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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Bookwyrm, Part 17

Day 82. 64 pages, 25,967 words.


 

“I do not know what I am, or what I was. Not precisely. I do not remember the time before I was ensnared within this flesh. According to the archives, though, this was my history.

“When the Firstmade Gods cast the Worm from Their dominion and reclaimed Their worlds, They tore down all that the Worm had wrought. They rent the mighty vessels and fortresses of the Enclave asunder, and They made the Riddle Towers, the homes of the Worm’s own Gods, into Their trophies of war.

“The Riddlespawn of the Towers were not Gods in the classical sense. They were events, Gods in potentia, each one a pupating un-thing in a chrysalis of unimaginable complexity. Even so, they were dangerous. They were drawn from their Towers, and dismembered, and destroyed. As you saw the wrong-form destroyed before your eyes, so too were the Riddlespawn – as yet unborn to their promised dominion – unmade by the vengeful Firstmades.

“And as you can see with the wrong-form, there were … traces that remained.

“Not physical traces, perhaps – although I am given to understand that there may have been those as well. But there were more esoteric things. Vitality, or purpose, soaked into a stone or into a weapon upon which the infant would-be God had shed its blood. One such strange relic was brought aboard a vessel called the Vorontessa. It was holy, the Firstmade-worshipping abominations believed. A trophy of their victory over the Worm that, unlike the Tower itself, could be enjoyed and gloated over by the common mortals.

“And so the Vorontessa flew for the home from which she had been cast. And the Destarion flew with her, as protection against the innumerable desperate and dispossessed who coveted the Firstmades’ riches.

“This relic, this scrap of broken thought, found fertile soil aboard the Vorontessa. The abominations within met their ends, and the Destarion was forced to take severe defensive measures to protect the rest of her convoy. The Vorontessa, and the thing that grew within her – like a Riddle Tower, perhaps, writ small – was thought to have been destroyed. But instead, it entered the Godfang herself.

“The Destarion was by far a greater and more formidable enemy, of course. And the remnant of the Worm, the fragment of embryonic Riddlespawn, was … enfleshed. And this is the beginning of the life I remember – such as it has been.

“Within these walls, I am trapped by the same protocols that keep a Godfang’s Flesh-Eater in its place. The energies and transformations that consume and destroy me are turned upon one another in mutual cancellation, my abilities curtailed by forces more powerful than any accord. Here I have remained, with only the lower archives as company, ever since.

“I am not Flesh-Eater, not Riddlespawn, not Worm. I am neither mortal nor Divine. I am a prisoner in this place.

“And now, it seems, you are to join me.”

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Bookwyrm, Part 16

Day 81. 64 pages, 25,967 words.


 

“We didn’t exactly mean to come here,” Gyden explained.

“I was not aware that it was possible to come to the archives by accident,” the Bookwyrm said. “I have been given to understand that it is difficult to access.”

“Well, we were sent here to deliver the, uh, abomination that you just destroyed,” Lelhmak explained. “After that, we’d sort of been operating on the assumption that we would just go back the way we’d come and talk to the Destarion about whatever happens next. Even as I say it out loud, it seems hopelessly naïve.”

“We were so young and idealistic back then,” Gyden remarked.

“Strange,” the Bookwyrm said after a long, silent moment of apparent consideration.

“It most certainly is that,” Lelhmak murmured. He gave Gyden a concerned but swift examination, then stepped carefully out of the airlock past Predericon. The Bookwyrm slid backwards slowly to make room for the Molran. “How many people come here on purpose, then?”

“Very few,” the Bookwyrm admitted. “The last visitor took away the interactulix.”

“What is an interactulix?” Predericon asked. She and Gyden joined Old Man Lelhmak just outside the doorway. She knew, intellectually, that the airlock offered no sanctuary or shelter whatsoever, but her instinctive unwillingness to abandon the bolthole was surprisingly insistent.

The Bookwyrm half-turned and raised two arms to gesture at the light that continued to pulse and move sluggishly in the middle of the chamber. Then it lowered the limbs.

“It seems illogical to point out where it used to be,” it said, “in an attempt to illustrate what it was. It fitted over the archives like a dome, and…” it seemed at a loss. “That is the thing that the interactulix was.”

“I actually have a vague memory of something like this,” Lelhmak said, squinting at the light. “Nothing so big, of course – just a prismatic data trove that my grandmother had. Yes,” he went on more positively, “yes, it was a device, with a little interface bubble on the top that you could press and talk into and look through. I remember taking it apart as a child, and the raw data was coded into higher-function-energy light. It was very much like that – although smaller, like I said. I got in a lot of trouble when she saw I’d taken it apart, because she thought if the light shone out that meant the data was – was drifting away with the photons,” he chuckled.

“The elderly are funny,” Predericon remarked flatly.

He gave her a narrow look. “Anyway,” he said, “I’m pretty sure that was called an interactulix, too. Just a stylish old name for a data interface.”

“So now there’s just…” Gyden waved at the light.

“The archives,” the Bookwyrm said. “It is still accessible, and quite fascinating. It was what drew me here to begin with, the bait in the trap. But perhaps less simple to navigate now that the interactulix is gone.”

“How much can you tell us about yourself?” Predericon asked, then shrugged when the other two stared at her. “We seem to be trapped here,” she said. “Might as well get to know our host.”

Lelhmak shook his head, and stumped over to sit on one of the smooth square lumps of hull enamel that furnished the lower archives chamber.

“Fair to say,” he acknowledged. “Unless the Bookwyrm has food.”

“Food,” the Bookwyrm said blankly.

Lelhmak spread his hands. “Life story, then.”

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Bookwyrm, Part 15

Day 80. 64 pages, 25,967 words.


 

The fascinating, horrible creature picked its way fastidiously around the wreckage of the Demon it had scattered across the floor. It appeared to be undamaged and even unstained from its brutal dismemberment of Odium, although its skin still oozed with unpleasant grey-black slime.

The Demon-blood, Predericon’s desperately-darting eyes noted in passing, actually appeared to have evaporated entirely. Whatever it had been, the mind-jarring non-substance had simply vanished and the body-parts left behind now looked like plastic components. Awfully realistic components, but still difficult to consider as parts of a once-living thing.

De-,” she blurted, and was rather surprised to find that she could talk, even though moving her limbs still seemed to be out of the question, “Destarion. Can you hear us?”

The creature stopped, its ruined, serpentine head tilting and turning. She hadn’t really had a chance to notice its face before, but it wasn’t like the warped sensor-arrangement of a Flesh-Eater or like the face of a Molran, but a strange combination of the two. Its eyes were large and dark and spaced so widely as to be almost on the sides of its skull, under the sweeping flaps of its neck-hood. Its nose was the usual tidy pair of neat slits, and its mouth was wide and decorated with thin, delicate fangs similar to the eye-teeth of a Molranoid.

A patch of the churning, meaty in-between stuff wandered slowly up the side of its face, devouring one eye before regurgitating it and descending back towards the neck. This patch, although mobile, seemed more or less stable on the thing’s head.

It stared at the three Molren in silence. A slow thread of grey slime, beaded with dark lumps like some kind of amphibian’s spawn, stretched from its lower left hand and finally separated and coiled into a puddle on the floor with an audible slither.

Lelhmak found his voice next. “If you’re going to kill us,” he said, “try to make it faster than that was.”

“I will not kill you,” the thing said. “You are not gukané. You are not wrong-form,” it corrected itself ponderously. “I rid the world only of abomination.”

“Oh,” Lelhmak said. “Well, good. Good for you.”

“We are not abominations,” Predericon felt it was important to reaffirm. Her body began to relax.

“The Destarion cannot hear you,” the thing answered her original query. “It is a necessary condition of my containment.”

“I see,” Predericon nodded, rolling her shoulders imperceptibly and shifting on her feet. “I am Predericon Ti Akmet,” she went on, “researcher from the Manatrikti Academy of Firstmade and Elder Theology and Megaengineering.”

“Kedane Lelhmak, research overseer,” Old Man Lelhmak added.

“Gyden Lazeen,” Gyden said, and Predericon risked turning her head to glance at her companion. Gyden was pushing herself to her feet, battered and streaked with grey slime but apparently not seriously hurt. “Researcher.”

The thing stopped a couple of metres from the doorway and stood, weaving slowly back and forth in place, watching them.

“Who are … you?” Lelhmak asked carefully.

“I am not sure,” the creature said, “but the archives refer to me as the Bookwyrm so that is probably acceptable.”

“Bookwyrm it is,” Lelhmak said. “Um, what happens now?”

“I have no idea,” the Bookwyrm replied, and tilted its head. “I assumed that you would know, since you came here.”

 


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

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Bookwyrm, Part 14

Day 79. 62 pages, 25,046 words.


 

The weird, thick light and the sweet, swampy smell hit Predericon’s eyes and nose at about the same time, leaving her momentarily disoriented.

Before she could get a good look at the space – there appeared to be some sort of light shifting and glowing in the centre, and a few indistinct formations of pale hull-material scattered around it – she was buffeted aside by something. A shape hit the rear wall of the airlock chamber and flailed there for a moment, hissing and splattering damply. Predericon managed to stagger upright and half-turn, then Odium screamed.

“No!” the Demon, breathing raggedly as though it was still a living human that even needed air, lunged out of the little room and dragged Gyden with it, then spun her in its grip like a doll and flung her back between Predericon and Lelhmak, directly at the thing that was still scrabbling at the rear of the airlock. The shape swayed aside lazily and Gyden struck the wall – which was now darkened and streaked with strange, clotted slime – awkwardly with her right shoulders. She crumpled in a tangle of arms and legs, and the thing slid past the other two Molren and advanced on the Demon. “No!” Odium screeched. “No don’t! No, take her!”

Lelhmak and Predericon had flattened themselves against the side-walls of the chamber, but Predericon couldn’t check on either of her companions at that moment. Her eyes were fixed on the thing that was casually following Odium out into the weird aquatic light of the lower archives.

She tried to convince herself that it was a Flesh-Eater. She really tried – it was a strange sensation that at least one part of her consciousness was able to examine. Her brain worked at it. It looks sort of like one, she bargained with herself. Just ignore the rest, and remember that it’s a Flesh-Eater like Stankley.

But it wasn’t. Not exactly.

Like a Flesh-Eater it was gaunt, vaguely Molranoid, and seemed to have four spindly arms terminating in blades, or at least tapering to points. Details were hard to make out because a lot of its pallid Flesh-Eater skin was streaked and beaded with the same thin, greyish slime and darker clots that it had smeared on the rear wall of the airlock in its attempt to escape. But there was something else … melded to the Flesh-Eater frame. Something pinkish and yellowish and scaly. Something with a great arching neck and head, making it even taller than the Molren and letting it tower over the Demon. The sides of its neck were flattened and flared out in a serpentine hood. It was twisted, mangled, but all the more horrifying for its beauty.

But the worst part was that the two merged entities were themselves incomplete, and didn’t add up to a complete creature. There were gaps. If smoke and mist could be formed out of flesh – mangled and boiled and rotted flesh – that was what made up the gaps in the figure’s construction. And those missing pieces shifted, consuming and replacing parts of the thing’s body, chewing up scales and hard, pallid skin and peeling back to reveal unblemished surfaces behind them, like wandering anatomical overcast.

It was horrible, yet hypnotic. Predericon couldn’t look away, couldn’t even move. She heard Gyden shift, draw in a short hiss of pained breath and then groan in faint disgust, presumably at the mess in which she’d been unceremoniously rubbed. Then Gyden also stopped making any discernible sounds. Predericon was unwilling or unable to turn her head to check.

The strange snakelike figure weaved from side to side as silently as a shadow, and continued to advance unhurriedly on the Demon it had apparently selected as its prime target. Its arms came up, shifting and swelling and glistening as they changed from state to state.

Odium gave a final squeal, the sound obscenely ecstatic, like a child being chased and tickled. There was no sanity in it. “No don’t please-”

The thing wrapped its arms around the Demon with a wet crackling sound, and marched with it into the crawling lights in the middle of the chamber, seeming to descend as it marched. Odium’s screams continued, wavering from breathless primate shrieks to rending, ear-stabbing sounds like tortured metal inside a broken machine. It was unthinkable that even an undead throat could make such noises.

The light pulsated, darkening and brightening in an unpleasant accelerating pulse like a circulatory system, like a gland. It flushed red, then returned to the odd colourlessness it had exhibited at the start. Then it went red again, then faded. With each shift, the screams of the Demon changed in urgency and tone. At one point the pulsing slowed, and the squeals dropped into low, insistent cries of distress – the bawling of a hurt and exhausted animal that didn’t understand what was being done to it. The groans sharpened abruptly into, not a gasp, but a heavy rupturing sound, wet and emphatic and accompanied by a gusting cough. Something, a patter of small objects, flew out of the light and rolled across the floor.

Predericon managed to flick her gaze downwards at the nearest of the pieces, and was dully unsurprised to see it was a digit, either a toe or a segment of finger. Nearby, she caught the gleam of a tooth that would have been difficult to see in the shifting light and against the white enamel floor, but for the ragged edge of flesh and a broken second tooth alongside it. Teeth and appendage alike leaked a strange dark fluid that wasn’t blood, but may have been the diabolised equivalent.

At the same time as the heavy ripping cough and the little cascade of body-parts, the screaming resumed frantically and the pulsing light accelerated again. And it went on.

And on.

Predericon wasn’t sure how long it lasted. Less than ten minutes, more than five. More than she thought even a Demon of the Adversary should have to suffer. On four more occasions there were the slow-downs, the pulsing stopped and the shrieks faded to sobs. Then there was the same abrupt build-up, the heavy tearing sound of impact, and a patter of small pieces of flesh, bone, and things that might have been internal organs. The noise redoubled, and the pulse sped back up to a horrible exuberant rush.

Finally, though, it was over. The screams ended in a final choked sigh, and there were a half-dozen more of the loud, meat-rending blows, each one accompanied by a spray of flesh, then of bone-fragments and black paste, then simply of droplets of the fluid itself, with neither sobs, renewed screams, nor an accompanying increase in the light’s palpitations to go along with it. Simply the aimless sounds of something visiting mindless brutality on a piece of already-dead flesh.

Then there was silence for another minute or so. Predericon could hear both Gyden and Lelhmak now, breathing quickly and lightly in a harmonic to her own rapid breaths. She still couldn’t unlock her frozen muscles, but she began to feel a slight lessening of the animal panic that might, just maybe, allow her to move in due course. She even began to think that if she and Lelhmak edged back towards the rear of the airlock where Gyden was crouched, the lower archives door might close and permit them to escape. Their mission, after all, would seem to be accomplished. This was clearly the means of disposal the Destarion had intended for Odium all along. She just hadn’t told them so, perhaps because they might have balked.

I would not describe it as anything so prosaic as a waste disposal system, of course, Predericon remembered Segment Four telling them.

Then it was too late. The misshapen figure stepped back out of the light and started towards them.

 


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

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Bookwyrm, Part 13

Day 78. 60 pages, 24,154 words.


 

The three Molren and the Demon traversed some more empty chambers and a passageway that curved around and upwards. Whether it actually sloped upwards, or if the entire thing was simply a trick of gravity, Predericon couldn’t guess.

They didn’t speak. Predericon got the impression that their silence was very disconcerting to the diabolised human and that it would have preferred to talk the whole way. She acknowledged, however, that this might have simply been the stress of the situation, combined with her general dependence on peer prejudices to replace experience when it came to humans. If Odium was unsettled, of course, Predericon couldn’t find it in herself to really care.

For her own part she was trying, fruitlessly, to figure out just what was going on and what the Elevator had in mind for all of them. All she really knew at this point was that neither Segment Four nor Segment Eleven seemed to be telling any of them the truth. And that there wasn’t a damn thing they could do about it.

After one small chamber sealed them up and subjected them to a brief swoop of vertigo in the form of an internal elevator or transport, the doorway opened and the Destarion announced, “Special transport nine ends here. You are now leaving Segment Eleven and entering Segment Twelve. No maximum security functionality or paradox field effectivity beyond this point. Please try not to be upset by some of the speech patterns and idiosyncrasies I may present in Segment Twelve. You will not be harmed.”

“That’s what she said when we went into Segment Eleven,” Gyden complained in a low voice, and raised a hand to her bruised face.

They stepped out into Segment Twelve, and continued along a corridor that seemed no different to all the others.

Destarion?” Predericon called, then once again kicked herself for raising her voice and went on in a more normal tone. “Can you hear us?”

“Of course I can hear you,” the Destarion replied. “You have a non-organic element in your company. Are you sure you want to bring it into the lower archives? The risk of undead contamination of command overrides-”

“I don’t know how much you’ve told you,” Lelhmak spoke up scathingly, “but this is apparently a situation you have intentionally orchestrated and with which we have been left with no choice but to comply, either by you or Odium. Odium has made it very clear that our defiance is unwelcome, and you have made it very clear that our defiance is irrelevant, so at this point we’re really just going along with your rambling excuse for a plan.”

Odium gave a hoot of simian laughter. “Nicely done, Grey.”

“My name,” Old Man Lelhmak said stiffly, “is Kedane Lelhmak. Research overseer of the Manatrikti Academy.”

Your name is Kedane Lelhmak, antique Molran phobe who scolded the Godfang like she was a foolish child wasting everyone’s time,” Odium corrected him. “And I cannot but approve.”

The Destarion maintained a silence after this that Predericon couldn’t help but feel was surly. They progressed once again through a series of chambers and twisting corridors. The Elevator finally spoke again as they arrived at the sealed-off end to the latest tunnel.

“Lower archives,” she said curtly. Behind them the tunnel closed off, turning the section in which they were standing into another antechamber.

Or an airlock, Predericon thought.

The doorway opened like a silent mouth in front of them, and the strange murky light of the lower archives filled the chamber.

 


– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while on the bus.

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Bookwyrm, Part 12

Day 77. 58 pages, 23,021 words.


 

Odium, Predericon reflected, may have been accustomed to dealing primarily with humans – may even have suffered as a result of having been one at some point. They were sentimental and emotional creatures to a fault.

“Go ahead,” Lelhmak said. “We already said there’s no way for us to harm you.”

“And the Destarion’s security measures were about to kill us all anyway,” Gyden added, “in case you’d forgotten.”

“You know,” Odium said, “you’re right.”

Moving almost too quickly for the eye to follow, Odium strode forward with a bang of displaced air, grabbed Gyden by the neck and lower left arm, pulled her to her feet and marched her straight at the wall where the doorway had been. All three Molren attempted to grapple with the Demon but were dragged along as though they were infants clutching to Odium’s uniform.

Gyden hit the wall face-first with a muffled crunch, and Odium pushed.

There was a moment of silent but intense struggle as Predericon and Lelhmak each tugged at an apparently human arm as unyielding as an imperium bar, Odium stood with a serene but determined expression on its face, and Gyden groaned as the pressure first bruised, then crushed her flesh and began to make her bones flex and distort against the hard white enamel of the platform’s interior.

“Passenger injury detected,” the Destarion said, and the door irised open. Odium hefted Gyden’s limp form in its hands, gave Predericon and Lelhmak a cool stare, and strolled through into what appeared to be the brig antechamber. The Molren followed hastily.

“Alright,” Lelhmak growled, “I think we’ve all made our points. You want out, the Destarion wants to let you out, and we want to stop you. And we can’t. Now put her down.”

Odium shrugged and let Gyden slither heavily to the floor. Predericon and Lelhmak crouched over her.

“She’s alive,” Predericon reported, moving her fingers delicately over her companion’s bruised face. Her skin had split in several places, around skull prominences and some of her bead implants, but the bleeding had already stopped and the splits swelled shut. Gyden groaned, raised a hand to her mouth, and wiped blood from the corner where her eye tooth had cut into her lip. “Med pack,” Predericon added, and Lelhmak put the emergency case into her left hands.

“I was extremely careful,” Odium said. “You’re my only three bargaining chips at the moment.”

Predericon applied some numbing agents and stimulant gauze to assist in the healing process, and ran a quick scan for internal swelling or damage. There was a small stress fracture in her prodorsal skull plate but it would heal without assistance. She helped Gyden sit up.

“I’m alright,” she reported. “Feel like a bit of a fool, but if that was fatal…” she chuckled shakily. “I’ll live.”

“Provided there are absolutely no further exhibits of childish defiance,” Odium said sternly, “yes.”

“Fine,” Lelhmak stood and glared at the Demon, then turned his disapproval directionlessly towards the walls. “Manual command override station, then,” he said. “Show us the way.”

“Acknowledged,” the Destarion said calmly, and a doorway opened in an adjacent wall. “Access granted to lower archives.”

It took all of Predericon’s willpower not to react, or to look at the other two – or the Demon. She concentrated on steadying Gyden as she pushed herself back to her feet, grimaced, and nodded her thanks.

You sly old monster, Predericon marvelled to herself.

“Right then, my organic friends,” Odium said. “Where were we?”


 

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

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