Authors: John Meaney
To John Richard Parker: the best of agents, true gentleman and friend.
A note on Norse names:
In English, the letter combination
has two pronunciations – compare ‘this’ll’ (as in
this’ll be good
) with ‘thistle’.
The following words have a hard
as in ‘this’ or ‘other’: Óthinn, Heithrún, Davith, Ingrith, Autha, Jorth,
(dark magic), Asgarth (home of the gods). These names have a soft
as in ‘thistle’ or ‘thing’: Thórr, Thórrvaldr, Arrnthórr. Mixing both, the first
of Thórthr is soft, while the second is hard, correctly written as Þórðr.
in Týr is pronounced like the
Poor Roger. That was the sentiment in their obsidian eyes, those few Pilots who knew him: poor bereaved Roger, his parents famously dead, he a nobody (in a city-world that remained bounded yet infinite) who lacked the training that Labyrinth-dwelling Pilots were immersed in for years; while as a mudworld-raised youth-turned-man, what could he actually
And those eyes! As he walked the endless Borges Boulevard and saw only strangers, each was without disguise: so many pairs of all-black eyes, glittering jet and hard to read, even for him, whose own eyes matched; for in this place, only a Pilot could remain sane.
In the midst of Labyrinth, the air was never free of the faintest of amber glows, or the prickling feel of layers-within-layers of reality, the tactile sense of other geometries accessible with a gesture or a thought; for this was mu-space, the ur-continuum, a universe no ordinary human could comprehend or live in.
In front of him, the air curved, pulled into a rotation; and he knew it was Jed Goran even before Jed stepped through. He was lean and hard-looking, grinning now.
They shook hands – Jed’s grip stronger than Roger’s – in another ritual, newly familiar. Back on Fulgor, at least in Lucis City and the surrounding province, politeness had dictated the bumping of fists with acquaintances old or new. Just one more human behaviour extinguished when the Anomaly subsumed that world.
For the place of his childhood was gone: Fulgor, now a hellworld ruled by a global collective mind, the Anomaly, each former human a component in a vast gestalt whose properties and processes were emergent, therefore
in the way that human cognition bears no relation to a single neuron’s chemical cycles.
‘Are you busy?’ asked Jed.
‘Well … I’ve been trying to study in the Logos Library, but’ – with an asymmetric shrug – ‘I can’t get into it.’
‘No rush, pal. You’ve got to rest up, get used to things, you know?’
They were at the head of Feigenbaum Alley, home to shops run as part-time hobbies, often by families. Here Roger might buy some story-or study-crystals from his Admiralty-granted allowance. A part of his awareness noted the successive diminishing of shop dimensions along the alley’s length, like some odd, straightened-out Nautilus.
Everything was different, even perspective.
‘Are your parents still alive, Jed?’
‘Sure. Not around much, but they’re fine.’ Jed glanced at the shopfronts, then: ‘Med Centre are shipping out the first batch. Did you want to watch?’
‘I don’t really—’
‘You won’t be able to see her, though. I asked.’
‘All right.’ A memory whipped into Roger’s awareness but he pushed it back, flattening the mental image and twisting it into a vortex, trying to blur the fat naked man over Alisha’s body, to forget how the brothel stank. ‘Shit.’
With an effort, he flung it all away.
‘Maybe I should’ve told you afterwards.’
‘I can watch,’ said Roger. ‘And I need to see more ships in operation, don’t I?’
‘With me, then.’
Jed summoned another fastpath rotation, a skill that remained beyond Roger’s power; then the two of them stepped inside – everything whirling, the axes of reality transforming – and came out onto Archimedes Avenue, facing an abyssal drop beyond which rose a cliff-like city wall, Med Centre blossoming upon it. Closer by, a shoal of white drones floated in the air, ready for wholesale movement towards the internal docks where ships were waiting with empty holds. The visual pattern would have been beautiful were it not for the similarity to coffins, and the knowledge that each med-drone contained a traumatized survivor, their present coma a prelude to waking in realspace, to remembering how their world had died.
‘Is Alisha in this batch?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Jed. ‘I haven’t seen
manifest yet, never mind anyone else’s.’
‘I’m flying one of the loads to Molsin.’
Of all the human worlds, Molsin had turned out to be the one most receptive to refugees. The others were scared, and it was hard to blame them. Who knew whether the Anomaly might replicate elsewhere? What if an infectious seed resided in one of the refugees’ minds?
‘It’s going to be a one-leg flight for me,’ Jed went on. ‘But most ships are stopping off at a dwarf-star orbital for interview. They’re going to wake the poor bastards up to question them.’
In case of Anomalous infection. An extra layer of precaution, and sensible enough.
‘So why aren’t you stopping off?’ said Roger.
‘I’m taking the ones that they daren’t wake up, not without medics present.’
‘I— So Alisha’s one of them, is that what you’re saying?’
‘As I said, my manifest hasn’t arrived.’ Jed held up his tu-ring. ‘But there’s a good chance she’s on my list, don’t you reckon?’
En masse, the floating drones began to move.
‘Do you think—?’ Roger tried to work out what he wanted to ask, then let the words fall out anyhow. ‘Could I come with you to Molsin?’
‘That’s why I showed you this.’
‘You think I should go?’
What he meant was, should he be there when Alisha woke up? But Jed had never known Alisha properly, for she had been unconscious during the Fulgor rescue and ever since.
‘Actually, my friend … I don’t.’
‘You think I should stay in Labyrinth?’
‘I think you should have the choice. But if I were you, I’d stay on here. Keep communing with your other girl.’
Jed’s words produced an echo in Roger’s memory: something he said once to Dad, about the other love in
‘Excuse me?’ called Jed. ‘Did you want something?’
A wide-shouldered Pilot was watching them. At Jed’s challenge, he gave the tiniest of starts.
‘Sorry. My name’s Dak Stilwell.’ He stepped closer. ‘I didn’t want to interrupt, Pilot Blackstone. But I did want to pass on my sympathies.’
‘That’s all right,’ said Roger, not sure of the man. ‘Did you know my parents?’