Ventus – Day 24 of 135

He knew this worked to her ends, but was prepared to go along because, at last, her ends paralleled his own. He was able to think about the visions with some objectivity, and report what he saw and heard in detail to her.

Most importantly, what he saw and heard had changed. Armiger lay in bed in a cabin somewhere to the south. He was being nursed by a solitary woman, a widow who lived alone in the woods. In his convalescence Armiger seemed like an ordinary man. His terrible wounds were healing, and the small snatches of dialogue between him and his benefactor that Jordan caught were mundane, awkward, almost shy. Armiger had not eaten her, nor did he order her about. He accepted her help, and thanked her graciously for it. His voice was no longer a choked rasp, but a mellow tenor.

Jordan didn’t doubt Armiger’s capacity for evil. He was not human. But what Jordan saw was no longer nightmarish, and that, too, was a relief.

“Hey, there you are!” Axel Chan’s head poked up from the open trapdoor of the tower’s roof. He emerged, dusted himself off, and came to join Jordan at the battlement. “What are you doing up here? The gardens are fine today. Soaking up the sun?”

Jordan nodded. “I like it up here. I can see all the buildings.” Gardens didn’t interest him; they were the provenance of gardeners, not stoneworkers like him.

He hesitated, then asked something that had been on his mind. “We’re not staying here, are we?”

“We’ll be leaving as soon as we have a fix on Armiger.” Axel leaned out carefully, and spat. “Hm. Twenty meters down.” He looked slyly at Jordan. “You wouldn’t be hiding from Calandria up here, would you?”

“No.” It was the truth, though Jordan did know what Axel meant. “She works me pretty hard.” If she had her way, Jordan would spent sixteen hours a day on his exercises.

Axel shrugged. “She’s trying to pack as much information into you as she can in a short time.”

“But she won’t answer all my questions.”

“Really? Like what?”

“I asked her what the Winds are. She said I probably wouldn’t understand.”

“Ah. No, you probably won’t. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell you,” added Axel with a grin. “You want to know? The unabridged version?”


“Okay.” Axel steepled his hands, looking out over the estate. “Has she told you what gods are?”

“Primal spirits,” Jordan said. “Superior to the Winds.”

Axel scowled. “You see, here’s one of those places where the questions will go on forever. Okay, first of all, the gods aren’t spirits, they’re mortal. Second, humans existed before the gods. Thirdly, we made the first gods, centuries ago. They were experiments in creating consciousness in mechanisms. Nobody knows where 3340 came from, but He was the same kind of thing as the Winds, and just as out of control.”

“How could a god be a mechanism?”

“Hmmf. Look at it this way. Once long ago two kinds of work converged. We’d figured out how to make machines that could make more machines. And we’d figured out how to get machines to… not exactly think, but do something very much like it. So one day some people built a machine which knew how to build a machine smarter than itself. That built another, and that another, and soon they were building stuff the men who made the first machine didn’t even recognize. Some of these things became known as mecha, which is the third order of life here on Ventus. Mecha’s as subtle as biological life, but constructed totally differently.

“And, some of the mechal things kept developing, with tremendous speed, and became more subtle than life. Smarter than humans. Conscious of more. And, sometimes, more ambitious. We had little choice but to label them gods after we saw what they could do–namely, anything.

“Most of the time gods go on about their own concerns. 3340 decided its concern was us. Luckily we–humans–know how to create things of equal power that serve us. The Winds were intended to be your slaves, not your masters. Apparently there’s stories here to that effect.”

Jordan nodded.

“The exact design of the Winds has been lost,” Axel said, “since they were a one-shot project of the European Union, and the university that oversaw the project was nuked along with Hamburg in 2078. Anyway, the Winds were created and given the task of turning Ventus from a lifeless wasteland into a paradise where people could live. They did so–except that when the colonists arrived, the Winds didn’t recognize you.

“It seems there was no way to communicate with them. One of the things we don’t know to this day is what the chain of command within the Winds was supposed to be. There seems to be no central ‘brain’ which rules the planet. And communications between the Winds seems spotty and confused. It’s as if they’ve all gone their own ways.

“A lot of people think this is what happened. The Winds all concern themselves with the ecology of the planet, but at different levels. The vagabond moons worry about the overall distribution of minerals and soil nutrients, so they scoop here and dump there; they want to do in centuries what evolution and tectonics would take billions of years to accomplish. The mecha embedded in the grass are advocates of the grass, and they may object to the moons’ dumping crap on them, say. There’s no central brain telling both it’s a good idea. But maybe there was originally supposed to be a central plan, that they would all have access to. Knowing this plan, the grass would acquiesce to its death by salting, or drowning in a new lake made by the desals. So, though none of the Winds were to be answerable to any of the others, they would all be answerable to the Plan, because that was the only way to guarantee the proper terraforming of Ventus.

“Humans don’t seem to be mentioned in the programming of the Winds. We were supposed to be the apex of the Plan, represented as its ultimate purpose. That’s what went wrong–no Plan, no accommodation for the arrival of the colonists.

“So a strange double-world has developed on your planet. Each object seems to have its resident spirit–the microscopic mecha, or what we call ‘nano’, that coordinate that object’s place in the ecology. Originally these resident spirits were supposed to have a common goal over and above the survival of their hosts. They were to put themselves at our disposal–be our tools. But now, it’s anarchy. War in the spirit world. The only ones aloof from this war are the greatest Winds, the Diadem swans, the Heaven hooks and the like.”

Jordan had only understood a little of this speech. “But some people do speak to the Winds,” he said. “That’s how the inspectors and controllers know what crop yields should be, or where they can build a waterwheel. The Winds tell them what’s allowed.”

“Hm…” Axel raised an eyebrow. “I’d heard that from other people here too. Up there,” he jerked a thumb at the clouds, “people don’t believe it. They say your inspectors are a bunch of charlatans, holding onto power by pretending they can talk to the Winds.”

Jordan crossed his arms. “I don’t know. I just know how we do things.”

“Right. That’s fair.”

“So what is Calandria May?” asked Jordan. “Is she a Wind, or a thing like Armiger? Or just a person?”

“She’s… just a person. But a person with special skills, and enhancements to her body, such as the armor under her skin. I’ve got that too,” he said, rubbing his wrist. “And I’m still human, aren’t I?” He grinned.

“So how did you get here? I know you followed Armiger, but…” Jordan had too many questions; he didn’t know where to start.

Axel frowned down at the distant gardens. “We were at war against 3340–all humanity was. It wanted us all as slaves. It had all its godly powers; we had our super-mecha. And a few agents who were more than human, but less than gods, like Calandria May. Last year she infiltrated a world called Hsing, which 3340 had enslaved, to try to find a way to turn the population against their unchosen god. She found 3340 had been changing ordinary people into demigods–Diadem swans or morphs, if you will–by infecting them with mecha that ate them from within, replacing all their biology with mechalogy. 3340 enslaved these much more brutally than even the humans. Cal found a way to turn them against 3340, and she did that during our attack six months ago.”


“She had to briefly become one of them herself. You or I couldn’t have done it, but Calandria was able to leave her humanity behind. She became a goddess, only for a day or so. And she killed 3340.”

“If she became a goddess, why didn’t she stay that way?”

Axel shook his head. “Don’t know. She could have kept fabulous powers; she would have lived for thousands of years if she wanted. She didn’t want to. I think she was crazy to give that up. Don’t understand. I really don’t.”

Jordan was thinking. “So after 3340 died, you came here. To kill his servant, Armiger.”

“Exactly.” Axel leaned against the battlement, and squinted at the sun. “What does all of this imply about the Winds, now?”

Jordan hesitated. What came to mind was impossible.

Axel nodded smugly. “You’re smart. Isn’t it clear? The Winds are made of the same stuff as the mecha. They are alive. And they, too, are mortal.”

Jordan turned away. “Crazy talk. If the Winds are mortal, then everything could be. –The sky, or the sun, or the earth itself.”

“You’re beginning to understand,” Axel said. “Now understand this: what is mortal can be murdered.”

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