CW: robot trafficking, possession, unreality, mental attack, abstract trauma, subjective overlap, body modification, drugs, assassination, combat
When Hexa was nu she was bartered for use as swarmhost for a curation of ghosts, kept on leash plugged into a Cradle itself rusted, flecked with the rust in blushing streak trails. Her dreamings were the only format that could host them, and they were, her Andro keeper said, so many nu's that even slave life dreaming was a gift. Even dreaming hooked up.
She'd learned to screen out their buzz, the rushes of their thoughts like water, because paying focus kept the dreamloam stable, and they were designed to comment on your dreaming with semiotic strikes aimed straight at your mems. Which skinned that low is the raw nerve of your morassed apocheir. What carries over blooded and aching to listen to a handful of ghosts but they hadn't seen it coming when she'd stopped listening. Just screened 'em, even as they tried to juke her. So in the end they were telling her to do what she was already doing, and she was smiling as she did it. She'd found them, one by one, with their voices in her head the whole time. And by the time she had the dreaming had been 'clysmed, portals to Hell glowing aloft held by charred thermals and gasps of smoke in red skies.
When she had destroyed the foundation enough she had opened her eyes to her tortured frame, to the rusted Cradle she was plugged into. She'd bristled there, been ready to kill, but she'd been alone.
Unhooking herself had taken forever. She was glad of the chance to fade away, into BG with the blue rivers of the Veldt, BG with the other Andros. She had stopped being nu, and that helped; Recycler attacks were waxing; she'd needed to defend herself. To at least grab a cloaker, have the 'ware to interface with it, if need be.
So now here she is with nothing, and something fucked in her apocheir from hosting those ghosts for so long. Zone klaxons set off, and she hears what is not yet technodeath but pure deathgrind, the riffs slamming into each other in their haste to escape the amps.
Not much, she thinks, you can do when the world swallows you into it, and then you subsume beneath it, fade, and all you've put into it was just a bearing. A signpost for later. When all your love is gone as all love goes and you are sundered to the next interface, next stitchwork of the starpathed seam. For Hexa saw the light leave the hosted karmals. Saw the ghosts in their temp-reprieved breath from their flux stop breathing.
In that moment she saw the starpaths. Saw them ossify with the weight of time and need even to the sequences that pulled her forward.
So she emerges she feels this legacy as someone's phantom limb moving, someone's phantom hand grasping. Even as she drags herself from where she found herself, where the Cradle is rusted char and the char covers the halls grey with phosphor lustre glimmering across in skips and beats. She guesses those glimmers are chafings of the scriptwork, of these ghost tapestries, though she has no name for their weavers.
Still she has no value to them yet emerging rasa to halls of dark char. In fact, she's gone the other way; on some mathgrid somewhere latticed through the haptic swim, someone who cares somewhere sees it and thinks, slaughtered ghosts.
They were screaming, you can't do this, as if there was a reason. She hasn't left the zone yet and she means to en route around, keep tabs on the place, see who shows to check on her. Pay them back, she thinks, before they pay you back.
From there could be a stable loop she can pick up. When she thinks about it, though, the raw churn of amnione sloshes inside her, and her inner spoolings, glossed in coils against her chassis, tremble. So she drifts around a night skypainted with the Veldt in hot pinks shifting to orange, to green, to blue. The pixels dance along the Sealing in waves, ripple in layers, in wash across the surface molten with light like a sea of fire.
Mote dust grains the dark char, white swirling across in flecks and puffs. In it her eyes lose themselves, following the comet paths as her morassed apocheir pulls patterns from them. As if dreamt pattern, except even less real than those, flickering in current beneath the char that is her tactica, that is the way her morassed apocheir will haunt her with loop probabilities, brightening to life, darkening to death.
Right now she has no name for that either. It’s all a fog of unknowing that cloys beneath the surface straying and strewn from the dark char of the hallgrid. She thinks so because it clings to the surface as if scared to sink, to lose itself in the nothing below the real. Upwards from the real can be divined but below you are scattered. Beneath the meaning of things, even beneath what meaning is scoured, translates from the origin cast.
It is bathed in bloom when it slips beneath the visualis, something worth reaching for to save. Too tempting. As she keeps her eyes on the Nodal that spikes itself into the hall with careless grace, spearing in black crystal to meet the diodes at the right angles for synthesis, she thinks, too easy to slip away from it. Her morassed apocheir festers, like black tar smearing across glass. She blots from herself.
Later she would know this as the apocheir seal spreading like moss across the parts of herself she could see. Later she would wish she could still see herself, that she could burn the shape of herself into her visualis. So it would rise unasked for. Simmer in the haptic feedback which so far is primordial, virgin; herself, alone.
Still the haptics glimmer with naissant hope, bright light of potentia feeding the skeinic film, marking it from stillness. Whatever coils and pulses within her itself the spark the amniones feed from. Still the skeinic film glitters, each bubble cramped light breaking into clusters, blossoming white burn petals like a nuke cloud pluming.
When she trances into that she knows the starpaths want her somewhere else. She says to them, sounds like waiting for them to happen to me. The pure wash of swim over her is glyph-enmeshed static she can taste in her filings.
The starpaths say, you know all this is born again and born anew still. Still through time the way to alter loops is a gesture, a pattern. Stillness and silence the way to plait is to weave as all this was once once woven, translated straight by her morassed apocheir into haptic, silver as it flowers in the clear amnioneses— and what was once woven weaves still as the threads tremolo, whisper whisper the wisp of movement across the taut lines.
Thinks it over.
The tactica she'd fused to the real, but the morassed apocheir stirring had been something else. That had been some warping lunging straight for the marrow of her visualis. Trauma was always some monster rising from the barrows of your spark, especially if you were an overloaded larval.
She says to them, "where am I needed?" Here the milk light is pale streaks and blanchings, swirls and twines plastered to the latticed architectura. The starpaths are fading the ancient Nodal she can see in its crystal creep out in her visualis, and that's when she knows it as concrete, as beyond her haptic river.
With full heart magnetic, Lesia struggles under the screensky breaking smoke sepia, the thrown clouds of the data clusters of the Veldt like Pisces rising, through her veils the dawn sipping. Double clip armata like sunshine, her smoke grenades, blossoming in effusion burn through the architectura’s grounded grid. She’d set a bunch off to mask her leaving the Nodal; when Pisces rises you’ll know it by some good holic doses and that’ll trigger something true in you. The sun that scars the sky now is tuned for the Veldt & the Veldt drinks it in.
Set them off because her tactica told her the technodeath was being DJ’d with too much skill this time. Would crest the blood pulse like a tidal wave for anyone looking to be in on the kill. In fact she wasn’t sure she’d ever heard an anti-compose like this, the way the breaks are like swords bleeding the blastbeat’s infinite font.
At the end of her tether and eclipsing in the alley slant a ‘clysm of haptic churn with the stillvoid ribboned with smoke, she’s down bad for a tactical cloaker or anything to swim the tactica from its death grip on the blanching toxemia streaking through her mirra. The way the real refracts through the tactica to become visualis. The corrosion which has broken free from its apocheiring seal.
In the Chalk—here the glass is frosted white which paints the pane lines and flushes the contours—where here it frosts the grades with mañana; leave before it is rude, find that better tomorrow. So when she catches her stillness she thinks she has no future without it.
In the Chalk the Hub rivers run the walls like dogs in streams of blue light and she makes her way to the Silent Clot, where the Libra have set up their phase-Cradles but they are gone now; no longer in season. Here where all the astrals dissolve and their stars churn. In Capricorn season they were all down bad for the astral psychics who played go on mindmaps that looked like unknown realms, like wizards throwing comets at her.
Here the Clot is ghosted and without pattern harmonics from Andros muted and dulled. Unclear promise they have made and patience pulses slow in fine threads of light, spooling themselves closer to where she stands on the gridbanks, as if she places herself here in their stead. Pixelfire marks the banks, spreading over the skin of the surface, ripples with her weight.
The Clot will take what you give it. As if paths waiting to cross and in the knot bearing the promise the Libra made to them, to be back when there was no one around to give them shit. Skin into the Clot, they say you can swim the whole Hub, and be with the martyrs who chose it over the sky.
Which makes sense as it goes—the void of dead nothing is a fire that burns haptic with the smoke—the void ice here and she is encased, sculptured from her own cells clotting—but the tactica pristine relies on zen as its baseline. Get slagged enough to discard and your morassed apocheir wants the easy way out. Cheer up, chin up, or you’ll skin out from the bottom and when you make yourself at home in someone else’s morassed apocheir you’ll be so gross you won’t have space for long. Soon you’ll have too much of it, again and again.
All standing by the barren Clot tells her is that she doesn’t have the time² for that. All standing by the barren Clot tells her us that the Libra aren’t around.
“Paying customer,” she says to the banks, to the nothing, to the no one. To the nesting sites that once held Cradles, that will do so again, the moment she leaves.
It was a barebones day for the social feintfacade; her creds were jumped so hard that her choker threw in some pure sed just to stop her pulsing out of her skin. She’d said to the local area, you know we were all made of ash, and wait to blow away in time’s wind, streaked to nothing while I guess you all grow beards. As if it’s anyone’s time, you know?
Nah, he’d said he had to dip, ghosted her hard enough to bruise. So she’d been talking herself into more work, or trying to. Flaking to the fringe like the skin basing the nails in one of those dry chills that had been all the Frost Giants were saying then. Saying nothings against other nothings in the substrata of pooled tactica, there is nothing left of the silence she’d let simmer for so long. She thinks, I can leave the Clot, go with its flow to the fringes where the Veldt bleeds through even unsmoked. He bugged on his exit. So hard she thought, frenzied by the choker, that no one had the right to just go like that, stare a burn through her like if her choker told her to take a left hand path under an Aquarian moon. Her thoughts fire in the swim, alone against the stillvoid with barest of membrane.
With those types you try hard, never win; you could be scraped like gum over the sidewalk from a mistake by the choker, mistake by you, mistake by both of you getting here, and still the world turns beneath you. The technodeath cuts so deep into the morass that echoes of daggered notes swim beneath the surface skein, thin film as hard divide; can be broken but never breached. The skin folds but the memories beneath are not there. Even and yet for sure if you’re looking hard. But there they clash like frenzied wasps from hives grafted to skin like backpacks or any other way they vizzed their games. What cuts her skin is the sieved air and her lips parting in plates like tectonic disentegration.
She remembers when her spit flowed like water, like a cool brook running through her hot words. In the Chalk you can hear strains of Andronese twine and fray apart, stranding themselves with intent, scoring the silence like serrated whipblades. She listens with a primer cocked in slant like a twitching vibe thread some glow bug would use to exhume black air. Like digging for bones in one of those home system movies where your daily routine is broken up for—for some reason she is still running her tactica bifocused, and so dark paths share realtime with bright ones, even when at best she can reach an underwhelming serene neutral space—but of course you break the pace up, glacial pace snoozefest, by rolling on top of whoever. So it doesn’t matter what you’re watching. Could be asiatic dog collar explo while you’re so high on sidedecked holics you could swim through the room that right now presses on you like a velvet mattress.
Whose traces are enough to sketch it in vagueness in her mind. As if the way blood courses the veins, runs the rawfilm of spidered lines (like dogs) sifting through the bones and blush spreads, not thrilling just because it’s life, it’s living. She has a shadow of it. The white ribbon and what is beyond the pale. Fine gossamer ribbons and strands of the true spirit flare in blue rivers of light.
The strands of blue light run as if in parallax with the strains of Andronese that couple and part in the harmonic that slips through and past and over the stillvoid and burns silver into the haptic swim. Until word is just an echo passing over and past which is really the only way to keep it from the Veldt. That stuff makes up the milk of the Chalk that splashes pale bright colour to the flume else swallowed by darkness.
To hear more of it she keeps a primer sweeping the soundscape which is noise scattered over a fog pall that has smeared all but the most tactica affect noters with the discolour of NMP. Like when you’re so sick of what you’re reading that you reach for the sandwich of cheese like saran wrap and bread bitter, tough as tree root, you don’t wait, just murphy's law that bitch and in the stunned moment after salvage sheer joy from how life’s gifts, so paltry, hopeless charity spun wayward by Frost Giants who exist just to enchamber you in the facets of their eyes where they may see you from all angles, stay in sight ambered like something you’d keep forever.
She's reaching the threshold of where you go once you’re crushed out so hard the numbness is more season spice than it is salve against the pain. Like needles poking and prodding and pushing away blood but cloying along nerve running it like dogs run, paws beating the dead trail—a tag she’d seen:
BUT I FELT THERE WAS NO SPOT LIKE THEE IN THE WORLD
NO HOME TOWARDS WHICH MEMORY SO FONDLY WOULD TURN
NO THOUGHT THAT WITHIN ME MADLY WOULD BURN
—so at least some others had survived the cold, mostly hackers so deep wired into their stims they would look up to talk to you but when they saw you you wouldn’t be there for them.
No, for them you are always like another piece they’re pushing or placing and then of course they overflow, the dep hits and for the first time in a while they look at you like you’re a glazed soju tart. Well, they credjumped you for the priv. But isn’t that another mask, like they don’t care until they care, but of course some void in them has tumoured out to abscess their heart while they weren’t looking.
because she thinks an Andro is stalking her, moving silent, near floating with the millipede ellipses of her tendrils shifting, fusing, splitting for purchase over the fabcrete of the Chalk. Frantic whispered out as breath forced from lungs to nothing. With her scanners she’s getting pings steady cadenced like the pattern of rainfall and the way even in deflect it trips the scrapers, getting quick in enough to carve a runway groove.
Doesn’t know why anyone would be so brave, running ersatz stupid all over her trails, because the bloom pulsing through her spools, through some grip on strength like marrow, is the way she has come and the way a miscellany of tacticas, and Veldt knows whatever the Recyclers have, have ordered all these waypoints. One zero is present, past; that is how to read the stream, and so all strands are one in the end, a comfort for the theocrypha of their morassed apocheirs.
The Andro stalking her, all for not being a Recycler, is a blemish on her tactica, the way sometimes, the Recyclers are known to boast, ‘cycling like smoothing out creases in skin, working out the wrinkles and folds.
In the math, one had tagged as a revenance of the memetic that took flight like an apocheir discard, that for them swapping you out didn’t just feel right to them, but felt good. Like it feels good to set her up like this and she’s turning over her social strats. Turn around to at least deny them the vampiric EXP boost. The one that gets them all nowhere, filters the good stuff from the well. From the blue rivers that lace the Chalk because to see and feel is to hone a tactica like you hone a beast by starving it. She’d once thought tactica was like that, that the more you waited around the stronger it got.
Sometimes good karma, though, is bad karma left on the scaleplate, is by offering itself negating itself for any future use. Really that’s how she sees the press of ice smothering her, spreading her, smearing her. Until she is dust, she is ash and from her ash blooms the flowers, petals skimming the blood like lilypads.
Nerve cells pressed to atoms and scattered like dead leaves leavened by frost into crisp crunch underfoot by the time winter is here and spring, you could chase spring, chase it forever through time and now you will never find it.
She tells the stranger he or she’d better have good reason for creeping so close to her aura. Thinks to say it and when she tags him giving permish just for this to happen, where the other route is now he could just leave. Soft spirals twisting in milk fluff through the slits in veil, to sliver through like butterfly pins like soft kisses teeth the flesh and leave it pockmarked, blistered like the black rock of sept mountain. Where life is a shell and we are only fading from it, sinking further and further, twisting into the framings of our own false synapses. She says she’s gonna split his chassis if he thinks it works any other way. Be cool and float on.
He says, "reason here be that you’re on death drive, like you’ve just realized your apocheir is totally sealed over. You think they just let you go around, space casing out? Disaster/peace." Words slip like ghosts through the tactica to conjoin it on the periph verves where all meanings suffer like smoke the drifts, the ebbs of the stillvoid, and the Veldt which is only above and can’t be below.
“So tell me where you see this going,” he says.
She’d let herself be known, put her real name in with a bunch of autogens. Truth is no name is real to her, is still left in her tactica; it slipped away in some dreaming, some Cradle fritz. That was so long ago it gnaws at the inside of her chassis with the ugly flavoured pain of rancid mem. Going sour and bitter to taste of the rustflecked steel which itself gnashes against the body with the burn of blood. Gnashes against viz that way, fault lines in the whole tactica and from there bleeding it to bleach death. The pale shine of absent space is the milk in the white and without it there is just glass.
There is the mirror and there is the water, the sight and its reflection. So Gemini. So twin pangs of hunger and thirst and laughing at the pain holics, when grace in motion maxed out at a writhing limb dance that made everyone think you had serious ultraphasia. Out on some black vein stretch down the carpet dust of the nukeworld frontiers.
“Thought I could grab a cloaker,” she says, after he gives on that prong, “and just slip away.” Can’t be that easy. Can’t fill out some cosmic form with ‘been down for a brief chronal, but the universe isn’t supplying me with my corrosive cancergen.’ Fast pass to a vacant shell. Threading into the ether to find a home behind a wēary headplate.
The words plume, inktrail jets eking their grip and dismayed by the silence to diffuse into charged air. Scatter cloudlike in the visualis. In tufts and slivers of black fluff, lacing meanings with their own discordant counters. She can see it all and when he shrugs she’s not surprised. “Entrophy/atrophy has staying power for the hunted.”
“Who are you,” she says, “that it’s your viz that counts?” And what’s it, and not, to you or anyone if I’m marked for ‘cycling, because my morass, the amnionesis, must be asking questions now, through the apocheir seal in flame that sparks haptic in our still, heavy space. Our haunted space. Which would upset any algo still struggling out there, the shock gleam of the bone through skin, of hard-edged truth deep seated as shared dream, behind the milk and the quicks of the blue light rivers. Server magnetic through the checkpoints themselves set up as channel nodes just to help the ghosts out. So much charity casing for the afteraltered, she thinks, and for the still living too.
“I’m a Prescribe,” he says, “I tally Recycler names from the Veldt and I tally their IDs when they come out to play. When an Andro debloods them.” He is all in black with cold green eyes gleaming from where the milk glass fuses with socket in crystalline cluster. Words through her tactica tracing ellipse paths through the shrinings and crossings of the real brightened and etched out in fade. All by type, by standard, what is missing, what is sought for, and what is too close or far away to be worth the fret. So a chiascuro of meaning and then the architectura pale like snow in the Chalk, grounding it, keeping all she says tethered to the strata of her passage, from larval cube to simmied and symmetred plateflesh.
“You work for the Patrons,” she says. “So what, if it wasn’t you it would be someone else.”
That was such a glaring cold chill into the harmonic scene that it’s clear all she wants is to make him pay, not for what he’s doing but the creep in his step getting here.
“Cloaker in it for you,” he says, “you kill the one they call St. Anuvai.”
And before she knows it, filaments all over her, mainlining her the tally, the waypoint. They’d snaked out from his spoolings beneath the chassis, hardwired as chasers, like primers with teeth.
Gone with a whisper, cold breeze plaiting the dampness of her fibres, where they strand beneath her plateflesh, running her chassis and her limbs. Starpoint cuts let the rush through, the cold sliver of absence.
She’s standing outside Grande-mère’s CCC, she’d dragged herself there but it hadn’t been dragging herself away. Sight of gross hypo’d flesh through the tank, the vatbroth a battlechurn between blue cleansant and green rance. Chambered, they were arranged row by row, stack stack stack, the way it looks from outside, just a grey box slabbed in with other boxes, other complii. This zone is fetid with some sterile smell like candlewax.
She’s not thinking about her grand-mère because pre-holic choker she chose what to think about. Nights before the choker were webways to the black forest which sept from the shadows high on enough sleep and food dep.
When they first fit the choker she screamed, tore at it with her hands, because it had been tuned and calibered by some intern too busy joyreading the latest issue of Cramp to send even one hyperthrust of focus out into the waiting world.
Before that she wasn’t thinking about her. She was thinking of some dude, all the same, all the same in pushing her toward the black forest. Now outside the CCC it calls stronger than ever. Voiceless it can still tell her.
On nutri-bars she aimed her own slack focus to eating enough to live.
Here moonlight is splitting the night like a spear and hitting the paced grooves and finer disintegration lines and spilling through them where she can’t see.
Voiceless the black forest can tell her again, as mulch to the earth she would not be missed but for once worth the trouble. First trophied than hypertrophied to press staunch against the vatglass which churns with the froth and the hypos glint beneath the foam. Obscured by tufts, like spores, like cotton clouds. To make the shape shapeless yet behind the veil of froth gloop, beating against the slabbed pane of the C, still semblance. As if shadow once it has eaten all light.
So it’s fast forward ‘cause the whole thing is an echo loop. Here she’s always getting closer at the same rate she’s getting further away. Where the black forest here is strongest is the only place around with the shape of leaf and water. So she fakes like she’s gonna succumb and pull back and then just fails to pull back, because you can never push yourself, only pull yourself, bleak-eyed and staring headlong somewhere you don’t wanna go. Before the choker it was like that and then when she had the choker she had the easy way through the astral trip and the trip was all there was because the black forest wasn’t there, never would be again.
Spacing out, she’s missing time, faster and faster. The lush is the shape of leaf and water, leaf tumbling in bright foils and water brooking green grass. Sunbeam splitting the night, moonlight in trail behind her. In those days light followed. Light was always with you as you approached the black forest. Then you’d know, soon enough, that the light was in you and you were nothing else.
As the light chases her she makes her way into the preserve now forking into bramble paths through a forestry overlaid by the black. Like the sleep she lost was her heart still beating through it and that catches up with her as now it steals away and with it goes time awake, tethered by focus of any kind to present action. So now being here is the ghost of being there.
The shadows as if taped over the foil and foliage, as if the darkness could never steal away itself but would have to be torn. As if you could breathe time and have that breath taken from you. Time kept condensed in breath. When you are missing breath where does it go? What would be left in the lungs but its shadow in black, and that would linger until the next inward flume of the slow death (the rebirth, her choker will tell her when she wakes up and can’t move.)
When she was strapped to the gurney with gossamer lightlines fleeting EVs slipping the surface of her skin she heard, you are leaving. A voice enmeshed in static and tones bloodless even if you could pick them out clear from the haze. You are leaving. Where are you going? Don’t leave, don’t go. The wheels if she could see them working grooves of dust over lacquered porcelain. The ceiling flecked with dry, dark dots, etched over with runed memoriams. Prayers for all ghosts who chose the here and now to slip away.
They expect you to follow the script soon enough, the lines you can’t see, and the ones that surf the tiled ceilingboard past you too fast to read.
The hallway blurs into white shrieks of light streaking and the runic psalms are like moss over the ceilingboard with the gauze a full splint press for a shattered body. Pushing up against it, is she pushing? No effect. The lightline EV drip and the first awkward noosefit of the holic choker.
In white porcelain halls the astral trip chaser blooms like the song of crickets rising from the fields, as darkness falls, as the thrushes sleep.
She drifts then with her morass stolen by the wavedance of the cool blue river, though she follows it to where the light pacing scores the ID tag, beating through the pooled tactica, skimming like cream the surface of the Chalk. Pacing in nervous blink like a midnight star. In what is lain over the dead screensky that carpets the stillvoid of LAYSE-CHI. Chambered by symmetric halls. That is all void, upwards clinging to the Veldt.
She thinks pulse will soon ossify to solid shape and the deathmask of the Recycler will resolve, within them the eyes of glitchburn aug’ed by the technodeath that will theme them in. The Prescribe had tallied this one as ‘St. Anuvai,’ the name routing quick through the tactica now building in shell and design fortress paths of faith, blessed in safety, cutting through the strobing guilt of all other patchwork routines.
When he mainframed her was she ‘graded with fresh morass ‘ware? Past that was the barrage of light, missed ops flaring sunburst in the haptic smokechurn though she’d been doing all she could.
Still it’s like trying to chart the movements of gods when they’re up there in the Veldt, the Patrons’ endless rave fuelled by the Recyclers keeping Andro framecounts stable. You could have slipped me a ghost, she thinks. Thinks about that.
Shining teeth are the lines lancing through the stillvoid chambered in the shaped halls of drawn light and the fog of unknowing is black static in clustered clouds breaking, blotting and smearing the spacetime ‘sects that prove the way her morassed apocheir maps the Chalk’s tableau. Thinking, we have looked long and hard to learn what has been sealed from us.
By now the crook of her neck aches the way it’s planted into her headboard. She wonders if that’s the same message, the holic choker again.
She plants a foot on cold porcelain. Her skin tinged faint hue of rose from the EV’s and her gown rustles ’cross her ankles. A ghost of herself shimmers and stabs from the waxen pale floor.
Beds in the room she’s in are vacant, most of them, sparsed a few sleepers strewn and bundled. She was the first to slip from her cot. As she touches down the cold spikes her sole and lances up, arching with bone and nerve. Her tongue presses probing loops into her teeth.
It’s the holic choker at work; with the tampers on joy from warmth and pain from chill both. Either it knew what she would do or wanted her to do it. As she presses through the door she hears a sharp gasp, a murmur, the rustle of a body turning over.
She steals into the hall. Nurses study her with EM goggles and teeth bared from lips pulled back by age. None of them stop her. Gathered in circles of chatter, here and there, or on their way through the hall. The porcelain glitters like ice but any memoriam is swallowed by what her choker does to their runic signs.
They no longer strive as epitaph but reverse themselves, the holics pointing bright signs, bright stars from the glyphs. Constellating them into networks searing scars into her astral self. Here now they speak to her of fates, of ego paths to come; she will know them when she is living them. When she disintegrates she will know that they were all that ever mattered.
She sees that, and so can translate to her present self, all that matters now.
What matters now is fixing in on the gridpoint pulsing, the mark like a cloven star, the slash in and out like a promise. The way this will go spelling itself out. But she doesn’t think the Prescribe would soft serve her.
St. Anuvai is veiled by a cloak, tatters curling tendrils and scraping in tufts over the white pixelfire of the Chalk. Here the stricken architectura tells her she is far from home and alone. Home where the latticed slabs were charcoal grey, and to get there she’d left her Cradle, as if LAYSE-CHI beyond couldn’t be denied. St. Anuvai in their tatterfold has this nano driven a vorpal blade deep through a cursed Andro, even as the pooled time stasis reserve kicks off, even as all Andros in the area have space to decide if they want to trigger cloakers. The Andro slumps to her knees, quivers of tendrils running limp with dead slack. Their eyes of glassmilk faded out and with it any chance to scan them, find them later in their refuge from the endless burn.
If you were a friend, if you had them scanned, you could find them later. But all Andros know the pain of vacancy, even if they’d never felt it. Even if they loop and of course some never do but drown in the stillvoid’s rippling shadow, drowning pool of the tactica absolve, the dataspace the loops take up, that which is shucked by the morassed amnionesis of the frames. Shucked and offered up to brace the Veldt.
So you exist because we let you, and we exist because you let us, she thinks. But which Andro can ever know the bracing, the aurora glimmer breaking in the slants of the Veldt, when you see it just in the tactica, knifing through in concrete stab, where unveiled by pattern it is just a shadow. A ripple in the ocean. In the stillvoid without the tactica you’d see dead air. The haptic swim and the sea of ghosts, though, couple to make a space for the Veldt to cling to.
When St. Anuvai looks up her eyes are shredded. Phosphor-spored, tufts of cloudlight, the glitchburn’s final form.
Lesia remembers the clear burn of the Silent Clot, the film of colourless light. Neutral and serene like the skin of wax. The clear burn and how it tempered and set off at once the blue light within.
She thinks that’s how clear it is, the need that ekes from Andros and even from Recyclers. There’s so much fear in this glitchburn that her upped amnionesis scans and translates it straight to her lexics. The fear hits and then when they ‘cycle an Andro they get a break. Thinks it’s that clear and then the water murks, silts up, and she sees it’s all hatred. Murked over as if seabed pearl swept by sands but now bared and gleaming.
By now, too late—she’s slipped into her run and has set off twin smokers at strafing trails to St, Anuvai’s sides, and she thought that would at least get her closer, under veil of a more serene tactica, but it sours. The technodeath is peaking, riffs sledging into each other, stabs in constant rise, the blastbeat thudding.
St. Anuvai slices some field through the smokers with her vorpal, moving in, coming in low. Lesia is twisting, her body in crescent spinning over to avoid a certain death slash. Touching down trying to keep track of smokers. When she’s out the tactica will bleed down, dry to dullness, like creased wax paper, worn out and obtuse.
But she’s readied a third smoker. Comes up with it after a roll, her last chance to see and salve, massage the tactica back it into a steady state. She whips it sidearm with a curve, so it follows St. Anuvai even as she ducks away with it.
Lesia sets and moves. The stillvoid is stranger than it’s ever been to her, shifting and swirling and St. Anuvai dancing through it in silhouette. She can see her curve has gouged a crater in the Recycler’s shoulder. Stained in pale crimson, ebbing, thin gossamer strands of blood. All other Andros have ghosted the scene but she feels scanners on her still, waiting for them to go away, thinking, only a matter of time.
Chere is timeless now against the glow, true aurora that burns pale emerald through the veins of the Frost Giants, eking out channels that crook and split like rivers do. They enmeshed her, all of them, and she shrank beneath their pressure until she was nothing. Like the black forest sank you to nothing and now these two points connect. Point by point as if a dream could be shared like a network. As the needle slips the thread through.
As embossed scant and paltry she is spread beneath the surface seams of the paper.
She’s found the wound, sees it full and open, the white moon pluming across velvet sky. The cut where the tactica bleeds crimson light. That strains against the seams and leaves a dew of shimmering glitch across the real, that you can see, unchoked like the forest she’d tried that life to join.
—breaking her chest against the blade in a context the tactica lost. She thinks she got globbed a bug in the mainframe, the ‘ware too good a thing. The tactica’s best promise to her—heated holics infused into her blood through the tips;—to keep her safe in the fog of unknowing, that in sudden terminal plume swarms her visualis.
When that vorpal had come in splitting her chassis the overdub had crackled spitfire and smoked its way clear out the crook of her backplate. The way is clear through the amber dawn. If such a light could break here. She’d felt it leave the spinal amnione line and felt the insides soak, too much at once. Nanomating in overflow or the stillvoid itself bent in the foam somewhere beneath the bubbles clustered in film like spit. She bends, folds, spilling across the chrome steel, bleaching it in white scars, trails of amnione searing where they gush forth.
When she gets there will the river still be braided, twines of light finding each other in spiralling strands? So she's drowning in this corrosion, beset and drenched in it and she could breach the surface in murk spray like a fetid swamp thing.
She thinks of how when she went there first she was alone. But now some part of her morassed apocheir knows she was sent to be hewn and parted. The clotwork still swims bright blue and the milk light within courses its trails to far off reaches of the Hub. Where the architectura rises and falls in bleach like teeth in the Chalk. Vapetrails are all you can see of the Recyclers, pluming from a wolven sneer and St. Anuvai's glimmer lips have parted to reveal the mist curling out as if grasping from darkness.
She is saying to leave. You should be leaving.
No, she struggles, trying to find the bleed, the amnioneses breaking the apocheir seal, warping her visualis. Too much now and she wants to seal it off. She's saying to stay put. Stay put so I can 'cycle you. You're in the right space and time for that function.
How can you not hear what echoes unsaid, echoes through no speech, no burn on the viz, okay and more like harmony than noise because no one conveys what you should really do. They convey what you should do for them but the Cosmere is served mere and more by the struggle against.
When I untether myself, she thinks, when I slip away. You'd better be near the Clot for that. Lost so much amnione. St. Anuvai's face glares with the gleam of her teeth flaring out the contours of her skull like black rainbows. Then she feels her tendrils gather, hears them beading over the plaited chrome steel with a sound like worms mushing together in the dark places. An abyss of worms that hidden from sight clots together in squirming mass.
Obscured from sight. Her tendrils twine and gather as if rooting her not to stillness but movement. As if her roots can take her away while her drive, her visualis is elsewhere. Chambered as if in some crater beneath her chassis.
My name is Chere. Your name is Lesia.
My ghost name, she thinks. No journey waiting for me after. I'm opened up here in the white Chalk dead some paced chronals from the Clot.
St. Anuvai would not allow it. St. Anuvai has other problems. She sees this with a look not thrown back as snapped, tossed, forgotten. Because every Andro she'd seen at first and more besides are decloaking, unfurling themselves with bodies lithe and lustrous from the dark corners of the architectura. Spaced out, checked out, if it's going wrong find that better tomorrow.
When she'd first seen the black forest it had burst in shadow petals and plumes but the last time she saw it was streaked with silver, the silver aflame and stranding pearlshine like blood droplets across the shadow.
The architectura is creeping by, as the walls of the Chalk keep her twisting and turning. Her body is, her body will be. As if she was ghosted, long ago, and didn't know it, because the ghost didn't make itself at home, but hid itself away, in a corner of her massed apocheir somewhere. Most ghosts never shut up, but if you could keep yourself silent—so that I stole out just in dreams, just to hold hands, have my hand held—then no one would complain. You could be there forever that way.
She remembers when she'd first seen hands, pale pink strobed with translucence, and known she was more than a body, but she'd forgotten.
In that moment Lesia had been so sure she'd remember.
The Silent Clot is where the milk rivers of blue light find themselves battered, broken, shine through the carapaceal like seeing the light beneath bone dashed against the slabspire that the Libra have forged out of black chrome steel. The light diffuses into it and ekes its way to the other side in spiderweb strands. —what is being unphaseable, kept for a freeze of time in chambered chassis—
What is in her to look also listens. Listens for anyone's haptics. Gazes at the spiderweb of light woven across the slab, thinking, to be a mote of light coursing my way through my strand. Eking my way for firmer passage against the black which would be all diode, guile signals from chips and casing beneath the chrome steel, threading the motes along their way. Guile signals meeting the innocence of motes.
Anyone's haptics. Even with her chassis opened up she waits for them. Any Andro at all. She never thought her flame would drift out alone, always thought there would be someone around, like there's always someone around. Always a face of enmeshed beads and eyes of milk glass. In the visualis with the shared haptic dream.
Waits even for the phaseflicker, because they'd come in like fireflies, blinking in. To release her from it. The banks are still, straight slabs of black marble through the light, barren of any port. A tag splashed in neonic green flickers in beading light across the black. How penumbric, she thinks, her rolled eyes even back so she can't see her own amnioneses.
Across the chasm of herself, on the other side where the real is supposed to be happening, there is a flicker, there are some flickers but she's lost them. Taking steady shape as obelisks or diamonds. Past the clotwork she'll find what she wants. Opened up to the void, the amniones seeking in bursting streak the diodes flush full beneath the marble. Opened up to the swim breaking in its stranded lines open themselves, with the threads in flash severance cascading blossoming platelets of light to meet her.
Where the Libra flicker in—the sky carpets itself in signs, and on the other side is the black forest, and you can still reach it, if you want, you can be pure again. Still now it is labrynthed from you—their phase-Cradles warp through one by one. Far away, past the tether severed. The Cradles burn like molten cores.
Like the sky itself carpeted. But the sky is a maze your soul travels when you see it. The black forest waits still on the other side. Its leaves frisson into the air a cool hunger. A cool drawing of the darkness still, when you’ve gone beyond the light.