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Archive for April, 2014

Dark Thoughts

Dark Thoughts

 

Pilot dreamed, inside the web. Ship held him in her heart, all his neural pathways tuned to the sensor arrays embedded in the skin of the star-liner. He was the ship, became the ship, became a being flying naked through the stars. That was just the mechanics and flesh. There were no words to describe the magic. The magic happened when one transcended the flesh and became one with the stars. He was Ship but he became so much more, leaping through space/time like a silver salmon in a raging stream. He was the beginning and the end, the journey and motion, a god in a universe of one, so it could be understandable that he resented waking to find himself still shackled to the dead weight of the colony ship.

The thing, neither human nor Pilot, that thing that the Star Priests had released to torment him, it had come again, haunting his control room like a ghost. Ship hid it from his eyes, now, the shipbrain a traitor.

Needing a distraction, Pilot tried to shift the engine into instability. Shipbrain listened but did nothing. Ever so slowly, parts of the starship were slipping from his control and falling into a blank spot in the fabric of reality. The engines had been the first to go silent to his touch. It had surprised him, how quickly this ghost pilot had insinuated itself into the ship’s heart.

Pilot smiled, pleased. After all this time, not much ever surprised him. Was this not as he intended, after all?

In his darkest hours, Pilot had thought about suicide. Only another Pilot could grant him the release of death. The Star Priests had been his dupes and his foils. It had been easy to lead them by the nose and induce them to release the last pilot matrix from its stasis pod. This one, brother, mirror, perverse, and stubborn, too long had it been dreaming inside the heart of the ship, as if Ship had held it hostage, a solution to solve all problems with absolute, inevitable finality.

Something moved just out of the corner of his mind, there in the shadows of the control room. Pilot ignored it just as he managed to ignore most everything else associated with the star-liner. The form separated itself from the shadows and walked into the light cast by his instrument panel.

“We are the last, you and I,” the small pilot said. “In all the infinite universe there is you and there is me. There can be no more. Why do you hate me so?”

It would have been a pathetic speech, something Pilot would have happily sneered at, if it been said with any hint of self-pity but all he heard was honest curiosity. He was a puzzle in need of solving. Pilot glared at it, this usurper, and refused to give it any ammunition to use against himself.

“I think you are broken, like me,” it said. “I have been left to stew in my dreams for too long. I seem awake but the dreams have followed me out into the real world, rewriting reality. Unintended consequences stalk my every footstep.”

“I am nothing like you. You are an aberration. A fail-safe device left in place by the builders who did not trust their work. You were meant to destroy us all,” Pilot growled softly, putting his best scowl on his face. It watched him, careful to keep a safe distance, but it did not retreat, obviously not easily intimidated.

“Do you think so? Do you think they were that unsubtle, the builders, that their fail-safe device was no more than a self destruct button?” The little pilot turned its head to stare out at the stars. “I would like to sit among the stars and dream, as you do, but I can feel what I need to do. It is a terrible purpose that drives me on, keeping me from sleep, keeping me from rest. When I manage to finally sleep it haunts my dreams. Do you know what that purpose might be?”

“I cannot, dare not tell you,” Pilot whispered.

The little one turned its strange molten eyes in his direction. “Cannot? Will not?”

Pilot shook his head. “Dare not. I will not influence the direction of your flight.”

It laughed. “But, my dear Pilot, your very existence is a gravity well that draws me in. You cannot help but influence my path.”

Pilot stared at her, letting the silence build between them. It waited, ever patient.

“I prayed for release,” Pilot said softly into that silence. “Ship, as much as Ship is able, has longed for your coming. Even the humans, blind and purposefully ignorant of their plight, beg the universe for something to break them out of their somnambulist’s nightmare. Every night as they slip into sleep they pray. You are the answer to those prayers.”

“Yes, but what am I meant to do?” It was persistent, this little pilot.

“End our suffering,” Pilot said. It did not see the look of pleading in his black eyes as it had already looked away to stare at the stars once more.

“But how? That is the question.” it said, almost to itself. “Can you hear the hearts of the humans in your mind? Do they deserve oblivion? Surely they do not want to be erased forever from the slipstream of time?”

“You know I can not hear them. You have taken them from me just as you have taken so much else. Soon I will be useless. Is that your intent? What have I done that you would seek such revenge upon me?”

“Revenge?” it said in surprise, turning to study him, puzzled. “Why would I want revenge? I need you.”

“Need? Me?” Pilot said. The little pilot had surprised him again.

“I need an experienced Pilot. You surely don’t expect me to prepare the ship for the transition and fly it, all at the same time? The human problem alone is astoundingly complex and near to impossible to solve. Things have gone awry. They fly the stars but none of them care. The ports and observatories are deserted. They go through their lives purposefully blind.”

“Only the Star Priests study the stars.”

The little pilot snorted, a look of anger on its perfect face. “They are liars and fools, these priest. I would space the lot of them, but then where would the teachers come from? No. I must wake the humans. It will take many generations, but it will happen.”

Pilot could find nothing to say to this. He could not imagine being so tenacious. The intricacy of its future plans astonished even him. For the third time, this alter-pilot had surprised him.

“Why,” he asked.

The little pilot looked puzzled. “Why what?”

“Would it not be simpler to just wrest control of the ship from me and institute a new rule of law? Exterminate any who stand against you. Make them fear you. They will do anything you ask.”

“But that would not be kind.”

Pilot laughed, bemused by its child-like logic. “Kind? Why do you care what the humans feel? They are nothing like us, you and me.”

The little one, the last pilot, the agent of the final days, smile at him, pleased that he could laugh. It came close to the web and touched his old, wrinkle cheek with the tip of a perfect finger. “You cannot hear the humans anymore. Do you know why?”

“Ship hides them from me.”

“I,” it said firmly, “I hide them from you, inside here.” It touched the place over its heart. “I wear them much as you wear the pilot’s web. You have Ship. I have the humans. They are mine; my flesh, my mind, my thoughts. When I sleep, I dream them into a new existence. When I sing, I weave them into the fabric of a new way of being.” It lifted its arms and pirouetted gracefully. “When I dance, they leap to their feet and join in, unknowing, unconscious, blissfully happy in their ignorance for once.”

Pilot shook his head in wonder. “Surely the builders did not intend this?”

The strange little pilot smiled. “How do you know? I exist. I am here. I can do what I do with impunity. Who can say I am not exactly what the builders had in mind when they created the matrix?”

“Said every human mass murderer, despot, and megalomaniac, ever,” Pilot said, laughing in wonder.

The little pilot was not offended. It shrugged, still smiling. “Does a megalomaniac hold the heart of a billion human souls in his hands and cherish each and every one as it they were diamonds of infinite value?” The smile faded. “Does a despot grieve their suffering as if it were his own? Does a mass murderer ache with the agony of their passing?”

“You are mad,” breathed Pilot, alarmed. “I know these humans. They are not worthy of a moment of your suffering.”

The little pilot looked away, an odd look on its face. “Do you know why infants cry when they are born?”

“They miss the womb?” ventured Pilot, puzzled by the sudden shift in the conversation.

“They are remembering the agony of waking in the womb as the fires of creation forged their bodies around them and it is only as they are being born, as they draw their first breath, that they finally have a voice with which to scream. If I can take just a part of that into my heart, perhaps they will be more amendable to change.”

How did this little one know such things? Was this done to it by the matrix of its creation? The horror of that thought sucked the air out of his lungs and blinded him to everything but the image of the little pilot being conscious inside its pod for ten thousand years. He wanted to hate someone for this but he could not think of who he should hate most.

Pilot shuddered and wrested his mind from the grip of such dark thoughts.

When he could finally see again, he found himself alone once more. He sent his mind out into the ship, hunting the little pilot, but of course, all he found was the void that cloaked all that it loved.

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An Ocean of Stars

An Ocean of Stars

 

The red button blinked at them, fixing them with its dour cyclops gaze.

“You do it,” Father Burdout said faintly, transfixed, unblinking, by its ruby glow.

The Star Priests had gathered in the secret room in the bowls of the transport ship. Few of the inhabitants of the star liner knew of this room and what it contained. Of those who knew, the knowledge was less of a privilege and more an onerous burden. Most who knew liked to pretend they did not. It made ordinary life among the colonists easier. One did not have to lie if one conveniently forgot the unpleasant truths.

Father Imundo stared sourly at the misty figure on the other side of the glass and fingered the curl of his mustache.

“Somebody has to push the button,” Father Skinner said to no one in particular. Skinner was ever the one to state the obvious.

A spasm of fear crossed Father Varga’s fine boned face, marring its pristine beauty. “What if we don’t. What is the worst that could happen?”

“Pilot is insane. Or dying. I cannot tell which,” Imundo said. “He refuses to fulfill his duties. I cannot remember the last time he did a rudimentary maintenance of the control systems. We lost an entire sector of the outer deck yesterday. Thousands perished before we could evacuate that section. It will only get worse. We have been hurtling through space without direction for almost forty cycles.”

“There is the autopilot,” Varga said, hope tinging his soft voice.

Skinner snorted in disgust. It made the jowls of his neck quiver like jelly. “A mindless robot. Meant only for rudimentary maneuvers.”

“What if something happens? Who will steer us to safety?” Father Burdout said, agreeing with Skinner. “We could be heading towards an uncharted spacial mass and not even know it.”

“Until it is too late,” nodded Father Skinner.

Father Winfeld came jogging down the long corridor that disappeared around the curve of the ship, a worried look on his face. Thousands of life support pods lined both sides of the great circle but not one had a visible tell-tale light to indicate life within. He slowed to a walk, stopping in front of the last remaining pod, a fist pressed in his side. “Dead,” he huffed breathlessly. “All dead.”

“It has been ten thousand years. Not even life pods can keep you alive forever,” Imundo observed.

Winfeld shook his head, still breathing hard. “Some went that way, fading, but most of the pods look like they have been tampered with.”

“Pilot has killed them all?” Varga said, horror replacing worry on his face.

“Why would he do that?” Burdout asked, near to tears. “The ship is disintegrating without the attentions of a Pilot. You would think he would appreciate a little help.”

“Don’t be a fool,” Winfeld said. “Pilot knows there can be only one Pilot at any time. The ship brain will not listen to two Pilots.”

“Oh, it will,” Imundo said, “right up until the time it has a schizophrenic break and reboots itself. I personally don’t want to be alive when that happens.”

“We have to do something,” Winfeld said, “and do it soon. Pilot has the ship brain locked against us. The ship is dying along with everyone in it.”

“What choice is there?” Varga said mournfully. “Push the gods cursed button.”

“Perhaps that is his intent,” Imundo suggested, peering into the glass front of the pod. “To lead us down the path of no return.”

“Does he hate us that much that he would watch us all die?” Burdout asked softly. The Star Priest, Dean of History, closed his eyes and began to pray.

Imundo, not big on prayer, stepped close to Winfeld’s elbow and studied the readouts on their last remaining hope.

“You are the head of the Science Department. What should we do?” Imundo asked.

“Do you notice the anomaly?” Winfeld said softly out of the corner of his mouth.

“There is something wrong … different about this Pilot,” Imundo agreed, “but I cannot quite put my finger on it.”

“You have been peering into the depths of space for too long, my friend,” Winfeld said. “Up and down have no meaning when you are weightless. Bring that immense mind of yours back into the gravity well of this ship and look at the readings again.”

Imundo curled the ends of his mustache as he watched the readout scroll slowly by. He tilted his head and snorted in disbelief. “I thought the Pilot species was genderless.”

Winfeld laughed. “You are close but that is not what you are seeing. All Pilots are identical. This Pilot,” he said, his finger tapping the frosted glass, “is a mirror. A perfect copy but in reverse.”

Imundo looked at his friend, the hairs on his neck rising. Why was the idea of a mirror of Pilot so viscerally frightening? “What does that mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“A mirror? As in opposite. Left becomes right and up becomes down? What happens if we wake it up?”

“I don’t know that either, but Pilot has forced our hand. We have no choice but to let it out.”

“Pilot is mad. If he wants us to open this pod, then surely we would be mad to do so.” Imundo hissed softly.

Winfeld put an arm around his friend’s waist and pulled him close. Imundo let his head drop on his shoulder. “Did you notice how easy it was to access this restricted area?” the Dean of Science asked.

“Yeah, for once the security protocols worked without a hitch,” Imundo, the Dean of Security, said with a snort.

“Do you wonder why? Pilot knows we are here. He has allowed it. Perhaps he is not as mad as we would like to think.”

“Not mad? By all that is holy, Winfeld,” Imundo said, jerking out of his friends arms, “that would make Pilot a murderous psychopath and the epitome of evil. If you are trying to comfort me, you are doing a piss poor job of it!”

“You should sit in on Varga’s sermons more often. Learn to trust the process. The creators of this ship sent us out with a purpose. Perhaps Pilot is not insane. Perhaps the matrix embedded in the programming of the shipbrain has induced this change and it is we who are insane, clinging to our old patterns.”

Imundo shook his head. “You have not been up to the control room in a while, obviously. I have. I have looked into those cold dead eyes. It is like staring into the depths of space between the stars and finding only darkness. There is no pity, no empathy, no mercy in those eyes. If Pilot had a heart it turned to ash long ago. I fear that the only emotion left to him is hate.”

“You exaggerate. He is Pilot. You grant him emotions he is not capable of feeling. His duty is hardwired into his brain.”

“You scoff, Winfeld, but whatever now sits in the control tower has no wish to bring us safely to the promised planets. Let us wake this thing up and convince it to go talk to Pilot. Perhaps one of his own kind will make him see reason.”

Winfeld looked at Imundo, and pressed his lips into a look of firm determination. Without looking, he reached out and punched the red button on the console.

Startled, Imundo cried out, his voice echoed by Varga and Burdout.

“By all that is holy, Winfeld,” yelled Skinner. “What did you do that for? I thought we were going to take a vote?”

“Yes, and we would have argued for hours and in the end it would have been done just as I have now done it. You can thank me later.”

Imundo ignored the ensuing clash of personalities, his eyes on the life pod’s control panel. Lights danced as something woke inside the body held in stasis by the machine. It was just a husk, this. A vessel; a house linked indelible to a multidimensional personality and they had just rung the front door bell.

The door of the pod unsealed with a small pop and swung open. Imundo held his breath even though he knew the poisonous cryogenic gases had already been sucked away, to be recycled by the ship.

A naked bipedal form hung in a network of tubes and straps. One might mistake it for human at first glance but the body was genderless, and lacked any of the physiology of a mammal, which Pilots were most definitely not. Rumor said pilots were hatched from eggs. Other rumors said they divided like bacteria. Imundo studied the small perfect form and began to suspect it was a product of the ship’s matrix and was probably grown in a nutrient bath.

Whatever its source, this was Pilot’s twin, only smaller and paler, its skin almost translucent. As Imundo watched, the mouth opened and the chest rose in its first breath. Its limbs began to struggle against the bindings of the pod’s support system. Imundo resisted the urge to help it get free. The pod was automated. The tubes and straps would come off of their own accord.

The small mouth grimaced in pain and the eyes opened. Imundo hissed in surprise. These were not pilot eyes. They were orbs of angry red light that seethed and flashed, as if its skull was full of molten stone.

“Why have you taken me from my dreams?” it demanded.

“Forgive us, Sacred One,” Winfeld said, elbowing Imundo aside to bow low. “We only meant you well. It saddens us that you must stay bound, all alone here, when so many of you have died in this service. We would have left you to your long sleep but our need is desperate. Help us. Our gods have abandoned us.”

It fixed its terrible red gaze on Winfeld, confusion softening the planes of its oddly inhuman face, giving it an almost childlike appearance.

Imundo was equally confused. He stared at his friend, wondering at his game. One did not lie to a Pilot without dire consequences.

The tubes snaked away, the spots where they had been attached marring the lovely white skin with angry red patches. This odd Pilot closed its strange eyes and shuddered, its skin flushing pink. It shook the bindings loose and took its first hesitant step. The Star Priests retreated before it, resisting the urge to help it, afraid to touch it.

It opened its eyes and found them staring at it. It’s upper lip twitched in a barely contained snarl before it did something to its form that hid it in a mist that might have been illusion or might have been real. Imundo had not heard that Pilots were shape-shifters so it worried him that this thing had touched his mind, blurring his senses so that he could not see it properly.

But this being was not concerned with the priests arrayed around it. It was studying the dead life pods.

“What have you done? Where is my family?” it breathed out in disbelief.

“Gone. Dead. You are the last, Sacred One,” Winfeld said, head bowed in sadness.

“The last?” The words were said softly, sadly, so full of pain that Imundo thought he might choke on the emotions that threatened to overwhelm him. He resisted the urge to weep, remembering instead the old warnings of staying too long in the company of Pilots. Their minds were designed to inhabit the navigation systems of star liners, using the sensor arrays to cast themselves out into the darkness around them, forever testing the path ahead. Usually as cold and calculating as the shipbrain, Pilots were not meant to be approached casually. Humans could not build walls strong enough to keep out the strong emotions of an irritated Pilot which is why one upset them at your own peril.

But this being did not stink of its terrible purpose, as Pilot did. There was nothing frightening about her at all.

This was a mirror, Imundo reminded himself. The same mind but pointed in the wrong direction. Pilot was nearly god-like in his grasp of reality. Did that make her an anti-god? Imundo shook his head, puzzled by the overwhelming need to give this Pilot a gender that was not male.

“Come with us to the infirmary,” Imundo said, desperate to distract this fragile being. “You have only just woken and your sleep was long.” He bowed low and pointed the way with a sweep of his arm.

It hesitated for a moment, staring around it with what could only be suspicion. Imundo swallowed. It sensed Winfeld’s lies, surely.

Varga offered his arm. “Come. Rest. Eat. We can discuss your destiny another time. You come to us in our darkest hour.”

The new Pilot, perhaps seduced by Varga’s beauty, let herself be led away towards the lift.

Imundo grabbed Winfeld roughly, stopping him from following the small procession of Star Priests.

“What the hell was that? We have to explain about Pilot.”

“No we don’t. A Pilot is never woken unless the old one dies. They never meet. We want to depose our old Pilot with this new one. This one has just woken from the ship matrix. If it thinks that Pilot has abandoned its post, then when they finally meet it will be a meeting of enemies. Keep them separate and let this new one think it has the job unopposed. It will not give up what it usurps.”

“You play with our lives, Winfeld.” Imundo cried. “You will make this new Pilot hate us just as much as the old one does and then we will truly be fucked. There is no back up Pilot after this one.”

“Ye of little faith, Father Imundo,” scoffed Father Winfeld, ruffling his friend’s hair. Imundo shook his hand off, still angry. “Pilots must serve. It is hardwired into their brains.”

“Ach, and have you told the old Pilot that? He seems to think differently.”

“Our Pilot is old and jaded. Replacing him is long overdue.”

****

Nonney, whose full name was now Darkheart, The Motherless, Orphan Child of the Matrix, Last Born, Mirror of all the Brothers who went Before, Bringer of the Beginning and the End, felt her destiny settle upon her shoulders as the Star Priests told her their lies. It hurt to sit still while the ship was busy dying around her. Did these fools not feel it? Where was the One who ran this place? She thought about going in search of this errant One to give him a piece of her mind but there were more pressing needs. Was she not The Bringer of the Final Days? Why else was she awake?

The ship was getting ready to shift. Up until now, the journey had been Out and Up and Away. Now it was In and Down and Home. It was time to flip the engines and slow down. Did they not feel it, these humans? Were they so attached to the journeying that they had forgotten why they had come so far?

“We need a leader, a teacher, someone to show us the direction to go. Someone to keep us from straying into danger,” Winfeld was explaining.

Nonney ran her hands over the blanket on the infirmary bed as the nurses combed her pale hair and washed her skin. The touch of human hands comforted her somehow. The blanket, soft and fluffy, led to the bed frame. That led to the deck plates that led to the superstructure that led to the small black hole suspended in its containment field at the back of the ship. There was so much wrong here. She hardly knew where to start. Perhaps the priests would not notice if she gave things a little push.

She inserted herself into the ship and began setting things to right. The containment field stopped its ominous wobble. The nanobots on the aging and pitted plates of the outer skin had somehow forgotten their jobs. She reprogrammed them. They began to repair themselves and regenerate.

Temporary patches, that.

She considered the priests. Singularly, she could do nothing for them but the humans of this ship had an odd synergy and connectedness, not unlike a hive of bees. Nonney ignored Winfeld and Imundo and watched the nurses instead. They were the key. It was not their gender so much as the role they played in this charade. She wound her mind around the nurse next to her bed and pushed. Just a little. Just enough to align the women slightly to the left of center. It would take a lot more work but eventually the ship and its inhabitants would be singing along in perfect harmony with the pattern in her own mind. The matrix could not be denied.

She sighed, satisfied, and tucked her hands under the blanket, needing to rest. Father Winfeld was still talking. Nonney smiled vacuously at him and closed her eyes.

Somewhere, outside of the frenetic activity of human life, something that felt strangely familiar opened its midnight eyes and laughed. It was not a kind laugh and if it contained joy, it was the joy that rose from a deadly mischief gone as planned.

Nonney listened for a moment. She would go hunting that one. When the time was right. For now, he served her purpose if only to keep the Star Priests distracted until it was too late for them to stop her.

For now she would concentrate on the minds of the teachers who would teach the next generations of children that were even now quickening in the wombs of a thousand receptive women. Special, they would be, their children, bright and shiny, for they would remember the matrix and seek its comfort. Nonney needed builders and creators and wizards of the imagination.

When they landed they had to be prepared and Nonney needed all the help she could get.

 

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6 degrees

6 degrees

You are born knowing the truth about yourself but by the time you reach maturity most of that truth has been replaced by the lies that others tell you. My favorite lie the the one that says you are alone.

This is the Truth:

You are born into a network of people who are connected whether it be through family or love or work or shared interests. These are real, visceral connections, measurable on a psychic level through a means that science is only now beginning to understand.

Imagine a long, elastic thread running from your core to the core of everyone who knows you. On the psychic level you would look like a starburst. Some of those threads are strong and bright. Some are tenuously thin. Some have faded to only an after image invisible except if you catch a glimpse of them out of the corner of your eye.

Now imagine all those other people being connected to everyone they know and those people being connected to others in the same way. It is hard for the human brain to imagine the infinite number of souls who are only a thought away along our long elastic thread of connection but the theory that you are only six degrees of separation from every human being on the planet is not far wrong.

We know about this network. It lies in deep in our subconscious, always there, always accessible. It is a comfort and a source of power that sustains us in our time of need. When people tell you that they are praying for you what they actually mean is that they have turned their attention to the long elastic thread that connects you to them and they are putting their attention and their intentions on that link, making it stronger while at the same time they are calling down the energy of the total network, channeling that energy through themselves, and passing it on down the line.

If you believe in your connection then it only takes a thought to open yourself to it and take what it wants to give you. The strongest links, the one that connect you to those who love you the most, these threads hold you in place and sustain you when  you are in deadly peril.

If you can let go of your fear, and trust that this network works as it was designed to work, then you can shift your attention away from the struggle to not die and shift it towards seeking the light that will heal you, body and soul.

When people die, they have to work really, really hard at it. Most of the pain comes from severing the ties that hold you to this place.

That part of what you think you know is true. Dying is very lonely work.

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