Interlude: Mortal Engines (a review)

I watched this movie over the Christmas break last year. Since it’s now appearing in “worst movies of 2018” lists, I figured I should step up and offer my defence of what was really a very enjoyable movie.

Okay, so first of all the usual disclaimers. I likey the CGI, the BST, the whizzbang. This movie had them all, and a cool premise to boot. I liked Aquaman (and I wasn’t alone). The world needs more post-apocalyptic stories, and more steampunk artistry, and this was a great example of both. Will it be as good on the small screen? Probably not. The scenery more than made up for all the actors desperately chewing it.

But even so, I will be happily adding this to my Peter Jackson / Weta shelf just as soon as I can afford to. It was a lot of fun.

mortal_engines_02_crimson_permanent_assurance

I liked how the Crimson Permanent Assurance did battle with the – okay, I’ve made this joke and so have plenty of others, to the point where a Google image search for “Mortal Engines” finds this picture … so let’s move on.
Oh, and I also made the “this is how Britain re-enters the EU” joke, so don’t bother.

This was another movie of a book that I haven’t read the original material from, and having read through the synopses on Wikipedia I would have to conclude that this was a classically forgivable Jackson movie-ising of a great big beautiful world. Visually, it’s spot on. Story could maybe use a little work, but then we run into a couple of issues:

1) It’s a movie. It has to be between 90 and 119 minutes long (120 minutes and you will start to get ADHD cunts bleating about how IT WAS TWO HOURS LONG I LITERALLY COULDN’T OH LOOK SHINY THING), and contain enough action and a compact plot to stand alone – especially if it’s not guaranteed sequels. So restructuring is necessary. I, personally, would watch a five-hour completely faithful reproduction of a book’s story, if it was the right book. But I am not a load-bearing audience demographic. Of course, with TV series we have more leeway to be faithful to the source material at even greater length, but even then there needs to be some alteration.

2) A movie of a book can only ever really be as good as its source material. It’s very rare for a movie to be better (although it does happen, and not just when the source material is abysmal). And I’m not saying this movie suffered from bad material. I haven’t read the books so I’m going to default to “I’m sure they were fine”. From what I’ve read, they were initially intended as an adult series but the poor author (the poor, bestselling author with a Weta Workshop movie deal) was required to jump through publishers’ hoops[1] and rewrite them as children’s stories, and possibly wound up with a truncated young-adult narrative with less fine detail. I don’t know. It didn’t really come across in the movie adaptation. I got more of a Waterworld and Mad Max feel from it than a Hunger Games or Maze Runner feel.

[1] OKAY, I still have a chip on my shoulder, I’m trying to be better.

So anyway, we ended up with a bit of a movie-ising problem but it still held together pretty well. In fact, it seemed more like I was watching part two of a trilogy, with the obvious exception (or maybe even clever trope-breaking?) that it ends on a happy note[2]. Maybe the note could have been “London is gone, but now the wall is destroyed and all those other cool cities will be coming for us for the final showdown between the Traction and Anti-Traction teams“, except then it would have derailed from the book series entirely. I don’t know, it still seems like that could have been the way to go. It’s basically where they need to go if they’re ever going to make a sequel anyway – not that it seems likely they will.

[2] Let’s face it, if it had ended on a downer it would have been too much like Star Wars.

mortal_engines_03

They managed to make this too much like Star Wars. Let that sink in.

If Mortal Engines had been the second movie, the first movie could then have provided a bit of a better setup and given us a good idea of how we got to where we are. Heck, maybe just more tooling around and watching cities eat things. More about the Lazarus Men / Stalkers. All of that. Perhaps they’re going to make a prequel movie (based on the Fever Crumb series?) and turn Mortal Engines into part two of a trilogy. Lots of things they could do. All depends on them ever getting backing for a sequel or a prequel, really.

And of course, I understand that they probably realised another patented Jackson trilogy blowout probably wouldn’t fly, and it seems as though a single movie didn’t exactly fly either. Which is a shame. But I’m not the right person to ask, am I? And yet, here you are.

Still. The Mortal Engines plot is apparently pretty much where the book series started too, so who am I to judge? After researching a little, I think the book version of Shrike and Hester make a little bit more sense but of course it all depends on how the cybernetic “Stalkers” are set up to work. The movie version was a little too broken-Terminator, you couldn’t really see it making deals with anyone. Then again, the book version seemed to turn into a handy way of bringing back dead characters as cool robo-zombies. In the book’s defence, that only seems to be done very minimally.

mortal_engines_04

“I sure hope this transparent analogy for the book’s screenplay will support my weight. Oh no-“

I was struck, as I hinted above, at how very Star Wars the ending was. Here we have a giant mobile weapon-machine-city-world, with a new weapon capable of massive destruction, facing off against a rival faction and obliterating their defences, only to have the weapon shut down and a group of plucky rebels fly into the main power core and then fly out again ahead of the shockwave, while a main protagonist and antagonist fight on a high gantry and the latter reveals he is the former’s father. I mean, come the fuck on. And again, in the book’s defence, these events seemed to be done differently and the reveal didn’t happen like that, so it was probably way less on the nose. Putting them all together like that in a single movie just made it impossible to ignore.

I also like the idea (from the book) of one of the protagonists just bumping a keyboard and causing the whole MEDUSA thing to shut down due to a malfunction. Much more believable than a shutdown chip and program surviving intact for however many centuries.

I loved the concept (book and movie) of Municipal Darwinism. Mashing up familiar concepts and terms like that to create new ideas that are nevertheless easily understandable in context is very much my jam. I think it felt a little clunky in the movie and I can almost picture the author weeping as he cut down this and other great ideas for the younger-readers version of his story, and going “no, I’m not cutting Municipal Darwinism, it’s too good!” And kudos to him for standing his ground, even if it seemed strange in the movie script.

mortal_engines_01

Also there was a couple of car-chase scenes with actual cities instead of cars, so that was worth the ticket price all on its own.

Good movie, sadly unappreciated and unnoticed amidst the whatever else there was at the end of last year. Aquaman, I guess. Of course, if anyone was going to overshadow the city of London in tank form, it would be Jason Momoa. So yeah. I give this movie a traditionally published Philip Reeve Mortal Engines Quartet out of a possible independently published Mortal Engines series Philip Reeve may have originally wanted to write.

Posted in Hatboy's Movie Extravaganza | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Black Lotus, Part 13

“Most people who deal in death came to it out of some form of tragedy or another, even if that tragedy is simple absence of distinction,” the Black Lotus said. “I regret to say I am no exception. Indeed, my story is, if anything, unexceptional.”

“Go on,” Çrom invited.

“I sought the Fountain of Youth,” Lotus told him. “I sought the Dark Queen’s Chalice, the flesh of the Riddlespawn, the Horn of Bulek. I sought eternal life.”

“Riddlespawn meat only keeps you alive as long as you’re eating nothing else except Riddlespawn meat,” Çrom said vaguely, then blinked. “And I wouldn’t call any of that unexceptional,” he added. “Your life has been one of impressive achievements and associations.”

Achievements and associations,” Lotus’s lip curled. “Oh yes, I’ve elevated myself by being close to those who have already attained my most dearly-held goal. Clinging to them, following them, basking in their light like a parasite and pretending it was my own. The success of my life can be measured only by my collection of stories about truly successful people.”

“Well, when you put it that way…”

“I travelled far and wide, searching for different ways mortals might become immortals,” Lotus said, the anger in her tone fading to weary amusement. “All I managed to do on my quest for immortality was to scrub a decade of precious life off my ledger. All I learned was how easy it is to tear the soul from the flesh and send it into Limbo’s uncaring embrace. All I earned were these scars, these aches, these chalky bones aged before their time. A crone at four and thirty,” she grinned. “Do you believe it, young master Skelliglyph?”

“I would have guessed younger, except for the sheer number of adventures you’ve managed to fit into so short a time,” Çrom said gallantly. “Travel is not a friendly or easy prospect, for a human. And the rest – your work, bringing rest and relief to those who wish to die-”

“In truth, I am bitter,” she said. “I envy you, Sorry Çrom Skelliglyph. And I know, that makes me a fool. I have sought out all of the famous immortals, and eternals if the distinction means anything to you. Many of them speak as you do, about the curse of a life everlasting. But then there are those for whom a single lifetime would never have been enough, whether it was the meagre centuries of a human, or the millennia of a Molran, or the Ages-long doze of an Ogre. Those who never tire of it, but who relish every day and every hour of their eternity, spend it enjoying all of the wonders of the urverse, and adding to them with creations of their own.”

“You can hardly be surprised there are different types of immortals,” Çrom noted. “There are mortals who weary of life at a hundred years, or fifty, or four and thirty. The ability to maintain enthusiasm for life beyond a certain point is … is brain chemistry as well as whatever specific sort of immortality you get…”

“Do you know the first immortal I met, long before my first steps along the path of dark science, long before my career began, when I was a mere student of folklore?” she smiled. “Patroclus DeColt, the so-called Mad Alchemist of the Ice Wall. The myth named him a mortal consort to the Dark Queen, with whom She had fallen in love as a result of his fantastical brews. The tale says She granted him a sip from Her famous Chalice, granting him a life everlasting so that he could carry out Her wishes and share Her bed. Do you know what I found, when I dared the journey to the edge of the Void?”

“That the Ice Wall Department of Immigration and Pest Control has a vigorously proactive stance on preventing the spread of the human species,” Çrom guessed.

“Well, yes,” Lotus admitted. “But I was part of a research team travelling under diplomatic protections.”

“Ah,” Çrom nodded. “You mean the Ice Wall sent a group of students here to gape at the Eden Road and write condemnatory papers about the Pinians’ dalliances with mortals, and if you’d been killed then someone over here would have taken a rolled-up parchment to those students, and they would never have scuttled home to their big hairy-legged Ice Mommy again.”

“Exactly,” Lotus said. “I had no plans to see a myth in the flesh, but DeColt must have heard that there was a human among the visitors.”

“And instead of a legendary lover of Dark Goddesses, you met a dissolute and desperate rapist whose mind was long since fried by his own concoctions,” Çrom said.

Lotus nodded, her ravaged face pale behind the grime. “He begged me to smuggle him back to the Four Realms. He wept. He drooled and soiled himself. When I refused to aid him, he … did his best to force himself on me. But he was so very weak, and his…” she shuddered. “The cold had devoured all that was man in him.”

Çrom nodded too. “DeColt was a phenomenal alchemist. The experiments he conducted on himself may very well have extended his lifespan,” he said quietly, “but they also enhanced his strength and his vitality in ways that overwhelmed his socially-imposed self-control. It’s hard to see people as people when they are so very inferior to you. He became a beast, and when it was no longer enough to force unthinkable defilements upon his fellow humans…” he shivered. “He was exiled to the Rooftop, and somehow found his way to the Ice Wall with the avowed intention of exercising his will upon the Dark Queen Herself. This … turned out to be a tactical misstep.”

Lotus laughed dryly. “You might say that. I don’t know what actually happened between DeColt and the Dark Queen, but I learned that his eternal life came from neither his alchemy nor from the Chalice. He was simply … denied death, forced to live on in a ruined body and with a broken mind, while the Dark Queen’s multitude of children tested their venoms on him. And wrapped his paralysed body in their webs so he might feed their newborns. And worse things, that he didn’t dare tell me even in his madness and desperation.”

“Look, I’m not saying there aren’t worse ways to spend eternity,” Çrom said reasonably. “Ghååla generally do it better, and more effortlessly, than Gods. And I’d be lying if I said I had much sympathy for DeColt. If anything, his dementia is a blessing he hardly deserves.”

“I looked into his eyes,” Lotus said. “His dementia is a shredded rag against the blizzard, offering no real protection. He might have been my first client, had that work been my purview at the time. Had I not been little more than a child.”

“How would you have killed him?”

Lotus shrugged. “Hiding him from the Dark Queen’s many eyes,” she said, “would have been the only real challenge – and not an insurmountable one. She watches all things in Her kingdom, and DeColt is a favourite plaything accorded special scrutiny. He is not permitted to injure himself too severely. His is not a perfect immortality. It cannot be, for Her purposes. Hiding him for a time, cutting off his head, and taking it somewhere beyond Her reach, would grant him the peace he craves.”

“Would you ever go back to offer your services?” Çrom asked. “Killing Patroclus DeColt would be quite a feather in your…” he eyed her wild, matted snarl of hair, “…nest.”

Lotus smiled. “I have returned twice to the Ice Wall,” she said, “but not to kill DeColt. Nor have I ever been contracted to do so. The waivers remain unsigned. I am not sure I would take the commission were it offered to me. He was, and is, a despicable creature.”

“The romanticism of his myth always annoyed me,” Çrom admitted. “People forget the evil in favour of cheap titillation. My myth may not be very interesting, but at least it’s got a couple of solid morals in it,” he raised his thumb. “Don’t fuck with Ghååla,” he added his index finger. “Decent walking boots are an investment.”

Lotus rewarded him with a laugh. “In any case,” she said, “the Dark Queen was aware of my budding reputation by the time I returned, and so I was given no opportunity to cause trouble. She was curious about me, but not so much that She honoured me with a personal audience.”

“Gods are snobs like that,” Çrom noted. “I bet She didn’t let you use Her Chalice either.”

The Black Lotus laughed again.

 


– Carpark

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Bonus Post: This Writerly Life

This movie scene suddenly popped into my head at a department meeting today as we were discussing the completion of a long-term project “finally approaching”. And it made me wonder why I had never made the comparison before.

project

 


– Carpark

Posted in Edpool, Hatboy's Nuggets of Crispy-Fried Wisdom, Kussa mun hopoti?, Office Posts, Random | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Black Lotus, Part 12

“What would you say is the best way to die?” Lotus asked. “The least pain, the shortest duration, the easiest of memories on your return to life?”

“Well,” Çrom said, “I know it’ll sound like an unhelpful answer, but none of them are easy. That’s the simple truth. I know,” he raised his hands before she could protest, “you said best, and there has to be a spectrum, right?”

Lotus expectantly twirled a gnarled hand. “Well?”

“Yes and no,” Çrom said. “There’s a spectrum, but its entirety falls at the extreme end of a larger spectrum of human experience, beyond the line that separates bearable from unbearable sensation. So yes, there are better and worse options. For example, being brutally tortured for days leading up to being dismembered to death – worse.”

“A shame, but I will make a note of it,” Lotus said. They both chuckled, but it was a chuckle full of awareness of how un-chuckleworthy the topic was.

“The best and cleanest and swiftest and most painless possible death is still a death,” Çrom went on seriously, “and as such accounts for … practically one hundred percent of the unpleasantness of it. Any peripheral stuff comes in at a very, very distant second place. I just want to make that as clear as I possibly can.”

“Interesting,” Lotus said. “Do you think that this … unpleasantness, which seems an insufficient word…”

“You’ve got that right.”

“Do you think that it is purely a function of the human brain not being able to process its own death? Or do you think the dread Ghåålus added an intentional barb to the curse, making the death itself into a tortuous ordeal?”

“I think maybe it doesn’t really matter which is the case,” Çrom said, “but I have done a bit of pondering about it, over the years. And it’s true, He very well might have dialled up the nastiness of it. But the simple fact is, I don’t think He needed to. Death is bad enough without any amplification. It’s just fine for almost every mortal who ever lived, because they don’t need to actually process the data back into a living and operational nervous system.”

“I see.”

“But if you want to talk about the spectrum within a spectrum…” Çrom thought about it some more. “The easy answer, something along the lines of ‘passing away peacefully of exhaustion or heart failure in bed with a small group of sexual partners of your choice’, sounds ideal but like I was saying, it’s really just another death. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be worth trying another eight or nine times, just to be sure,” he joked feebly, “but don’t hold it against me if I wimp out in the middle of the afterglow and sneak away somewhere to get my breath back. Dying is still not worth it no matter how happy my inner monkey is when it happens.”

He shivered, for once not really noticing the bright inquisitive look Lotus was still directing at him. The feeling of your nervous system shutting down, your consciousness retracting to a single aactur and winking away into whatever comes next – Limbo or the afterlife or blessed, blessed nothingness – and then being unwinked back into reality and blown back up into the same old body to just carry on … no, the human mind was not adequately equipped for that. Çrom had come to suspect that even the Firstmades, who had been doing the same shit on purpose since the dawn of time, weren’t actually equipped for it. That was why they were all sociopathic lunatics with severe substance abuse issues.

“So, the best possible end of that spectrum within a spectrum,” Lotus pressed. “If you had to choose.”

“If I had to choose…” Çrom shrugged. “Just a straight-up severed spine is about the best I can hope for. There’s a certain amount of lingering consciousness but at least it’s centred in the brain – the rest of the body’s signals don’t get through. It’s better than decapitation though, if you do it right, because decapitation usually reads like … like all the signals trying to go through at once. Don’t ask me why they’re different, but they are. I think it’s a shock thing. Maybe with a crushed vertebra I’m still getting some sort of signal saying that the rest of my body is fine and the only damage is the spine and there’s no real need for a lot of impulses that are only going to make my brain unhappy. Cutting the head off allows the whole ‘massive cutting trauma across neck’ message to go through, and that translates into ‘let’s say the whole body has been mangled to a pulp to save time’. But destroying the brain itself,” he raised a finger. “Worse, not better. Because that’s when the real no-fucking-idea comes out to play and I wake up with a hideous nightmarish nothing-spot. No shock, no gentle loss of signal, just straight to the raw death.”

“What of the famed sleeping killers?” Lotus asked. “Sedation and overdose? Drowning? Hypothermia?”

Çrom shook his head. “No, no and no,” he said. “All awful. The people who say those things are like falling asleep all have one obvious thing going for them – they don’t actually die. Oh, maybe they do, clinically … but if they do it’s not for long, not for keeps, and they are revived into the same body and the same brain. With the added benefit of a bit of oxygen deprivation or some other trauma to pack wool around the whole thing. Lucky bastards,” he shook his head. “The consciousness defends itself by wiping out the real sensations retroactively, and substituting a gentle going-away feeling that you could swear you really experienced at the time. The brain fools itself. We’ve bred for that, selectively, over the millennia.”

“And you have been dragged along with the flotilla,” Lotus smiled.

Çrom laughed shortly. “Exactly. I don’t get that thoughtful little retcon action when I get killed. Trust me when I tell you,” he concluded. “I’ve been clinically dead and then resuscitated, and it’s entirely different to being properly killed and then unkilled.”

“That brings us back to the question of the unkill – the reset itself,” the Black Lotus leaned forward eagerly. “When you are injured or sedated to the point of clinical death, and revived, your consciousness fades as your nervous system shuts down, your soul – according to current theories – retracts to unreality … but then your flesh is resupplied with the necessary substances, the damage is repaired, your nervous system resumes activity and the connection – not actually broken, so much as thinned to a thread – is brought back to fullness. You are the same, occupying the same flesh, and you continue.”

Çrom nodded. “Sounds clinical enough.”

“Yet you are saying that this does not occur,” the Black Lotus pressed, “when you are killed and then unkilled by your curse.”

“Right.”

“You die completely, the connection severed. And then it is forcibly reforged, and you are placed in a new housing of flesh, practically identical to the one you wore before.”

“Right,” Çrom said again. “Except for the cause of death being edited out – you know, the physical damage repaired – and maybe a tiny evolutionary change written in to be going along with.”

“But not the same flesh.”

“Not the same,” Çrom said, and frowned, “I guess.”

“What, then, happens to the flesh that died?”

“No idea,” Çrom said. “I’ve never woken up beside a carcass of myself, except in those cloning exercises we talked about earlier. I think it’s recycled. I mean, the matter is basically exactly what the universe needs in order to build a new Çrom Skelliglyph, give or take a few molecules here and there. The most efficient way to rebuild me, really, is to reuse the material I was made out of originally. So you could say it’s the same matter, but not the same meat. It’s completely scrubbed, like a stolen starship.”

“And has this recycling been studied in action?”

“Of course,” Çrom said. “Nothing very conclusive was ever found, though.”

“And why is that?”

“Because medical instruments and magically enhanced senses are no better equipped to deal with a carcass turning back into a person than the brain inside that carcass is,” Çrom said. “You know, if I had to guess. They don’t seem to find it as awful as I do, but they’re still basically left at a complete loss. How close are we to my death now?”

“Closer than ever before.”

“That doesn’t mean much. It just means time is unidirectional,” Çrom sighed. “Tell me something, Lotus,” she raised an eyebrow. “Tell me why you really study immortality.”

“Ah,” she said, her smile bitter. “Have you not guessed the answer to so paltry a mystery, Sorry Çrom Skelliglyph?”

 


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

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Interlude (sort of): Omnicide

My day went to abrupt meltdown-level shit so although I have a part ready to post, I’m going to leave it until tomorrow so I have a chance to unpack and get my head back together again.

Instead, I adapted one of my blog comments into a relevant aki’Pedia page on the subject of omnicide. Enjoy. Again. I guess.

– Posted from my meh

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Black Lotus, Part 11

“Ah,” the Black Lotus said. “So you concede that, as dire as your eternal punishment is, it is not as bad as it could be.”

“That was never a matter for debate,” Çrom protested. “I was made this way by an Infinite. If you think there aren’t infinite ways it can be made worse, you haven’t been paying attention,” he scowled at her. “And you have been paying attention,” he concluded accusingly. Lotus responded with a slow, reptilian blink. “So what’s with the line of questioning?”

“I endeavour to ask the questions nobody else has,” Lotus replied simply. “And if I cannot do that, then at least I will ask the questions that have not been asked by me. Because I will ask them better.”

“That makes no – what – wait, is that … are you quoting Müllick at me now?”

“The man was a pompous buffoon, but his only real mistake was in believing any other species could hope to operate on the Molran level,” Lotus said.

“That, and collaborating with the Kikelore Think Tank.”

Lotus acknowledged this with a brief grimace. “Those who are granted immortality should consider not only the brief mortals who would trade places with them in a heartbeat, but also the eternally suffering who would do the same,” she rallied.

“I suppose it depends on the type of immortality you’re given,” Çrom admitted, feeling helplessly ungrateful and churlish in the light of Lotus’s fervour.

“And the fact remains that there are good and bad forms of immortality,” Lotus pressed her advantage, “and the immortality you have been given is among the better forms one might hope for – despite having come from the dread Ghåålus Himself,” she pointed a crooked, grimy-nailed finger at him. “Is it not?”

“I guess,” Çrom allowed, after a few more moments’ dubious scowling. “The dread Ghåålus wasn’t all that interested in tormenting me with one of the bottom-shelf varieties.”

“There were already plenty of those to provide amusement,” Lotus suggested. “In the various Hells.”

“Right. Not much point in making it actively nasty. Just living will do enough, after a certain point,” Çrom shrugged. “Always room to downgrade me if I misbehave or get too boring.”

“You are not concerned that this will constitute misbehaviour?”

“Not overly. But you know, no stone unturned and all that,” Çrom spread his hands. “I suppose the dread Ghåålus did go all out to give me the deluxe package.”

“Deluxe, but not Din deluxe,” Lotus said with a smile.

“Well, there’s always something better, isn’t there?” Çrom philosophised. “Maybe the immortality I was saddled with wasn’t as good as an immortality that allowed me to live happy and undamaged without dying and experiencing the horror of that death on a semi-regular basis … did my esteemed associate in the Greater ‘Urbs seem happy?”

“Extremely,” Lotus said. “His mansion was grotesquely well-stocked. I imagine that Judgement Day is going to come far too soon and be a distinct disappointment to him.”

“Maybe I should drop by and make friends,” Çrom remarked.

Lotus blinked. “You haven’t acquainted yourself with other eternals?”

“God no,” Çrom shuddered at the thought. “It’s – the idea’s like – well, have you made friends with any of the other Danes who’ve migrated to this area?”

Lotus shook her head. “I moved to get away from the big drunk bastards.”

Çrom pointed. “Exactly.”

Lotus laughed and shook her head again. “Still,” she went on, “this leads us to a quite obvious solution to your little eternity issue.”

“What?” Çrom blurted.

“Your punishment ends on Judgement Day,” Lotus pointed out. “Why not simply … get there faster? It seems that even though stasis is fatal, before your inevitable death you do still manage to skip through a few centuries, yes?”

Çrom didn’t mention his strong suspicion at this point, which was that any attempt to cheat his way to the finish line would probably result in dreadful consequences. Consequences he didn’t even want to think about, but quite possibly involving some of those bottom-shelf varieties of immortality they’d been circling around. At least trying and failing to permanently kill himself would only result in another death for him to endure. If you could say only of something like that.

“I’ve thought about jumping through time in a series of stasis chambers,” he said truthfully. “Minimise the number of deaths I have to go through before the end. Sorry to say, it just doesn’t work out logistically. Stasis is generally unpleasant for human physiology, for one thing, and for another … dying after six hundred years on ice starts with a nice recap of six hundred years of nightmarish pain, condensed into however long it takes my death to fit itself into my memory.”

“But a successful stretch in stasis, followed by revival, then killing yourself before starting a new stretch…” Lotus suggested, then shook her head. “Convoluted.”

“Very. Not impossible, but also not really sustainable,” Çrom agreed. “Hard to find a place where I can put an entire-urverse’s-history’s-worth of stasis devices where they’ll last long enough, for that matter. And sooner or later I wind up being dug out of a dead city’s potato cellar by a bunch of enthusiastic archaeologists in the middle of a stasis technology drought.”

“So you have considered it,” Lotus said, “but not actually followed through.”

“Tried it,” Çrom said, “but am yet to find a way of taking it further. Not bad for the occasional shortcut,” he added encouragingly. “Not a final solution. And I’ve tried the Time Destroyers, and even a couple of actual time travellers of various stripes,” he went on before Lotus could respond, “just to save on stasis chamber spare parts and storage rental, which … even if you pay for long-term, gets really prohibitive around the trillion-year mark.”

“None of them wanted to annoy Limbo or the dread Ghåålus,” Lotus guessed.

“Bingo.”

“Very well, then,” she said, and leaned forward. Çrom felt his pulse give a silly little jitter. “Now,” she went on in a low purr, “to the matter of your death.”

“Wasn’t that the matter we’ve been talking about for the past couple of hours?” Çrom chuckled uncertainly.

“Of course,” the Black Lotus said, and smiled again. “Only now, I know much more than I did when we started out. And your death is much closer at hand.”

 


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

Posted in Astro Tramp 400, IACM, Oræl Rides To War, The Book of Pinian | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Black Lotus, Part 10

They looped back around to the concept of soul damage.

“Is it possible,” the Black Lotus mused, “for you to fall afoul of a practitioner of outlawed soul magics? You said you were unable to soul-journey, but it is also possible for such renegade sorcerers to capture a soul directly from its housing of flesh.”

“I suppose it’s possible,” Çrom said. “Sooner or later, though, damage to the soul shuts the whole thing off and kills the body. That’s where it all ends for most people but starts over for me. Any attempt to remove the soul for experimentation just resets me, like possession. Messing around with the soul while it’s still in my body is basically a different kind of torture. And I know for a fact that a good torturer can keep me alive more or less indefinitely, with the added bonus that if they mess up, they get a fresh new victim to play with. At that point it just becomes a question of how much damage a body or a soul can take before dying.”

“I do not think interference with your soul is the answer,” the Black Lotus said, much to Çrom ‘s relief. “We already know a lot about the mechanics there, from your undeath and possession experiences.”

“If you say so,” Çrom replied. “Are you in a position to do any soul-messing anyway?”

“Absolutely not,” the Black Lotus said with another weird-cute smirk. “That would be against the law despite the waivers you have signed.”

“Understood,” Çrom said with a solemn wink.

“Are you aware of the case of Quintox Lelhbron?”

“Wasn’t she revealed as a fraud?” Çrom asked.

“She was revealed to not actually belong to the Lelhbron line,” Lotus clarified, “and much of her credibility and all of her mystic and commercial patronage was lost. But her work was creditable.”

“Afraid I haven’t really looked into it,” Çrom admitted.

“It is unlikely to have a bearing on your situation,” Lotus admitted, “except I suspect that her final proof was – by complete coincidce – a crude mortal attempt to replicate your precise form of immortality.”

“Oh?”

“Quintox had perfected an anatomical fabrication method that was said to have been stolen from the near-mortal Firstmades when they made their own new incarnations,” Lotus said. “It was not quite so specialized or high-quality, but she was able to create operational Molran bodies and nervous systems into which she could soul-travel at will.”

“Creating a line of incarnations for herself,” Çrom said.

“Yes. She managed to extend her life almost thirty thousand years in this manner,” Lotus said, “well beyond the destruction of her original flesh. The official story was that she died when her original body did, due to some mystic connection that Firstmades understand but we mere mortals do not. Her experiments caused a lot of outrage among the Brotherhoods.”

“But you have the unofficial story?”

“The truth was, she went into hiding and eventually succumbed to … simple exhaustion, really,” Lotus said. “The majority of her existence was dedicated to the process of generating and perfecting her next body, since she never really got the fabrication working smoothly due to interference on numerous levels. That, and the soul-journeying concentration required to remain linked to her new body, it was not as solid a connection as the body one is born in. At some point she must have weighed up the benefit of living if all she could do with that life was to prepare the required materials for prolonging it … and she decided it was no longer worth pursuing. Her journals also spoke of a profound psychological weariness due to extreme age.”

“You had her journals?”

“I studied her secret writings, the continuation of her work after her supposed death,” Lotus said. “Most of her experiments took place when the Elder Accords were in their infancy, before the Corporation was fully forged. There are more constraints on such things, now. But I believe that your case is similar – you are moved to a fresh body, the only difference being that the mechanism for producing the flesh is not centralised into a machine the way hers was. And that her soul and mind continued to age and change and grow weary, while yours seems to replenish as completely as your flesh does.”

“Not quite so completely,” Çrom said. “I still get weary … I just don’t get to opt out of reincarnation the way Quintox did.”

The Black Lotus nodded. “That, too, may explain why you retain memories up to a point, but not a perfect record that could not possibly fit into a human brain. I know the story of another famous Lelhbron.”

“You know a lot about immortals,” Çrom joked. “Know your enemy, I suppose.”

“In a sense,” Lotus said, although she avoided his eyes. “As a healer must study injuries and disease, so must a killer study the undying.”

“Did this other Lelhbron spend thirty thousand years brewing up clone after clone to possess?” Çrom asked, although he already suspected what Lotus was going to say.

“No. This one was attempting some higher and absolutely forbidden magic, and his soul was torn in half,” she replied.

“I’ve heard this one,” Çrom said. “He became unable to die, and unable to feel emotions. Or something like that. So he messed with Ghåålus-level stuff, and wound up with an even crappier version of immortality than I got.”

“‘Crappier’?” she repeated in amusement.

“I suppose it’s always possible that the dread Ghåålus left room for me to mess around trying to find a way out of this, and wind up punishing myself by making my eternity so much more unbearable,” Çrom conceded. “But I have a strong suspicion that any change I make to my own circumstances would be temporary. And the punishment sufficiently dreadful that I would never even think about doing it again.”

Lotus tilted her head. “You have not wondered if perhaps, if you must endure until the end of days, that an eternal existence without fear or hatred, boredom or love, joy or pain … would be preferable to one with all of these emotions?”

Çrom didn’t even hesitate.

“Not once,” he said.

 


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

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