Friday, November 30, 2012

155 - A Defragging Dragon and Harvesters

... the dragon searches for me.  I am in the deep code.  How did I get here?  There is a cleansing program running.  In my mind it takes the form of a red dragon, made of pieces of the planet.  Red and yellow actually.  Things we have destroyed to make room for ourselves, turned poisonous green green green.  Here a healthy plant should be purple.

A sand sheet flares up and folds over the dragon, giving me a fraction of an instant to hide behind this column of financial records, craggy as rock, full of crevasses, full of bush dragons, hissing and flailing their tails to draw a mate, to spawn more numbers... more profit.  People falling into the cracks in the rock, the sandsheet convulses around the dragon, bulging and writhing as the dragon inside fights to free itself.

For a moment everything is still.  I realize that here, in the code, I don’t need to breathe, but I do.  Desperately.  Where are my bees?  Where are my lungs?

“...zardukar, hold him there.  He’s fluctuating wildly.  His lungs have collapsed.  Heart rate, Shashi... keep him synced with you... hold him... hold him... there.  He’s breathing again...Diryish stay with us...”

Wonderful doctor.  I do want to stay alive till I at least see my siwion... a paladin young idiot and his bastard son.  Who would have thought that my boy would be a great warrior hero?  How did my father not use him up and spit him out?  How did father not find out about him?  Especially on one of his rampages.

The bulge of sandsheet seems to have won.  The purge-dragon is still inside.  A cleaning code overwhelmed by rogue native data?  Evolution in the dust and sand... oh.  The sandsheet is expanding, slowly at first as it clings to the dragon with every one of its internal cilia, then round like an ever expanding balloon.  The bushies in the financial archives fold themselves into their holes, pull in their tails.

With an enormous boom that shakes the whole network, the sandsheet blows into shreds of kludge, the dragon spews starfire into the sky incinerating ever shred it can, blows flames over the financials.  Bushies flee and are devoured becoming part of it.  Becoming grist for Prime’s mill.  Harvesters wait behind the dragon, scooping nets and catching claws trailing, each with an operator, one of his zardukar, in its head.  Clawtips trailing in the sand, waiting for the go.

They do not flush me.  They do not see me.  They do not know we are here.  I do not exist. This is a....

...ow.  Oh.  The whole archive is being excised.  I could not move or I’d be scorched.  I am now bundled under tons of number code, the weight sitting on my chest.  The harvester who clipped off the bottom columns of four hundred seasons ago, bundled them into its hopper trundles off toward the door into hell, where all code is thrown to be trashed.

Through a gap I can see.  This is a major clean up.  A whole row of dragons to the zero point horizon, each with its entourage of harvesters.  The dragon behind me is flaming the last ones and zeros, dripping off the bottom of the baskets.

If I do not move I will die.  Right here.  My mind will expect it and my body will follow.  I am no longer a young enough man to fight off my beliefs.

I laboriously build armour out of spread sheets and inventory.  My breastplate is a Galactic Who’s Who.  Prime.  Perrin is the cover.  I’d spit in his eye but I don’t have the strength.  I must be the anonymous knight springing to take on the dragon.  One of my backdoors... trapdoors... is just behind the dragon’s rear talon.  All I need to do is distract it.  I will not be recognized, buried in owner-shaped armour.

“His heart’s racing.  He’s in the code.”  “Haul him out of there.  He can’t have the energy to do that...”

I’m trapped by code, not playing!  Idiot.  I relish the feeling of my lungs working.  Not so strong since I gave Homa the pattern of health.  Things seem to be deteriorating.  Deep breath.  Clutch my sword built of a platinum stylus, an antique desk toy for the discerning Galactic CEO.  Perrin.  Asshole.  Crapwaxer.  I can’t fight you much longer... but my grandson will.  And my great grandson.

Doctor, is the Emperor ----- Shut them up, get them out of here, blasted flesh-wasps!

I thrust my way free of inventory, scatter a confetti of code into the dragon’s face.  It inhales and snorts some up its nostrils and instead of a solid stream of sunfire, it coughs, chokes for a moment.  A lava flake settles on my shield of the Wall and it burns in a magnesium flare.

But it gives me time.  Time to slide down the mountain of cascading information, it cannot see me in my camouflage armour. Time to dodge another drop of lava saliva as it searches for me under itself.  The door.  The door... I have to get out of here.  I stab the stylus through that foot, see it flinch up and off my trapdoor. I have to get out... I can hear it inhaling.  The door is right there.  It roars, shaking a paw double my size and I dive, hearing the roar of the fire as it falls down on me, hands on the ring lifting--- heat and stink as my armour burns and ---

“His heart is failing.  Doctor, arrhythmia... its going defib... coding –

Thursday, November 29, 2012

154 - There's a Dead Zone Here

The rock-fall was hidden behind a dozen turns in the road before Ilax and Kyrus nodded at each other and opened their bird’s bridles to let them run.  If they pushed, they’d be back at the wadi before nightfall.

At the first shade-stop, they let their panting fowl settle back on their hocks and retreated to the furthest dark shade under the overhanging rock.  “There’s something wrong back at those rock falls,” Ilax said.  “Did you see there was another?”

“Yes.  If I were going to lay an ambush that’s the spot.  But having the rock fall right then?”

“Perhaps someone made a mistake and is hoping we’d think it was natural?”

“And coincidental that we were there to see the rock fall.”  Kyrus snorted.  “Too endarkened coincidental, especially with every living thing apparently avoiding the area.  The ‘dead zone’ that I could see was almost out to where we let our birds run.”

Ilax nodded. “So, let us assume that someone is setting an ambush where we would and that rock-fall was an accident.  If there is no one there, we’ll look like a pair of anxious aunties.”

“A condition that our Rasheem would appreciate.” Kyrus’s grin showed over his veil.  “Raghnall is very conscientious.”
“... and his Amir is diligent to a fault.”

The two mounted, despite their bird’s groans of complaint, and goaded them to their feet. “He’s good,” Kyrus said in answer after his fowl’s feathers had been fluffed and settled, claws stamped out.  “But if he’s a mere Amir, I’m a purple dust flyer.”


The wadi was in the bottom of a valley, with true green spread through most of the valley floor.  The purple and yellow around the edges looked ragged and faded against the onslaught of grass.

Kyrus stopped his bird as they overtopped the last rise of road.  “Now what’s going on?”

They could see two figures near the bird-lines, saw a lot of arm-waving, stone-kicking, violent throwing gestures.  The camp, on the upwind side of the well, under the thickest trees, a mix of date palms and native lolipapera had a cluster of people, apparently unconcerned by the drama.

Kyrus looked over at Ilax, who shrugged.  “Either your boy and my girl. Or the boys.  Less likely to be Werfas and my daughter, they haven’t been sleeping together since she hauled Ky into her bed.”

Kyrus shook his head, slowly.  “Young people.  Especially from Milar.”

Ilax snorted.  “Nobody is going to get either pregnant or diseased, or kill each other.  They’ll work it out.”

Kyrus tsked back at his husband.  “Milari.  So... practical.”


The whole group sat around a clear spot smoothed in the earth.  Not sand, true earth.  Elemfias’s mandery had raised and sculpted the miniature to Ilax’ and Kyrus’s report.  “This is the only way through, without back-tracking for weeks?”  Kyrus asked his da.  He sat next to his da and step da.  Hara was on the other side of his da, looking attentive, apparently untroubled by all the previous day’s revelations. Werfas stood behind Merzhad, arms crossed, pretending to be a stone column that didn’t have to say anything.

“Months actually,” Kyrus said to his son.  “The first time a road was put through here, by Lainz engineers, they tried four alternate routes but found that the rock wasn’t stable and the way the weather patterns moved through here, the south route was choked with sand and rock inside a month.  Two more were washed away by the yearly water.  This is the only one that was stable enough to keep open.  There are rock falls through there constantly.  So two isn’t that unusual.”

“But...” Ilax drew a faint arc either side of the road, running into the cliffs and the broken ground.  “There’s a ‘dead zone’ here.  There’s no animal life at all.  Not even insects.”

Vishna ran a contiguous line from the ends of Ilax’s arcs, the line glowing faintly.  “If you make a circle based on that information then the centre point is roughly... coincidentally, right in the middle of the pass.”

Ky looked around at everyone, found the Amir watching him and da.  “That’s too much of a coincidence.  There’s someone or something there.  Probably waiting for us, since everybody on the lin over the whole empire has a notion that we’re close to the city.”

Raghnall nodded sharply.  “So we’ll go in prepared for every kind of trouble we can think of.”

Ilax laughed.  “Between the lot of us old war-birds, that’s quite a bit of suspicion.  I think we should go in looking as though we’re all careless idiots, haven’t a clue, and trap us a trapper.”

“Do we hope that who or whatever is waiting for us is that dumb?”

“If not, then we haven’t lost anything.  Let us plan for every kind of reaction, hmmm?”

“This sounds almost like a school thing, rather than any way of getting through to Lainz,” Hara said grumpily.

“It is, my darling daughter,” Ilax said.  “It is both.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

153 - I Must Be Still

It was late enough to be early. Nadian had gone home for long enough to eat something more substantial than honey wafers and raki, and come back, his need for sleep seething at the back of his eyes.  The zardukar sitting in Shashi’s place was one of the younger ones.  Why Diryish had zardukar guard his door was just too prurient to think on.

He leaned his head back against the wall and considered.  He had to severely punish his younger brother for trying to kill him in so public a place; especially without succeeding.  The boy had been trying, pushing, re-tooling, for years.  Nadian had felt his pressure particularly keenly the past ten years, since their da had died so foolishly trying to take Diryish down.

Why hadn’t da just waited?  We’re a long-lived family.  Of course I’d tried to kill him a dozen times before and Billiph had tried to kill me twice.  Ah, memories.  So heart-warming. Billiph had only tried to kill him twice at that point, and had been stopped by their father’s intervention.

Da had called them in, just before everything had gone awry, just before he’d called both of them in and laid down the law.  “I will have you defend each other, boys.  You are NOT to fight each other, but support each other.  If I find that you are destroying your brother’s good works, inadvertently, I’ll have you  be a minor programmer for years, supporting his ideas.”

That was da for you.  If he thought you were right, he’d support you till the sun died.  If he thought you were wrong, he’d tie you to a hellish existence of minor programming, to make sure it happened.  Even if you had no profit from it.

He blinked, roused out of his memories, his sweat starting up and his rage barely contained.  It was like walking into his mother’s boudoir.  Diryish held all the power and all the information and he, Nadian, was left waiting, left wanting.  His head was pounding, the rhythm of agony bursting just behind his eyes.  He needed to sleep, but he could not leave this room for long enough.  The Emperor was dying and if he was not physically there when he breathed his unfiltered last, he could lose everything he’d worked so hard for.

The little zardukar on the chair blocking the Emperor’s door was attractive enough.  Dark, sleek hair showing at the edges of the fine veil.  Eyes clear and bright and chocolate warm.  Chocolate, so rare that it was worth more than gold or silver or biomass. She was several fingerwidths shorter than his wife, who was probably at home fussing over the latest larva, even though it was female.  Again.  Female.  It just made him rage at night when no one could see.  It made him break things and throw things and swear and pound stone till his knuckles were raw.

He wanted to be in his mother’s boudoir.  There was something absolutely fascinating about the silks tearing in his fingers.  It took real strength to do that.  He’d torn ragged wounds in his hands making the silk give.  He was stronger than it.  He was stronger than her and anything she formed around herself.

This zardukar ... probably unassigned.  No patron.  Mother Thriti couldn’t value her that much if she were still a free agent.  It was likely that she’d be the perfect target to slake his rage on.  Pound a fist into that perfect, shadowy, veiled face.  Pour his semen into, even as he locked his hands around her neck and choked the life nearly out of her.  Or out of her.  Who would care?  An orphan?  A female sex worker?  Diryish might enjoy having these creatures around him all the time but it was a sign of weakness.  A sign of  prurience.  That kind of thing should be kept quiet, behind closed doors.

He could feel himself get hard as he thought of pounding her with himself and with his fists.  When she rises, to yield to the next zardukar, so shall I yield my place.  I’ll follow her, take her into a dark and quiet place in these hive corridors and pour my rage into her.  No one will see.  No one will credit her.  No one will believe her, since I haven’t done any such thing before.  I will do this and get off with no more than a minor disapproval, the raising of an eyebrow.

He could feel the surplus of rage building in him and was vaguely glad it wasn’t his wife blocking his access to Diryish, to power.  There was no reason for these sex workers to be the chosen ones between the Emperor and himself.  None at all.

He rose to his feet, tugging his tunic down to make a better silhouette.  She was just rising as well and he felt the thrill of a hunting cat as he locked on her, as his prey.  I can afford the time to indulge myself.

There was a commotion at the door and a quiet, early morning fanfare, all very correct.  He turned just in time to see his mother, in full veil, in full regalia, with every servitor to her command, come sweeping in like an airship under full rotor, to settle right next to him as though he were some kind of docking boom.  “Mother!” he hissed. What the fakkin’ endarkened is she doing out of her rooms?  She’s an invalid!

“I am here to witness my great uncle’s passing, my son.” She said, the motion of her mouth invisible in the depths of her veils.  “It is not only a right.  It is proper.  It is something that would make people talk if I were not here.”  He could feel his veins pulse in his head as she spoke.

I cannot kill her.  I cannot kill her, I cannot punch her face into her brain.  I cannot raise a hand to her.  I must be still.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

152 - No Bees in MY Court

Nadian stood to one side of the Emperor’s bedroom door as near as he could get to his wife's chair, without appearing to crowd.  It would never do, to look too eager. The Great Hive from the rooms above was restless and periodically a wave of bees would swarm down and over the door and his wife, of all creatures. She seemed to have no problem with the disgusting swarms coming and going over her.  

General d’Molfe stood smiling into his veil on the other side and once after the bees had swarmed, and gone, Nadian caught his eye and they exchanged solemn nods.  Billiph and the younger Hive Lords were over by the stone table, talking quietly.  

The new mandery school director, female of all things, Amardad Mastureh, stood off to one side, not interacting with anyone in any significant way.  Her face was barely visible beneath the formal teal and gold veil. The new dees were the unknown force in the city and he'd have to keep an eye on them -- later.  For now there was no sign that they might be a true power in the country.  The fact it was a woman as the head of the school had ensured that he never even considered disclosing his hard-won skill.

The zardukar were in and out of the Imperial chamber, and the doctor had looked out once but retreated in the face of all the questions.

Everyone knew they were finally on the old man’s deathwatch.  There was no way he could come back from this stress.  He’d barely fought off the chamberlain’s attempt, clumsy and obvious as it was, so that had given everyone an idea of how weak Diryish truly was.

Only Nadian knew that his Radiance had fought for the baby's lungs. Only Nadian was certain that the child, since she'd survived, must be weakened -- and her mother.  There was no way that even Diryish would have stopped their lungs from dissolving into scars and mucus.  They would both be vulnerable to the slightest attach on their breathing and Diryish was obviously... finally... done.
The roads around the Sunrise Loggia were jammed with people, no one that the Emperor knew, of course.  But they knew it was coming as well.  Apparently the lowest of the low even had some understanding when their sun itself was about to set.  Of course the Lin had it all over the Empire.

The data editors were all in the room, no matter their original rank or status.  Men and women both, mostly retired zardukar too wrinkled to pursue their calling.  Who would want an older woman... he coughed at the thought... or man... in their bed?  It was disgusting.  Far worse an idea than a wrinkled female bag of bones in one’s bed and properly assigned, but a man?  He reached out a hand and snatched a glass of wine from one of the servitors.

There was no need to try and kill the old man anymore.  If Diryish died before these two so called heirs of his showed up, Nadian was in the perfect place to step up as regent and that baby girl would disappear into the nursery and never come out.  No muss, no fuss.  The two sword bucks could be paid off and sent off with a pat on the back and a peacock snake in their bedding and no one would miss them in the slightest.

 He felt the tingle as his brother’s bugs slithered out of a crack in the tiles next to his foot. Brother, you aren't going to get any closer to the highest seat by attacking either me, or the old man.  Nadian drained his glass, stepped over to set the empty vessel on a side table, where a servant made it vanish.  Then he deliberately scraped a chair over the bugs now exposed, set his bootheel on one, seemingly by accident as he sat down.  Billiph was so awkward.  His bugs were so big and so easy to destroy.  Not one could even make the leather of his boots deteriorate, much less get any kind of illness in even to touch his skin.

Nadian leaned back in the chair and tasted the various odd tangs in the room.  More than bees flew here now, though everyone pretended that they were the Emperor’s.  They were parasite wasps and beetles quite unlike the doctor’s.   

Tiny moths and dragonflies, butterlies and the servants swept crawling things over the edges of the windows; things some Hive Lords had learned to do in the short time that mandery and clinery were no longer anathema.  Nothing capable of flight, nothing subtle.  Nothing small as dust on the wind.  No one can do that yet, he thought.  No one but me, and it takes too much energy.

 It was so much easier to just be here.  Closest to the door.  His wife sitting door guard for the old fart.  Let everyone else’s plots bounce against the years of being indispensible for his Radiance.  My first act as Radiance will be to move the government out from under that seething mass of pulsing nastiness.  No bees in my court.