The Fleet cruiser Broker had somehow finagled for his personal use was really very nice. Elan didn’t think he’d been aboard any private or pleasure vessel that was more luxurious, not that he had been aboard that many. He moved in circles, generally speaking, to which starships and shuttles were more of a way from A to B than a means of impressing people on the way.
He’d seen the name of the vessel as Broker had piloted their little shuttle up to lock in a secure dock on the cruiser’s underside. Kadana Laar, the utilitarian angular Xidh icons had spelled out. It translated roughly as a long and tiring story, which was a little lyrical for a Fleet ship. Elan detected the four subtle hands of Commander Viator Broker behind the designation.
He enjoyed a nice breakfast of eggs and cream-pepper sausages as the Kadana Laar got underway. He didn’t get into space that often, aside from his bounces up to the Carbuncle in orbit, but even he was aware that Fleet rations – particularly their concession to human beings on Fleet ships – were notoriously bland. Broker, however, had taken matters into his own hands and brought in the good stuff from … well, from somewhere. Not Þursheim, Elan judged. Maybe the Separatists just stocked a more interesting larder than their Fleet cousins.
“So we’re off to speak to a Repositorium,” he said, but only after breakfast and his first cup of coffee were behind him. Actual coffee, none of the assorted alternatives that Molranoids usually favoured, like zolo. Broker had offered him tea, but for all that Elan quietly preferred tea to coffee, he felt it was more spacefarer-y – not to mention a bit less good old traditional Mygonite-y – to drink coffee. “Maybe it’s time to … I don’t know … tell me some stuff?” he smiled winningly. “What do you say?”
Viator pondered for a time. It wasn’t like they didn’t have several hours to the Hades line, so Elan let him have his big old generous Molranoid pause. He poured himself another coffee in the meantime.
“How much do you know about the Repositoria, and the Repositoriad?” the Blaran eventually asked.
Elan shrugged. “The former is – was – a collection of biomechanical memory cores, borderline synthetic intelligence, but regenerative like living things,” he said. “There were a few of them taken off the old Fleet homeworld. Three, the old stories say – but the old stories always say there’s three of things.”
“Fair,” Viator said. “The really old stories say there’s ten of things, but you’d probably know more about the old academic forms than I.”
“Well however many there were, there was only one left functional as far as I was ever told,” Elan said. “But you’d know more about that than I do. And – again, as far as I was ever told – it was broken down with age and more or less unintelligible, its data inaccessible except in a bunch of nonsensical riddles that need to be heavily interpreted. Which brings us to the latter,” he smiled. “The Repositoriad, I feel safe saying in this company, are a bunch of terminally pompous old Molren in dorky robes, who control access to the Repositorium and interpret its ancient wisdom and knowledge for the good of the Fleet.”
“You’ve pretty much nailed it,” Broker agreed easily.
“But your Repositorium is different,” Elan sipped his coffee. “It’s a Separatist Repositorium.”
“Well, as to that, it’s really more of a Fleet Repositorium that I stole, on behalf of the New Fleet Separatists,” Broker admitted. “There really is no Fleet or Separatist Repositoria. They are the memory of our lost world – Molran, Blaran, Bonshoon. They belong to all of us. The Fleet, the Molren turned them into Worldship flight log databases, and that’s why they started to go mad and die. They were meant to hold our story,” he sighed. “But they were corrupted, edited. Their minds were clipped, and the tragedy of what they were losing … broke them.”
“Is that why you stole it?” Elan asked.
“Actually, I stole it when I was a child of no more than sixty years of age,” Viator smiled.
“A mere infant,” Elan said wryly. The Blaran grinned and flicked his ears in acknowledgement of the human’s twenty-two entire years of life. “So what was it? A dare?”
“More or less,” Viator said. “I did it to win a bet.”
“You don’t say.”
“Some of the most impressive feats of my life were the result of stupid bets,” Viator said, then grew serious once more. “The Repositoria are not machine minds – not synth instances – and they’re not organic. They’re an incredibly ancient melding of the two, like an organic brain rendered in solid and durable minerals. But even that makes them sound like something terrible and crazy, like Horatio Bunzo.”
“It would explain why the Fleet has always been so insistent that everybody stop trying to transcribe living minds into the electronic,” Elan said. “If the Molran version of it was the ancient and abiding and admittedly slightly barmy Repositoria, but the human attempt resulted in Horatio Bunzo’s Funtime Happy World … ”
“That’s a whole other debate,” Viator said, but then his brief amusement faded. “The Repositoria aren’t transcribed minds. They’re an organic data storage and communication matrix, and like any organ, if they’re used for the wrong thing long enough, they stop being able to do anything.”
“Okay,” Elan said. Something in the Blaran’s tone, something cold and sad, made him shiver slightly despite the warm coffee and the pleasant temperature on board the ship. He pulled his cardigan more securely around himself. At that moment he was grateful for his mum’s silly insistence on the cosy top.
“The Repositoria were carried off Dema in the evacuation,” Broker resumed, “and they’re some of the only things to have survived the exodus and the Cancer and – well, all of it. The only things that aren’t inanimate Worldship hardware.”
“Dema?” Elan said, then his brain held up a helpful flashcard. “The old Fleet homeworld,” he answered his own question, “from the starship elegies.”
“Right,” Broker said. “Before there were Molren and Blaren and Bonshooni. Also known as Grandis 459, at least according to the Repositoria. But they disagree with the elegies as often as they agree with them.”
“The City in the Centre of the Universe?” Elan attempted to keep up. The records and myths he’d read had played pretty fast and loose with details concerning the world the Molranoid species had allegedly come from, which was why ‘Dema’ had momentarily failed to tell him anything.
Broker shook his head. “Most Molranoids not involved in quasi-religious institutions don’t believe the City even existed,” he said. “Dema was just a planet, although it must have been a nice one since the Fleet hasn’t really wanted to settle down anywhere since leaving it. It doesn’t really matter. The record is imperfect, because the Repositoria are broken. This urn the Butterfly talks about,” he switched paths abruptly, and reached out to open Elan’s notes once more. “What else does it say? Was it remains? Ashes? Just a piece of old iconography? From what you’ve written, it seems to have been quite small. Not, say, a sarcophagus.”
“Not a sarcophagus, no,” Elan said, although he wasn’t even certain of that anymore. There were parts of the text that actually did make it sound as if the Butterfly had a casket of some kind. “It’s hard to say for sure, since there’s no dependable scale notes,” he leaned back in his chair and smoothed his cardigan, attempting to shake the superstitious chill Viator seemed to have set in him. “Is that what you have? Sloane’s ashes? Did you pilfer them along with the Butterfly’s texts?”
“Pilfer? I do not pilfer,” Viator said.
“What I have,” the Blaran went on, “is going to be quite a challenge to reconcile with what the Butterfly was apparently talking about. But I’m hoping you’re going to be up to the task.”
“I hope so too,” Elan said.
A few hours later, they arrived.