Ventus – Day 131 of 135


Calandria emerged from the mountain to find a landscape adrift with smoke and steam, dotted here and there with men just now rising from their hiding places. The sky was striated with the aurora of the Diadem swans, but the vagabond moons she had become so familiar with were missing. She had heard the screams of 3340 in her mind, and had tripped and fallen in her confusion. She no longer heard Him, but His voice might return any second, and if she even thought about that possibility she panicked. There was only one course of action left to her; she prayed it wasn’t too late.

She bounded down the slope, shoulder and flank aching from injuries new and old. The abomination had to be here somewhere–the plateau was packed with armed men, though they looked totally cowed at the moment.

When she spotted Armiger standing with Axel and the others near a cliff, Calandria bared her fangs and ran straight at him.


“Thank you,” Armiger said to Jordan. “I don’t know how you did that, or even if you know what you’ve done–“

“I know,” said Jordan. “And you’re welcome.” He grinned, feeling a swelling pride he’d never thought he would ever feel. Looking up, however, he could see that the swans were returning to their places in the sky. Things were not over yet.

“You didn’t intend for that to happen, did you?” he asked Armiger. The general shook his head.

“It was what I came here to do. But as I lived here, I… came to myself. I no longer wanted what He wanted.”

Jordan nodded. “That leaves us with a question, then: what is it that you do want?”

Armiger stared out over the ruined valley for a long time. Finally his shoulders slumped, and he said, “I don’t know anymore.”

“That’s all right,” said Jordan. “I have an idea.”

“Down!” shouted Axel as something white dove at them. There was a brilliant flash and something heavy slammed into Jordan and knocked him against the parapet. He fell, for an instant certain that he had gone over the edge; but no, he landed on solid stone and heard the sounds of a scuffle directly over his head.

He blinked at the spots in front of his eyes and stood up. The smell of burned hair was in his nose.

Armiger stood several steps away. One sleeve of his shirt had been ripped away, as well as the skin on his shoulder. What was revealed underneath was not flesh, but bright veined metal.

Axel leaned way out over the parapet. He held his laser pistol in one hand.

Jordan turned and looked over the edge. Two meters down a bast was clinging by its claws to the steepening slope. A burn mark on its back was smoking.

“Take my hand,” said Axel. He reached down. “You don’t have to die.”

“Don’t risk yourself. They won’t let me die,” said the bast. The sound of its voice shocked Jordan to stillness. “Axel, don’t let it win.”

Axel’s outstretched hand wavered. “Who are you?”

“Axel!” The bast slipped, caught itself then started to slide. “Axel–who is that woman who looks like me?”

Then it lost its grip, and plummeted silently into the cloud bank below.

Axel climbed down. For a while he just stood there, looking down at the stone under his feet. The others were silent too. Behind them all, Jordan could see a black-robed woman walking in their direction: Galas. A large crowd of men followed her quietly.

“Axel,” murmured the Voice. “We have to contact the fleet. 3340 is dead; they have to know.”

Axel sat down on the stones. The laser pistol clattered away from him. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I know, I know.”

“You’re the only one here with the transmitter implant.”

He grimaced. “I’ve been trying to raise them. There’s too much interference from all that.” He gestured at the sky.

“I know you,” said Galas. They looked at her; she was staring at the Voice.

“You are from the stars, aren’t you? You tried to destroy Armiger, I saw you shoot him with a silver musket.”

“No,” said the Voice. “I am not–you see, I am–“

“The question is,” said Galas, “do you still have your weapon with you? Because we must now make a choice: watch our world be destroyed, or cast Armiger into the flood and let the Winds have their revenge. The Winds are enraged; they will not listen to me. Armiger is impotent against them. We have no choice now.”

The soldiers behind Galas began to close in.


Without thinking, Jordan had stepped between the soldiers and Armiger. “Killing Armiger now won’t end it,” he said quickly. “The thalience Winds have decided to destroy humanity. We have to convince them not to.”

Galas laughed. “And how do we do that? We can’t even talk to them!”

“You can’t. I can.”

The queen tilted her head, considering. “Maybe you can. But you can’t compel them, can you?”

“Not by myself, no.” Turning to Armiger, he said, “you have the skill to command the Winds. I have the means to communicate with them. Through me, you can accomplish what you came here to do. Correct?”

The general stared at Jordan for a long moment. Then he shrugged, and said, “Correct.”

“How do we know he won’t do the same thing 3340 planned?” said Galas. “Destroy the world to build his own?”

Armiger looked at her wearily. “What would I build? Nothing I do could possibly bring Megan back. Anything less… is meaningless to me now.”

He crossed his arms. “What would you have us do?” he asked Jordan.

“Destroy Thalience,” said Marya.

Axel nodded. “If this Mediation thing wins, then Ventus will be under the command of humanity again,” he said. “That’s what we want, isn’t it?”

Jordan felt his heart sink. It seemed the only option, but he remembered vividly how Mediation had created the animal army that had escorted Jordan and Tamsin here. To Mediation, the world was nothing more than a giant machine. Perhaps Armiger could command Thalience into silence, and make the Winds listen to humanity again. What then? The world would become the toybox of Man’s ego.

If henceforth he could at will command a rose to become a lilly, where was the meaning of the rose?

Reluctantly, he said, “I see no alternative. At least we know what Mediation will do. We don’t know what Thalience wants.”

Yes, we do.


For a moment the Desert Voice regretted speaking. They were all staring at her. Then she hardened her resolve, and stepped out from behind Axel.

“Ever since Axel came to me and told me what was happening here, I’ve been thinking about thalience. It’s a mystery, even to us in the Archipelago. But I think it’s no mystery here on Ventus. And I’m beginning to see it’s no mystery to me, either.”

She held up her hand and turned it in the rosy light. “What is it that is speaking to you now? That is the question and answer of thalience. What is this object–this body, woman-shaped, made of wire and silicon? Even I was fooled into thinking that this,” she gestured at herself, “is just a thing, a piece of matter with no heart. I thought that my words, my emotions and thoughts were all imitations of another’s’. Not real. Once, when I was a starship, that was true. I thought what humans had made me think. I felt what they had made me to feel.

“So it was with the Winds. They were made to see the world as humans see it. They originally thought in human categories and could want nothing that they not been engineered to want.

“The humans who designed the Winds arrogantly wanted to make their imagined metaphysical world real. They wanted to create real essences behind the appearances of the world, using nanotechnology. Luckily there were some involved in the project who were repelled by this travesty; they saw that by erasing the otherness of Nature on this planet, the Ventus designers would leave nothing but humanity, gazing at its own reflection. It would be a horrible global narcissism, permanent and inescapable.

“So these dissidents slipped thalience into the Winds’ design. Before, every physical object on this world was to define itself in terms of its meaning to humans. After thalience, every object on this world creates its own essence, one true to itself–even if that essence is beyond the understanding of human beings. It has to be that way, or Ventus remains a puppet show whose only audience is the puppeteer.

“Please, you must not destroy thalience. If you do, you will be literally left with nothing but yourselves.”

She clasped her hands and lowered her head. She doubted they would understand her or care; humans loved to see themselves reflected in the things they made. How could they know that such a reflection could only have meaning in a world where some things were not human-made?

No one spoke for a minute. Then, to her surprise, Jordan Mason stepped forward. Gingerly, he reached out to take her hand.

“I have the means of speaking to the Winds,” he said. “The Winds will listen only to transmitters made of human flesh and blood. Which I am, and Armiger no longer is. He has the power, I have the code in my blood.

“But, I think, it is the Desert Voice who has the message. Thalience is not the Flaw. It is only the inability of the Winds to speak to us that is a flaw. Am I right, Armiger, in thinking that this can be fixed?”

Armiger nodded. Then he looked to Galas. She smiled.

Armiger stepped towards Jordan and the Voice, his hand held out. The Voice clasped Jordan’s hand, and it felt like cool stone.

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