... 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 –