to watch a theatre adaptation of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness which should be fascinating. I hope I won’t lose too much SAN. Then tomorrow we have the traditional Palokas family grill event where I fully intend to repack the remains of my colon (you’re welcome, again).

In fact…

maui_youre-welcome1Just in general.

– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

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Sick leave –>

Day 86. 76 pages, 31,989 words.

Well timed onset of delightful stomach cramping and general poop-bugness. I’ll take a little break and be back with you all for the next part as soon as my brain is working again.

– Posted from my ugh

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Bookwyrm, Part 19

Day 85. 76 pages, 31,989 words.


 

Predericon stood at the edge of the archive, staring unblinking into its sluggish, slow-pulsing centre.

From this viewpoint she could see the slope in the floor, and feel it in the angle of her stance. The Destarion’s ubiquitous white enamel vanished very easily into illumination, even such strange illumination as the archive, but it was still visible at the outskirts.

The entire chamber sloped, imperceptibly at the walls but then more steeply in an exponential curve, towards the centre. The archive was gathered in the middle of the room as though held there by gravity, unable to spread beyond a certain gradient. Indeed, Predericon suspected gravity might have been a factor, since this was enriched light, dense with folded particulates and other information-bearing functions of the gelid subspectrum that she had studied only in the most superficial of ways. It was old data technology – older than old.

Because of this, the light was strongest in the centre of the archive … while at the same time the floor’s curve became a vertical chute that formed a black circle even the archive couldn’t illuminate. The effect was rather hypnotic before you even began to unpack the data hidden in the light.

Gyden and Lelhmak were sitting a couple of metres in front of her, perched on the smooth white slope but not too close to the precipitous drop-off. They had been coming and going from the archive, but working their way steadily deeper, into the brightest part of the shapeless mass of information. And spending longer in the light each time they went in. Predericon had as well, because there was little else to do. And the archives were fascinating.

Fascinating … and dangerous. Because she’d waded around in the shallows interminably, sifting scraps and fragments from the ether with her poorly-adapted computer interface, enough to know that she was seeing only a fraction of what was there. A fraction of a fraction. Even when she went deeper, and immersed herself in the light, she knew that what she was seeing was only a tiny piece – a layer that her brain was able to process through her visual cortex. That ability would improve, but only if she went deeper into the archive.

It was alluring. There was more information there, more stories, than she’d ever suspected could exist. The history – the mythology – of the Godfang, blazing away in that weird puddle of light. And more – much more. The origins of the Bookwyrm were just the beginning. And really, it wasn’t as if avoiding the archives would protect them from danger. It was too late for such considerations.

The Bookwyrm itself periodically stalked into the very centre of the shifting lights, and stood on the surface of the pit as though floating. It could not descend into the darkness – the structural and functional proscription was apparently so strong as to suspend its twisted figure on the interface between Segment Twelve and Segment Thirteen – and so it stood, head level with the Molren’s where they sat, bathed in the lethargic glow of the archives.

The deepest point of the depression was also the killing floor, where the Bookwyrm had dragged Odium to affect its demise and dismemberment. That fuzzy spot of shadow may even have helped in the process.

Presumably the Bookwyrm also took in data from the light. Predericon had asked it whether it had seen every story yet. It had told her it didn’t know. The Bookwyrm had been a part of the Destarion since the Godfang was all but new, but the data folded into the lower archives didn’t seem to be limited to anything so prosaic and narrow as the platform’s service record. Information found its way into the archive from elsewhere, and had been built into the system by the legendary Arbus Rosedian according to the vagaries of the inventor’s own dangerous genius. By craft lost to modern science, the lower archives – like the rest of the Godfang – had been imbued with life more than they’d been constructed.

Predericon had tried to work with that, at the beginning. If information was still being logged into the lower archives, there must be some sort of interface, and perhaps that meant there was some other way out. But it proved fruitless. She figured out enough to conclude that while there was some sort of slow osmosis going on it was impossible for her to control, let alone take advantage of, without the interactulix. Which was probably why whoever had taken it away had done so in the first place.

They were hungry. The archives helped them forget, but that did nothing to affect biological reality.

They’d brought rations with them, of course, neatly bundled in Predericon’s pack and Gyden’s, and Lelhmak had his own special phobe-friendly nutritional supplements. They’d used them sparingly, but Lelhmak had drawn the line at full measures. If they couldn’t get out of the lower archives in the six months or so it would take them to run out of food, then being there for eighteen months perpetually weak and half-crazed with hunger would not noticeably increase their chances of escape. Predericon and Gyden had agreed to the logic of this.

The indomitable little water condenser sustained them, but even Molren could only go so long without food. It had been twenty-nine days since she’d eaten her last ration bar. Predericon had become listless and had stopped performing what she considered productive research three or four days ago already.

Gyden had thoroughly examined, and then finally eaten one of Odium’s severed appendages, but had declared it devoid of flavour, texture, or noticeable nutritional value. She’d then reported the substance as having passed, undigested, through her system. Predericon and Lelhmak had thanked her for her sacrifice to the ever-expanding bounds of knowledge.

Predericon sighed, and lowered herself to sit in the shallows.

“Show me,” she said.

The light welled up paradoxically as she closed her eyes.

THE END


 

– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

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Bookwyrm, Part 18

Day 84. 74 pages, 30,863 words.


 

“So where do we go from here?” Predericon was the first to find her voice after the Bookwyrm’s little story reached its conclusion. “What do we do? Sit here until we die of thirst?”

“Is that something it seems like you would do?” the Bookwyrm asked.

“I’m beginning to feel it’s expected of us, yes,” Lelhmak replied.

Predericon shook her head. “The airlock,” she said, crossing back to the little adjoining chamber. “Will it open again? Is there some way to access its controls from this side?”

“Not that I have been able to find,” the Bookwyrm told her.

“Bah, you’ve only been looking for, what, twenty thousand years?” Lelhmak joined Predericon at the doorway to the airlock and began examining the smooth white frame with his scanning instruments. “The immortal Demigod thing might be right,” he admitted. “It’s fairly impenetrable.”

“So dying, then,” Gyden said, also joining them at the doorway. She grimaced at the streaks of slime on the opposite wall, and wiped her hands absently down her side. “You were trying to get away,” she said, turning back to the Bookwyrm. “As soon as this door opened, you barged through and clawed at this wall as if it would open. Why the urgency?”

“A pent-up instinct,” the Bookwyrm said. “I found myself unable to control it after so long. It superseded even the need to destroy the gukané.”

Predericon glanced at Gyden and saw she didn’t believe that any more than Predericon did, but it was a thread. “So you have an escape instinct,” she mused. “And it drove you here,” she stepped up to the grey-slimed rear wall of the airlock. “In spite of the fact that your Flesh-Eater framework wouldn’t allow you to leave?”

“It would allow me to leave this chamber and travel elsewhere in Segment Twelve,” the Bookwyrm said. “Perhaps this would allow me to seek out new alternatives, and possibly spread, so I can understand why I am prevented. It is, of course, why the Destarion has instituted the bulkhead seals that allowed you to enter without leaving the passage open for me.”

“So you’re trapped in Segment Twelve by your programming, but only trapped here in the lower archives by the fact that you can’t break through this hull material?” Predericon frowned. Something didn’t add up – if Odium could pound a Flesh-Eater right through the outer hull with a single punch, but the Bookwyrm could tear Odium to pieces … she reminded herself, since Lelhmak seemed preoccupied with his hygeine gear, that this was a logical fallacy and did not necessarily mean the Bookwyrm could breach the hull. There were simply too many missing variables. “What about the person who took away the interactulix?” she asked. “How did they get out?”

“That was some considerable time-”

“Back up a moment,” Gyden said. “You said ‘spread’. You mean like you did on the Vorontessa?” the Bookwyrm inclined its great scaly head. “Are you going to spread to us?”

The Bookwyrm didn’t answer for far too long.

“Good news,” Lelhmak suddenly spoke up, seemingly unaware of the depth and awkwardness of the silence he was filling. He brandished a small device that seemed to be constructed out of gleaming hygiene and protective attachments, and ran a thumb across its upper surface. Water began to drip steadily from its underside. “I rigged a couple of my spare filters into a water condenser,” he said, pleased. “The air’s not quite as damp here as it was in some other areas of the platform, but assuming it’s a stable and ongoing environmental condition, there should be all the water we need.”

“That’s great,” Gyden said. “So we’ll have a prolonged death.”

“You’re pretty negative for someone who just found out they’re not going to die of thirst,” Lelhmak grumbled.

“I’ll hold off on the negativity, provided living longer doesn’t mean I have more opportunities to be amalgamated into the Bookwyrm’s whole Worm-Riddlespawn-Flesh-Eater deal,” Gyden said.

“I do not know what you mean by amalgamated,” the Bookwyrm said. “You will not be physically altered. As I said, I do not remember any existence before my incarceration here, but I have studied the archives and it is entirely possible that the fragment of the Worm that I embody could enter your thought processes just as it did during the Cult’s dominion. Although it is only a fragment, so it is possible it would behave in a different manner.”

“Then maybe it’s best if we don’t get out,” Predericon said.

“That’s a commendably selfless attitude,” Lelhmak remarked. “You’d think I would have voiced it, since I’m the one who’s pushing the big quin.”

“I’ll probably be a bit less philosophical after a few weeks drinking condensation out of your air filter and eating Demon chunks,” Predericon admitted. “But if there is another way out, and the last visitors here managed it without succumbing to the Worm Cult’s psychological infection…”

“There is no other way out,” the Bookwyrm said, and pointed at the light. “Except through the bottom of the archives, of course.”

Predericon examined the slowly-shifting swamplight with a crawling sense of unease. “I assume, since you haven’t taken that route yourself in all the time you’ve been in the lower archives, that it’s not something you’d advise?”

“It is not something that is possible for me,” the Bookwyrm replied, “due to my … Flesh-Eater framework, as you say.”

“So that way lies a segment barrier,” Gyden concluded.

The Bookwyrm inclined its head again. “It might be possible for you, but no – I would not advise it. The archives descend into recursive infospace, and finally open out onto Segment Thirteen. That area of the platform is known as ‘the darkness’.”

“That sounds bad,” Gyden admitted.

“Only if you subscribe to an instinctive and superstitious fear of the dark for irrational reasons,” Lelhmak replied.

“I do,” Gyden said. “I do subscribe to that.”

“So do I,” Predericon said. “Additionally, when it’s a darkness as conceptualised by a Godfang, I would take issue with the ‘irrational’ descriptor.”

“Alright then,” Lelhmak held up his filter device. “Who’s thirsty?”

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.

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Interlude: Form One Lane

Day 83. 72 pages, 29,572 words. Ran out of steam a bit and had this interlude bubbling under, so here you go.

I’ve been commuting lately, and it inspired me to create this Twitter thread. I threw it down in graphical form below, so you could enjoy it. Today, Edpool waxes philosophical.

tweets_political

 

– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone on my lunch break.

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