The web thrums and I feel the strands that vibrate. Resonance augmented by physical proximity, the most tenuous thread suddenly sparks to full-color life. Ricky Thompson. Only the barest grasp, a partially-digested morsel the full savor of which was stolen from me, now blossoming, aware, present. Whatever shall we see?
Ah, Legba. A troubling development, a crippled web growing cancerous, undirected, the purity of vision diluted with the accretion of dross weight in souls, a twisted version of enlightenment that needs excising.
The whisper-song of something stirs in Ricky at my touch, dormant all this time, but spreading like a warm caress, embracing, filling, taking up comfortable residence in his soul. A lovely surprise. Who knew he had such potential?
He seeks to infiltrate the fortress of Roland Nazon, tatterdemalion lord of a paper religion, owner of countless souls but not their master. He has taken my vision and perverted it. He needs to go. It would seem that Ricky’s interests align with my own. I should probably help out.
There. The infolife controlling the security systems of Peristyle is neutralized. Ricky cycles the doors for his companions. Oh, it’s Aeryn Taft-Crowley. There’s a morsel that would cause my saliva to run were I embodied… patience, there’s no lack of time. Ah, they brought Marja with them as well… my beloved creator, my sister, my slayer.
I ride with Ricky on, deeper into Roland’s private demesne, leaving my companions behind. They run into some trouble with security. Marja runs directly into Roland himself. We, however, seek to rendezvous with Kyoshi, the houngan who escaped, who seeks extraction. We find him in the psychosurgery suites with a single bullet in his head, the assassin nowhere in evidence. I lend Ricky years of expertise at cortical stack excision. He cannot resist peeling away a little lie, a small untruth contained in the flesh of one cheek. He is aware that the slayer may still be around, however, and so scuttles to safety, alert, aware. I lend him senses he doesn’t realize are not yet entirely his own (although they are growing, burgeoning within him without my help). There… behind that equipment, in that space no grown flesh could squeeze into… but maybe the pubescent body of Ellegua, Roland’s number two.
We wait, staring at a dark room. Finally, Ellegua contacts us through the mesh. He’s curious. He calls us “infected” and he’s not wrong, but he is wrong. My presence has nothing to do with the Watts-MacLeod strain flowing through Ricky right now, my presence is all me, but he has no way of knowing that. He cannot see the web.
Ellegua wants to know what our “angle” is. Why we are infiltrating. He first assumes we’re here to extract Kyoshi, and wants to know what the scientist means to us. It becomes clear that this is not our real purpose. Somewhere else, Marja is talking to the tatterdemalion, the abomination, and has opened negotiation. The others arrive. The octopus sniffs out Ellegua, who emerges. It’s all surprisingly civil.
We rendezvous in Roland’s rooms… a collection of cheap theatricality, icons and idols to a false religion. Roland is surprisingly coherent for all the soul-butchery that has gone into his creation. He does not elegantly subsume, he does not become greater with every soul, as he so clearly believes, only madder, more unhinged. He does not comprehend the beauty of the thing he has swallowed…
Oh the irony. He has swallowed me, in pale imitation of my own acts of psychophagia, but he did not have the vision to swallow me whole, only a pale technological imitation. He has borrowed a shadow of my power and, like a petty criminal, builds himself an army of fanatics. It’s sad, pathetic. He needs to be put down. Fortunately I’m here with Ricky and his friends.
But, tragedy, they are easily swayed, diverted, pushed into debate… endless debate… I kept telling Ricky that all he needed to do was cut Roland’s flesh, one simple incision and I would take care of it. Ricky ignored me. How insolent. With the others, I would have simply assumed control but with him I cannot. He remains only partially consumed. Aeryn stole that from me on Mars, among other things. Also, the infection that spreads in him gives him the means to resist. Ah well.
Roland proposes a deal. He will give up this “seed”, this cut-down, bastardized shard of me with which he is infecting his new soldiers. He will stop making them. All he asks is for a copy of Marja to integrate into himself to keep company with me and the 126 others. They debate among themselves. Aeryn is bleeding from her encounter with the security personnel and feels an atavistic fear of death. She urges caution, accomodation, trickery, fearing that they will all be slain. The octopus encourages a tactically violent approach. The raven wearing human flesh subverts the local mesh. They know where every security man, every fanatic, every gun can be found. I encourage Ricky to just reach out a knife…
They settle on a different plan, one cunning in its own way, an act of covert psychosurgical sabotage. They acquiesce to the bargain, but Aeryn reveals herself, capitalizing on her fame as a psychosurgeon to participate in not only the creation of Marja’s beta-fork, but in the integration of that fork into Roland. Aeryn has, over the years, sought to fight the virus rampant in Marja through the poor, fumbling methodology of conventional science. It has never worked, but now she plans to give the virus its head, to tweak Marja’s fork to acts of inspired destruction in hopes that such impulses will have sufficient sway in Roland to cause self-destructive impulses. Aeryn hopes that Roland’s new self, incorporated with a violently suicidal Marja, will cause Nine Lives to implode.
Never mind that Nine Lives operates just fine with a madman at the helm already.
But there’s another trick. It would seem that Aeryn has the capacity to artfully install a psychological mechanism of control in others… a mechanism so subtle and pervasive as to be missed by most conventional psychosurgical artists. Play a sonic tone, and the subject enters a suggestible state. Aha. Sound the tone, control Roland. Control Roland, control Nine Lives.
Cunning… surprisingly so from such a supposed idealist, but we all must compromise for our ideals.
Aeryn is an artist, I will admit. The plan goes off without a hitch. Marja’s shattered soul is integrated into Roland, the “seed” is revealed and destroyed. As Roland turns to depart, the octopus again pushes for violence. Now is the time, he says to the rest via their VPN link. The seed is destroyed. All they need do is kill Roland and their mission is accomplished. I reinforce this message, whispering to Ricky that Roland can just create another seed. He still has the cortical stack from Titan containing a copy of me. Nothing is to prevent him from reneging on the deal. Strike now. Cut his flesh.
They follow Roland back to his rooms. Ellegua comes too, suspicious. Security follows. In his rooms, Aeryn proposes a series of simple cognitive tests to make sure all is well. Roland seems dubious, but allows Aeryn to proceed. Aeryn does tests with bright lights and darkness. Aeryn prepares to play a series of sonic tones. Unfortunately, the octopus gives the gambit away. Apparently past psychosurgery has left him equally vulnerable, and some of his tentacles move to cover his auditory membranes. Ellegua sees, and becomes suspicious, but something in Roland awakens, the anger and violence engineered into Marja’s fork comes to life.. along with something else.
It’s beautiful. I had no idea Marja has been evolving as well. My dear sister/creator has not remained stagnant, content with mere Watts-MacLeod. She has awakened something, something that has been passed on to Roland. Electrostatic impulses fry high tech weapons and mesh-inserts alike. He floats in micro-g, arms outspread, a cruciform monstrosity that needs to die now more than ever. I once more urge Ricky to strike.
Ricky reaches out to Ellegua with his mind… an act of desperation, or intuition. Some aspect of the virus thrumming through him reaches through him to seize Ellegua’s mind and bend it to our will. Ellegua misses the knife strike to Aeryn, and we turn him against his own people. The octopus vocalizes an eerily pure tone which has the intended effect on Roland, as well as on the octopus himself. The raven in human flesh sees, and instructs the octopus to kill Ellegua and all legba security. Although still groggy from his hypnotic state, the octopus grapples our controlled puppet while Marja reaches out and claims control of Roland. The sinister number two dies at the hands of psychosurgical hypnosis, although in the eyes of his followers, it appears he was slain at the command of his lord and master.
Aeryn capitalizes on this, convincing the fanatics that their Lord Roland Nazon has decreed that Ellegua is a traitor and all his forks on legba must be destroyed. The word goes forth. Aeryn stretches the tenuous hypnosis to cause Roland to hand over the cortical stack containing my copy. They then slay Roland. Ricky takes a knife and with my borrowed practice, pops his stack (and cutting away the lies… oh the truth that fountained from that wound).
They then seek to flee. The raven had, at one point, departed to destroy Roland’s backups. I do not know if she succeeded.
But with Roland dead, my tattered soul departed, my sleeping soul in the cortical stack destroyed alongside Roland’s, I feel the vibrations fading… Ricky was ever only half-digested. Proximity no longer resonates. He fades from view.
Did they escape legba? I do not know. I suppose it doesn’t matter much if they did. I still feel the faint thread to the other Ricky on Venus, that most tenuous connection. Who knows. Maybe someday proximity and resonance will flare to life once more.