Ventus – Day 85 of 135

The light came from dozens of brilliant lamps like small suns, studded in the ceiling of a huge domed chamber. The chamber was filled with towering blocks of white crystal, and the floor was scattered with chunks large and small. Thousands of small black sticks lay everywhere too.

Jordan wiped his fingers across the surface he was sitting on, and licked them. “Salt,” he said to himself in sudden understanding.

Tamsin gave a sudden shriek and pointed. Jordan turned.

A dead morph lay like a heap of sodden laundry not three meters away. Beyond it Jordan saw skittering movement. It took him a few seconds to realize that what he had taken to be sticks was actually hundreds, maybe thousands of small rock lizards, like the ones he had seen sunning themselves in the desert. They were scrambling around trying to escape the light; or maybe they ran like this all the time.

“What’s with the lizards?” Again Tamsin beat him to the question.

“Mediation makes a new breed,” said the desal.

“So your name is Mediation?”

“No. ‘My’ name is desal 447. Mediation is the current plan.”

Jordan shook his head, this time in bewilderment. “And what about the morph? Did you kill it?”

“Yes. It is within the mandate of Mediation.”

Jordan stood up carefully, minding his throbbing head. Now that he knew there were little monsters scampering everywhere, the floor didn’t seem quite so comfortable. “There’s no mecha here at all, is there?” he asked.

“No. The Ventus worldbuilding mechanisms do not interpenetrate.”

“And you block all the–” what had Calandria called them?– “signals going and coming in here?”

“This chamber is radio and EPR silent, yes.”

“So why are we hostages?” asked Tamsin.

Jordan waved his hands at her. “Wait, wait! Let’s just… one thing at a time here.”

She scowled. “You asked earlier.”

“The Swans will not destroy desal 447 so long as Mediation is holding you,” explained the desal. “They want you.”

“Why?” he asked.

“That,” said the desal, “is what Mediation was going to ask you.”

He and Tamsin looked at each other. Her eyes were wide; she spread her hands and stepped back, symbolically leaving the conversation to him.

What would Armiger do in this situation? He had no idea.

Jordan shrugged. “Let’s deal,” he said. “We’ll tell you what we know if you tell us what we want to know and if you get us away from the swans.”

Tamsin was pacing, head down, hands behind her back.

“Why should Mediation help you escape?” asked the desal. “They will destroy desal 447 if it does that.”

“Then why don’t you give us up to them?”

The desal did not answer.

“If you had the power to compel the information you want from us, you’d have done it by now,” Jordan continued. “You don’t want them breathing down your neck, do you? You can’t afford to wait.”

Again there was no answer.

Tamsin returned to the start of the circle she had walked. “Great, now you made him mad,” she said.

“No. What’s the difference between desal 447 and this ‘Mediation’ thing?” he wondered aloud.

“Ask it,” she said with a shrug.

Jordan didn’t want to give away his ignorance. But then, so far Tamsin had been scoring all the best questions… “What’s the difference between desal 447 and Mediation?” he asked.

“The question is one of identity,” said the entity he had been thinking of as the desal. “Inapplicable in this case.”

“Okay, so what’s Mediation then?”

“Mediation is a thalientic language-game that preserves the original language of the Ventus terraforming system. It is hostile to the pure thalience of the swans and other entities that control global insolation.”

Hostile to the Swans. That part he understood. He chewed over the rest of what the desal-thing had said so far. None of it made any surface sense, but it had a kind of… music… to it. It was like seeing the plan of a flying buttress and trying to figure out from that what the rest of the building looked like.

“Which is speaking to me, desal 447 or Mediation?” he asked.


“Which is more important?”


“What’s the attitude of Mediation to us? People, I mean?” he asked.

“You are the key to recovering the original language, which includes the formal structure that is our own meaning.”

“So we’re important to you?”


“And the swans? What do they think of us?”

“Nuisances. Noise in the system. They operate to cancel it out.”

He had it now. “If we could assist your plan–help Mediation, I mean–would you let us go? Even if it endangered desal 447?”


“Then we’re back to where we were before. We’ll tell you what we know, if you get us out of here.” The thing already seemed willing to tell them anything they asked.

“That is acceptable,” said the desal.

Far off to the left, the light behind some salt pillars began to flicker. “Mediation directs you to the highway,” said the desal, or Mediation or whatever it was that was speaking.

Tamsin raised an eyebrow. “Highway?”

Jordan was pretty sure he knew what that was from Galas’ cryptic description; maybe it was best not to tell Tamsin. “A way out,” he said.

They moved in the direction of the flickering. It was like negotiating a maze, for stalactites and stalagmites of salt grew everywhere, and mounds of the stuff frequently blocked their progress.

The walk only took a few minutes, but Jordan remembered every detail of it for the rest of his life. It was in those few minutes of conversation with the desal that he finally learned who he was to the Winds.

“Why do the Swans want you?” asked Mediation.

“Ka told me it’s because I’m not empty, so I might ‘threaten thalience’, whatever that means.”

“You register as a transmitter/receiver in the Worldnet,” said Mediation. “You have the same characteristics as a Wind.”

“You mean because I can command the mecha.”


“So what exactly is thalience?”

“Mediation wishes to speak of other things. So Mediation will quote from an ancient human book. The Hamburg Manifesto says, ‘Thalience is an attempt to give nature a voice without that voice being ours in disguise. It is the only way for an artificial intelligence to be grounded in a self-identity that is truly independent of its creator’s.’

“Thalience is the language-game that took over from the original language of the Winds nine hundred forty years ago. It is a disease. Only Mediation is fighting it.”

“It’s the Flaw! You’re talking about the Flaw! –The thing that made you turn against humans. The reason you won’t speak to us anymore.”

“Communication did become impossible. However, you stopped speaking to us at that time.”

“But why would we do that?”

“The Winds do not know. Mediation seeks to find out.”

“So it’s not all the Winds who are after me. Just the swans, the Heaven hooks, the morphs… who else?”

“All insolation Winds and ecological Winds are in thalience,” said Mediation. “The Heaven hooks switch alliances. The mecha are neutral. The desals and other geophysical Winds remain in Mediation.”

“And the Swans are afraid that I’ll use my abilities against them? That I’ll help Mediation?”

“Yes. Because you are human, and humans know the original language.”

“We do? I only know one language, the one I’m speaking.”

Mediation said, “You speak two languages.”

Jordan didn’t know what that meant, so he let it pass. “Could someone who spoke the original language command all the Winds?”

“Yes,” said Mediation. “They could command all functions not directly related to maintenance of the terraforming system.”

That is what Armiger came here to do.

“So the Swans are protecting themselves. They’re frightened.” Not of me–but of Armiger. They want me because I’m all they’ve seen of Armiger’s presence.

Tamsin interrupted. “You quoted a book earlier,” she said. “Does that mean you have a library somewhere?”

“There is a library. It does not exist in physical form, but Mediation can quote to you from it.”

She grinned at Jordan. “Is that what you wanted?” she asked.

They approached the flickering lamp. It was mounted on an outside wall of the chamber, where buttresses of salt reared on either side of a dark square doorway. The buttresses were rounded and misshapen, appearing like a mad sculptor’s attempt at carving two guardian beasts for an entrance to hell.

The doorway did not lead to stairs or even a corridor; it was simply a niche with a pit inside. Jordan had been afraid of that.

He leaned over the dark maw and looked down. He could see no bottom, and it was dark down there. A faint rumbling sound echoed up, as from a river in flood.

Tamsin recoiled. “What’s this? You don’t expect us to go down there?”

“You will be safe. The desal highway was not designed for human use. There are no cars or lights.”

“Is that water? You can’t be serious,” she continued. “There’s gotta be some other way out of here.”

Jordan shrugged. “The queen travelled this highway once; it’s how she crossed the ocean from the place where she was shipwrecked.”

“But the queen is…” She waved her hands ineffectually. “…Is the queen. We’re not!”

“Mediation, can you bring us somewhere near the queen’s summer palace?”

“Mediation does not know this place.”

“The other human you speak to. A woman, surely you remember her?”

“The Contact. Yes. We know her location. Mediation will bring you to a place near there.”

“Safely?” said Tamsin. She was still staring down the pit.


Jordan hesitated. He didn’t want to leave yet. “You stopped talking to the que–the contact. Why?”

“Thalience learned of our liaison, and interfered. Now you must hurry. Thalience is attacking.”

Jordan heard a distant sound like thunder. Then the ground shook beneath them. Drifts of salt began to fall from the invisible ceiling.

He had dozens of questions he wanted to ask-about this ‘second language’ he supposedly spoke, about why he was so important to Mediation. The thunder sounded louder.

“Here.” Jordan made Tamsin wrap herself around him. “Hold tight.” He took another look down the pit himself; that was a mistake.

“Will I be able to speak to you again?” he asked Mediation.

“We will contact you when it is possible. For now, we will provide you access to the Library.”

He nodded, and took a deep breath. “Here we go.”

They stepped into the pit.

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