Terry wasn’t certain what he expected but what he got was... well... not much of anything. His screens didn’t change. There wasn’t any kind of physical reaction that he could feel. His timer clicked and reminded him that his shift was over and he should get something to eat.
He yawned enormously. Perhaps a nap first might be in order. He yawned again and didn’t remember reaching his bed.
...dreams... or am I dreaming? I’m... learning? What? What is that? A planet zoomed up close to his face as he almost flinched, in response to his question. I don’t understand. What is a planetary nebula? I don’t understand. Terraforming... What’s that?
My head has been peeled open and my own questions are showing the gaping holes in what I know. I have to ask back. What is this? What does that mean? How was that discovered? Why? What? How? And occasionally who?
Colours I had no names for. Places I had no idea existed. People, not just the few millions on Xanadu but hundreds of millions, billions, as many people as are grains of sand and their faces fly by my dreaming eyes.
Dead ends of questions that I just had to abandon because the start of it was nonsense. Fusion? Space-Time Warp? Alcu-was that a name? I got a phonetic spelling of it. It was a name. Animals. Earthen animals, animals identified as other planet’s fauna. I realize what the word fauna means and it’s root. Why didn’t I know there my language rose from?
Flowers. Fruit. Exploding fruit and trees covered with thorns. Mother’s face. The structure of human skin. Structure of chishik fauna tegument. Muscles of the human smile. Bush Dragon wing evolution. Perfume. How it’s made. Moby Dick. Mobies on Ishmael. Planet Ishmael. Sea-faring human culture, clash and resolution with sentient Mobies. Blackmarket in sentient Mobies.
Corporate Space. Kingdom, San, NeoBejing, Sacred Ball of Rock, Chat Chapeau, Steinpelz, Church of the Divine Human Form.
Terry woke up, sitting in his bunk, soaked in sweat, gasping “Stop! Stop it! Stop it! Turn it off! Stop!” And, blessedly, the Font in his head stopped spewing information, images and videos at him. He felt suddenly, echoingly alone inside his own skull and was able to take a deep breath. “How do I stop it doing that?” he asked the air, plaintively, and froze as he was answered. The words... he could see the words as if they were projected on the wall. He imagined a screen on the wall and one obligingly appeared for him, rather than blazing on the fused moon rock as glowing letters of fire – Christian Holy Book... ‘letters of fire' appearing to King—“STOP!”
His shout echoed in his bedroom. *Operating System: Subroutine sleep learning mode on full. Change to ‘light’? Y/N*
“Um... Yes?” he said and the letters blurred away. *Subroutine change accepted. Other operating system changes? Y/N*
“No. Can you quiet things down while I’m asleep... you... machine you?”
*Operating system: Terence Charles Arthur Cameron node 4 trillion 5 million 3 hundred 30 thousand and 5, sleep mode, engaged.*
The screen on his wall went away as if he’d imagined it. Perhaps he had. But it was still quiet now. The inside of his skull felt a bit as though it were the fading phosphor glow of a screen turned off, but that was tolerable. He slumped back into his pillow and rolled over. Blinking certainly hadn’t changed. And he really shouldn’t be afraid to close his eyes. He could see, behind his eyelids, this doorway. With a ‘do not disturb’ sign on it in glow in the dark paint. “Do not Disturb while I’m asleep,” he muttered to himself, caught himself yawning again. “Good idea.”
Between the gates of his ears he could hear a faint lullaby, soothing, restful. He slept again.
*RUN... Hara... we can’t outrun those things!*
*Fly then... let the warbirds go!*
Kyrus and Hara kicked loose of their stirrup straps, flung themselves into the sky, with bee-like wings. As their feet left the riding birds the whole flock fell apart into a faint drift of hair knots and beads and feathers.
The sniffers siphoned up the dirt code and the bits and pieces, honking mournfully as their heads swung side to side, snorting out clouds of dust, looking for them. Kyrus imagined his back muscles straining as his wings lifted him up and away from the sniffers. Hara was already shrinking in size. Not because she was so far away from him but because their size in the air would make them conspicuous.
As he concentrated on becoming smaller, a mournful honking rose. One sniffer was reared up on its hind legs, stretching up toward them. Toward him, specifically. They were far enough apart that it was obvious. It waggled its proboscis back and forth under him, bellowing as if it were a bereft Milari wooden horn, moaning