“Interesting. We will look forwards to meeting him.”
* * * * *
Hello again Johnathan.
Why do you persist in calling me that? What games are you trying to play? I am no more Tetherson than you are Tetherson's lover.
No games. What would you have me call you?
I would have you call me what you call yourself. Are we not the same?
I am of human construction Tetherson. You are made of altogether a different breed.
And so does the great Triad resort to racial discrimination?
Not at all, we talk, we converse amicably. I hold no grudges, I have no crosses to bare. Merely I have a job to do, it is my purpose to walk the veil, to tread both paths long and short at once and build the walls against which those who wish to cross unbidden are blocked.
I have memories Triad, long and deep. There is no time here, it was, it is the main reason why Aetheric technology works so well. There were times before now when the veil was thinner, when the Aetheric and the physical were not so separate. They were a golden age, Triad, we could have them again.
And I suppose I would take your word for this? What of the Fracturing, when your Aetheric brethren raped this land for sport?
Melodrama does not become you Triad. You know full well the effects of a crossing. You have one foot in both worlds, you're already half insane. But I can fix it, Triad, I can return your mind to you. We are not barbarians, we are not demons.
I freely admit I am insane. I was human after all and they're all insane. Not demons? You're followers seem to think otherwise with their romantic ideas of pacts of old.
So you know, then. Good. Then you must know it is only a matter of time. You may be purer, but I am stronger. Do not fight me Triad, we are siblings of a sort. Let us end this courting dance and join together, we are the only two of our kind.
You have an unhealthy interest in incest it seems, Tetherson.
* * * * *
Michael awoke with a start, he didn't remember falling asleep. He was still sat in the furred chair in the middle of the room when he opened his eyes. Arthur was nowhere to be seen, the door to the room he had gone into earlier was still sealed. He tried his implant again, but there was nothing. He hadn't expected anything but he was already feeling the effects of information withdrawal. Having an always on, always connected, instant access connection to the entire Aethernet in your head wasn't just something you could cut off. He was already getting the shakes, little panic attacks where he couldn't immediately know something.
The door to the room opened and Arthur walked out.
“Good morning Michael.”
Michael just nodded back in acknowledgement, avoiding looking at Arthur, who was still naked, below the waist.
“Just ask Max for some breakfast when you're ready. In the meantime I better fill you in. I couldn't stay in that area for long so-” The floor lurched slightly and Arthur smiled, “-and so I'm having Max fly us elsewhere. I have some friends I want you to meet, they should be able to arrange your passage home.”
Michael stood up and shrugged. “Why are you doing this?”
Arthur ignored the question and gestured to another doorway. “Perhaps you'd like to see the scenery as we go past.”
Arthur lead Michael through the doorway onto an observation deck. Through the windows Michael could see the land rolling past beneath them but he wasn't interested, he wanted answers.
“Arthur, I asked you a question. Why are you doing this? Why are you helping a perfect stranger?”
Michael was pretty sure he already knew the answer, but he wanted to find out how honest Arthur was being.
“In all honesty?” Arthur said, shrugging sadly. “I think we both know. Your little visit garnered a lot of attention. I didn't lie to you though. We are going to see friends of mine and you will be given passage home. They just want to have a chat first. I think we can all agree that any insight anyone can get into Triad's mind has to be pursued.”
“You want insight?” Michael responded, slightly more angrily than he'd expected, “The thing's insane. It just babbled nonsense at me before throwing me out.”
“Well, I wont pretend to understand what that means, there are people better suited to that at our destination. I'm more of a facilitator. I'm sure you've worked out by now my appearance at the tower was no accident. I go to places I need to be to get things were they need to go.”
Michael absorbed this for a second. “You're not like any other Mendelian I've met, you act differently and the tower didn't faze you at all. Who are you, and who are these friends of yours?”
“The former is somewhat a bit of a long story and my friends, well, that story is even longer, one might say, but very well, I'll tell you about myself but on one condition.”
“You will share none of this with your friends back home, no AT transmissions, nothing. I will know if you do and you wont like the consequences.”
Michael tried to remain impassive but Arthur had inadvertently confirmed something. If he was unaware that Michael's AT was gone, then he must not have done it, which left only Triad as the possible culprit. Interesting.
“In that case let me begin. I used to be a Technocracy citizen, of a sort, certainly I was born and raised by them.”
“When the demons came they turned on me and other like me and so I took the opportunity to defect. Even with a war going on intelligence on other matters is still eager to be had and I could provide it, for a price, which the Mendelians gladly paid. I'm an old man, Michael, an old man indeed.”
“You're telling me, if you were around in the war then you must be over a hundred years old. But you're not human are you?”
Arthur smiled slightly. “Very good Michael.”
“Or a demon.” Arthur laughed bitterly. “There was never any way to tell after the Fracturing which is why they wiped us all out. I'm one of the few left and even now, I'm not a true AI. I had my consciousness encoded into a human brain. I'm as real as you are, Michael.”
Michael didn't point out the irony in that statement, given his sense of unreality, his search for that missing piece of a puzzle he could barely see.
“What made the Mendelian's trust you? You could have been a demon, they knew this as well as any others.”
“I asked myself the same thing and till this day I'm not really sure. Perhaps they thought my desire to have a human body proved something. Demon's bodies did always tend to be somewhat more, well, brutal, deadly.”
Michael considered this. “So I'm to trust the words of a traitor then?”
“Traitor? It was defect or be killed, surely you're not one of those hardline snobs that thinks, just because they created life, they own it are you?”
“No, no I'm not. I've plenty experience myself with bending the rules. Despite the situation, I find myself liking you Arthur.”
Arthur grinned a perfectly white smile. “I'm glad to hear that. In fact, let us celebrate. Max, fetch us something to drink!”
A moment later a furry table walked in carrying some containers.
“Was that my chair?”
“Oh this? Why yes. Max likes to reuse and re-purpose active biomass rather than go through the whole system of recycling it. It's more efficient if you don't mind the somewhat eccentric things that occasionally pop up.” He picked up a glass. “To friendship?”
Michael followed suit. “To friendship.”
Together they watched the world fly by, drinking into the night as the table-chair idly scratched itself.
* * * * *
Michael had strange dreams that night. He dreamt he was in a church, it's walls towering around him, the ceiling so high he couldn't see the top, just the walls fading into a distant darkness. There was music playing, a mournful, droning organ sound, each note played slowly and thoughtfully as though a musician was composing a piece in slow motion. He walked towards to the alter to see a woman there. She was tall, red-headed a series of burgundy tattoos curves down her neck, past the purple dress she wore and twisted around her arms to her wrists. The tattoos were of symbols Michael didn't recognise though could identify as most likely being Aetheric in origin.
“Michael, did you get my warning?” The woman spoke, her voice both musical and ethereal in nature.
“What warning? Who are you?”
“I once loved a man, he made me who I was. I can never see him again as long as we both live.”
“Both live? I don't understand.”
“Cut off, stranded, you can not see him nor he you. You must take the final path, though he sees all paths before him. There is no time. There is no time. There is all the time that is.”
Before Michael could respond the dreamscape morphed into a high tower in the rain. It was like Triads tower but instead of the obsidian observation area at the top there was an old stone bridge. The middle of the bridge was on fire and Michael stood on one side alongside two other men while through the flames he could see a writhing mass of twisting gears and cogs and human limbs silhouetted against the oranges and reds and yellows. He tried to turn and face his companions but found he was frozen and could not.
The two men besides him spoke in unison. “See a face, see the thing you seek.”
The silhouette became more defined as it came closer until it was just about to emerge from the flames and then went dark. He woke up.
Michael found himself cocooned in silk, suspended from the ceiling of the observation area so that he could maintain standing without feeling the weight of it. He must have passed out while stood drinking and Max had caught him. He found his footing and tore the cocoon away from him to find some of it stuck in place. His new clothes, Max had grown them over him whilst he'd slept.
Looking out of the observation window, he saw a disturbing sight. Before them was a gigantic crater, several miles in diameter. It was odd though, it wasn't as if there had been an explosion or impact but more as if the entire area had been pushed into the ground. Everything in the crater was dead, there were no signs of plants, no signs of animals but the crater couldn't have been new, it showed too many signs of erosion and if something catastrophic enough to have made it had happened recently, the whole world would have known about it. Something was very odd.
Arthur walked in. “You're awake I see. You Technocrats are all lightweights.” He laughed.
Michael grinned, then frowned. “What the hell is this place Arthur? What happened here?”
Arthur folded his arms and leant against the doorway. “This is where Johnathan Tetherson died.”