Ventus – Day 109 of 135

He had not yet had a chance to test the knowledge he had taken from the boy in the cave. He was, Armiger thought ruefully, too human now to focus his concentration that well. During the ride here he had thought about his companions, about the war, about his intentions when they reached the Titan’s Gates. He had tried to think about Jordan’s implants, but the kind of thought required was nothing like human cognition. He was quite simply out of practise.

Life held strange ironies. The more he pursued his goal here on Ventus, the more human he became. The more human he became, the less he wanted to achieve that goal.

Even more ironic was that his reasons for wanting it had changed. Where before he was obeying the deep-seated programming 3340 had laid in him, now he wanted to overthrow the Winds because he loved these women he travelled with, and wanted them and their kindred safe.

The question was whether he was acting only to help 3340 or the humans, or somewhere in there was he doing this for himself?

What do I want, he had asked himself as they rode here. He had come to conclude that he didn’t know.

He sighed heavily. Enough. He had come out here to work; he should get to it. With one last glance at the stars, he shut his eyes.

Armiger had not actually extracted the nanotech fibres from Jordan’s skull when he touched him in the cave. He had mapped their location and functions, essentially photographing them down to the molecular level. The data was enough for him to reconstruct what had happened to Mason’s nervous system. As he called the data up now, the older, inhuman parts of his mind awoke, and he traversed the entire tangle of synapse and quantum wire, comprehending its structure and purpose in an instant.

The assassin Calandria May had come to Ventus with a means of detecting the signals sent by Armiger’s remotes. Armiger had set himself up as a passive receiver, hence impossible to trace directly. But she must have known something Armiger himself did not.

There was an addition to the nanotech transmitter he had put in Mason’s skull. This was a cunning device, probably of divine manufacture. 3340’s enemy Choronzon must have given it to May. It used the fact that there was a calibration signal built into the transmitter that could under certain circumstances tease a returning ping out of Armiger himself. There was a new receiver to catch that ping, and it had its hooks deep into Mason’s auditory and visual lobes. May must have intended to train Mason to interpret the pings, then follow them back to Armiger. Something had gone wrong.

Armiger’s human side felt a shock like water down his spine when he realized what had happened. The combination of transmitter/receiver in Jordan’s skull was mistaken by local mecha as part of their own network. The signal was boosted and carried back and forth by the autonomic reflexes of Ventus itself.

He had not at first believed it when Mason had said he could see and hear what Armiger experienced. The details of the boy’s story were too perfect, though. Now Armiger saw the cause of his own transmission:

He had never ceased attempting to reconnect with 3340. A deep, unconscious part of Armiger’s mind was constantly crying out to the lost greater Self, and that cry was carried in a signal very close to the ping Jordan’s implants were designed to listen for. These signals were scrambled to near-randomness and scattered across a thousand frequencies, so the Winds did not recognize them; but the mecha dutifully passed along all transmissions on all wavelengths. Armiger’s thoughts had been resonating through the planet’s network all along, and would have been instantly recognizable to someone who knew what kind of signal to look for.

He was signalling now, broadly and loudly.

He cursed, and his attention wobbled enough that he lost his connection to that deep part of himself. Such a thing would never have happened in the past; quite the opposite, it was his human side he used to lose touch with.

Armiger concentrated, and gradually peeled away the layers of conditioning and reflex that surrounded the source of the signal. There it was, lying at the very heart of his motivational patterns–a labyrinth of holographic code that he could not penetrate, much less change. That structure was the neural complex responsible for making Armiger who he was; he could not touch it without annihilating his Self. Yet from the heart of it proceeded a betraying signal.

Frustrated, he retreated. He would have to devise a way to block it, if not at the source then from the transmitting filaments themselves. It would take time, however; he wasn’t sure he had that.

But also… he didn’t want to think about it, but in looking at that deep part of himself, he had glimpsed something he hadn’t guessed was there: a vast data repository, composed of quantum-resonant atomic shells in an ordered diamond lattice. Within the microscopic filaments that made up Armiger’s physical core lay a library of some sort big enough to contain the collected experience of all the Winds of Ventus. He hadn’t known it was there. 3340 had never even hinted at its existence.

Disturbed, he stood and walked further into the desert. The stars remained still and reassuring. There was no sound, except, in his mind, the soft yammering of voices in the sand. Despite this, Armiger shivered. He had a presentiment of something huge, a shadow vast as the sky itself, hovering beyond the horizon.

It mustn’t be true. If it were…

He turned to look back at the ruined town. A thin wisp of smoke rose from the half-standing house where Megan and Galas slept.

He had sworn to his Self–his new Self–that he would protect them. As a man, he wasn’t sure he could do that, with all the forces of Iapysia, plus the Winds on their trail.

What is it that I want? he asked himself again. Bitterly, he decided that it might no longer matter.

Armiger drew in a deep sigh, and focussed his attention on the sand at his feet. He had finished building a model of Mason’s implants in his own filaments, and was ready to test them. Now he didn’t want to; but he was out of time.

Billions of pipsqueek voices contended in the sand: Silica grain! Carbon grain! Quartz pebble! they shouted. They buzzed and changed frequencies, inventing new communications modes and trying them on their neighbors. Each pinprick of sand was crusted and invaded by tendrils of nanotechnological filament that constantly probed and investigated it. The nanotech tried to make sense of where it was and what it clung to. It traded data with its neighbors to that end.

It was semi-sentient, but more than that, he now knew, it was semi-thalient as well.

The sand grains traded more than just data. They speculated as to the category of object they were; when unsure, they invented new categories. So the sand grains sang their names, but around and about Armiger, the land itself said,


The grains coordinated in creating a network intelligence greater than themselves. This intelligence also tried to define itself, and it did so as Sand.

And so it went, up the fractal levels of consciousness, for the sand strove to comprehend its greater context.

Armiger had heard these tiny voices ever since arriving on Ventus. One of the things that had puzzled him was that, in a place like this, he should have heard a continuum of rational categories: quartz grain, said the grain of sand, sand, said the hollow he stood in; the land to the horizon should be saying, I am Desert! This was the design of the mecha.

He didn’t hear that. As things scaled up, the invented and temporary languages began to drown out those that followed human categories. The sand organized itself into a larger entity, true; but that entity was not the desert. It was something else: an alien category. Armiger had never cracked the codes of these higher entities, and he had focussed much of attention on them, believing that here lay the secret of how he could command the Winds.

He was half-right. It was thalience he heard, a mad self-invention of new consciousness that made the greater Winds inaccessible to human communication. Now that he knew that, he knew the computational antidote. The Winds were sick with a meta-language. Armiger’s god-built mind could do metalanguage. Better yet, he could subvert it.

That left the physical mechanism for communicating with them. He had not mastered the trick himself. Even when he spoke their frequencies, he didn’t have the encryption keys they traded and constantly updated. If he worked at it he could catch one, here and there, but it was like shovelling water. As fast as he found a key, the mecha changed to a new one. Try as he might, Armiger was not in the loop.

Somehow, Jordan Mason’s implants got around the problem. Mason was in the loop. By the definitions of the Winds, he was a Wind himself. Fortunately for Ventus, he was a weak broadcaster; he could only affect the objects nearest him.

Armiger was not so constrained. He should be able to command this entire hemisphere, now that he had the voice for it. He intended to make the Titan’s Gates his stronghold, and not until they reached it would he reveal himself.

Before he did that, though, he had to test the power. He would be foolish not to. So, he gazed at the sand before him, tuned himself to the set of entities there that made up the local ground, and said, “Rise in a column before me.”

Nothing happened.

And nothing would, though he stalked through the ruined town as the sun rose, raging at the obstinate stone and charred wood that heard him, proclaimed its own identity, and obstinately refused to obey.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)