Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 16

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Ahni was still strapped to the operating chair, mercifully still unconscious. Her skull gleamed whitely and her hair hung to one side, unnaturally long and dripping with slow blood.

Sard crooned while his hands dithered with indecision. “Ahni. Ahni. Ahni.” What to do. What not. Could he save her? He sprayed disinfectant and covered her wounds with lint. He bandaged her arm to her shoulder, and tied it to her body, all the time studying the horror of the thing done to her.

Ahni’s scalp hung inside out like it was an extension of the blood heavy hair. It would have to be sewn back. Sard cringed at the pain he’d deliver her. A year and a day of careful stitching. Would he have time before someone came to investigate? Need to take her somewhere hidden. Start, Sard-man. While she is still unconscious.

With his own head-skin clenching tight in sympathy, he swabbed the flap with disinfectant and rolled it back over Ahni’s skull bones. He tied the scalp in place with the stiffening hair. Then with bandages, leaving her nose and mouth free. More bandages to take with them, more of everything rolled in a lab coat and tied around his middle.

He lifted Ahni’s unresisting body over his shoulders, old-time fireman style, and staggered to the chocked-open doors. The arch cave was now empty. He hadn’t the time or interest to guess where Zoya, Ghulia and the merman might have gone. He slopped straight through their pool and ran with small steps along the beach.

< Energy also is lacking. >

Sard relaxed where the life-suit was concerned—like, we’re back to normal—he threw a thought at it. Take what you can. Cilliary action in the regions where he wore the simulated clothes told him they were disappearing. He felt his face reverting to the life-suit’s anonymous mask by the suit releasing its grip on the folds and grooves it had fashioned on his cheeks and around his mouth.

His strength gave out as he reached the lagoon. He caught Ahni by the shoulders as she slid from him when he fell against the bank. He pulled her across his legs to support at least her head above the water. Salt water any good for wounds? he asked the life-suit.

< Wounds may be sterilized by the application of saltwater. >

It was out of his hands however. Ahni sighed as she slid further into the pool and its cool silk bathed her.

— — — —

Sard woke. His first awareness was of the weight across his lap… he’d sagged and allowed Ahni’s head hang perilously near the water. As he stirred, she rolled from his arms onto her good hand and her knees in one move. She sat back in the water and one handed tried to pry the bandaging from her eyes.

“Hang on,” Sard said. “Let me help.” Activity everywhere all over him reminded him he wore the life-suit. “Contrast to background,” he said at it and was rewarded with a sapphire outline. “Face and eyes,” he said.

Ahni, when he’d helped her free her eyes, smiled tremulously. She looked everywhere but at his still impossible face. The sea. The lagoon. The sky. She paused at each, as if to think through something that needed to be done. She frowned at his face, then ignored it while signalling with glances into a space beside his head, and small gestures, for him to release her hurt arm.

Sard pulled the part of his hood covering his face away, then the whole thing up over his head. Cowled it in his neck.

< You + I are discontinuous. Your hands/I hands. Your head/I head >

Live with it, Sard flashed at the life-suit. The climb seemed not to frighten Ahni. Sard swarmed round her, cajoling and encouraging, choosing the easiest places for her feet and hands. He pulled her by her good arm, and pushed her when she needed more strength than she had. At the top they rested. Night came like velvet and after a while Sard fetched his pack.

She could not eat. Sard shook up all the soluble food he had in one of the water bags so that she might sip when she felt the need. Then he held her until she had gathered her strength. Walking, they kept the tracks of her people underfoot. They walked and rested alternately. All she had strength for was to sip the food, sleep and then blindly, with her good hand in his, follow those tracks.

Whenever Ahni seemed more coherent, Sard started to explain the kite, how it could take them east, to a safe place. But each time she rested only a short time and continued along the tracks. What’s the hurry he wanted to say. We can get ready and wait for a good wind. Be away.

But seeing her driven need to follow the tracks, Sard hadn’t the courage to stop her. He planned now that they’d fly to their new lives after they’d saved her people from the clay masked riders. He’d work out those details when he and Ahni caught up with them.

When daytime came, he rigged up a shelter using the alive-to-background cloth. In the afternoon he unwrapped Ahni’s wounds and squirted disinfectant into them. With the speechless glances and gestures again, she encouraged him to cut off her hair and to bury the blood-stiff bundle.

Sard scrubbed his hands with hot sand and brushed off every grain to prep himself to close part of Ahni’s wounds. He revised the moves Mab taught him by forcing him to push a needle through a piece of raw leather. With Mab he’d made four holes, two stitches. Ahni’s wound was ten times longer. Today, he decided, he’d close the part between her head and shoulder where skin edges rubbing against each other kept the incision from healing.

She bore his trembling work with a set face.

They slept again—he kept her good hand in his—until moonrise. In the night, she explained silently, she knew her way very well.

— — — —

Towards the second dawn the cliff edge angled west. Ahni halted indecisively.

“What’s up?” Sard said.

“Tower here,” she said. Her first words. She walked toward the new cliff and sat down well short of the edge. Stared into the sea.

Sard arranged the packs so that they’d both have a backrest. “Tower? In the water?” Where she was staring.

Slowly, as the sea retreated, there appeared an outcrop of rocks, half a wall, and foundations like a broken tooth at the foot of the left-hand cliffs. Ahni wept. Sard could not convince her to come with him to a camp among the bushes.

He forced himself to relax. Did it matter that they sat on? The morning wind pushed at their backs, no good for flying. Sea shadows and the sun wrestled for ascendancy until the molten ball surfaced. “Let’s get into some shelter,” he said. He tried for his most cajoling tone though he didn’t know anymore which of his voices had any effect.

“I-must-say-goodbye-to-our-tower-home,” Ahni said.

“I worry about your wounds, Ahni. We don’t have much water left. Need to be near to some bushes to collect more.”

“Soon, Sard-onyx-stone, Srese-brother.”

Sard was stunned. She knew who he was? She certainly knew the meaning of his name. Sounded like she and Srese have been talking. What does that mean for me? I do not like that she called me Srese-brother. Like she’d decided he’d be her brother, too.

“Our-tower-bones,” Ahni whispered. “Where-shall-we-live-when-the-swamp-is-not-ours-alone?”

A wonder anyone survived. All the cyclones in the tower’s lifetime had helped the work of the last. Caves, on the other hand, were strong and safe. When Sard now thought of their future together, he dreamed of a little cave, where they’d make a life for which he wouldn’t need a game master and Ahni wouldn’t need any of the amazons he’d seen in the group. How could he convince her of this wisdom? He almost thought his wisdom but that would be excessive pride, wouldn’t it?

Ahni shuffled back from the brink and teetered to her feet for the next push. Sard helped her walk with an arm around her, half lifting her in places. Need to get her mind away from the Srese-brother concept.

They angled east. The wind lay down and slept. Heat sapped their strength. The wide ploughed track became a hard single-file path wandering through the saltbush. After Sard was sure she wouldn’t fall if he released her, he walked before and behind, found short cuts across loops, and debated whether to steer them further into the desert. He doubted that that swamp existed. How could it persist in this heat? Ahni drank the last of their water. “We really do need to stop now,” Sard said.

He found a depression encircled with saltbushes over which he could drape the kite. With the inner fabric beating back the sun, they had a moderately cool tent. Ahni fell asleep as soon as she lay down.

Time he got himself some sustenance. Sard hauled the life-suit’s hood up and over his face. Sealed the neck. He’d need to be stronger than usual. He opened the water-bag and folded out the gussets. He rolled a stone into one corner and …

Huh? He almost dropped the water-bag. Damn life-suit. It’s the chatty program. Youk’s doing. He almost zipped open the life-suit’s hood at his throat there and then.

< No, don’t. You need whatever sustenance I can give you. >

Fine. He’d put up with it while Ahni slept. He re-assembled the water-bag and stone and tied it onto the bush he’d chosen for its swaggy foliage. Then answered the question. Yes.

< How is she after her trauma? >

Feverish and sad. Her tower-home is a ruin, all its people gone. She’s sleeping at the moment. Tonight she intends to start toward the swamp to see if anyone is there. How’s a damned life-suit going to process all that? How I will is more to the point.

< You don’t sound very keen. >

He snorted about him sounding like anything while he thought. Figure of speech, I’m sure. But maybe his thoughts about it all might be clearer once he’d explained them to a thing that supposedly could only understand a set of concrete understandings. Here’s hoping. He laid out his hopes in detail.

< Nice planning! Do exactly as I tell you and we will all have a lot of fun. >

Sard preened about the nice planing. He hadn’t lost his touch. But what’s with we-will-all-have-a-lot-of-fun?

< Figure of speech. Stay continuous. I can’t help you otherwise. Lie down behind her on your side and get as near as you can without touching. Do that first. >

Sard stepped over Ahni and lay down with slow careful moves. I wonder how Youk managed the superior processing power? He’s better at it than I thought?

< Ready? >

Ready. Weird that the life-suit can’t tell from the way I’m lying that I’m ready. On a spurt of silent laughter he thought, I’ll have to talk to Youk about you, finesse some of your sensory inputs.

< The Youk person was cast out of the community. He awaits the clay faces at the base of the ridge. >

What? Sard wanted to rise, get out of the scene. Youk was cast out? What the fuck?

< Careful! When you first touch your beloved it had better be with just your hand. I suggest you start with stroking. Whisper things that will put her at ease. >

Sard stroked Ahni, not because he obeyed but because it was the only way he could think of to get Ahni thinking positively about his plan. He really really did not want her thinking of him as a brother.

< That’s right. Delicately along her sore arm and more assertively over her hip and leg. >

Ahni stirred. “Wake up, sweet girl,” Sard said. “Will you have some water?” She turned her face to him and made a sucking sound with her lips, accepting his offer.

< Quick. Kiss her and caress her. >

Sard bent over Ahni and kissed her wherever he could reach. Her mouth just once and after she turned her head away, her cheek and then the sewn wound on her shoulder. She wept and struggled to get from under him.

< Tie her up! If she gets away you’ll never see her again! >

Tie her up? What is the damned suit thinking? Sard felt suddenly hot and slippery inside the suit. I’m sweating and the suit is not taking it up? What happened to we-are-continuous?

< Put up with it. I have no time. >

His hands—encased in the life-suit aka the life-suit running the show—searched blindly and found the cord for parcelling up the wing. What was he thinking to entrust his actions in his first real love affair to a damned life-suit?

When he looked up from his rant, Ahni lay trussed before him. Her eyes were scrunched shut. Her mouth a down-turned slit of resolve. His heart sank. She’ll never love me now. I had a chance with her for about three minutes? He almost wept.

< She’ll come good when she discovers who we really are. The show must go on. >

Yeah yeah. Bleak is what I’m feeling. I lost Ahni because I trusted the fucking entity encasing me? It used my hands. She won’t be able to walk, he thought at the life-suit.

< She won’t need to. We will wait in this hollow for the wind to change. Lie down. Sleep. >

He was laid down by way of the life-suit doing a python-squeeze on him. This is not how it is meant to behave. He intended to watch, but nothing in the whole world stirred nor was there a breath of wind and anyway the suit refused to let him rise.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 15

dishwasher-1, acitydiscount.com info Back-of-House-Heroes-All-About-Warewashing.320.1.jpg

The Bionic Implant

Sard woke with a start. The life-suit squeezed him the way he’d once imagined a boa constrictor might take its prey. He gasped. “I’m awake.”

< To interact with the assembled cast, all you need to do is follow my instructions once you enter the CAVE system. >

Ouch. I totally recognise the way I used to act. I bet Youk programmed that in for me to recognise. But good. The suit is allowing me to organise myself from here to wherever I decide to enter the CAVE. No question but that I will retrace the steps of the Seapeople. He bundled up the kite and bunched it into the back pack. He had no room or inclination right now to fold it up properly. Or enough time probably.

He sealed the life-suit’s hood over his face and covered his hands. He dragged his gear outside, and stashed it beside the beginning of the path south that Ahni’s people had taken. He briefly stood on the alive-to-background cloth to think its parameters at it, then draped it over his two packs. Still holding onto an edge, he finessed his instructions, mumbling, “Allow the deep-shadow holding pattern to swing with the varying input of the sun.”

< You + I + a-to-b cover = amalgam >

Sard gritted his teeth. One minute the life-suit acts like it has been reprogrammed, the next that the old programming pushes through. Is that what I’m supposed to think?

Thankfully, no answer. Barring the tracks by the Seapeople, the beach lay empty, once more a picture-perfect idyll lacking only palm trees. A tiny breeze ruffled the surface of the lagoon within the stony elbow of the ridge.

After climbing down, Sard sidled along the feet of the cliffs. The waves were quite far away with a large swath of wet sand between them and the narrow strip of dry sand. Low tide. The main risk were the sensors everywhere. Here’s hoping Youk isn’t at his standalone tracking me.

The main entrance arch had probably been opened specially for the Seapeople since all CAVE’s openings to the outside were temporary. Another smaller arch beside it had already been sealed again though the upper cover was still set on transparent. No one on duty at the console behind it so no one tracking Sard.
He allowed himself a tiny flicker of satisfaction at his management of the journey so far. In under the arch, the cold-air curtain spurted ineffectively. Things were in disarray if energy was being allowed to dissipate like that. This area of CAVE all but open to the weather and the ocean’s eternal audio-patterning. Civilisation has been sloughed off. Never was Sard’s sense of a disaster-unfolding so acute.

He dropped his gaze from the felt strips—wall covering—sloughing from the walls and ceiling. Dug into the sandy cave floor was a shallow pool. Three adults lay fast asleep in the water but with their heads close together on the edge of the pool.

Sard blinked when he saw Zoya, Srese’s care-mother—had to be Zoya—with a baby high on her chest for it to be above the waterline, presumably. The baby suckled on Zoya’s breast. His jaw dropped when next he saw Ghulia—his own care-mother—arm in arm with the merman, their heads pillowed close. He stared a long time trying to make sense of the scene. His mother and Zoya, had he even known them?

In the next room, again entered by a wide open arch and with the same lack of climate control, viewing galleries had been built recently—he’d never seen them—that looked like they’d been abandoned about three minutes ago. All the usual stuff lying about that people brought to events. Picnics. Shawls. Cuddle blankets. What on earth could be more riveting than Zoya’s and Ghulia’s show? If an entertainment was what that little scene was meant to be, he thought glumly.

The exit from this space into CAVE had a self-closing door so was the first obstruction to his progress.

< What is the hold-up? Don’t talk out loud. >

“I don’t have bots.” He mumbled. “How will I pass through?”

< Put your palm on the lock. >

He did and the latch slid back. The door opened to his touch. Useful skill. Not sure if the earlier program could do that. I might’ve warmed to this version if I hadn’t been so sure that Youk wrote it. He could see uninterrupted all the way to the Nest at the centre of the complex. Where was everybody?

Wait. I can hear them. The sound was of a crowd in one place, a composite of talking weeping shouting and braying-with-laughter. He frowned. The latter did not at all sound good. Was the event in the Pit? He listened more carefully—what direction should he take?

All the usual background sounds were as usual. Pumps hummed extracting heat. The energy plant thrummed. All events had their musical accompaniment. This one too. Though that music right now seemed to be building to a crescendo. He recognised the early phrases of Ravel’s Bolero among the more familiar tech tympany. Something definitely about to happen.

He ran through the narrow lanes parallel to Second Circle. Through the Simmonds and Wingham Quarter, useless to try and remember the proper directional words, and crossed into Parks & Gardens. From there he’d see what he could see happening at the dining hall, which was the place where the music seemed to be leading him.

Okay. Yeah. Makes sense. It was after all the place where important events were assimilated never mind that they usually happened elsewhere. Sard sidled into the back entry of the kitchen. No Greg or Relda was the first surprise. Greg had definitely said that Relda would be Greg’s understudy. But okay, good, since he was pretty sure that him being alive-to-background would mean some very strange visual disturbances for anyone seeing him.

I need clothes, he thought at the life-suit. An anonymous face and hands. For a wonder the life-suit didn’t quibble or try for extra information. Not like the original program again. He stepped into the pantry to vaguely hide the process, but to his amazement, the six or so kitchen attendants lining the serving counter were so engrossed that they probably didn’t even know he was in the kitchen with them.

He inspected the black-and-white checked pants and a white tunic resemblances. Yep. Good. Like every other kitchen attendant. He soft-footed toward where he could see for himself what so engrossed them. All the action, and attention of everyone present in the dining hall, was on the fixed holo-wall.

Royland, medical technician and wielding his famously preferred instrument, a plain knife, inscribed a long careful cut on someone. Likely a woman, going by the swag of smoky dark hair pulled forward and to the side. The cut went up the neck to an ear, C-shaped around that then lightly over the woman’s temple.

Laying bare the woman’s face, one of Royland’s assistants swagged the hair to the back of her head.
Ahni! It was Ahni whom they … ?

Royland wore no gown, no protection against the transfer of matter that might cause infection. Sard grew hot and cold in quick succession, if he hadn’t been wearing the life-suit he might’ve been covered in a cold sweat. Do something, he ordered the life-suit.
< Too busy. >

Royland steered the knife-tip along the top of Ahni’s forehead, and then along a pre-shaven track round the top of her head. Not a lot of blood meant that Royland had probably frozen her skin along the intended cut line. Royland lay down the knife.

Sard’s gorge rose as Royland and his assistant eased Ahni’s head skin from her head and just let it hang there, Sard saw with quick little glances between swallowing away the horror. He saw, hardly watching at all, how the assistant eased a metal cap from Ahni’s head while Royland freed wires and other bloody lines all along the cut he’d made which went—Sard now saw—all the way down Ahni’s arm to the palm of her hand.

Royland and his assistant lifted the cap and the attached wires and laid them reverently in the womb tank they had ready, the cam with them all the way. Everyone else present in the dining hall breathed a great sigh of release as the object was gently laved with the life medium.

“They’ll bring it here now,” said one of the kitchen hands. “Always stating the obvious,” said someone else.

The double entry doors slid open as if on cue and a confusing mass of people pushed through. Sard made out Royland and his crew clustered around a womb-tank on its trolley. All of them ensuring as shock-free a journey as possible.

With perglass sides, the womb-tank was like an aquarium. Its passenger, what Sard could see of it, resembled an alien sea-creature trailing wires instead of tentacles.

The group stopped the cart at the in-hall game station. Royland’s techies sprang to link the womb-tank to CAVE’s network. With a measured formality—great smile on his face—Royland flipped the switch.

The expectant silence exploded. Raving, ravening, crying, screaming, banshee wailing filled the dining hall. Some people fled the hall with their hands over their ears while the majority surged forward. People fell over chairs and each other. Royland’s assistants linked arms around the tank trolley.

As Royland dampened down the volume, Sard slipped into the scrum and emerged at Royland’s side. “Is it alive?”

Royland laughed indulgently. “No, no, no. It’s a particularly fine example of a bionic implant. Where have you been these last few days?”

“In solitary, for my para-tech exams,” Sard said. First thing that came into his mind. Who does he think I am?

Royland went into a spiel for the public. “Largely unused for years, we suspect, since the Seapeople’s life-style hardly warranted such a sophisticated machine. A very valuable tool we’ll find it.”
Sard clenched his jaws on anything he might’ve asked in previous times. He already knew who Royland had cut up to get it.

“The implant proved to have been transferred into the girl only recently,” Royland continued. “Very fortunate, as its circuits hadn’t had time to fully integrate. Much less attrition to the machine than we expected.” He bent his head toward the speakers from the womb-tank and fiddled with the volume controls. “Ah. Got it.”

An unbroken stream of memes flowed from the tank. “Intercom … neoprene … epidemiological studies … crepitation … carbon neutral … water governance … ENSO … tropical maritime … plagioclase twinning … companion planting … protein synthesis.”

Sard worked his way to the back of the mesmerised crowd and with his hands over his ears made like he was one of those escaping.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 14

Particularly stylish life-suit being worn, NASA copy.jpg

Relearning the Life-suit

Sard rested after his labours with the kite. All he’d discovered so far was that really flying was going to be trickier than anyone imagined. The power supply, or in other words, the wind was in no way easy to understand. Its unpredictability had him stumped. Mornings a wind that blew from the east would veer to the north by midday. And he had only a day or two to learn them? Climate control out here would be so good.

The only flying he’d done so far was with the wing less than two metres above the ground and therefore dragging him along practically on his knees. Thanks you, Gammy, for the strength of the life-suit’s fabric, he thought numerous times as he picked thorns and sticks from his knees. Lucky they hadn’t scraped through.

The speed of the drag scared him witless. What if he’d been near the cliffs and had been tipped into the water below? All the sea-faring entertainments he’d ever researched flipped through his mind. There were fearsome predators down there. How was it that the mermen stayed alive?

How he’d finally stopped himself—and that at the brink—was also a mystery. He’d pulled the handles aka brakes every which way possible before he’d collected his thoughts, so had no idea which particular action cause the wing to deflate, and drop itself and him limp as rags to the ground.

He was so busy in his thoughts that he didn’t at first hear the voices of the Seapeople helping one another up the rocks to the top of the ridge. Then, by the time he realised, they had gained the plateau and were about to begin their trek south. Ahni wasn’t with them. Sard counted them, divided them, studied them by size but she wasn’t there.

A pair of older women walked fore and aft of just two mermen shading them with matting carried aloft. The reason probably that the men’s skins were bleeding, pale in patches and therefore liable to get sun-burned. And get this—Sard thought at his two informants—why would the poor saps themselves be bleeding now at this minute, if they’d been sewn into someone else’s skin sometime in their past? He dismissed Youk and Greg as a pair of ignorant know-it-alls.

Next came a pair of young women carrying babies, followed by a clutch of children. Harrying them all from the rear was a tattooed Amazonian who had Ahni’s bag bouncing on her back. Ahni definitely not among them. But, wait. The senior merman was also missing.

Though as leader, that merman was probably the one picked for the romance with Zoya. So what could Gammy possibly want with Ahni? Sard wished he’d asked more about the whole deal. If he’d been more aware he surely would’ve been able to camouflage his interest in Ahni. But when he had only Greg and Youk to ask?

< What do you want to know? >

Huh? That’s the life-suit talking? Almost normal phraseology.

< Thank you. I’ve had time now to study your turn of phrase. Time is precious and I don’t like repeating myself >

Sard crawled back into the hole where he had his camp, dragging the kite after him.

I was getting out of the scene to study the new you, he thought at the life-suit. You used to know exactly what was happening when it happened.

< The you + me amalgam only have a measured amount of energy to work with. I decided to put on hold some of our functions in preference for superior communication. >

Could a life-suit do that? There was so much he didn’t know that Greg might’ve told him if only they’d been friendlier.

< I am waiting >

Sard caught himself just in time not to say, for what? He threaded back through the dialogue. The suit asked him what was happening, the suit told him it didn’t like repeating itself, and it asked him what he wanted to know. That, probably. “What can Gammy possibly want with Ahni as well as the senior merman?”

The life-suit chuckled! The only word Sard had for the sound emanating from the chest plate. Remember that, he thought at himself. When I speak out loud, the life-suit can reply out loud courtesy of I suspect a miniature speaker on the chest plate. I’ll need to test its capabilities ahead of needing to use it. And I need to discover whether the new life-suit can read all this thinking. “Did you get all that?” he said.

< CAVE’s entity has been superseded by the implant brought by the Seapeople. >

Oh. Okay. My former life-suit—ignorant of anything not directly to do with itself—has just replied to my question as to why Gammy wants Ahni, with the fact that Gammy has been superseded. Gammy being the local name often used in relation to CAVE’s AI entity. I get it, frightening though the idea is and what if it is real?

Sard’s thoughts spooled nineteen to a dozen minutes. He’d stopped doing anything in his little cave—frozen in disbelief probably a good description—but now started to tidy. No fire-place meant he could lay the kite out and fold it. Stuff it in its pack.

Implant. Sounds like a thing implanted into someone. Brought by the Seapeople. I have to surmise that because Ahni is missing that she is the one with the implant in her?

He caught himself hesitating when an important thought rushed to the fore.

Brought by the Seapeople also sounds as though they brought Ahni specifically to bring the implant. Or they brought Ahni to do a deal and she is now a prisoner? Would they be prepared to give CAVE their implant in return for, for example, their men? But… if the implant now is in charge, what would that mean for Ahni?

< The girl will die if you don’t fetch her out. >

Did he want the girl? Yes. The life-suit is pushing me, he recognized. What’s an implant other than a kind of bot? The implant is hardly likely to kill its host.

He started worrying about the life-suit. This one doesn’t now behave the way life-suits are programmed. Could Youk have over-written the old program? I so don’t see him behind all this. Yet he’s the only one I can think of.

He shrugged. Flung his hands up and out. All of it a mystery he couldn’t solve. Go back to the last thing the suit said. Ahni will die. He concentrated on the content of this impossible output. How can I save her?

< We will need a plan. >

I thought I should take a look inside, Sard thought. Plan while I’m in the scene. What I do best. When you + I are alive-to-background its an an easy matter to stay out of sight.

There. All that was completely do-able with the old programming. This is me discovering the extent of the changes in the life-suit’s programming.

< Lie still. >

“What? What the fuck?” His arms and legs wouldn’t move. The life-suit did that? “You’re refusing me to move?” His voice petered out. Not a thing he could do about it. He concentrated on his breathing. What if the damned program took that as well?

< I can’t have you rampaging around while I’m still discovering my new capacities. >

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 13

Youk’s Plan

Sard dozed in the early sun, picturing how thankful Ahni would be to meet up with him again. He lay still to keep the silk strand unbroken. Something—he snapped his eyes open—make that someone—tweaked his other toe.

“Knew you’d be here somewhere,” Youk said. Full of cheer.

Sard’s heart sank. What could Youk possibly want?

“Aren’t you interested how I know you’d be here?”

“Mmm,” Sard said, meaning whatever, knowing Youk would not be stopped. How was he even out here, with not having Phin now to back him up?

“By hacking into Gammy’s incoming data, of course. Interesting that sometimes you show up as digital input when I assumed that no bots meant no data.”

“So why did you? Bother with the hacking?”

Youk jumped straight in. “I’ve got a proposition.”

“I’m all ears.” Sard tried for his most neutral tone.

“My mastering plan, as I call it.” Youk chuckled. “As ferals we can do the game a lot of damage. You especially, since when you are inside and aren’t wearing a life suit, the minions have got to be told where you are before they can see you.”

“I don’t get what you are on about.”

“I’m talking about the stupid game and doing unto all the others what they’ve been doing to me?”

“The new game, you mean,” Sard said.

Youk took a deep breath. “The game of life, our supposed world, the slavery we’ve had to endure, the boredom, the wasted time because we haven’t had a say over how we’d like to spend it. That game!”

Sard could only think of the many moments he’d enjoyed. “How are these others to blame for your problem with Gamester’s setup?”

“All through your childhood you’re a golden bloody avatar! And I’m just another no-account player when I’m at least half you. So I want revenge!”

“On me?” Sard said.

“You don’t now have anything that I want except your help and I deserve that! I thought you’d want to revenge yourself for the way Gamester turned your life upside down?” Youk watched him intently. “I thought we could work on this together?”

Even Sard parting his lips to begin talking might inflame the situation.

Youk continued, patiently informative, making his objective sound reasonable and sane. “You’re still ignorant of everything that’s been done to your sort. You’ll burn when you read the histories on my standalone. And by the way, my hide-out is ten times more comfortable than this shelter. With me hacking and you wrecking, we can do a lot of damage. How about it?”

“Not with you sitting pretty and me out and about with mud on my hands,” Sard said, letting only a little of his exasperation show.

Youk clenched his jaws on his. “Is that the tone to take with your loving brother?” Still with a hardly-done-by manner he shuffled himself into the shelter beside Sard and leaned back against Sard’s pack. “That’s better. All the conveniences of home, eh?”

Sard rocked onto his knees and out of the shelter. Slipping the silk loop from his toe, he allowed it to slither out of sight. He sat down, in the sun, diagonally opposite Youk, to purposely leave him his retreat. If only.

The suit grumbled. < Proper exchange of heat and coolness cannot begin. >

Because hood still in my neck? Sard teased. In adverse circumstances we have to do the best with what we have.

“Why sit out there when there is ample room beside me?” Youk said.

“Giving my suit a bit of a work-out.”

Youk began all over again, his usual strategy when he didn’t get what he wanted. “I came up here thinking we’d do this thing together, like brothers.”

“Don’t run off with the red herring,” Sard said. “I’m not all that confused by your tactics. What is this brotherly concern about suddenly?”

“I’m Ferd’s genetic son by a desert woman, fruit of the previous cave-wide. And Ferd is one of Gammy’s clones, like you are. So … you and Ferd are identical.”

“Only in our DNA,” Sard said.

Youk surged on. “So-o, half my genes are identical to yours. That’s got to be enough for brotherly concern.”

“My brotherly concern for you, you’re saying.”

“Because you owe me.” Youk maybe took in Sard’s obdurate expression and didn’t wait for affirmation. “After we’ve given Gammy and the rest their just deserts, we can ske-daddle out of here. We’ll catch a ride with the clay faces. They do a circle, hit Sink City. We’ll make a new life, better than we ever had here.”

Sard rose, the better to bring his new skills into play if need be.

“So you’ll come?” Youk rose too.

“No.”

“But I need you.” Youk leaned toward Sard.

“Don’t bother with the intimidation. Besides, you’re off balance. One little push from me and you’re broken on the rocks.”

“Good joke, Sard. Come on, let’s go, my patience is not unlimited.”

Sard stilled his imaginary tai ji horse between his knees. He sat back on air. The suit would know to allow him extra energy.

“What’s your problem?” Youk obviously meant his grin to be endearing. “Srese jumped at the chance to make good her mistakes.”

“If she did, why do you need to try the same garbage on me?”

“Can’t we at least be friends?” Youk reached for Sard’s arm.

Sard allowed his shoulder blade to slide down and behind the basket of his ribs to take his arm out of the way of Youk’s grasping fingers at the same time that he slid his left hand along the inside of Youk’s outstretched arm, and with his right hand now gripping Youk’s elbow, he pulled Youk alongside and down.

Sard stood aside as Youk sprawled.

Youk didn’t get up. Just griped from down there. “Why can’t you see what it’s been like for me, all these years in your shadow? The golden twins! And you not even knowing I existed until I volunteered to be your friend. I’m here now because I want us to be real friends. I need your friendship.”

“No,” Sard said again. “You really don’t.”

“I had a lot of time to study you and I think your thing is to be needed. What could be more fitting, me needing you?”

Sard didn’t answer.

“Your last word, huh? Well, don’t come crying to me when the clay faces put their shackles on you.”

Finally the end of the conversation. Sard looked away to hasten Youk’s retreat. Stuff was happening on the beach. Groups here and there. The sea was back in its place and the lagoon a sheet of aqua. The youngest of the mermen, leading three little boys, approached its calm.

Youk came to stand beside Sard. “Oh, I get it. You’re waiting for the Seapeople, because you haven’t the gumption to go out on your lonesome.” He shivered dramatically. “You’re so transparent, sitting here in your little cave looking back. This whole world, the size of it, boggles your mind, doesn’t it? Fortunately for me, among them, it’s the women who run the show and they are such amazons they’re sure to find you wanting. When they turn you down, mine will be the only option you have left.”

Despite the glare of the sun, Youk bent a wide-eyed topaz yellow stare at Sard. “Even if for some unfathomable reason the Seapeople allowed you to ragtag, you wouldn’t be able to keep up. I bet they tie to a rock and leave you to die courtesy of the sun. The men wear skins of people the women have cannibalised. Can you see yourself lasting in that kind of scene?”

The activity on the beach was not the busy preparation of people getting ready to travel. Sard still had time to get rid of Youk gently. There wouldn’t then be the need to guard against revenge. “Since you have me pegged so thoroughly, you might as well leave me to come at my own pace.”

Youk made like he’d contradict.

“Don’t worry. I’ve been to your hide-out, and I already know about Sully and the rest of my sort.”

“Why not come now?”

“My life-suit needs powering up.”

A desperate lie that Youk took at face value. “That must be one of the earlier models. I’ll look out a better one.”

When he was sure Youk was really gone, Sard backpacked his things to the dip in the desert. At more than a kilometre out he’d be invisible to Gammy’s ghosts, and as the place was lined with clumps of spinifex, the depression made him near to invisible. Tomorrow, in the dawn, he’d practice his kite.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 12

Image from http://www.thetravelmagazine.net/wp-content/uploads/Paragliding-Winter-Interlaken-Mike-Kaufmann-06805.jpg

12: The Kite

It was well into dawn now and still no Greg. Sard waited in the dip as instructed the day before. Waiting impatiently. Was Greg going slow motion because of their conflict earlier? Sard so couldn’t use hold-ups now, what could he do but try to please the man? He scooted here and there, on his knees, to be not seen above the level of the plain, setting up the bag-over-the-bush water getting trick. Using the same round pebble. Different bush. His suit remembered everything perfectly. Good to know.

< You + I are continuous >

Sard wrung his hands in the way he thought resembled Greg’s hands knotting the snare. Worked good. The suit remembered it.

“What have you been up to?” Greg stood on the edge of the dip with the sun behind him. His expression was in the shadow of his own head. Neat trick.

Sard looked up with a winning smile. “Practicing what you taught me?”

Greg stepped down. His eyes were narrowed. “You look smug. Self satisfied. It’s not safe to get too sure of yourself. The landscape, the weather, the people out here … none of them act the way you might expect.”

“Well … it feels good to me that I can at least depend on my suit. Are we going back through the desert door?”

But Greg led the way onto the ridge. “I’ve got something to show you up there.” He stopped at the eastern apex. “No talking from here on. No rolling rocks. Not any noise at all, okay? It’s the minion stronghold we must get near to.”

They clambered around the top of their own Pit, according to Sard’s feel. The superior sense of direction was one of his avatar talents. There began to be a sick-making stink on the breeze from the sea. He concentrated on not retching. Not safe.

Greg indicated that he should sit on the rim around the Pit. Did that mean no one was in there? How did Greg know? Sard mimed vomiting and only barely managed to keep it in.

< Waste not = want not >

Greg mimed pushing their suit-hoods back.

Sard shook his head. No thank you. Not here. The stink was indescribable even through the suit’s mask. He tried not to breathe. He concentrated on hoiking without a sound. His eyes streamed with tears. He crawled back along the trail.

Greg followed him, without any regard for his suit’s colour against the mainly blue-sky background. Sard had no energy to try and work it out. Back at the triangle, he trusted the air enough to finally push the hood back. “What was that?”

“Not the kitchens,” Greg said. He smiled.

“Bastard. Was it the moldeckery?”

“Yes. I figured you should know the smell of death before you leave. Might make you think. Might make you appreciate what people are doing for you. You might even come to believe that you might not have the worst deal.”

“That’s the smell Srese is having to deal with, is that what you’re saying?”

Greg nodded. “The so-called mermen, poor bastards, are sewn into raw human skins and sent out into the open ocean, waves taller than this ridge, to fish and fetch shell food, as near as I can make out.”

Sard’s main but fleeting thought was how well—in the courtship he intended to get going as soon as—he’d compare with men sewn into skins. “And Gammy our digital game master still has expectations?”

“Srese is out of the picture,” Greg said. “The lead merman has taken up with Zoya. She’s better at the signing they do to communicate.”

Greg’s expression was hard to read. “And so you’re relieved on the one hand,” Sard said. “And on the other hand you’re worried sick about what Gammy might do to Srese? I would be.”

Greg said, “That’s about right.”

There, Greg on the way to being mollified. A bit of stroking and a tad of empathy was all it took. “What happened?” Sard said, indicating with his head, “Smells like a lot of customers.”

“Daredevilry at the storm-watch. One of your arch-enemies, Phin, and quite a few others bit the dust in an attempt by our digital taskmaster … Greg grinned wolfishly at the taskmaster jibe before continuing. “…to make it possible for us to feed the incoming women and children.”

“Mmm. So the Pit’s closed?” Sard said sympathetically. All he was going to say as he didn’t want to undo his good works? Getting through the next couple of hours as almost-friends surely preferable?

— — — —

The corridors were quiet. A curfew, perhaps. Sard didn’t ask. Better to just follow Greg and not invite trouble. They met no one in Mab’s shop or in the dome. “Safe to talk?” he said. “No one here, every place we came by, quieter than … well, quiet.”

“Everyone’s busy. Us being up here is all about the kite,” Greg said. “You getting acquainted with it in a lit-up, hidden place where we won’t be disturbed. Especially by remaindered wannabes like Youk. Watch out for him when you are out and about and you’ll probably survive.” He pulled a tight roll from a storage bag and undid various knots in strings. Silk fabric flowed from his hands like a river. “Help me lay it out?”

Plenty to worry about in that little speech. He should stick with the going concern. “I worry about it being a kite,” Sard said, taking the swag of cloth offered to him. “This all seems far too much fabric.”

Greg chuckled. “I told Rider we were calling it the wrong word. It isn’t shaped anything like that kind of kite and when used properly, it’ll help you float over the desert easy peasy.”

Was that the man being sarcastic as well as mysterious? “The beige-coloured side on top?” Sard said walking backward with his arms full. The beige-colour being the same indefinable shade and texture as his life-suit? “I have no idea about the shape but what the heck.”

“Just copy-cat me on this side shaping it, on your side,” Greg said.

Trying to get more info, Sard started listing the kite’s features as he discovered them. “Right. An elliptical mat made of many flat sausages laid side by side.” Waited.

“Sausages will fill with air,” Greg said.

Mmm. “Each of the sausages has three strings hanging from it?” Sard said.

Greg stared at him in waiting mode.

“Strings where they are fastened to the sausages …”

“Cells,” Greg said. “The sausages are cells.”

Fine, cells. “All the strings up to the middle cells are gathered first in triplets, then them in pairs dancing to the left and right and then them …?”

“To a brake each to help you control the rig, and then them to your harness which will be—if you get good—a glorified seat, just right for the lording it over everything kind of guy that you are. When you’re wearing the harness you’ll be hanging under the kite.”

Guess I didn’t do such a good job with the empathy. And it doesn’t sound like the time to pile on more. What then? Ignore? “A brake in each hand?” Sard said.

Greg nodded. He seemed to come to some sort of conclusion and continued with his instructions. “Now we lay it in a sickle moon shape, so the front edge, which is called the leading edge in the video-mentaries, is on top. Ready to take in the wind.”

“Oh. You got all this from a video-mentary,” Sard said. “I think I remember it. Some of the words anyway. We did an entertainment once about the different ways of flying.” Oops. Reminded him who I am.

“Prove it,” Greg said. “That you studied that video and that you recall any damn thing. I think you’re just buttering me up. Have been all along today.”

Oh well, back to the beginning. “The cells together are called a canopy,” Sard said. “But that’s just a word. I could never really understand how one person alone could open the cells enough for the wind to get into them. The openings to the sausages, I mean cells, are small and flat. How are they going to fill?” Like, wasn’t it obvious it just wouldn’t work?

Greg rested in his tai-ji stance. Said nothing, not even with his face.

“What now?” Sard said.

“You don’t need me. You already know it all,” Greg said.

“I think I said, I could never really understand?” Sard said. “I do understand that for me to get out of your face, you need to tell me how to work this thing. I thank you for all the trouble you have gone through for me. I’m keen to leave. As soon as.”

Greg scoffed.

“I’m listening,” Sard said.

Greg stared at the blue sky dome but did continue. “I think you need to be at the centre, facing the wind, already strapped in. Whether you’re lying down, sitting, I don’t know. Probably depending on the strength of the blow.”

“Right.”

“Rider is still working on the harness.”

“If only we had some wind,” Sard said.

“We can fire up the airlock machinery and open the doors into them.”

Which resulted in a couple of flutters at the leading edge and the kite staying stubbornly on the floor.

Sard went to stand in the place where he’d hang between the two ends of the wing. “The air is passing straight over me, look at these thread ends.” He launched a couple of the silk bits that attached themselves to everyone passing through Mab’s workshop.

“Let’s lift up and see what happens,” Greg suggested. “Each at an end. No, forget that, We’re stretching it too tight, the air can’t get between the two layers.”

“I suggest we hang on to just the top layer of the front edge then, loosely. Now we run. One … two … three.” The moving air grabbed the cloth from their hands and deposited it at the other side of the hall.

“Right.” Greg looked nonplussed.

“Obviously not made to work without someone hanging on,” Sard said. “I guess I’ll just run into the wind dragging it.”

“All we need is your feet off the ground.”

“If I can get it to billow, I’ll be happy.” Sard bunched each side’s lines and wound them around his hands.

Three big breaths. Five big steps into the centre of the hall, into the so called wind. He lifted his arms despite the weight and the foregone uselessness.

The wings took in a smidgin of air that danced its way from front to rear, causing a brief ballooning that collapsed as Sard hit the wall.

“So now we know,” Greg said.

But what do we now know? Sard didn’t say. “I’m going to try running directly at an airlock.” He set about arranging the wing on the floor on the opposite side of the hall. Greg encouraged the machinery.

Sard ran. Halfway across, the canopy filled with the rushing air, bloomed and crumpled against the wall above the door. Sard dug himself out from under. “Did you see that!”

Greg pumped his hand, slapped his back. “It’s going to work! When I think we had only the old video-mentaries to go on. No patterns or anything.”

They pulled the fabric straight and rolled up the pleated length as tightly as possible. “Okay, let’s fit you with the pack,” Greg said.

For a joke Sard made his knees buckle at the weight.

“Yeah mate, and there’s still the shoes and the harness. Rider is stitching them like a fury. You need to go down to his workshop, fit the tackle to your size and I’m sure to be wanted in the kitchen.”

Rider’s workshop was next to Mab’s, Sard discovered. They had the use of the kitchenette between them. Rider’s doorway was hung with drying silks inside and out and the worktable was screened from the shop-front too. Prospective customers shouldn’t know of Sard’s presence, Rider signaled.

Sard pulled the suit-hood over his face, fastened it to the suit-neck. Make us alive-to-background, he thought at the suit.

< We are continuous >

After hot-sealing the adjustments, Rider loaded Sard with the harness, the two brakes and his flying boots. With the wing, his clothes, food and water it would be quite a load. But once he and Ahni flew, the luggage would weigh nothing, he had to believe.

Back in under the dome, Sard patiently allowed Rider to explain the webbing though it was pretty self-explanatory. Sard told of his and Greg’s experiments so far. He and Rider attached the brakes to the lines and played with their actions for a while.

At dusk, the dome lit up with a vibrant sunset. Shreds of cloud breathing pink wisped across a red background which over time became sapphire and finally night blue.

Greg brought a feast of take-out boxes filled with special titbits. Ghulia followed him in. “Zoya couldn’t make it and I can’t stay very long, darling. Things are hotting up.” She hugged Sard until they were both breathless.

Choosing delectable tidbits, Rider hovered his chopsticks over the dishes. He said, “Last thing we need to talk about is your reason for being.”

Sard choked. After the coughing and back-slapping—by way of Greg’s heavy hand—Sard said, “What? My reason for being?”

“You’ll need a trade that allows you to travel,” Mab said. “Why else would you be wandering the country side?”

Trying to equate the idea with what he intended to do, Sard said the first, weakest thing that came to mind. “I thought that at first I’d be living in the desert around here?” He twirled his raised hand to show his meaning.

“The clay-faces maraud through all the wild places,” Rider said. “On the ground, you’re no match for them on their camels, hunting people with nets and sizzle-sticks. You’ll have a better chance to live in the villages to the northeast.”

“Not so,” Mad said, contradicting as if she knew. “Those villages are small. Even one extra mouth, however beloved, is a burden if it doesn’t produce food as well as consume it.”

“What you can do well is fireworks,” Greg said, grinning at Sard. “Isn’t a traveling trade what we’re setting him up for?”

A hard-hearted wolf sneer that was, Sard thought. “Fireworks?”

“Last time I watched you do your fountaining. With sparks and flames and criss cross spatters gobs of light; stripes rippling; neon lighting up the dark. Damn, I’m jealous! I’ve had my suit for years. Never thought to ask it for fireworks!”

Sard hardly had time to take in Greg’s reasons for envy before Mab ran with the idea. “So he needs a magician’s cloak,” she said.

Sard back on track. “I was thinking a circle of this cloth would be good to hide under, camouflage in the desert. For the fireworks I’d put it on the ground, see if the light will pool.” Glancing at Greg’s baleful expression, he added. “Once I got good, I mean.”

In his mind he knew he was good already. He was a rider on a steed of light, a seahorse in the sea of the night. A fire fuelled with light. A firefly dancing above its reflection.

“Attaboy, Sard,” Greg said. “Put away those glazed eyes. Presuming people everywhere are the same as the people I dish up for, what you need is patter. To get them in, stand around. Pass the hat afterwards. ”

“You’re fast,” Rider said. “You’ll think up the patter when the occasion demands. Your practice in the meantime must be with rocks and sand.”

Finally all the goodbyes were said and Sard, not being able to flit with the load he had on his back, or fit through any secret tunnels, made like he was in transportation and counted himself lucky he didn’t meet anyone.

He slept at the lens door until dawn. Then there was just enough time to backpack his gear to the head of the ridge before the sun rose from the sea like a proverbial ball of fire. After fixing himself a time-honoured wake-up trick, with a strand of silk fastened across the path from the beach and tied to one of his toes, he napped.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 11

Lagoon: copy from 13051770_10154119532324146_3933095396926093854_n copy

  1. Sard’s Plan

For his home away from home, Sard chose a large slab of rock leaning at an angle against the solid part of the ridge. There was just enough space in the gap for him to lie full length and stare out the west-by-north facing back door—so to say—across the desert watching for Clay Faces.

Or he could crawl in from the west-by-north and get a bit of afternoon sun on his face. The outlook at this angle was down and onto the beach. The storm had left behind a sizeable lagoon. He wouldn’t mind seeing the famous mermen frolicking in it when they decided it was safe again to be outside.

The life-suit surprised him with a burst of errant color. Maybe caused by his errant thoughts and feelings? < Discharging excess energy in a I-am-safe situation. > So, another thing about the suit useful to know. What had possessed him to think he was ready to start gallivanting out in the wilderness?

Waking after he had inevitably fallen asleep while he sunned himself, his suit smugly let him know its condition. < My exterior colour, sand, shaded and sun-touched > Which was a great saving when he saw the many legs, bare, tall and small, walking up to the edge of the cliff.

Thank you, Sard thought at the suit. He allowed his gaze to travel up the legs, past the thigh-length skirts, and past the bare breasted chests in a hurry, to the faces. Could these be the rest of the mermen’s tribe? Didn’t look like any mer-people he’d ever imagined. The adults, all of them women, dragged various small kids back from the steep fall and sent them to sit on a bunch of rolled-up mats.

How good was it that he was still invisible? < You + I are continuous with the background >
But which meant that because he was practically among them, he wouldn’t be able to slide backward into the rock shelter without shifting the sand or his shadows. Better stay put.

No, he was wrong. One person could see him, a girl probably of an age with him and Srese. She stared at him with wide startled eyes. Someone called out, and she turned her head to attend. He watched her like a hawk. She moved away without saying anything about him, as far as he could tell, because the rest of the women continued to ignore him.

Her eyes were a sparkling green and he guessed her to be shorter than him by about half a head. Her hair was warm-dark, wavy, overlaid with silver. Her skin texture reminded him of the smooth inner layer of mulbry tree bark. And, she was bare breasted. His heart galumphed.

He hardly allowed his eyes to rove—he definitely didn’t want the whites of his eyes to be seen by the flat-breasted older women—the girl’s breasts, with rosebud nipples, were small and neat and separated by the bag-strap that she wore diagonally across her chest, with the bag sitting on her hip. She wore a ragged mini-skirt made of strips of a soft floppy fabric nothing like any sort of silk or tree fibre.

He stared, not breathing, while waiting to be noticed by the rest of the women or children. But they didn’t. Nobody took any notice of him whatever. Nobody saw him except her. Vaguely he was aware he should be asking why she could see him.

Also, a stronger feeling was that surely he was due for some rest and recreation? He was getting desperate for relief from the work of living in reality. Ten minutes holiday is all I ask. He waited all of a minute for a sign from the universe to tell him his request was not granted.

Nothing. Nix. Nada. No answer. He chuckled. It is all in who you ask and how you phrase it, Sard-Man. He relaxed. His suit made him a magic man. And here were his players. He could finally dream up his future. The first step was watch watch watch and know his target. Figure of speech, that. No time now to think up a more appropriate word. Breathing lightly now he stared covertly at the women congregating at the lip of the cliff.

Or was that covetously? He chuckled again. He was on track. Bet the women discussed the state of the beach, or what was left of it. He’d been surprised too. Apart from the lagoon in the angle made by the cliff curving round at the south end, there was a narrow strip of sand along the foot of the ridge where it faced the waves. That strip was all that was left of dry land. Misstep and you might be sucked out to sea in the still vicious backwash.

One of the women, with her hands around her mouth, shouted, “Coo-ee!” Another shrilled a long sequence of sounds. They attempted to contact someone at the caves? Sard filled in the details he couldn’t see. By and by everyone sat down like they waited for the tide to ebb.

The three older women and the girl unrolled a large mat over them all. Protection from the sun was all he could come up with for a reason, though the wind still scudded busily among the waves.

Excitement gripped his belly when his girl—how he thought of her already—sat down nearest him, to hold up that corner of the mat. She drew it over her head, and down her curvy back with both hands, and lifted her sit-bones from her feet to anchor the mat under her sit bones. She glanced toward him again, sideways, seemingly to measure the distance between them.

She couldn’t have done that accidentally. Heat in his abdomen. She must be as interested in him as he in her. It was like she’d already started to separate herself from the rest of them by showing so much interest in him. Too bad he couldn’t creep closer. He shouldn’t be discovered before he had the kite and knew how to use it escape with them both.

The woman under the next corner called out. “Ahni.” The girl twisted round to attend to her. Telling him that her name was Ahni. He loved it that she had a name not in the Name Book. He imagined her in his arms, soaring high on the wind as they traveled to a place where they’d make their new lives.

The timing was excellent. What with the way the entertainments usually played out, Sard was pretty sure Gammy would keep Ahni and her people until they had been milked of all the novelty they presented. Sard would be using that time to practice the kite. He’d be ready for Ahni and waiting at the top of the path, when the women and children were turned away. As this was the only way back up onto the uplands.

The idea of leaving home was suddenly exciting. With her he wouldn’t be lonely or an outcast because he’d—or rather they—would be the ones deciding where they’d go. She’d given him the best best motivation to leave.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 10

DD

Photo by David Gangur

  1. Sard Learning Himself

Dawn to sun up, when Sard had agreed to meet Greg, felt like hours yet. Out of pure boredom, he started collecting rocks for the border between Gammy’s influence and freedom, placing them every few meters.

Damn, but the day wasn’t lighting up! He turned to where the sun should be rising. For a couple of seconds he didn’t know what he saw.

Clouds? He scoffed at himself. Yes, clouds. I knew that. They bulked up, rising above the ridge as if on fast-forward. The red from the fire of the sun staining their grey portended something awful, a story would say.

Everyone he knew would be gathering in the Pit with Gammy moderating the event. And he’d be out here Storm-Watching on his lonesome? Sick.

The rest of the sky grayed imperceptibly while the anvil, a type of storm cloud that Gammy had introduced last vigil, leaned over him. When Greg took him the five kilometres out, Sard felt small. If that cloud fell on him, he’d be a gnat-sized blot.

He started. What was that?

A bolt. Pure white light zapped to the ground. Never saw that before. His heart thumped. Remembered the word for it. Lightning. Next, the sky like split open—that was the sound—a vast crack! His guts, heart, everything inside him tremored. Despite the suit, he had time to think.

Icy stones rattled to the ground, and he stood there deluged?

< Most incidences of this particularity last 10 minutes or less >

After the stones came the water. Sheeting down. More water than he’d ever seen. More water than he’d ever been in.

< External temperature = falling. Fuel intake recommended. I ≠ alive-to-background > The suit sleeves over his arms and legs blotched.

“Go for it,” Sard said. “I’m not staying out in it.” He jogged Simmond’s way—couldn’t at this moment recall the proper term—along the Clay Face road along the bottom of the ridge. Angling his face against the slashing rain he searched for a place he might recognise. The suit’s eyepieces did not cope and he had to keep wiping them.

There. The roofless room where Ghulia left him about a lifetime ago. What it felt like. The stones lining the slope looked smoothed, machine made. When he was up there before, he’d had no idea he’d be running up them so soon.

The hatch were wedged open, with roll of tent on the floor track. He had no time to wonder who’d organised that. He grabbed food as he went by and ate the energy bars as he negotiated the blessed dark. He relaxed.

In fact, he loitered along First Circle. What a fish out of water he was in his present mode. He hated how he had to be. Even about that kite Rider was putting together for him. What would Sard do with a kite, when he didn’t plan on wandering very far at all? Rider’s plans weren’t his and Greg’s plans weren’t his. What was the use being a hero with no one to be a hero for?

Finally he arrived in the cave with the holo entrance into Crystal Cave. You could say despite his best negative efforts. Uh oh. A shadow jittered in the opening. The person was backlit by the amber glow of emergency lighting. It was the wrong shape for a minion. He cleared his throat, made a noise to test the situation.

“There you are,” Greg said. He handed Sard a roll of clothes. Jeans and shirt. “Clothes in case we meet someone. I don’t think Gammy will know you’re here. He’s pretty busy.”

Glancing aside while he dressed, Sard saw that Greg was in his closed-mouth mode. Fine. The Pit, next door to Crystal Cave, was abuzz with the storm vigil. Much more interesting.

Greg pulled him away. “We’ve got business elsewhere.” The corridors were eerily empty.

When they stepped in the dome, through a curtain of water, Rider was dragging sandbags from the water tunnel. Water gushed through every gap between two pylons. Greg pointed Sard at Mab’s airlock, himself staying at Rider’s. Rider slid bags at them and Sard and Greg built dams around their airlocks, and strung a net across the water tunnel’s maw.

Sard marveled at the depth of the river flowing over the dome floor and down into the water tunnel. Ankle deep, then shin-deep, three layers of sandbags and still the water rose.

A lull in the water sheeting down the perglass dome allowed them a breather. “What’s with the net,” Sard said.

“If you were swept down when the system is in full spate, and it’s getting that way,” Rider said. “You’d arrive down in the cubby jungle as a slow-rot case. For obvious reasons, we’d bury you rather than report you missing.”

Right. Interesting, Sard thought, how the life-suit coped with the downpour, keeping him warm but wet now, instead of dry and perhaps cold. He’d certainly never been as wet. When it came again, the rain was deafening, numbing, an unrelenting barrage.

< With adequate fuel intake, you + I + exterior input = continuous >

Oh.

When the rain eased into splatters on a gusting wind, Rider and Greg fitted plasti-boards to broomsticks—both stored in the ceiling of the water tunnel—and began to shove out the pooling water. As a swath of floor was cleared, Sard dragged sandbags forward and mopped the floor behind them.

“That’s it,” Greg said. “We’ve still got a dome. I’m off. The kitchens call me.”

“Sard, why don’t you stay awhile?” Rider said.

Was there a choice? Sard wondered about the conditions outside. What did he know? “All that water down in the cubby jungle … aren’t the trees floating?”

“Another tunnel beyond and a fall into the sea,” Rider said. He restrung the net along the ceiling of the water tunnel and hung his clothes to dry.

Sard added his jeans and shirt. The life-suit underneath was dry already. When he stripped off the top half of it and let it hang from his waist, the last of the breeze was like a balm on his own skin. He fetched mats from Mab’s airlock. Rider divided his last meal for them both.

Sard forestalled Rider asking for his adventures. “It feels like I’m marking time, in here or out there.”

“You have learned all you need to know about your suit?” said Rider.

It felt like a trick question. “Mmm. Probably not.” He sorted through a couple more possible answers. The suit would best be tested when Sard was tested? Which might lead to uncomfortable inquiries into how he tested his suit now. He settled for his main thought. “It’s like something in me is refusing to get excited about the whole deal?”

Rider’s expression was noncommittal. “And you’ve been thinking that through and trying to come to a conclusion?”

Sard started with the explanation he’d come up with. “My project at the delta is far away in time and place. Between then and now there are only survival skills to be managed and those are taken care of by the life-suit. That’s my problem. I don’t have any way of influencing things to happen and hardly even myself to organise. I’m bored. Already.”

Rider did not smile or act appreciative of Sard’s problems. “I suggest then that you spend the whole next week out. You’ll get the chance to experience many unforeseen situations all requiring their own strategies. Which will also give us more time to work on the kite, progress of course being put on hold by this storm.”

All right. If it was going to be like that. Sard wanted to tell Rider he didn’t want the kite. What use would it be when he’d be staying around the ridge. Waste of everybody’s efforts.

But never mind, Rider was up and ready to take Sard through a couple of patterns. “Ward off the cold,” Rider said. And after that, still not giving Sard any quarter, caught up a pair of staves and clickety-clack fought Sard to a stand-still.

Only then was Rider ready to farewell Sard into the dark tunnels with advice and instructions on what to take for his week-long jaunt into the desert wilderness.

Fiction: Avatar Remaindered, 2

Wall in the secret corridor

Sard is still in shock but is beginning to get his act together. He feels cheated that his care-mother never took him to the secret places they now visit. The old man they meet, Rider, has to be a such a fake that Sard plans to out him the minute he’s free ..

Getting the art for posting the novella in chapters is a process in action, as is sourcing a good book cover, without which it can not be published. Enjoy!

Part 2: Plan B


Ghulia sat beside him. “You look like you’ve got a week of work to do in three minutes.”

“Srese is it.” Sard indicated the mini-monitor above the bed. “What does that mean for me?” How could he trust someone as scatty as Srese to look after his interests?

His care-mother leapt up onto the bed, he was amazed to see, and switched off the mini-monitor.

“People think because there is no sensory-felt in the Nest, there are no receptors. Never dreaming that the communication gear itself might carry signal,” she said shakily.

He stared, his mouth agape.

When she noticed she hugged him hard. “Sard-baby, this is it. The first day of your new life.” Cheerful when obviously that wasn’t how she felt. “How much time do you think until Phin and Youk notice you missing?” she said.

“Probably around lunchtime when Phin will want to make sure I don’t eat. They’ll find their clothes ruined in the ionizers and suddenly they’ll care a lot. Why?”

“You have no more time at their disposal. In fact, you have no more time at all for ordinary things. Get into some nondescript clothes and smoothe down your hair. I’ll call in sick, which everyone will consider perfectly understandable.”

If it hadn’t been for her fear—utter and stark—Sard wouldn’t have gone along with her chivvying. He didn’t understand half of what she was on about but changed into ordinary jeans and shirt. Moccasins on his feet. His hair combed as flat as it would go. He could but coast in her wake until the facts came out.

“We need to go to the Dining Hall,” Ghulia said.

“I wasn’t there that long ago.”

“Nevertheless.”

The corridor walls, though still mainly grey, fluttered with blue stalks and leaves. Sard started every time a bird shadow exploded from the undergrowth. “That’s how you feel?” he said.

She talked from behind the bit of her scarf that she covered her mouth with. “Ignore it. It’s Gammy guessing.” She led him into the Dining Hall, empty of breakfasters, and into the kitchen-office cubby and introduced him to that fool, Gregorius the Dining Hall Manager, as though Greg and Sard had never met.

“You know my care-son?”

“Sard,” Greg said. “Will I put you on the roster for early breakfast?”

“There is a roster?” Sard’s amazement wasn’t a put-on.

“Only for the early session, mate,” Greg said while he made them a coffee each.

Ghulia was like, go on this is an emergency, and it was an easy thing to commit to when Sard had no idea of what was blowing in the wind. “Yeah sure, put me down for a couple of weeks.”

Ghulia took the coffees and led him to a table. No one else around helped make it too weird to enjoy. His care-mother waved him down opposite her. She stared pointedly, dragging his gaze along with hers, at every sensor within their range – alongside every light fitting and behind every air-filter screen.

Because of them, she explained without a word, she wouldn’t be saying anything about the emergency in here. She allowed him about two minutes to gulp down what was a hot drink. She drank hers as if it had no flavor and no heat. Like it was water straight from the moldeckery. He followed her out into the corridors. “Where are we going?”

She shrugged and brushed her ear.

Oh yeah. Gamester all ears. They’d exited in the Lane alongside the Dining Hall, walked Neilson-wards. Left into First Circle, crossed Neilson Street and into the lane alongside the silk weaving workshop. They went to its back entry in the corridor parallel to First and Second Circles. As they entered, Ghulia grabbed the doorbell with a practiced move. Obviously to prevent the bell jangling.

She pulled him down onto his hands and knees with her to crawl under the silk stretched from the wall to the loom. The woman already under there apparently had the task of tying off the beginnings and ends of the silk cocoons after their filaments were woven into the new fabric. Ghulia mouthed, “Mab, this is my care-son.”

“One of the avatars, Ghulia.” Mab likewise spoke voicelessly. Sard was like he attended a ball game, his eyes following the action.

“Not chosen for the game,” Ghulia said.

“Plan B?” Mab raised her eyebrows.

Ghulia nodded.

Mab tossed her head to indicate that the person they wanted, whose name Sard was not able to read from her lips, was still up there. Wherever that was. She waved Ghulia and Sard out from under the loom and Ghulia pushed him through a curtained doorway into what was at first glance a kitchenette.

Or maybe the place where they cooked up dyes, he decided seeing the various cooking vessels with coloured slops. The whole rear wall was draped with silks.

“The drying racks,” Ghulia said. “Vents in the floor and ceiling.” She bent and felt for something under a swag of silk scraps in a basket. “Go on through.”

“Huh?” he said pointedly when he could’ve said a ton of other stuff.

She pressed a headband into his hands that had a torch on the front, and pushed past him through the curtaining. A passage? How was it that when he and Srese had investigated every corner of the habitat in their single digit years, Ghulia and he now stumbled along a passage Sard hadn’t even known existed?

He nodded his head to swing the torch up, across and down. The sandstone walls were darkened with age. So, not a newly carved passage. The floor was ordinary polished-with-use stone-kreet. He felt betrayed by the way Ghulia, who might have shown him the tunnel as a treat but didn’t–ever–showed no hesitancy in her walking having obviously been through here many times.

“Mind the ceiling.” She led him up a set of steps. He had go bent for a couple of paces before they went down again, and that for only a couple of steps before they had to do it all again. Why not a straight tunnel for pity’s sake? His temper started to build. “Where are we going?”

“The sooner we get there, the sooner you will know,” Ghulia said.

He ignored the tartness in her tone in favour of a bit of his own. “How is that an answer?”

No answer.

Fine. The way the passage slung about twisting and turning, they could be going anywhere. About all he was sure of anymore was that they’d entered the passage in the silk workshop in the Neilson-and-Everard Quarter.

“Ouch.” He forgot to duck and did his mother stop to commiserate?

She had entered a foyer. The two sets-of-doors-setup made it like the foyer into the Nest, that he and Srese called the airlock. Where they used to play their spaceship games. He wasn’t attending when he should have been, he thought dismally, when he just about fell into the room beyond. It was so large and light and round, he was totally overwhelmed.

By the time he’d collected himself, Ghulia had abandoned him and was stepping out a pattern in the middle of the room with an old joker already there. The person they’d probably come to see. The man’s features were certainly something to see. Grey hair and wrinkles that Sard only ever saw in video-mentaries and then only because he’d searched beyond the common tripe. Most people he knew would prefer to be moldecked than grow old.

The grey head continued to step and turn and gesture, completely unselfconsciously. Sard’s hands grew clammy from embarrassment about the weirdness of someone ignoring bystanders. Personally, during a public performance, he had to have everyone involved in the action of the moment. He’d sent people out if they refused to be in the moment.

Finally the oldster made a namaste-type ending to his routine. After a minute on hold he turned and came. Ghulia would be no help as she continued on hold, Sard saw. She wore her unapproachable meditational expression.

The oldster arrived in Sard’s face while he was still thinking daggers at Ghulia. At the same time—like the old man timed it—a vast bright light sprang into being at the top of the rock rim above the perglass dome ceiling that Sard had had no spare time to see yet. A sun event. He’d bet on it.

“It’s the sun,” the old man said. “Too hot in here when that gets going. I’m known as Rider.”

Sard didn’t nod to say he understood, because he understood nothing. He shook Rider’s proffered hand to express a minute vestige of politeness.

“Have a seat,” Rider said.

There was only the floor. Polished stone. No rugs or cushions. Sard remained standing. Damned if he was going still further out of his comfort zone without knowing why. His skin crawled as he felt the man studying him.

Sard pointedly studied the scene. The perglass dome perched on rickety columns of stacked stones. Nowhere did the dome meet the walls. In the gaps between the stone pylons, the room’s air must mix freely with the outdoors. Or what it looked like.

Seeing where Sard looked, the old man said, “Originally the dome sat on that rim of rocks.” He pointed at an edge far above the dome, that was just now limned with sunlight. “Lucky for us the glass didn’t break when it slid down, though naturally it needed stabilizing.”

“Naturally,” Sard said. The floor was of the usual polished stone-kreet. Including the one they’d come through, three dark entrances broke the encircling wall.

“When it rains, it’s all hands on deck for bailing,” the old man said.

One point to Sard for having moved his attention on while the old man was still on about the gaps between the dome and the wall.

Above the dome hung a circular piece of what would have to be sky, brown-tinged by the aging UV barrier in the per-glass. “The dome dislodging from its original mounting caused this hall to be abandoned by the community,” Rider said. “One of Gamester’s engineers’ mistakes. Serendipitous for us.”

Ghulia finally came to grace the meeting with her presence. “Rider, this is my care-son, Sard. Superfluous to Gamester’s needs.”

“Mmm,” Rider said.

Ghulia nodded. Something she was doing a lot around these people. Sard interrupted the flow of meditational discourse, whatever they thought they were doing. “I don’t need plan B. Srese will get me into Plan A with her. What we planned when the competition was first posted.”

Rider stared at Ghulia. “He doesn’t know?”

“I brought him as soon as I was sure.”

“Yet it is his life,” Rider said. “He needs the knowledge. I think Plan B, Scene 2, Ghulia. You know what to do?”

She bit her bottom lip then seemed to come to some conclusion. “Yes.”

“I thought you just agreed to no more decisions without my input?” Sard said. What did he care about the whine even he heard in his voice?

Amazingly, Ghulia laughed. “Rider, you know him better than I do.”

“I was him once,” Rider said. “Still am sometimes, though I try to keep those moments private. We should get out of here. The heat,” the oldster explained to Sard. He hustled them towards their entry.

Sard let Ghulia take the lead back down the secret passage. He felt like his ears had burned off. He decided he’d go to the hardcopy museum next, and read the Name Book. Bet there was no Rider in it, the man was such a fake. That grey hair had to be a wig.

Ghulia stopped well before they reaching the curtaining of drying silks. “I want to show you a couple of things before you’re too old to enjoy them. You take Two Forty and Second Circle. Don’t let anybody see you. Hide in the overhang of Crystal Cave. I’ll be there in half an hour.”

Sard frowned.

“Indulge me, son. You owe me for that tantrum back there. I thought I did a better job than that, socializing you.” She had him by the ears then, and not gently either. She shook him. “Wake up to yourself, Sard-baby.”

Tears in her eyes and her voice. What could he do but indulge her?

Wordsmithing

The excerpt below is written in a fictional, grammar-based dialect. It has one word I made up … skanzy … and some that are used in different ways than you might be accustomed to.

Watercolor painting of what one of the characters described might look like.
A typical skanzy is hard to see when you’re
trying too hard.

“A skanzy by kind and a skanzy with aptitude is what I am, though I’m quite long-winded as well. The bottom falling out of the bio-engineering market left a lot of us product scrabbling for a living. Cities wouldn’t have us, or anywhere you live. You who are not mis-made.

“Down to the rivers is where we drifted, and where we now live in permanent river-camps, despite floods and melting floes. The some of us what hold down jobs support us all. The jobs never notice there’s an unending succession of us—seen one, you say, seen us all—so when one of us is too sick to get out of bed, injured, or arthritic of a morning—someone else will turn up.

“We can’t afford to lose any of the jobs so we have a rota and a job school in every camp where we all learn all the jobs.

I’d love it if you leave a comment on how well you can understand it, and would maybe like to read more by this character?