“Fancy meeting you here,” I said, with a mild sense of déjà vu.
“It will do you no good,” the Myconet repeated.
“Do you live down in these things?” I asked. “Are they part of your big mushroom network or something? And what exactly will do me no good?” I waited, but she didn’t speak again. “If you mean wandering randomly from time-hole to time-hole, I happen to agree with you,” I said when it didn’t seem as though she was going to answer, “but I sort of found myself without much choice in the matter.”
“You cannot get to the edge,” she said eventually. It was eerily akin to listening to somebody speaking on an old-fashioned long-distance phone line, replying to something they had only heard a few seconds ago, with another delay as their response came through. It was sometimes like that, with the Myconet. It was … let’s call it the seventh thing you notice about her. Sometimes, you couldn’t even be sure she was answering the questions you were asking.
Actually, almost all the time it was like that.
“The edge,” I said blankly.
“You cannot find your way to freedom by walking to the edge,” she said. “It only gets more ragged, until it falls apart entirely and crumbles into slo-time. The Wasteland beyond the Wasteland. There is no escape. The frayed edge is forever.”
“I’m not trying ‑ ”
“There is no escape that way, except your death. Not your death,” she immediately contradicted herself, “not the type of end you need. Just failure. It achieves nothing. You will only find yourself more deeply buried in yourself.”
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Some part of you does.”
I squinted. Oh yeah – just when you think she’s not responding to what you’re saying, she’ll say something to make you pretty sure she actually is. “I wish that part of me would speak up,” I said.
“You cannot get out by striving for the edge. That is the animal in the cage, striking without consciousness to escape what it sees as an enclosure, but does not understand. This is not the way. You can only become lost amidst the calving probabilities. The only way out is through. The best way through is forward.”
I remembered thinking much the same thing myself, a time or two. I also remembered Colonel McOldentimes and his ‘e-cig’, and shuddered slightly. “Alright,” I said. “Can you tell me the best way to do that?”
“The issues you currently face are relatively minor,” the Myconet said. “I believe I told you something of the sort before. I trust you listened.”
“Yes,” I said patiently, “I listened. You said there was nothing more important than this situation, but it wasn’t all-encompassing – you said it was a microcosm, a symptom. The swamp, the dead bodies, the Wasteland. You said they were all symptoms, but you didn’t have the context … ” I stopped again. “The swamp. The curse.”
“Bloody Hell,” I muttered. “The trumpet.”
“I’m afraid you’ve lost me,” the Myconet said. “Is this payback?”
“Little bit,” I admitted.
I may not be able to fix whatever the Myconet was listing symptoms of – not yet, anyway – but I suddenly knew how I could deal with the symptoms.
I crossed to the door, pulled it open, and stepped through into darkness.