Duskworld- Chapter Twenty Eight, The False Forest

photo credit https://unsplash.com/photos/kluhXsuW7Is

  In the smoke filled room there was another door that had also been blown apart by the blast. It looked far larger than the previous one and made of stronger material. Perhaps that was what the bomb had been meant to destroy.
  Meiki ran past it into another hall, narrower and darker than the previous. As she ran the smoke thinned until she moved through it entirely.
  She came to another door. This one seemed small and plain. Meiki pushed through it and entered a lush forest.
  Bright sun filtered through the leaves above. The earth smelled rich and whole. Small animals darted here and there and birds flitted and chirped from branch to branch.
  “What the...” Meiki said as she stepped on the dense soil. Is this an illusion? Like a holographic simulation? But it smelled and felt one hundred percent real.
  She almost forgot why she had come here. It was like walking into a room and not remembering why you got up in the first place except there was no room. There was just blue sky above the woods. Blue sky?  Naya’s sky had never been blue. The sun had never been radiant. Not even over Newbright. Not this brilliant. This was the sky of Earth.
  Figures were approaching through the brush. Meiki stood behind a tree and watched them emerge. It was Charlie and the woman she hadn’t recognized. Charlie was supporting the woman over his shoulder. The woman’s left arm was completely missing and most of her right leg as well. She should have been bleeding to death but was instead hobbling along as if pain were not an issue.
  That must be Marie, the other android Charlie mentioned Thought Meiki. But  they’re enemies aren’t they?
  Charlie saw her and did not seem surprised. “Meikaya...I’m pleased to see you are unharmed. This is Marie...a...friend. I need you to assist her in getting to safety.”
  “Where’s Amara? Where’s Rashmi?”
  “The...Earth people are in the control room of the Nebcore. Meikaya...I need to prevent them from doing more damage. Please. Take Marie...”
  She ran off in the direction Charlie had come from, no longer listening. The trees were thick and there were branches coming dangerously close to her face. She called the mask back on with a thought. A hundred meters ahead she could see a faint outline through the trees. The sensors in the suit had discovered a door. In seconds she was there.
  She listened at the door. From the other side came Amara’s voice.
  “Your plan is ruined, Kapoor. Come along peacefully and I won’t let Agent Sakai beat you.”
  “Are you sure?” asked Rashmi.
  They’re going to hurt her. What is wrong with these people?
  Meiki opened the door.
  Rashmi, Amara, and Junko stood in a brightly lit room. In the center was a cylindrical pedestal. It was white and covered with golden circuitry. Small blue lights dotted the surface. At the top was a small hole that looked like a universal port, an interface between one machine and another.
  Rashmi was seated in a chair and Junko was holding something that looked like handcuffs. All three turned to look when Meiki entered.
  “Child, I thought I told you to wait on the skipper," said Amara, “Do you have any idea the amount of danger you’ve put yourself in?”
  “Meiki is in no danger from me, Captain," said Rashmi, “Slap the cuffs on me. As you said, my plan is ruined. I’m no threat.”
  Amara looked suspiciously at Rashmi but said, “Do it, Agent.”
  Junko attached the handcuffs to Rashmi behind her back and harshly lifted her from the seat.
Rashmi was looking noticeably weaker than before. Meiki assumed this was the effect of not wearing her suit for so long.
  “Come, on," said Amara, “Let’s go home.”
  Meiki’s arm lifted of its own accord. She tried to stop, but it was no longer hers to control.
  She reached out to the pedestal and touched the port with her finger. Instantly the tip of her glove protruded from the outfit and bonded with the Nebcore.
  The inlays on the suit lit up. Meiki could feel herself vibrate and hum during the exchange.
  Amara gazed at her in shock.
  “You monster!” she yelled at Rashmi, “You used her to carry a backup copy of the virus!”
  Junko cracked Rashmi sharply on the jaw and the fugitive fell. The agent whipped out her little device and began depowering Meiki’s suit as she had done before. It was too late.
  Amara looked at the Nebcore.
  “It’s done. The virus is uploaded to the Neb,” she said.
  The blue lights on the Nebcore dimmed.
  “What does this mean?” Meiki asked.
  “It means the woman you’ve been helping is the greatest mass murderer in history. Twenty five billion people will die because of this” said Junko.
  “Oh, please now," said Rashmi, still on the floor. “Don’t be so dramatic. People were meant to die. I haven’t killed anyone. They’ll all live out healthy, natural lives. Most of them will live for another century or more. And they will have offspring who will live on after them. That’s the way mankind has always lived. I’ve done nothing other than restore the natural order.”
  “Can’t we undo it? Some sort of antivirus?” asked Meiki.
  “We could send out a retraction," said Amara, “Not an antivirus exactly, but it could stop other nodes from receiving the virus before they are destroyed.”
  “I thought communication over the Neb was instantaneous.”
  “Yes and no," said Amara, “The transfer happens instantly through the Spukhafte Exchange...but...it should take a while to propagate because not all nodes receive at once. There are certain security measures in place to slow down a threat like this.”
  “So, what are we waiting for?” asked Meiki, “Let’s retract this thing. Maybe we can fix the damage done!”
  “It’s a moot point,” said Junko, as she read the display panel on the transmitter, “the Nebcore here is dead. Kapoor’s virus shut it down right after transmitting. She knew what she was doing.”
  “Kapoor destroyed the only access point we have to the Neb within a hundred light years.” added Amara grimly.
  A weak voice came from the doorway. “No. There’s another one.”  
 Meiki looked up and to see Phel grinning as he leaned, unable to stand, against the portal.

Duskworld Chapters 25-27

Chapter Twenty Five
Alone Again

  Meiki had never been the type to sit around idly when there was something to be done. As soon as the agents had made it out the hatch of the ship she slipped out of her seatbelt and sneaked behind the frosted panel to where she expected to see a control deck of some sort.
  She found an empty cabin. Nearly identical to the one she had exited except there were no seats.
  What is this?  she thought. How the heck do they fly this thing?
  The foreign tech seemed so...foreign. No controls to fiddle with, no passwords or wires. It looked like it all ran by intuition. She called up the mask with her mind. Perhaps the sensors could show her something that she couldn’t see naturally.
  Of course!  Meiki had an epiphany, It’s telepathically-controlled!  Just like the suit!
  She stood in the room silently for a moment with her eyes closed. Think!
  Ship?  Can you hear me?  This is stupid.
  Nothing happened.
  Ship?  I need you to move!  Please. My friend’s life is at stake here!
  All remained still.
  If only Phel or Charlie could see me now. What a seed I am. Trying to control a spaceship with my mind. What a dumb rube. I must look like a caveman trying to drive a car. I feel so stupid. Even if I could move this thing where would I take it?  There’s no viewport. No cameras even. I could crash it into the nearest building for all I know!  If only I could see.
  She opened her eyes and nearly died of fright at what she saw.

Chapter Twenty Six
The Door

  “How do you know about Rashmi Kapoor?” Tyson asked Marie.
  “Madame Curie been helping us track her.” came a voice from the doorway.
  Phel turned to see the blond woman. Behind her looked to be another woman in one of those suits, her face covered in a mask.
  “That’s the lady who attacked us! You’re on her side?” Phel said, looking at Marie with his mouth agape.
  “I’m only here to capture my fugitive," said Amara, “I told you before that I have no interest in your local politics.”
  “I knew that chick was trouble," said Phel, “Where’s Meiki?  Did Rashmi kidnap her?”
  “Your friend is safe. But I suspect Professor Kapoor has infiltrated this building. Doctor Curie, show me the way to the Nebcore.”
  Marie nodded and led the way followed by Amara and her counterpart. Phel ran swiftly behind them with Tyson and Charlie trailing.
  Marie took them to a long hall with a skylight above.
  “The Nebcore is on the other side of the illusion room.” she said.
  “Illusion room?” asked Phel.
  “Yes. It uses haptic holograms to perfectly recreate an old Earth forest. It is one of our latest creations. It’s just a prototype. Eventually we will turn the entire lobby of the library into one.”
  “We can discuss the local attractions later,” snarled Junko from under her mask.
  Charlie and Tyson caught up with them.
  “Phelliam,” Charlie said, “this is no place for you. I insist you return to the office immediately.”
  Phel ignored him and kept walking.
  Amara approached the door and said, “Your android is right. Allow us to handle it from here.”  
  The two agents opened the door into a small antechamber. Across the room stood another door. This one looked large and reinforced.
  Marie stepped forward, “This should not have been locked.”
  Charlie and Tyson stood beside her while Phel held back in the hallway. Something about that door made him feel uneasy.
  Don’t open it, he thought. But his voice caught in his throat and the words wouldn’t come out.
  “My memory must be failing. I’m certain I left this door open.” Marie said as she began to type the passcode.
  “No!” said Amara, “I’m detecting a-”
  Before she could finish a concussive blast engulfed the room as a bomb on the other side of the door detonated.

Chapter Twenty Seven
Into the Flames

  Meiki stood floating hundreds of feet in the air with no support. Or so it appeared. Beneath her she could see the library- a beautiful alabaster flower spread out over the plaza.
  Part of the structure was just a few feet below her. When she didn’t fall Meiki realized that she actually remained on the skipper. It just had somehow become transparent.
  It heard me! She thought. This vessel somehow heard me and allowed me to control it!
A little anyway.
  Maybe she didn’t have enough clearance to make it move, but at least she could roll down the windows, so to speak. Meiki looked at the citizens below and felt like a superhero once more.
  She was flying, sort of.
  No one seemed to notice her hovering above them. They had said the ship had kind of cloaking. Perhaps whatever technique it used to do so protected the vessel and it’s contents even when it was made transparent from the inside.
  Now I just have to get down...then what?
  The hatch on the side was now invisible. Meiki closed her eyes and pictured where it had been. When she opened them again it had returned.
  This is almost too easy.
  She placed her hand over the door and willed it to open. It silently granted her wish.
  A cool breeze hit her face. It felt refreshing but also reminded Meiki how high up she was.
  Part of the building jutted out just a few feet  from the hatch. Obviously the agents had gotten in that way. It would be just a short jump with a terrible fall if she missed.
  Meiki had gotten comfortable in the alien suit. She had grown to trust that it would protect her.
  She took a deep breath and leaped onto the top structure of the library.
  As an edifice built more for aesthetics than function the roof curved in an organic manner. She slid down a leaf-like minaret that twisted into the main building. In seconds she stopped atop the building’s main canopy.
  There she saw a skylight leading into a bright chamber. It was made of what Meiki assumed to be glass. A round hole large enough to fit a person had been made in it. There were no broken shards to be seen.
  Meiki heard voices of individuals approaching beneath the skylight. She stood back so as not to be obvious and watched.
  Charlie, Phel, Tyson, and a woman she did not know passed by in the large room below the skylight. They were talking about something.
  “Phelliam, this is no place for you. I insist you return to the office..," said Charlie, but he trailed off before Meiki could hear it all.
  What is he even doing here?  All of them?  AND PHEL! He’s all right!  I’ll kill him if I see him again. Then give him a hug...son of a...
  An explosion came from the direction they had been walking.
  Smoke and fire filled the chamber.
  Meiki leapt into the room through the aperture in the glass. The suit gave her the grace of a panther and she could see almost clearly in spite of all the smoke around her.
   She stood in the room she had spied from the roof.  It was a wide hall with walls painted blue and white. Statues of what appeared to be marble and lush works of art lined the walls. She didn’t have time to be impressed by the decor. At the end of the hall she saw a large door that had been blasted to pieces. Billows of smoke poured out of the room to which it led. Flaming bits of debris were scattered around the hall.
  Phel sprawled on the floor in front of her with his hands over his ears. She touched his shoulder and he looked up at her in shock. His eyes widened at her masked visage and he scooted away.
  “It’s me, Phel...Meiki!” she yelled but he didn’t seem to hear. She realized she still had the mask on and removed it. Smoke burned at her eyes. The look on Phel’s face shifted from fear to confusion.
  “Meiki?” he said loudly. “Is that you? I can’t hear. A bomb went off! I’m deaf!”
  Without the mask and its sight enhancing abilities Meiki could see little more than smoke. She reactivated it to see Tyson trip through the door. He walked strangely and his right arm dangled as if it were broken. He seemed to not see her as he stumbled to the other side of the hall.
  “Charlie’s in there!” shouted Phel.

  Meiki ran into the flaming room without a thought.

The Diary of Wartha Gormley - Holy Wow Indeed

photo source:https://unsplash.com/photos/G9mObLK2_SQ

Holy Wow, Indeed.

Hey diary, it’s me again. Sam. Remember? I’m on the bus headed home from school and just now have a moment to catch you up.

I hope you don’t mind, but I read it. I read all of it. I don’t know if it’s funny or scary. I don’t know if it’s fun or sad. I’m not afraid to admit I cried a little when Drucilla died. And I think it’s funny how Wartha thinks that the sun is a monster she can hunt and destroy. I take science classes at my school, you know. It’s like almost a hundred million miles away in space. No way you can hit the sun with an arrow.

I still don’t know what to think about Wartha, though. Is she a real person? Is she just a story? Her story felt real to me when I was reading it, but maybe it’s all in my head. What do I know? I’m just a kid. I mean, if I lose you again and someone else picks you up how will they even know that I’m real? To them the things I write will seem just as much a story as Wartha’s. I guess maybe I’m more realistic because I don’t ride a giant spider (rest in peace, Dru) and I don’t fight giant wolf monsters and win. Still, to anyone who reads this I would just be a bunch of words in a book and nothing more. I could be making it all up. But if I was making up a story I’d probably make it about something more interesting than my life. Maybe a time machine or a ghost or something. Maybe I’d make up a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend, who knows? I’m young. I don’t know what I want in life. Do old people know what they want? Does my mom know? My dad? I don’t see him much anymore, but I doubt he thinks about this sort of thing. My mom just wants me to be happy and do well in school and go to college. That’s what she says anyway. Oh jeez, diary. I’m babbling, huh?

Jason was actually kind of nice to me today which is weird. When I got a question wrong in science class he actually didn’t laugh for once and helped me with the right answer. So now I know the difference between meiosis and mitosis for what it’s worth. He’s still mostly a jerk in my book, but given time I might consider him to be a decent human being.

This is probably uninteresting to you, diary. I’m sorry. I bet you miss having adventures with Wartha, even if she isn’t real. Or maybe I’m not real and someone else is writing these words. How would you know? You’re just a book.

Maybe I should address the person reading this instead of the inanimate object I’m writing into. You, reader, what do you think? Am I real? Or did Wartha or whoever made her up just make me up too? You’ll probably never know for sure. I hope you don’t mind if I continue to believe in myself. It’s the only way I can make it through the day.

As a matter of fact, I should do the same for Wartha, shouldn’t I? It’s only fair. If I expect you to treat me like I’m real I should offer her the same courtesy. I know I’m real, but Wartha Gormley probably knows she’s real too.

So it’s decided then. From here on out I will assume that Wartha is a real person. Is she a girl who is pretending to be a goblin or is she a real live creature from a cave deep below the earth? I don’t know. I have lots of questions, though. If she really is a goblin, then how come she speaks and writes in English? That doesn’t make any sense, does it? Also,  how is it possible that no one has ever heard of her species. What about all the other creatures she mentions in her book? How could she be the only one from her world that’s ever entered into ours? It doesn’t make any sense. At some point in history someone would have entered that cave she came out of. Or someone would have come out of it. Or something. There would be evidence of an entire civilization beneath our feet, right?

Maybe I can find her and figure out the truth. If Wartha is a regular girl who makes up stories then it will all make sense and I can let it rest. If she’s a green-skinned goblin from beneath the world, then nothing makes sense. If she’s real does that mean that unicorns are real? Santa Claus? GOD? If Wartha is real than anything can happen and everything we know about the world might be wrong.

That’s just crazy talk. I’m sure I will figure out who wrote this story and when I meet her I’ll see that she’s just a normal person with a big imagination.

I’ll go to the stairwell again. The one with the boarded-up door below my apartment. I’ll knock on the wood. I’ll peer in with a flashlight. I hope there aren’t rats down there. Or homeless people. My mom tells me I should be nice to homeless people because they’re just folks having a rough time. I know she’s right, but that doesn’t make me any less scared of them sometimes.


 Well, here I am. Mom isn’t home from work yet. I have about an hour. I’m sitting on the front stoop. It’s chilly out, but not quite winter yet. There’s one tree on my block and it’s leaves are dark brown now and falling. Any day and they’ll be completely gone. It’s pitch black down in the stairwell. This morning the sun was shining right into it like a beacon. That’s how I found you in the first place, diary. Now the sky is turning gray and I can’t see anything down there. I’m going to run in and grab a flashlight.


OK. It’s not that scary, right? The sun isn’t even down yet. Shadows are getting long, though. The sidewalk looks like a picture of a world where streetlights and mailboxes are stretched out like silly putty.

I’m going to walk to the bottom of the stairs.

Here I am. I’m right where I was when I found you, little diary. I’m going to do it. I’m going to knock on this boarded-up old door.


Oh jeez. Oh man. I did it and I heard something.

I knocked and I shouted, “Wartha! Are you in there? I have your book!”

I did it three times. On the third time I heard someone move.

“Are you ok in there?” I asked. In my mind I was thinking, “Please don’t be a creepy man. PLEASE.”

Then I heard a thin dry whisper.

“How do you know my name.” it said.

She’s in there. Wartha’s in there. I’m going to talk to her now and try to convince her to come out.

Wish me luck, diary.

Duskworld Chapters Twenty-Three and Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty Three

  “When I was in charge of Prathama,” said Marie, “I was overly ambitious. I assumed we could elevate humans to a state similar to what they had on Earth. Beyond it even. I made the mistake of assuming they would always make wise decisions. In that I was wrong.”
  Charlie did not even look at her as she continued.
  “After Charlie, Tyson, and the other stewards decided it best to start smaller, individual settlements I took the survivors with me and began construction of Newbright. Without a working connection to the Nebula we couldn’t contact earth for quite some time. “
  “Slowly we rebuilt. I allowed the people to develop new technologies on their own. I didn’t even have to ban them from messing with sentient nanobots. They had been burned and now were shy. In less than sixty years they had a flourishing city and recently have even reconstructed the Nebcore within this library. We have begun sharing our knowledge with the rest of Naya. All the settlements had access to our library and our advancements. All but one.”
  “I needed to protect my people from your corruptive influence,” said Charlie.
  “You kept them stagnant. The rest of the planet advanced while the people of Gates were in a technological state barely past that of the twentieth century.”
  “They had all they needed.”
  Marie went on, “Humans need to branch out and grow. On their own. We are caretakers, not rulers. In the end they decide where their desires take them. I was mistaken to give them so much so quickly. But they continue to grow and learn under my stewardship. We are going to open communications with the homeworlds. The people of Naya are ready to enter the galactic community.”
  “You’re ruining everything.” Charlie said to her, “My people are happy as they are. A simple life is all they want.”
  “Not all of us," said Phel, “Not Meiki.”
  “Who is Meiki?” asked Marie.
  “She is one of Professor Darwin’s pupils," said Tyson, “His star pupil perhaps.”
  “She’s my friend.” Phel snapped, “She ran off or got kidnapped by that Rashmi lady. Here you are arguing about the past when there are humans running around your city planning who knows what.”
  “You know about Rashmi Kapoor?” Marie asked Phel, “How is this?”

Chapter Twenty Four

  “What are you saying?” Meiki held her hand to her face. “Eternal life?  What does that even mean?”
  “The process is called ‘chaining’," said Amara. “It’s not literal, though. The Catena developed the system originally as a means of travel. Teleportation.”
  “Teleportation?  Like in old science fiction shows?”  Meiki had seen them all.
  “Sort of like that, yes.” Amara continued, “The idea was to make a quantum-level scan of a being and duplicate them in another location while destroying the original.”
  “That’s not a new idea," said Meiki, “I must have watched a  million shows that have it. But it always messes my head up to think about it. If I get blasted to bits and put together somewhere else, is that even really me?”
  “That is the question, isn’t it?” said Amara, “Philosophers and ethicists railed against the very notion for decades and it has never been implemented to any large degree, primarily because of those reservations. The argument over the continuity of consciousness has never been resolved in a satisfying way.”
  “What does this have to do with chains?”
  “Well,” Amara said, “the ethics of teleportation prevented humanity from ever pursuing it as a means of travel. But the basic principle of quantum duplication of an individual gave us an even greater power- immortality.”
  Meiki’s face lit up. She had read and watched lots of stories that involved the idea but she had never considered it from that angle before.
  “So,” she said, “you people can make duplicates of anyone. Like a perfect clone?  So if you die there’s a copy of you rarin’ to go?  Is that what you’re telling me?”
  “Well, it’s more than just a clone. The Catena project involves a frequently updated database of the quantum state of every particle within every person in the system. That’s approximately twenty-five billion people. Every day they are scanned and that information is stored. If a calamity should befall a person they can instantly be restored to their most recent record. We’ve already nearly eliminated the aging process, but now almost every human being possesses a lifespan that is effectively infinite. The system retains all previous backups as well. That’s why it’s called being in “chains”. Each stored version of an individual is connected like links in a chain.”
  “Lady,” said Meiki, “I have had my world turned upside down more times than I can count in the past twenty-four hours. You are gonna have to slow it down a little.”
  “I’m sorry, Meiki. I know this is a lot to swallow. But you need to understand what’s at stake here. Since the Emergence Era mankind has spread to the stars. We are a vast and varied race, but our numbers are less than a third of what they were when we started to colonize other worlds. As technology expanded the length of our lives, the desire to reproduce became less of a driving force for the human species. We have begun to focus on pursuits of artistry and enlightenment. But we are still biological machines with all of the weaknesses that brings.”
  “You mean you still can get sick, or get hurt, and die?”
  “Yes. Also we are spread more and more thinly throughout the galaxy. As far as I know your colony is the last bastion of mankind living out standard natural life spans. You’re the last people not in chains.”
  “And that’s why you’re here? To gift us with immortality?”
  “Not as such, no. Perhaps that will occur. It’s not my place to decide. We’re here to stop Rashmi Kapoor.”
  I wondered when we would get back to her, thought Meiki.
  “Where does she fit into all of this?” she asked Amara, “Why does she want to get into the Nebcore?”
  “She told you she wanted to send a message, yes?”
  Meiki nodded.
  Amara continued, “That’s not entirely false. But by message Miss Kapoor really meant a virus. The Neb is a highly protected network. It is an ansible system that facilitates communication instantaneously between all the worlds of humanity.”
  “The Neb is considered virtually unhackable as it uses constantly shifting fractal key-codes to prevent breaches. Most of those defenses have been updated repeatedly over the past few centuries. But your “lost colony” has escaped such upgrades.”
  “Oh,” said Meiki, “that’s it!  She can’t access the system anywhere but here...because our Nebcore is...behind the times.”
  “What does this virus do?”
  “It will eat away at the Catena system- deleting all backups and potentially disable the ability to scan people in the future. Rashmi would effectively be sentencing every person in the universe to death.”
  “Rashmi Kapoor is a member of an extreme political group. They are people who believe that a single lifespan is all humans should ever have. It was all well and good when they boycotted the Catena and refused to allow further back-ups of themselves to be made. But they wish to impose their philosophy on all of humanity.”
  “But Rashmi is nice.” Meiki said, “How do I know you aren’t full of it?  You could be trying to play me?  Ninja-cop over there broke my ribs!”
  “Agent Sakai has been over zealous.”  Amara said, “She will be reprimanded.”
  Junko made a rude face behind the Captain’s back.
  “So,” Meiki said, “what’s the plan?  We just dive bomb the most beautiful building on the planet and capture my only friend?”
  “You will stay here.” Junko finally spoke, “The Captain and I will complete our mission.”
  Amara shot Junko a look and she closed her mouth up tighter than a mummy’s.
  “Agent Sakai is correct. You will remain aboard the skipper until we decide what to do with you. We will take care of Kapoor. We have been in secret communication with Marie, the city’s steward.  She is expecting us.”