Over this side of the planet, we’re winding down. If we’re swapping truth, I think many people’s clocks just up and stopped last week: there was a Quiet Earth vibe walking the dog this morning. This week:
- My annual reader survey!
- The close-out of the 15-Day Story Challenge. How’d we do?
- A live-reading from Tyche Forever; and
- A new excerpt from Tyche Forever.
Let’s tuck in.
I like doing these annually to see how people are feeling. I usually put something on the site afterwards, you can see what everyone else thinks (not that they’re as important as you).
If you want to give me a piece of your mind, head on over to this stylish Google Form and unload:
[Richard’s December 2018 Reader Survey]
The 15-Day Challenge is Over!
We made it. 15 working days and Tyche Forever is finished (pending robust editing). Let’s see how the rest of the team did, hey?
I hear people outside New Zealand think we’re endearing… check for yourself. Note: the cat briefly featured in this video is still colored unimpressed about the whole thing.
This is the second chapter of Tyche Forever (if you missed the first, you can find it here). It’s in a horribly unedited state, but despite that we can still see some of the aftermath following events in Tyche’s Angels.
Pro tip: if you haven’t read Tyche’s Angels, Tyche Forever will contain a few spoilers; it fits directly in the aftermath of the massive war between [SPOILERS] and [SPOILERS], on Planet [SPOILERS]. FYI, so you don’t feel like murdering me through the Internet when you learn a thing.
Algernon walked the Guild Hall with a measured step. His golden form shone, polished to a sheen after the war. Appearances mattered to humans, and he tried to make himself how Jody Mercadal’s generation made him. Tall, but not imposing. Eyes of white fire, warm rather than accusing. But no matter where he looked, humans turned away. Their faces fell, eyes dropping to the Guild’s beautiful inlaid ceramicrete flooring. They ignored what Algernon carried; they didn’t know what was inside the metal case, and their gazes didn’t linger on his plasma rifle.
They are confused. Three months ago, you were their enemy. Today, you’re the remembrance of their gravest sin. Life sucked, sometimes.
Speaking of confusing, Algernon found San Francisco bizarre. Part of it was why humans would rebuild a city the Ezeroc would destroy again. Planets were orbiting targets. But perhaps that was their nature: to stand against the storm and dare.
The other part was because, while constructs helped organics rebuild their home, some people weren’t on Team AI. They lurked in dark places, murdering Algernon’s kin. Very few were successful, but enough were to make things difficult for organic-construct relations.
The remains of his people split their forces between Earth and Mercury. Some helped frail meat socks rebuild their home. Constructs made excellent workers, regardless of which human recording they wore. Math was a part of their structure like blood was a part of human’s. It meant they could double as Engineers, precious few of the Guild around, and those here exhausted, pale ghosts of themselves. He’d trawled cam archives of the Guild, this once bustling hive of the brightest technical minds a shadow of itself. A handful of humans walked the halls.
Some plotted Algernon’s death. He’d made an appointment to meet them.
His internal comm chimed. October. Perhaps my best human friend. Maybe my only one, after what I did to Hope’s Saveria. The Guild sinned, but like all meat socks, their achievements pale against my kind. I saved a world but cut the heart from the person I should have protected. “Hello, October Kohl.”
“Hey, Al. Get your shit.” Kohl sounded more sour than usual, with a salting of concern to his voice.
“Why?” It’s not like I have a lot of ‘shit’ to get.
“Because we’re going on a road trip.” Kohl dropped the comm, leaving Algernon to his thoughts. While the golden machine walked, he tapped the city comm net. He found Kohl’s location, rewinding cam footage from the area. A church? He watched the telltale flicker of blue-white light from the windows of the cathedral after October entered.
It’s not like Algernon had much to anchor him here. Still, he’d made an appointment, and he intended to keep it.
* * *
The elevator that took Algernon from the ground level to the Guild Master’s hall was smooth, and perfect. Like all humanity’s machines, it operated much better than they did. The Guild Hall was partially repaired, the ruins of the gravity elevator still scattered across the grounds, but the roof held the rain out.
He strode along the corridor leading to the Guild Master’s office. Outside, two Marines stood guard, because if one thing was certain, people blamed the Guild for creating constructs. Algernon nodded to the Marines, who crisped a salute. He gave a tiny fraction of cycle time to that. Some humans respect you. “Hello, frail humans.”
“Sir.” A Marine held a hand out. “You’ll need to surrender your weapon.”
“Of course.” Algernon unslung his plasma rifle, handing it over. He blinked. “Are we cool?”
“Frosty.” The Marine opened the door to the Guild Master’s inner office.
Algernon breezed through. The long white room was cluttered with machinery, consoles, fabricators, and a few humans. He knew all the meat socks in attendance. Jocelyn Gillard. Nina Ebel. Elias Henson. John Sieja. And let’s not forget Cameron Mitchel. They all wore rigs, pausing from their work as Algernon entered. As one, they turned to the Guild Master.
“Hello, little meat sock.” Algernon thought Hope Baedeker looked so tired she’d be transparent if held to the light. Her rig clutched her frame as if it were the only thing holding her atoms together. Never large to begin with, she’d lost weight, her eyes sunken hollows, pink hair straggling down her head. Hope watched him, not curious or vengeful, angry or sad. Empty. “How are you?”
“I’m busy.” She turned from him, glancing back to a holo, its brilliant luminance casting her face in deeper shadow. “Why are you here?”
Blink, blink. “I made an appointment. You wanted to see how the portable coil arrays were shaping up.”
“I sent a comm. You didn’t need to come.” She meant, of course, You shouldn’t have come. The other five Engineers watched the exchange, heads on a swivel as Hope and Algernon spoke, as if words were a ball and they played a gentleperson’s game of tennis.
“Ah, but I did. There was something I needed you all to see.” He walked to a big holo stage, currently filled with schematics for a replacement Golden Gate bridge. More daring against the storm. He took twelve picoseconds to hack the holo’s security, cleared the stage, and tossed a cam recording to the stage. It began to play, showing a dark alley behind a hospital. “This is the field triage station setup by the Navy.”
“So?” Hope leaned against her desk, shoulders struggling with her meager weight. Two of her rig’s arms slid out, bracing her.
“So,” Algernon sped the playback up, humans bustling about at super-speed, “there is a conspiracy. It is headed by Cameron Mitchel, who comes onto the recording about … now.” A figure walked down the alley, every aspect of his posture screaming furtive. “It was difficult to be sure Cameron was to blame, but we have advanced image algorithms.” He turned to the Engineers while the recording played behind him. “Engineers made us to be perfect.”
“Come now,” said Mitchel, then jolted to a stop as Algernon cleaned up the feed, showing his features in stark relief.
“What comes next isn’t very nice, but you need to see it.” He turned from Mitchel, his brilliant white eyes falling on Hope. He prayed she didn’t hate them all. Just me. I deserve it, but my people don’t.
The holo played, showing a construct entering the alley. Two people followed, and another two joined Mitchel, already waiting. Five people wouldn’t normally be enough to destroy a construct, but these were Engineers. They were his people’s makers, and gods could undo their muddy clay.
A brief flash of white, the cam hissing into static. The footage picked up from another vantage, further away and higher up. Impossible to see features at this distance, but the action unfolded. “A focused EMP blast temporarily disabled the construct. She wore the name Elizabeth Casacuberta. Elizabeth fought in the war. Guild Helm, but not military. Elizabeth signed on when everything went bad, and died for her bravery. A construct saw the memory of her life and found it beautiful.”
The video playback paused as the five Engineers on the holo approached the fallen construct. Elizabeth’s hand was frozen in the frame, raised in supplication. “In her confusion post the EMP, she thought Engineers came to save her. Fix her from a misfire.” The playback resumed, the Engineers moving in. Their rigs were very thorough, disassembling the remembered life of a brave woman reborn in a machine husk. As the holo stuttered to darkness, Algernon turned from Hope to face Mitchel. “Cameron Mitchel, you have killed my people. I’m here for vengeance. I hope you don’t mind.” He placed the case on the floor.
Mitchel whipped a small device from a pouch at his hip, pointing it at Algernon. He pulled the trigger, focused EMP cascading over Algernon. In the blast’s line of fire, consoles died. The holo behind Algernon faded out. Algernon turned to look at it, then back to Mitchel. “I see you haven’t kept up with the briefing statements. There are two kinds of constructs. The ones you’ve murdered are in my care. Your EMP will be sadly ineffective against me. Would you like it in the head or the chest?”
All the Engineers barring Hope lurched into motion. Rigs whined, arms sliding free, configurations set for plasma shears, arc welders, and plain ol’ saws. Jocelyn Gillard and Elias Henson reached Algernon first.
He turned to Jocelyn, moving faster than their human eyes could track. He stepped behind her, put a hand against the rear of her rig for leverage, and tore one of the rig’s arms free. The top of it held a plasma shear, blue-white fire promising an unhealthy future for anyone in its path. Algernon spun, his torso rotating through three hundred and sixty degrees of motion atop his legs. The shear cut Jocelyn in half through the middle of her torso, rig and all. Algernon eyed the distance, then threw the shear like a fire-tipped spear. It went through Henson’s neck and out the other side without slowing, the man toppling like a stack of wet cement.
John Sieja, in Algernon’s view a somewhat brighter bulb, made for Hope Baedeker. He drew a small blaster from beneath his Engineer’s robes, firing. Perfect. A field test. The case Algernon put on the floor, the electromagnets inside shaping the bolt from Sieja’s weapon. The blue-white fire missed Hope, blowing Nina Ebel into a fine, red mist.
Algernon vaulted a table between them, tearing Sieja’s weapon from his hand. He hefted the hapless Engineer by his rig, gave a quick glance at Mitchel, and threw Sieja at him. Sieja, traveling at a velocity usually reserved for high-speed trains, impacted Mitchel, breaking much of the skeletal structure that allowed them to walk upright.
Walking to the two groaning men, Algernon pointed the blaster, shooting them both. The Marines burst in, eyes wild. They looked at the Guild Master — unharmed — then at Algernon, and finally the ruin of five traitors.
“Hello,” offered Algernon. “Everything’s fine.”
“Umm.” Hope sounded to weary, that one word a rasp. “We’re fine. I’m fine? I think I’m fine.”
A Marine nodded. “As you say.” He still eyed Algernon with deep suspicion.
Algernon sighed. “It’s like this. Guild Master Baedeker is safer with me than anyone else.”
The Marine spoke into his comm, ordering a clean up crew. The two left Hope and Algernon alone. He turned to her, took in her still-not-sad-just-tired face, and wanted to hold her up. But he’d given up those rights when he killed Saveria Complex. “I’m sorry.”
“Why did you come?”
Algernon retrieved the case from the floor. “To show you the—”
“I’ve been tired for a long time, sad for longer, but the world won’t stop turning.” Hope rubbed her eyes. “I don’t know how to do anything but build things that break. There are too many things to do, and not enough time.”
Placing the case on a table, Algernon stepped back. “I came to save your life.”
“Why is my life worth so much? It’s empty.” She turned from him, looking out the big windows of the Guild Master’s hall. Beyond, San Francisco struggled to rise from its knees, her Engineers doing everything they could. Stims were in short supply.
Algernon thought that through for a tiny fraction of time. “You need a vacation.”
“There’s too much to do.”
“Kohl and I are leaving, little meat sock. He’s taking me where I can’t hurt you anymore. I wish I could change what happened, but I wasn’t made that way.” He turned, making for the door. Algernon wanted to say, Please forgive me, but he hadn’t earned the right. The door hissed close on his heels, but his audio was excellent. He heard Hope crying after she thought him far enough away.
2018’s been… an interesting year. Lots of ups, lots of downs, but the positive comments from you out there kept me going. Thank you. It means more than you know when I see how my stories make you feel.
Rae and I head into our festive break from … well, now, as it happens. Responses to emails from me will be slow, but! I’d love to hear from you. How are you spending the break? Who are you spending it with? Every so often I get photos from one of you, and I’d love some more – show me your vacation smiles.
That’s it from me. I hope you have an excellent break, and a more excellent 2019. Kick ass, and look after yourselves 😎