Wednesday, February 26, 2014

7 - Data Should Be Exchanged

The interior of Mom's cabin was dim and the only manifest chair was the driver's chair, comfortably tilted back. She had compacted herself down once more to just drive cabin size.

Terry sat in the driver's chair, top hat tilted over his eyes as if he were snoozing. It was just after sunset outside and her interior matched the twilight. “Mom... what have I done?”

“Terence, this question is one that truly has no answer.”

“Gerald got me out but I don't know what happened to my big brother, my family, nobody and they all think I'm dead...”

“You have me, Terence. You need be beholden to no one for your keep in this harsh environment. You are my licensed driver, because your brother programmed it so. I am an extremely valuable asset in this struggle to survive and to find out if your brother managed to think far enough ahead to get his own family away, just as he did you. -- he did say, by the way, that he was glad that you were a bit of a loner because he didn't have to worry about some woman and her keeper as well as you --” Terry snorted at that. “-- It might be that the Siwion of Milar has enough of a start with her FireDrakes to launch me on a trajectory to make it to the moon, preferably in time for the next courier entry into the system.”

“That's true, Mom.” He was silent for a while. “That's not really what I'm asking.”

“What are you asking?”

“I don't know. I mean... I'm not worried about water, food and shelter. I'm worried about...” he waved his hands in the air without sitting up. “Things. I mean I really like Haraklez but she's... I don't know... scary.”

“How does she threaten you?”

“I'm not threatened!” He tucked his hands across his chest. “Well... I'm scared that I cannot impress her. She is so impressive.”

“You were very rude to her when she worked out in front of you.” He pushed his hat up off his face with one thumb, slowly, and stared straight ahead.

“I was?”

“You were. She was having fun and trying to impress you.”

“She was trying to impress me?”

“Yes, Terence.”

“Oh. Um.”

“Are you intending to pro-create with her?”

He had nothing in his mouth but he sat up abruptly, coughing. “Mom! No! Well... I'd consider it... No! It's more complicated than that.”


He took his hat off and set it on the floor. “I don't want to talk about that anymore.”

“But... you said this was part of 'stuff' that was bothering you.” He snorted and lay back again, arms crossed, his lips set mulishly. “Human interactions are really beyond you, Mom.”

“Yes, they are. That is why I continue to ask questions.”

“Let's just say that I'm attracted to her and I'm pleased to hear that she seems to be attracted to me. She is a girl from a wildly strange culture and she upsets me all the time.”

“Storing data. Thank you for answering my question. Given my data collection from One it seems to me that we... you as my driver and me are extremely valuable to all these people. We will make it possible for them to build something capable of going to the moon. Or, since we truly need to get to the moon and the code world you've left hidden there... and your courier friends... if you want to find out what happened to your family, help them get us up there.”

“Hmmm.” He flung and arm over his eyes. “I should talk to their Zon and the zardukar.”

“You need to exchange a lot more data with the Emperor and the Warmaster, in my opinion.”

“You're right.” He sighed. “I can't keep moping about how strange everything is... I need to start fitting in here. There will be a tech on the moon and even if we figure out how to get there we'll have to get in. Then get back. Station will be a hard machine to re-program, if we even can, though I could introduce you properly.”

“I am always open to meeting new machines, Terence, and all these things and a great many more are just problems to be solved, not impossibilities. The countries of Hinnemon are attempting to build flying machines from organic models... I do not have access to any engineering design code... those are all Glass Mountain, but... I can assist them in their design.”

“All right. I need to talk to both Kyrus... the Emperor, not his brawny son, and Ilax...”

“Do you require a list of data that should be addressed?”

“Yes, please, Mom. I'd never remember all of it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

6 - Before She Loves Them Too Much

Along the harsh line of grassland and badlands of Lainz, a thin green line wound through a shallow valley. The rains had come and gone and now the short-lived dust grass had set seed and crumbled apart, the core of the wild haboobs that rolled over the white desert, turning it orange.

There was no road other than the stripe of dark green that followed the underground water, but spread its tendrils into the badlands, between the narrow spires of black tsingy. Here and there a plant clung to the edges of the razor sharp rock.

The herd of bone horses had just split into two, the smaller group of twenty cantering away in the late afternoon heat, the peculiar ringing clatter of royal bone herd horses echoing back to the two elderly women, swathed from head to foot in their orange full veils, bone bells clanking a bit as they moved.

The horse skeletons they rode had every inch of bone covered with decoration. One more blue, the other more yellow and red and both skulls had thick black and white lace flowers carved through the bones of the forehead. Ribbons threaded through the empty eye sockets and around the bones of the neck, trailing tiny bone bells every few vertebrae and both wore collars of carved scapulae from other horses. Their manes were still there, and their tails, also braided and beaded and the saddles were part of the rib cages, padding laced to ivory. They stood still as the dead things they were, with none of the shifting and blowing and stomach grumblings that fleshy, sweaty horses had.

The younger of the two women leaned over to her companion. “You did the right thing, Mari,” she said.

The other one nodded. “I had to. They have strong enough 'manders to control her.”

“Did she really smile at you?”

The woman's lips twisted, nearly invisible under the veiling. “She did. I'd given her, her ferret in the hopes that it would help. She smiled at me and cooed at it, then broke it's neck and draped it around her shoulders. “I love it, Grandmother! Now it's perfect! It will do exactly what I want. It's perfect now but I'll give it wings and all kinds of new parts!” The chieftan sat her mount as still as it, the only thing moving was the edge of her veils flapping. “The Milar and the Lainz have woken up the old monster and he's pounding a new sea into the land. Alissa, if they can control her, has all the old codes to get into Glass Mountain.”

“So... we really are allying with them, even though we're sending her into their care?”

Mari shook her head and her answer seemed to be to another question entirely. “You know, Kalli that we found my daughter and her husband?”

The younger woman reared back and stared at the honour guard fast disappearing into the Lainz desert, heading for the nearest road to the city. “She didn't!”

“Yes.” Mari's voice was grim. “She told me she loved them too much to leave them alive. They were mummified and still moving.”

The silence after that wasn't broken by the wind whistling through the bones of their mounts. “Blood and bone,” Kalli said finally. “I truly hope you're right and someone will be able to control her, before she decides that she loves them too.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

5 - A Bone-Herd

Siwion Haraklez!” One of the zardukar came down to the workshop to call Hara out of her latest set of experiments.

She had FireDrake One in his cradle next to her desk, suspended over the enormous crevasse. His head was arched up over and he held his wings at full stretch to actually capture something fluttering up from a tank on her desk.

Hara clamped a lid onto the tank, and picked up a metal hook... “Get that one, One!”, she called and FireDrake snatched what looked like a seed out of the air and spit it down to where she could hook it.


Siwion you have your mist screen turned off and there is a call urgently being sent from your konsiliarch.”

She shook herself. “Let me guess, my fathers are still in code and can't answer?”

“Yes, Siwion.

Hara looked down at herself and then up at One who gazed down at her with interest. “Thank you,”

She dee-mandered the screen on and the fog began falling between the two obelisks on her desk. “Accept from Konsiliarch.”

The image came up, of the head of Milar's office. “Hara... isn't your father available?”

“Hello, Vidarna. They're in code... trying to find a way into Glass Mountain, so we can get to what Terence calls 'the legal sharks'. Do you know what a shark is?”

“Something like a blue-wolf, or ice-tiger I think.” She waved dismissively. “You have a diplomatic incident coming your way.”

“What's happening?”

“The Hippifrei have decided that they want to join this new alliance.”

“What, Milar, Lainz and Nadu?”

“Yes. They're sending a delegation to Lainz since your fathers are there. They aren't coming through here, but out of the badlands.”

“You know anything about the delegation?”

“I had a lin message from the Lainz border and it looks like it's a full-on bone-herd.”

“Oh, dear. That means they have at least a dozen necromanders with them, then.”

“It looks that way.”

“Thank you, Vidarna. I'll pull them out of code.”

“Maybe you should leave your screen on, so I can call you if I get any more information.”

The Hippifrei were so reclusive that most people never saw one in their lives, out on the dust-grass plains. They had more Earth horses than anyone else on Hinnemon, and followed the swaths of earth green that threaded through with the red and orange grasses out past the badlands, growing along the underground water trails.

They used bone instead of wood to build and make things since even the lollipapera wouldn't grow out there. The oddest thing they did was slaughter all their excess colts, once they'd bred, and used the animated bones as their riding animals. Their manders specialized in being necromanders, at least that was what the rumours said. Ilax had dealt with one of them as an Ambassador to Milar but she had gone home right around the time of his and Kyrus's wedding without rancour apparently.

“A whole bone-herd,” Hara said to herself.

*What is a bone-herd?* One asked.

“Twenty-five horses, ritually killed, de-fleshed, eaten and then all their bones cleaned up, put back together with symbolic strips of dried muscles that held them together, painted, carved, harnessed up and re-animated. They don't need to be fed, watered, exercised or cared for the same way that living horses need, leaving all the water for the riders."

"My father said that only their elite could do that. He said that most Hippifrei never came near their borders and didn't do that, or couldn't do that to their precious horses. Like that Lainz who we killed making it to Lainz... the one Nadian hired to stop us? He was a necromander but really a crude one compared to what the Hippifrei can do.”

*So they turn living creatures into machines? Like you did me?*

Hara stared up at the FireDrake. “One... I'm sorry. I never realized...”

*You are upset? Why? I am not in pain. I am a living machine. You did not build me to resent my role. You did not build me to hurt. In a sense you built me content.*

“It still doesn't seem right because you are a sentient.”

*If I could understand the problem perhaps I could discuss this with Mom? She and I are in the same position. But we do not understand resentment, nor exploitation.*

“You've been talking to Terence about this, haven't you?”


“Let me know if you come to any kind of conclusion, would you?”

* Yes.*

She nodded to One and threw a cloth over the tank she had her latest project in, but left her screen on behind her as she went up to draw her parents out of code and tell them the news.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

4 - He's Trying to Kill You


*Are you still all right, Sweetheart?*

*All safe. I won't be telling you where I am, just in case Grandfather realizes I'm not just 'being female' and staying out of sight. *

*We can take advantage of his ossified prejudices, Jess... be careful. The Captain of the Immoderates is looking for you. For all his reflection of Perrin's attitudes, he does realize that having you would give him a hold on me.*

*Any more word on this 'Terrforming Project' that he's announced?*

*Glass Mountain gives me the impression that it would gladly tell me if it could. I'm wondering what kind of project would require using orbital water to pound an inland sea into another continent.*

*I have my suspicions but I am busy enough, fending off all the little threats my father is throwing at me in code. He's furious that Gerald and his family got away from both of us, especially since his laboratory blew up, with his younger brother vaporized in the rubble. We escaped neurological disaster, daughter mine.*

*It's true then, that he had a loyalty modification application?*

*Gerald trusted me enough to leave me a coded message. Yes. It was crude and inclined to turn people into drooling morons but it modified their loyalty just fine.*

*Daddy. I hate to say it, but he's trying to kill you.*

*I know. I suppose I knew before we came back that his 'let's all make up' pose was just a way to get me back into his reach. I'm sorry.*

*No apology necessary Papa. I'll stay out of the way and give you some room to manoeuvre. They won't be able to use me as a bargaining chip to get you.*

*I love you, my Wressie!*

*Papa, you know I'm too old for baby names.*

*And you have two doctorates and you're a grownup and...*

*Perrin Thurmontaler the Fourth!*

*You don't have the weight of years to pull that off yet, my dear, even if you sound like your mother when you do.*

*Just don't let him kill you or brain injure you, all right? I'll see if I can track down why he's pounding a hole in another continent. *

*Thank you, my dear. I'll stay safe. *

*I'll send off another set of mails to mother, when the next courier comes through.*

*Thank you, mein Schatz.*

*Oh, Papa, just talk to him in a Germanic based language, he hates that!*

*I might just do that.*

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

3 - A Common Human Trait

Hara stood up inside Mom and waved through her open door at Terry, who was just settling his silly hat firmly upon his head once more. He waved back.

“Mom, is there anyone else who needs my help, or yours?”

“No, princess...”


There was an almost metallic chuckle in Mom's voice. “The last of our patients left a while ago, as much as it grieves me to use such imprecise human terms.”

“You'll want to be exchanging data with One then.” Her eyes twinkled over her veil. “Though why you cannot do that just as easily when you are apart, like the bees do...”

“One is an extremely polite machine for a violent war-ironmonger that he is.” Mom said almost primly, as Terry entered.

“Gasp!” He said and threw his hand up over his forehead as if something had just nearly knocked his hat askew. “Did I just hear our prim and proper Mom use a human 'play on words'?”

“You did. Excuse me, Terry.” The voice of the emergency vehicle shut itself off with a human audible click. Very pointedly.

“Hello Haraklez, everyone's patched up? Oh, sorry, siwion. Or whatever you Milar call the daughters of the warmaster...” he was blushing, she could just hear it in his voice, as he looked around the inside of Mom's cabin as if he could find her Keeper hiding in the bunks.

That was one of the nastier things that he'd grown up with, having to talk only to other men. It was even difficult for the Xanadu men to speak to their own mothers and grandmothers directly. It made her wonder about what had happened to Prime that he decreed women to be mindless baby machines who needed a Keeper to follow them about and speak for them.

“Don't be silly, Terence. Just call me by name.”

“Hara-klez,” he stammered as if they hadn't been 'Hara' and
'Terry' in the middle of the last and latest battle. He looked around a little like he was looking for spike mice in the electricals. “That great, hulking brute of a boy isn't around... is he?”

“You mean Kyrus? No... he's busy with his disconcerting mother.”

“You find her... disconcerting too?”

It was Hara's turn to look for oyucks in the wiring, or the flooring... even though Mom would certainly not allow anything like that into her cabin. He sat down on the flooring next to her. “Well, I didn't spend years sick and wandering in code. I think it made her a little strange.”

“I wanted to ask... how is it that she came back from being so close to death?”

“That Kyrus thought she was going to die? Well, that was all Nadian's doing when he was trying to slaughter his way to the throne. He'd set all those badly made programs that randomly attacked his kin close to his bloodline. He had no idea he was attacking his sisters and brothers as well. Or didn't care.”

“She's doing so much with the new flock... she's wasted there, I think,” he said. A tremendous acknowledgement from a Xanadu man. Of course Zon Elemfias had pulled him aside last week and sat him down and talked to him for a good hour or two. Hara had even seen her manifest her staff to make her point, smacking it into the rock in front of them. She hadn't had the nerve to ask what they'd talked about though, knowing her teacher, she could guess.

That reminded her. She'd been promising herself a work-out when the last patient left. “Come on outside.” He looked startled as she rose up and brushed past him.

“Mom, could you do me a favour and rise up and give me some shade, please?”, she said.

“Yes dear. Terence come out now before I have to create stairs.”

Mom wasn't running the climate controls, except for the fans so it wasn't a brutal shock when Hara stepped outside and turned back as Terry followed her.

"Thank you, Mom,” she said, as the apparent boulder began to rise up over the sand, supported by Mom's carefully extending legs. In camouflage mode she merely took the appearance of the terrain beneath her and extended it over her top side.

“You're welcome, Hara. Is that high enough?”

“It should be. I'm only going to be manifesting a short staff, not a long spear.”

“You work out in a cross-over mode, pulling code functions into the real world? I shall be interested in recording that.”

Terry leaned against one of Mom's legs and just watched, arms crossed, one booted foot crossing his other ankle. He didn't say anything, obviously not sure what to expect.

“I'd like that to work on my form if I could see it afterwards,” Hara said.

“Of course you can.”

Hara took her time warming up. She'd not been training in the physical world for a while and her muscles needed it. After the third or fourth time her veil fell into her eyes she pulled it off and dropped it in the sand next to Terry, who did his best not to stare. She poured water from her drinking bottle over her head and then ran a few times around the edge of Mom's shadow, before she stopped and apparently out of thin air, pulled a light wooden staff and set it buzzing around her as she moved.

As if drawn by the sound, bees came in, and circled around her, making her pause. “Little sisters, how can I train surrounded by the Hive?”

The bees clumped into a swarming mass in the air and then unfolded a target in the air. She laughed. “All right. Thank you!”

Terence had all he could do not to have his mouth hanging open all the way down against his knees. He could see, that she was actually blurring the lines between code and physical with what she was doing, and dashed if he could follow her coding to see how she did it and did it so quickly. He tried but lost his way so that all he could see was a blur of instructions, that seemed timed to her breathing, her heartbeat... perhaps her nervous system, flickering by as fast as machine code.

The ends of her stick began rapping into the target, that showed a mark for a moment before it faded clear, but she was hitting so fast that the red marks began overlapping. She took four steps back and used the stick to vault over the target, smacking it with her heel as the bees raised it to attempt a trip. She hit the back four times before her feet hit the ground on the other side, running.

He could see her all the way out from under Mom's shadow and she started a tumbling run toward the target. Every time her hands came up off the ground, she flung something into the target; metal spikes, two kinds of hand axes, a dart longer than an arrow, a round shot, more darts and stopped, lunged out with a sword in her hand. As she stood up, every weapon vanished back into code. “Ancestors,” she said ruefully, panting. “Did you see that? I am so out of shape...”

“You hit the target ever time with that wild assortment of things. I... am not trained myself, siwion, but I certainly thought it was impressive.”

“I hit it but its as tall as I am, across and not one bull’s eye did I get, not even when I was in arm's length.”

“And you are not counted a Zon by your people, yet, hmmm? I found it impressive enough that I'm intimidated by you.”

She grinned at him panting and wiped her sweating face with one hand. “I didn't do that to impress you, you know.”

“You could have fooled me. How on the planet am I going to come up with the kind of coding to even keep up with you?” He frowned down at his boots. “But its not as if this war is going to need warriors of your sort,” he said sourly. “Unless you can manifest all the way to Xanadu.”

Her smile disappeared. “Not even my father or step father can do that.”

Siwion,” he said and swept her a grand bow, his hat nearly brushing the sand, and turned away, stomping back toward the bridge. The bees had pulled apart the target into its molecular components and settled on her head and shoulders as she stared after him.

“Mom, what did I say? What did I do?”

“Nothing, my dear,” Mom said. “He's a good boy and will certainly apologize once he realizes he's been acting like a boor. He's lonely, shocked and startled by your cultures, jealous of Kyrus, attracted to you and wanting very much to be impressive.”

“That's...” she sighed. “I can't just sigh and say 'boys' can I?”

“From all my emotional emulation programming I believe it is a common human trait, whatever gender they are.”

Saturday, February 8, 2014

2 - A Practical Joker

Terry walked across the bridge from the city on the butte to the rim of the canyon. After the aerial bombardment most of the encapsulated city had been able to unfold again, though the bees were busy repairing the locking mechanism on the second bridge. He turned to look back at the city, ignoring the dual hammers of sun and wind.

Lainz, the city, was a strange combination of target and defense. Now with the winter dry just beginning, it was still astonishingly green. All those Earth plants had been locked behind stone, when the city had folded shut in the hope of surviving the attack from Prime. All the loggias out on the soaring, spiraling bridges had simply turned and formed a single swirling cone on top of the butte above the water basin. Now it looked like a collection of water lilies floating, roots trailing, around the central spiral, vines everywhere providing shade besides feeding the city, poised on the edge of the deep, narrow canyon.

The bees glittered everywhere. On the rock they were rebuilding, on the Earth flowers, on some of the people. Millions of different sizes and colours of bees, that made all of this city possible. He looked down at a green and gold worker, with a pink flower petal in its jaws, that had just landed on his hand. It was covered in golden and maroon pollen dust. It waved its antenna at him, and took off.

The east face of the canyon shone white and then black as the shadow cut across it. Ribbons of stone painting red and greenish and white and cream stripes disappearing into the hazy distance south and north. From where he stood he couldn't the green stripes of terraces built into the west wall of the canyon where the bulk of the food crops were grown in sheltered slots in the rock where the water and light could be exactly controlled.

The crowds of people hurried past him, every one of them veiled. Terry had to struggle against the urge to tip his hat to every woman passing by, as was polite. They were already giggling at his top hat. Even in all the strange clothing, the full filter veil instead of a cravat raised when the grit got too thick, he clung to his hat as the last part of his life from before, even if it made no sense here in this wind and sand scoured desert.

From the canyon bottom a thousand feet below came an undulating spark, the sparkling clouds of bees parting to let it through. Firedrake One took his time flying up from the river, coiling in the air as he wings and scales burned blue/white. When he crossed into the sunlight, from the shadow, he looked more like a bushdragon, even though his colours were all wrong for it.

*Hello Terence* he said, hovering by the side of the bridge, as Terry grabbed for his hat and clutched at the post next to him, to keep from being blown away in the hot wind that One generated. *Are you going to visit Mom?*

“Yes, One. Are you heading there too?” Terry answered him out loud, rather than in code.

*Yes. Let us both go. *

It wasn't physically necessary for One to visit Mom to speak to her but both machines were very careful to follow some of the human protocols for politeness that had been programmed into them when they'd first been switched on.

“Lovely, One. I'll be glad of your company.”

*Ride.* One said. His manners were a trifle more brusk than Mom's.

“Thank you, One.” Terry stepped up onto the railing, though someone yelled at him. He trusted One not to let him fall, even if he slipped. One's head slid up next to him and he stepped out into the hollow space that the folding scales had made for him on top of One's head. Thankfully none of the scales on the top of his body were firing now, or his ride would have been a great deal warmer. Sweat broke out on his back and in his armpits, regardless, as he stepped out of the shady spot on the bridge. *Secure?*

“Yes, Oooooooonnnnne!” The Firedrake straightened, locking into 'faster' mode, the scales on his belly roaring louder. “You joker!”


On One it was only a moment or two over to the West Rim Reservoir, where Mom had established herself as a hospital after Prime's attacks had been stopped.

As they settled down toward the doors in the rock, Terry didn't bother looking for Mom. She would be in full camouflage mode as she had been since they'd arrived. She was still expanded to her maximum capacity, though most of the injured she'd already helped.

One settled to the sand near what looked like an enormous sandstone boulder, and Terry climbed down his neck. “You are a complete practical joker! I lost my hat, in that--”

One held out the hat in his tri-part mouth, ends that Terry could see curling upwards. “Joker,” he said again and brushed the dust off the top of it with his sleeve before setting it firmly back on his head.

*Not as bad as Eight.*