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13-06-2002, 16:58:43

They were cresting the hill now, the horizon of the monotone dusty grey slope ahead of them drawing closer with the gentle parabolic motion that accompanied the soft beating of the animals feet. The creature beneath the saddle had been swaying its long neck from side to side for a while now, as if sending itself into a walking trance, the effect diminished the usual gliding quality of an osmec ride. Lam knew this meant the creature was tired, exhausted in fact, and indeed it had been a long and unbroken trek since the small party had left the Mansion many hours before.

At last they reached the broad rounded shoulder of the slope, the Uncles- Hebel and Hafai bringing their animals up beside Lam. The three of them sat for a moment gazing out across the vast majesty of the crater.
From here the cracked and dusty slope swept downwards steeply, becoming more the blues of altermicrobes, and then bluish green where the carpets of alterflora-mosses and greenflora grew, and then greener still where the grasses began, before becoming speckled with bushes and scrubs and then swallowed by the legions of huge eco-pines. Close up the eco-pine trunks were like skyscrapers, from Lams vantage point the trees resembled dark green grass, growing in a vast shallow bowl. The sky divided from the distant reaches of the forest by a thin border of dark blue sweeping across the horizon, the opposite side of the crater.

Lam dismounted, licked his dry lips and swallowed on a throat that felt like powder coated rubber. Pulling his flask from his hip, he unscrewed its top and began to take deep gulps of cool water. The nostrils of the osmec beside him immediately flared as it smelled the water, its head swinging round and its long black tongue reaching from the front of its small arrow shaped head towards the flask. Lam gently batted the animal’s head away before pouring some of the water in front of its mouth. The osmec began lapping noisily at the trickle from the flask. One of the Uncles, Hebel, had raised a visiset to his face, and was scanning the distant reaches of the basin, while Hafai also dismounted and began to make sipping use of his own flask and stood beside Lam.

"We should be getting back" he said in a quiet voice. Lam grunted, a faint expression of grim acceptance constructed by the straight closed mouth and faintly furrowed brow. Hebel always spoke in a quiet voice, a quiet steady voice that reliably managed to remain clearly audible to those he meant to hear him.
Lam said nothing, instead he brought his own visiset to his face and surveyed the distant centre of the crater, where a lake shimmered like an oblong sheet of frosted glass. Four linear rivers stretched from the lake in the centre of the scene to reach left and right of their position, the two nearest them rapidly disappearing behind the tops of distant trees, the other two were even less visible pointing away to disappear beneath the hazy horizon.

"I am determined to shoot something before I call it a day Uncle" said Lam as he continued to scan the view, now looking toward the tree-line directly ahead of them, hoping for a sign of animal movement. Hebel made a sound in his throat, a grunt of approval decided Lam- though it could also have been contempt.
Redundant alterfauna were common in and around the crater, alterfauna predators had been extinct in the Areni province for many years, some of their natural prey however

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had proven more hardy and persistent. They were harmless creatures that fed on the tough blue alterflora that flourished on the plains outside of the crater, and who sometimes wondered in over the craters descendible northern rim. The only drawback lay in the terrible and significantly toxic material that the creatures passed as excrement in copious amounts and deposited frequently and widely.
Being redundant alterfauna, many who had the liberty had taken to hunting the animals for sport, tracking and shooting the creatures whose survival instincts and abilities had superseded its original design caste.
Lam regularly made use of the liberty.

Hafai finally dismounted, his osmec crouching down over its forelegs into the birdlike sitting position the creatures used whenever they perceived an opportunity to save their energy, slapping its long tail against the ground in gratitude for the water Hafai began to give it.
Something caught his attention and almost imperceptibly his head tilted to one side, a signal coming through on his link.
"Tower says there's a blip coming in, Gudo thinks its a skyler " he said readily. A moment went by as he listened to the silent signal.
"Probably someone for the reception tonight " said Lam. Guests had been arriving sporadically for several hours now, it was for that very reason that his reclusive soul had opted for a long grounds inspection and sporting opportunity in the first place.
"Its around here somewhere" said Hafai, pointing his visiset into the skies above the crater.
"Gudo's says he doesn't like it." said Hebel with a meaningful look in Lams direction. Lam ignored him. Hebel shrugged without moving before scanning the air with his own visiset.

The three of them stood now, fatigue-clad and dust blown, the thick matt-green visiset goggles held to their faces, the thick fibretec head-bands dangled unfastened in front of their cheeks and chins, the visisets being more comfortable un-worn in the bright hot weather. They watched the sky; Hebel adjusted a switch on the side of his visiset and then almost abruptly focused in on a point just above the panorama of forest.
"Always use seek-mode" he said cheerily, and pointed the object out to Hafai and Lam.

A tiny speck of whiteness was descending into the crater from the east at a forty-five degree angle. Higher magnification revealed a white aircraft designed with the sleek elegance of vehicles often described as 'high fidelity leisure products' by the retailers that targeted the more affluent markets. Its short curved wings framed two sets of wide circles to the front and back of the aircraft- field projectors, tilted downwards to achieve the VTOL-type flight-path. The aircrafts wide dual-hemispherical canopy reflected the sun from its jet-black surface like tiny shinning blue pupils in the eyes of a stumpy and physiologically unconventional white dragonfly. Lam watched the aircraft gently descend from the air, sliding steadily downwards against the dull green backdrop of trees. He broke from the show for a moment, mounting his osmec and raising it, before once more picking out the aircraft.
"Their heading toward the grass line... yeah their in the grass line- look... I know what you're going to say, but we've got rifles so we'll be safe.
Lets go say hello" he decided.

13-06-2002, 16:59:55

The craft landed close enough for them to meet it a half a minute or so after it finally touched down, slowing a few meters above ground before dropping suddenly but lightly into the knee high grass.
The jet-black shell of the canopy unfurled like a beetle opening its wings, and seen from the side of Lam and the Uncles approach a few tens of meters away, emerged a man, who exited the vehicle with movements that were agitated and clumsy with annoyance. He seemed unaware of Hebel, who had ridden on ahead of Lam and Hafai, his osmecs padded feet allowed it to run in near silence, and he was still some distance away from the man.
Lams visiset showed the man to be wearing a black suit and white collars and cuffs that must have looked very neat recently but was now scruffy and disarrayed. A large flop of black curly hair kept falling in front of his face, causing him wipe it out of the way every few seconds as he began to stomp around the aircraft- occasionally kicking it and thumping at it. He seemed to be swearing, Lam and Hafai could hear an angry and somehow petulant voice carrying across the slope. From the other side of the craft appeared a woman, dressed in an iridescent aqua-marine body-suit that should have looked very fetching on her, but she looked harassed and slope shouldered. Her bright red lips and darkened eyes exaggerated the ugly expressions accompanying whatever cutting remarks she was flinging back. This went on for some time before they finally noticed Hebel.

Hebel jumped down from his animal and immediately began securing the couple and their vehicle, the couple were momentarily taken aback by Hebels sudden appearance and his businesslike and uncommunicative manner, and by the stump barrelled dull green 'sports-rifle' he held casually but firmly in one hand.
"Three of them" observed Hafai as they closed the last few meters. Lam couldn’t see a third trespasser, but then Lam didn't have plasbionic implants.
Hebel was asking them something, the couple had unconsciously closed together near the skyler, and were shaking their heads a couple of times in negation and looking much more sober. Hebel seemed to be talking to someone still sitting in the skyler as well, the group looked to Lam like they were engaging in the time honoured ritual between traveller and road-block racketeer, a practice common in less civilised places like the Red District and the Freedom State.
"They seem clean" continued Hafai musingly, before they came within earshot. Another woman, this one dressed in a black body-suit, her manner much more calm, in fact serene. Her hands held behind her and the hint of an amused smile touched the corner of her mouth. For elongated seconds Lams eyes drank in the light reflected from her magnificent being, he felt a warmth rushing into his chest and other places. Instant desire of this power of feeling was rare with Lam, and took him by surprise, her face was like that of his own personal goddess.
He noticed she smiled at him.

"Look, who are you people? if you're here to rob us- I must warn you that we are protected" declared the man in a coolly nasal and indignant voice. He flicked the insistent fringe from his face again. The aqua-marine woman drew herself up slightly, turning to face Hebel
"You speak einix right... we need to get to the nearest town or area-base... a charger-unit... you know charger-unit?" she made a gesture with her hands that bore a good

13-06-2002, 17:00:22
resemblance to the process of using a charger-unit, but also bore a close resemblance to another, more intimate and strictly biological process that she suddenly became aware of. Abruptly she stopped and looked embarrassed.
Hafai spoke to them for the first time
"Who are you, where are you trying to go?"
"Like I told your friend here we're looking for 34Citadel" said the aqua-marine woman, she glanced coldly at the man "our Si unit turned out to be zen-degraded, it had a Realization- went into application failure, fried the charger-unit and safetied, so now here we are"
"Hey, you wanted to get here early- we got here, this was the only skyler they had and its not my fault if the thing's Si goes flat- its Argens damn vehicle for fuck sakes" snapped the man.
"Anyway it handshaked with your systems, who kept telling it that 34Citadel requested an approach protocol, and then telling it that 34Citadel was non-existent. That seemed to trip it off, it started babbling about non-existence non-existing. To be honest I suspected the thing had gone senile when we took off and it informed us our destinations ETA was six hours." said aquamarine.
"So, what’s wrong with that- the journey's taken about six hours hasn't it?" said the man.
"Our destinations ETA?" asked aguamarine with a raised eyebrow.
The man said nothing.
"Its not called 34Citadel anymore" supplied Lam politely, dismounting from his osmec and trying not to look body-guarded.
"Most people call it the Mansion around here, so they gave it the new designation. Unfortunately the place has been called 34Citadel for so long- parts of it can't get used to the new name so to speak- sometimes causes an error with... older systems" finished Lam tactfully.

He chose not to tell them their Si-failure had been caused by some ancient and persistent ex-military 'job' that kept running zen-degradation checks on visiting Si. This had been an annoyance to some of the Mansions aristo visitors that liked to carry guru-Si artefacts with them for a long time.
Too zen-degraded to be trusted to run systems- but kept and allowed to run until Realization. The 'minds' of these cherished guru-Si, known technically as cascades; were allowed to run deep into the grey zone of what was called the probability of Realization, all that stood between useful machine intelligence and useless machine-enlightenment- or toys for impressionable idiots as Lams father was fond of saying. The ex- military 'job' would scan all Si that came in range and cause the guru-Si artefacts to crash prematurely, depriving the owners of their wise and insightful utterances.

"Can you help us?" asked purple tiger-stripes. Lams heart did a brief tumble before regaining its rhythm, her voice has husky, earthy even, a voice that whispered of decadent and wonderful temptations in secret places. He was sure he continued to appear reserved and relaxed, and was grateful for the bulky equipment belt around his midriff. She smiled at his gaze, her eyes were dark pools of quietly seductive quickness.
"I think we can arrange a new charger-unit for you" said Lam, not too quickly. Hafai tipped his head slightly in affirmation before lifting an icom to call the Tower and arrange pickup.

13-06-2002, 17:00:47
The man in black seemed to relax "Well, good, we're in a hurry you see, we've been travelling since morning and we were kind of partied out when we left you understand. I will arrange for you to be rewarded for your troubles of course, with maybe a little extra if you're fast okay" Lam starred blankly at him, the man was pacing calmly around the aircraft now, composed and in control of things.
"If Scarreas Crater, 34Citadel is now the Scarreas Crater Mansion now then we're all right, that’s what it said on the invite" he finished distractedly.
Aqua-marine smiled, offering her hand to Lam, "I am Twien Semergol, thats Alys Holt, the arsehole's Qwis Aietene. You are?" There was laughter in her eye as she asked this, sharing an unspoken dry joke.
"Lam Bryke" smiled Lam "My father is hosting the reception". The two women exchanged amused glances, Qwis looked mildly shocked, and then embarrassed but still indignant.
"Yes, well."


"I thought I recognized you, we- me and Qwis, we represent Wellbeing.. you've heard of us?"
Lam smiled, he'd heard of them.
They were one of the lifestyle informats that were popular with people who liked to eat well grown 'natural food', live in well chosen house-kits and improve them with DIY, use the cleverest gardening techniques, wear the latest fashionable clothes and be informed about the affairs, decors and adventures of all the more glamorous members of the media-caste.
He didn't access that kind of informat.
"Raal tat Hueps got more of a media presence then most Si charmers, people want to know about him, they want to know who his girlfriend is, who his friends are, who he associates with..." Twien fell silent.

The Tower had sent a heavy UTV to collect them. The guests had been more securely identified as guests by a thumb pressed against the ID patch of Hafai's security icom, with which he had accessed the events guest-lists back at the Mansion, and putting the busy but perfectionist Gudo- the Mansions security manager; at ease.
"We did a thing on one of your fathers and some of his aristo friends, their on a list of rich-influences who Raal tat Hueps 'Towers assignment' might benefit... anyway I recognize your father, you look like him alot..." she noted.
"Thank you" said Lam, concealing his irritation at the observation by looking up at the robotic vehicle as it loaded the skyler beneath it.
The UTV had turned up some time earlier, appearing from the edge of the forest a few hundred meters down-slope, where it and its pilot had been working as part of a maintenance camp. The main body of the UTV sat low within the centre of its four legs, each ending in three sets of thick tired wheels cleverly arranged into the functionality of a foot. It almost looked like a four legged robot spider on thick black roller-skates, meaning it was able to lift its wheels over the shrubbery and rocks scattered amongst the forest edge, unhindered by the long grass, ferns and blue alterflora.

Rapidly it had made its way up to the group, the electronic drive systems that ran each of its foot-like arrangement of wheels whirring with four distinguishably different

13-06-2002, 17:01:15
harmonies, the dumb-suspension of its dual-jointed legs made no sounds as it was not using the micro-hydraulics controlling smart-suspension it needed when 'walking' .
The utility terrain vehicle drew to halt in front of the group before sinking back into its centre. It was quite wide and tall. Its sturdy mechanical legs worked like a suspension system holding the powerful 'thorax' module above the ground, on top of this sat the box-like cockpit and passenger module. A heavy UTV has the advantage of being able to carry large objects, even a skyler- beneath its thorax module by picking it up in its robotic holding rig and raising itself up on its legs, giving as much as fifteen meters of clearance height for its cargo.

"Why its an advantage to carry things in this way I've never been able to discern" mussed Twein.
"I've seen these things do things with their legs that would make a mountain-goat blush" said Alys.
"We've got seven of them..." started Lam. "This one is over ninety years old you know- ninety years helping maintain the eco-forest you see today..." he stretched his arm in an arc to indicate the forest.
"You should've seen the ones we hired on when we expanded Clifftown, huge big twelveleggers, all work surfaces and iron, raw quarrying-power..."
He paused for a moment, awkwardly- not sure his comments had had the desired effect.
"You terraformer types certainly take your work seriously, and that’s a beutiful thing." said Qwis glibly. Lam sensed he was being made fun of, but was not sure how. He glanced back at the watching Uncles and their waiting osmecs, deciding to finish up the conversation.
"Okay... Hap up there-" he indicated the pilot seated in the UTVs cab, who raised a hand in greeting at them "will take you back to the Mansion where you can relax and recover yourselves before the event tonight, and get your charger-unit replaced-" he kept glancing at Alys, made uncertain by the cryptic expression with which she was regarding him.
"Well you see its not mine old boy" said Qwis cheerfully "We came here straight from a leisure-cruiser... the skyler belongs to the cruisers owner... were on a kind of impromptu party-and-attempt-to-work-too-athon, its what I love about my job- media source; invites to all the most exclusive and decadent orgies, even these ultra-elitist soirées of your old mans." he finished breezily.
"You mean you came out across hundreds of square-klicks of the plains- dust plains... in the spring, without- checking the equipment!" Lam was truly scandalized.
"Come on now, we have icoms you know,” said Twien a little nervously.
"In the spring the plains become very windy, the dust- it’s a thin layer when its on the ground, but then it fills the sky- nothing gets through. Not wave, not line-of-sight... the dust is pulverized Chalk mixed with the usual strange-silicates and degraded Chalk-cinder compounds... its signal impenetrable, a serious rescue-impediment".
There was a grim silence, consisting of a mixture of exchanged glances and embarrassed lip biting amongst Twien, Qwis and Alys.
"Well in future we'll know better" said Alys at last.

The UTV had loaded the skyler, which now hung beneath its thorax-module, facing forwards, its wings and wide rimmed AG-projector housings clasped protectively by the holding rig at various load-bearable points of the skyler. The pilot- dressed in the

13-06-2002, 17:01:56
work-dirty utility suit of the land-teams, was leaning against the open door of the cockpit hatch awaiting instructions.
"I will see you at the reception no doubt, nightfall is still another twenty hours away, so you'll have plenty of time to... recollect yourselves, relax." Lam hesitated for a moment "I'll be spending most of my time in the Mauve room actually- I prefer to avoid crowds... maybe you might like to join me at some point?" he asked mildly to the three of them in general, his eyes darting discretely to and from the face of Alys, whose smile in return was polite.
"An invite to the VIP lounge! ha! you see? you see!... I just love my job!" exclaimed Qwis. "Its all about networking my friend" slapping Lam on the shoulder, this made Hafai twitch imperceptibly, nobody but Lam noticed this (he was sure) the apparently serene bald brown skinned man showing readiness-tension by a single facial twitch on the weathered surface of one cheek.
"I'll take you up on that- there'll be no hassles with security?" asked Qwis, suddenly cautious "because I've been promised back-stage passes to exclusive lounges before, scoops that don't appear..."
"You'll have no problems of course" said Lam shortly.
"Maybe you could give us a tour of the Mansion?" asked Alys, her eyes were twinkling! Lam was certain of it! he maintained composure.
"It would be a pleasure" stated Lam, formally. Twein, who had been watching the exchange keenly seemed very happy in a way that made Lam wonder if she would burst out laughing.

The three climbed the step-ups of the handling-rig and entered the passenger compartment. Lam thought his struggle not to stare too obviously when she- (there was only one she for Lam now) climbed the steps.
No doubt they would have girl-talk once they'd closed the door thought Lam.
She looked back, expression unreadable (or too readable) a flicker of a smile.
She closed the door.
The UTV, looking like a spider with its prey, turned and began its journey to the Mansion.
Hebel had mounted his osmec.
"Strange" said Hafai, as they stood watching it go.
"Strange?" asked Lam.
"Its interesting that they should be so lucky, to meet you... out here that is, and so stupid " said Hebel, his reddish brown craggy face creased in a thoughtful thrown- or maybe to keep the sun from his eyes. " to travel so un-carefully, with a Si past its use by date... naive as babies. That one you like, she doesn't look that stupid- not even city-people stupid"
Lam absorbed this, somewhere- the part that indicated Hebel had noticed his interest in Alys annoyed him slightly, but mostly he ignored these observations. Hebel and Hafai were good men, had been good soldiers- very good soldiers. They had worked for his father for many years, but they were Thirdwavers- suspicious, closed, loyal; the salt of the earth his father called them.
"Of course she's not stupid Hebel, she's a goddess" muttered Lam.
"Better then any of them being called something like Tuor lol Jaek or Maip yop KaaT" he finished, no one disagreed.
They stood for a moment, watching the vehicle become small against the forest, the osmecs patiently pruning their downy tails.

The UTV finally disappeared amongst the shadows at the edge of the giant distant eco-pines, a spider with its prey.

13-06-2002, 17:03:58
Raal tat Huep

Raal tat Huep reclined in his seat, took a sip from the clear slender glass of sine on the smooth onyx surface of the desk, and gently swivelled around to gaze out of the window at the glacial serenity of the white snow of the mountains and sighed.
It had been a long day.
Since he had arrived in the city of Towers, Raal tat Huep had been rushed off his feet from one meeting to another in a chaotic whirl of aides, bodyguards, journalists and officials that had flowed around him like white-water around a canoe, carrying him through the political landscape of the Five States too swiftly for him to make any real observations about what lay beneath the many smiling faces whose hands he had pumped along the way.
He had endured however, his training allowed him to derive much information from minimal contact, he need not see all the angles just yet, he need only absorb the points.

Around him at all times had been the calm at the centre of the storm, or perhaps the canoe itself- a floating space upon the rapids of change. The name of his canoe; the Office for Si Relations: Towers City.
It was a young organization, tacked onto the External Governance Relations Department mere days before, when a sudden breakthrough had- according to Darza Scint; absolutely mandated his new post.
After a moment, he rose from his seat, came around from behind the desk to pace the wide spaces of the cavern. Tora Burto had introduced it as his office earlier, but he saw it as a cavern. A high ceilinged angular space hewn from the light grey Chalk by some ancient and monstrous terrabot, across the entire surface of its far wall- above the raised semicircular platform behind the desk, a pristine holoscreen displayed a panoramic view of the Blue Mountains jagged white peaks, beneath the thin blue sky and icy clouds, sheer vault-like drops and granite-strewn slopes plunged into stark and unfathomable shadows. It was quite a contrast from the warm, still, and pleasantly scented atmosphere of the room.

He had made an impressed noise when he had noticed the white leather-bound cushion slabs that were used in the offices low seating. He found the overall neatness of the light grey room, its understated plushness and its cream coloured fittings appealing- but still could not shake the impression of being in a cavern, albeit a very neatly formed and fitted cavern.
He had to hand it to the Towies, they new how to facilitate calm, the central carp pool was a nice touch. It was actually ceiled beneath a transparent layer of crystecs, the fish fed and water cleaned and oxygenated from somewhere beneath the lighted pond. Raal tat Huep stood over the pond now, with his drink in hand- and watched the golden carp glide lazily beneath his feet.

He took another sip of the clear liquid- savouring the sines bitter-sweet taste, and considered.

Situation: The South Zone Union and the Five States were finally close to an agreement, after five years of procrastinations and credit-wrangling over tax percentages and jurisdiction terms, and what was to be done with that city, the Five States had won the details they had pushed for. Towers was left with little real choice but to severing all ties it still had with the Domain, the final stage was merely a formality really. But why not, thought Raal, this way the city could reap the rewards of alliances much closer to home.
The former terrabase would no longer be subsidised by the orbital society, would be counted now as outside the sphere of those ancient concerns that ruled the northern hemisphere, would no longer be a source of paranoia and uncertainty for the Union, terrorist haven- a rock under which to hide secret funds and harbour insurgent organizations (generally believed to be secretly backed by the Domain) and least of all a potential base for the Domains own military agents.
Instead Towers would become an ally, an addition to the power-base of those Union citizens rich enough to consider themselves free, an asset.

Handle: Raal tat Huep would meet the movers and the shakers of Five States and he would meet Towers, he would ensure that all of them were partners in this thing, that no hidden agendas would be allowed to spoil the new atmosphere of cooperation between them, he would be an interface- a translator, a channel for communication between parties who had until very recently been obliged to consider themselves enemies.
The Five States were Areni, North Coast, Yey Hwan, Canaan and The Freedom State, a region of previously private and commercial 'provincial properties' whose owners dated from as long ago as the Fourth Wave.
Some of them were amenable to the Union and some of them not, some of them were simply more fearful of the Domain- and therefore of Towers.

Briefings had informed Raal tat Huep he could expect Areni, The Freedom State to roll-in smoothly, the rest however were either too suspicious of Si governance technology not to cause problems in the coming negotiations with Towers. Darza had assured him he would have the means and the discretion to offer either candy or cane in pursuit of the new agreement. He was the advocate of Towers, all parties involved knew they were committed now, and they also knew the alternatives. The Region now would join as a block, or not at all.

Caution: The Domain was expected to complicate the issue of course, their previous attempts had evidently not succeeded as far as gaining Towers as a full part of itself was concerned, but they had succeeded in allowing Towers to become the embodiment of every conflicting interest that slithered beneath the Five States facade of unilateral and legitimate society. The Domains long campaign of meddling had made the Tower issue the one foreseeable scenario that could still undo the agreement (and therefore implicitly the Union itself) destroying them from the inside out in a blaze of factional infighting, nationalist opportunism and private-sector self-interest.
Militarist nationalist factions within The Freedom State had made it known that they considered Towers to be the legitimate capital of their homeland, and intended to "ensure this was acknowledged by the world and by the Union through arms if necessary", as the grainy vidbite of masked gunmen with that poor hostage had put it.
The aristos that ran Areni actually considered Towers to be their financial capital, and the rest either wanted the cities Si Governance system terminated and dismantled or were indifferent.
The Si governance of Towers of course generally wanted to remain alive and in control of itself- its inhabitants happy, its parks green and its streets clean and danger-free (especially the Red District). Without the subsidy of the Domain it knew it had to gain the protection of a 'real country' as Darza Scint had put it.

And then there was the fact that all parties involved, being generally Fourth and Fifth Wave colonial in their attitudes, they would exhibit that peculiar hostility to members of the Cru caste and other Plastiks; such as Raal tat Huep, that such people were notorious for amongst the Domain. Well, as his crèche-manager used to say, people shipped over under different regimes- simply arrived at different places.

Not for the first time however, he wondered why he had been chosen for the task- and again he remembered Darza Scints succinct reply
"Let em grumble about talking to 'machine-named bastards', I want them to know its the Unions 'machine-named bastards' that are saving their asses here".
Raal tat Huep had felt uncomfortable at her use of the well known quotlet from the trial of a Canain Evangelite General during the Purges.
By then however Darza Scints coarse and inflammatory quoting would not put him off, he was already captured by the opportunity for other reasons.
"Doing this is more then about being a Si charmer, it's about being a diplomat. Towers is... different, we need someone who can get it to do the right thing but... we need a politician too" Darza had said.
"You've the experience, you know how Simgos works- you gotta make its people like us too, you gotta get to em that we can actually change their behaviour towards favouring us"
This was true for reasons Raal had always found fascinating- the key to his interest in Synthetic Intellect Mass Governance Systems.
"Your media-engineering background, your knowledge of the Si, of the Domain and their technology... you're a Plastik yourself! that'll play well with a significant demographic of course, you have the vital mix here Raal"
Darza stopped at this point, standing up from her leather power-seat to pace the floor of study, drawing one of the thin black cigars from the mouth of one of the two golden dragons embroidered over the top of each pocket, their bodies flowing down to the bottom edges of the long silver power-gown that she. She lit the cigar with a flame from her thumb-tip (an extravagant use of plasbionics in Raals opinion), drew the pungent smoke in, and then exhaled clouds of blue smoke. She had stared at him then- through the smoke, her thoughts inscrutable, hand still holding the cigar to her face, before-
"Have you ever been to the Structures Raal?" she asked distractedly, he caught a glint in one of her dark pink eyes." he had smiled to himself, of course she'd throw that angle too, maybe she knew him too well
"Yes, I've visited the Structures, been to Towers twice actually- they are as you obviously know an interest of mine" her steady gaze had remained, but the small thin line of a mouth had turned up at one corner, and then-
"Tell me you will do this for us I can gaurantee you backing- state backing... for that research program you've always wanted." she had let that sink in.
He had agreed of course.

13-06-2002, 17:04:45
His affairs in Mainfac had been drawn to a neat close within a matter of weeks. His contract at the Joint Institute, due for renewal- was renewed (to the satisfaction of Darza Scint and the great delight of the Si/Societies and Media department), his few friends had said their goodbyes with a series of gatherings and dinners. The past few hours- following the moment he had stepped off the skyler from Mainfac had of course been a blur.
Now he was here, and at any moment Tora Burto would come back and he would meet the Towers Si 'high-end', face to face. And then he would advocate and facilitate and reason with the brutally polite sheen of diplomacy that Raal tat Huep had first began to master back when he worked in project management for Yargo/Sulliven.
Raal tat Huep would shortly be ushered on to a reception with some of the very groups whose interests he would be expected to persuade Towers into catering for, and in would be beckoned the new order of things.
He expected every fragmented interest in a power-suit their to attempt to take a moment with him to put in a word for them when reading out their list of demands to the beleaguered Simgovs.
Areni money-men if he recalled correctly, in his opinion that at least was something, he preferred the corpos. The interests of politicos could often be harder to work with, harder to negotiate with, especially the border line fanatics, the 'Fringe Brigade' he had privately labelled and come to secretly loathe in his mediacasting days, but who controlled powerful lobbies in the South Zones Unions political interior. It was a wonder the Union held together at all really, he thought to himself, the power of fear- he supposed.

The door chimed, and Raal tat Huep bade it open. Embassador Tora Burto stood, tall, slim and immaculate, silver hair combed slickly back over the dome of her head, dark brown asian skin complemented by the deep purple synthsilk suit and large brown eyes that missed nothing but smiled often met his, tilted her head in greeting. She held a thin golden case in one hand as she approached through the wide eco-pine door. A HEPP Commando behind her, all iridescent night-blue armour-surfaces and snub-nosed moulded combat items- turned his back to take up position outside the doorway after having escorted her just as the door silently closed again. Raal was surprised by such overt militarism but said nothing.
"I've got the access codes for Towers Si" she smiled "since the Cascades, Towers has been using these secure link 'access-cases' to communicate directly to cleared front-end users. These are the only way to talk to the Si Governance itself.
This ones yours. The hand-over ceremony will of course take place in Areni tonight but thats really just a vidbite opportunity for the medias... for now there's no reason to delay you're real first meeting."
"Okay" said Raal as they walked to his desk "I must say I'm a little surprised- this is quite an unusual policy decision for a Simgovs to implement, the cases I mean- Domain Simgovs pursue the Open Access approach, although it does look like a very nice case"
She placed the case on the desk as they sat on the two seats in front of it. She gestured at the case "Put your hand on the case please" he did so.
"Init Case 7, access code 199303" said Tora.
The case made a clicking sound and a green light blinked on around its seam.
"Init request accepted- hand print active as final user?"
"Yes" said Tora.
"Please state your name" said the case
"Raal tat Huep" said Raal.
"Exclusive user account Raal tat Huep accepted, full user privilages assigned- you may remove you're hand from Case 7. Do you require this unit to establish a link with source?"
"Yes" said Raal.
"Use full local media privileges?"
"Yes" said Raal.
The case opened itself up- revealing a smooth matt-black touch-pad and holoscreen. The Towers Governance Department logo flashed on, back-dropped by a view of the distinctive landmarks (that were the actual structures after which the city was named) viewed from the nearby Scarrea Ridge Mountains. The case continued its link with the cities relevant systems, and began to download and open packages, and 'pickup' the use the rooms media system.
Finally a fairly standard female sprite hologram appeared in the air in front of them, projected from four of the smart-lights that were embedded in the corners of ceiling and the slanted-walls at regular intervals. Raal and Tora had to look upwards slightly at the transparent yet vivid image that floated 'before' them, as the soft-lasers projecting into their corneas from the smart-lights above required adequate line-of-sight to draw their images.

The sprite itself looked like a typical customer service representative. Good looking, multi-ethnocentric, blue-skinned, and featurelessly naked, as was the default setting for Si controlled customer service sprites. Fairly average really, thought Raal tat Huep- noting the silver Towers City logo 'tattooed' above one of the apparitions very modest and nippleless breasts.
Raal tat Huep was thoroughly under whelmed.
The sprite spoke
"Hello Raal tat Huep" said Towers. Her voice; projected from the offices field speakers, was friendly and warm- (but very average) it vibrated with empathic resonance harmonics, he could easily have believed it understood him, was tuned into his needs.
"I look forward to working with you in achieving Union membership status for Towers. Do you wish to begin a work session now?"
Raal looked down and noticed the words were shadowed by a text overlay scrolling upwards across the cases holoscreen, Raal used the touch-pad to move a discrete cursor over the text, which reacted as hyperlink. He wondered what would happen if he clicked at the beginning of her statement- but decided it would probably just repeat itself, and would continue to do that all day if he so wished, it was his access-case, his time.
"No thank you Towers, I'm just taking a look at the er... access-case you sent me, thank you"
"Your welcome. Access-cases are a security measure, I found it necessary to issue an access-case to high-level front end-users only. I am now assuming an open discussion session"
"Hmm" said Raal, a half smile on his face, he exchanged a knowing glance with Tora. The Si discussion format was a little old and clunky perhaps- but then its real intelligence lay in running human societies, not in conducting Turing-perfect conversation like an expensive pal-bot.

13-06-2002, 17:05:49
"I'll leave you two to get to know each other" said Toro Burto standing to leave. "I'll come get you in a few hours time Raal, we're not due at the reception for a while yet- and you might consider staying for the blue-dawn event afterwards? Supposed to be quite an impressive sight from that part of Areni, the organizers got an observation deck with a wonderful must see view I've heard".
Raal stood and nodded slightly and she left.
He turned and addressed the sprite
"So, Towers... tell me all about yourself".

The Mansion

The wide dirt-road emerged from between the colossal black trunks of the eco-pines, and rose twenty feet across the hundred foot grass-line to meet the elevators, which were built into the steep rocky slope that continued curving upwards, becoming completely vertical halfway up before meeting the edge of the crater; and the Mansion- above. As Lam and the Uncles rode forward, he looked upwards to the Mansion, high above even the towering eco-pines by hundreds of feet.
The elevators were rose at an eighty degree angle, and consisted of two sets of twin square platforms, ten and twenty feet to a side in open elevator shafts. They where bordered at first by triangular plascrete walls to take account of the slopes curvature, before embedding into the sere rock of the cliff-face further up- and then ending at small square chunks of darkening blue sky, part of the regular edges that delineated the building above.
Two platforms- one of each size, sat at the foot of the cliff now, made of the metallic black buckymesh, the two elevator platforms and the and rails inset in the shaft wall behind them were banded on potentially dangerous areas with black and yellow caution stripes.

Looking up Lam could see the clean-edged silhouette of the Mansions wide platform, and the long thick out-wards pointing structure they called the skydeck. He wondered how the small party they had met hours earlier had fared, whether Alys would be in Clifftown or perhaps already at the event. Somewhat resignedly, Lam and the Uncles rode the animals up to the smaller elevator, boarded it and began their accent.

The only things Lam had managed to shoot were a couple of 'blue rabbits' and a 'minril mole', the later was not strictly classed as Redundant alterfauna, but by then Lam had grown impatient and illegally dropped the bright-red animal as it sniffed the air, head poking up from amongst the hundreds of thick moss covered eco-pine roots two hundred and fifty meters away.
He had used the Hezher 4.10 of course- the Smith/ACONA 50 used a laser-chamber ballistics mechanism which was not his preferred choice, he preferred guns which used chemical explosives for their ballistics mechanism, he liked the smell. The Uncles had watched, muttering occasional observations as he had rested the snub-nosed, matt-green plastec sports-gun against his shoulder, aimed and fired. The ‘knock’ sound of the guns discharge logically preceded the tip of the creatures pointed red trunk disappearing in a splash of white liquid, the creature started to thrash- pulling back into the ground, but two more shots hit it, white spots appearing suddenly over the part of the creatures body that contained its heart. Its fat body slumped in the ground- its long whiskers still twitching in the segmented rolls of rubbery red flesh, milk-white liquid pouring from the two holes in its hide, they had left the dying mole- like the blue rabbit corpses before it, to rot where they fell, to add further 'intermediary-stage nutrients' for the alterflora in the forests soil.

They got to the top of the cliff, the elevator bordered by two sets of utility-sheds that had once been used to store, repair and assemble units of terra-machinery before lowering them to the basin floor. The utility sheds, made of sections of dark-grey plastec sheet-panels, they were part of a group of other buildings and work-spaces which together formed what they called the Mansions 'utility wing'. These were mainly empty now of course, their once bustling spaces now hosted Lams fathers assets, and his employees, and Lams own vehicles. One work-shed, on the other side of the courtyard behind the two sheds with cliff-access; had been turned into the livestock house where they kept the osmecs, the dogs, and Lams fathers hawkery. No longer did the Terra-gineers of Scarrea Crater base West, or the soldiers of Military Area Base 32Citadel, go about their critical business. Only Harry, one of the livestock workers who came to collect the osmecs, the house mechanics with their bots, and two patrolling security men were there to greet them as they stepped off the elevator platform.

Three UTVs were parked along one wall, like spiders wearing back-packs; crouched down and ready to pounce. Lam noted the one they had sent with Alys and the others was not present- probably it had returned to its previous work site in the forest below (which now was spread behind them, a dark green carpet- subtly concave and vast under a high blue sky). He also noticed the skyler, white and sporty and aerodynamic, a luxury item shinning beside the dark dirt-encrusted UTVs, tool-bots and stacked barrels. The two mechanics were working on a UTV beside it, fiddling with one of the foot-like bundle of wheels at the end of a leg, so he went to speak with them.
"Ernie" he said in greeting as he approached
"boss" replied Ernie with a broad smile, wiping his hands with a rag
"You speak to the owners?" he indicated the skyler
"Yup, they told me what happened- they came out with a dodgy Si, its caused an error in the power-cores safety model... which sent it into powerdown-" he shrugged and smiled, "they don't need a new charger-unit they just needed to un-set the fuselock. An in flight job"
"What about the Si?" asked Lam. The mechanic blew air between closed lips
"Yeah its a zen-case alright, our stubborn old soldier musta tripped it" said Ernie, using the name they had come to call the error caused by the elusive and ancient ex military 'integrity-job' still lurking in the Mansions systems.
"I'm surprised they managed to neglect the Si maintenance so long- they need to be replaced once every five years at least, heh- why when I was in the army it was once every six months!"
"One week holiday huh Ernie?" asked Lam knowingly
"One week in a nanaec-fluid tank, that’s all- for the sake of the five billion martyrs is that too much to ask? The stuff don't cost much after all" muttered Ernie with a sad shrug. They stood for a moment, meditating on the levels of negligence to which people could subject their machines.
"They say where they'd be later?" asked Lam

13-06-2002, 17:06:36
"Hap gave em a lift to Clifftown on UTV4, I think they went to arrange a hotel, get freshed-up. One of em said she'd see you when they come back later" said the mechanic.
Hebel had been examining the vehicle closely, entering its cockpit and searching under the seats and in the glove compartment whilst Hafai had stood back holding both rifles and talking into his icom with Gudo. Lam knew he would probably do this, in the Uncles opinion- nosiness is a logical extension of paranoia, and it was their job to be paranoid. Now Hafai emerged from the cockpit, looking slightly agitated, and carrying a small black object in one hand. He spoke a rapid series of words in hard-lenix to Hafai, who took a closer look at the object Hebel held out to him, Hafai shone his icom on the object for the unseen Gudo to see, as Hafai turned to show it to Lam.
"What is it?" asked Lam
"Not a bomb anyway" replied Hebel
"Its got a Free-Radical affiliation logo on it, looks like a Starchild peace" said Hebel, studying the item as they gathered around it.
"Doesn't look dangerous" said Lam
"I don't think it is, but it is certainly suspicious- anyone who owns a Starchild peace with a Free-Radical logo on it is a not a preferred guest tonight" said Hafai.
They gazed at the object some more.
"So how do you know its not going to explode or something" asked Ernie, Lam glanced at him as if surprised he was still there
"No no no its not going to explode" said Hebel "it is safe, call it intuition... anyway it is a device, I don't know if it’s a weapon. Might be, but its not a bomb-" he stopped for a moment, listening to his icom, "Gudo says it’s definitely a Starchild antique, that’s prohibited by Union- you want me to make a security response Lam?" he asked.
Lam was slightly surprised by this question, still unused to being asked to make such decisions by the Uncles in the absence of his father.
He thought of Alys, before deciding
"No, I'll deal with it- people can keep what they want in their vehicles but the way things are these days, let’s be discrete"
Lam took the object now, hefted its weight in his hand. It was actually quite pretty, except for the fern-leaf symbol of some shady organization, it could have been purely ornamental, but it shone with function. Lam put it in his pocket.

They made their way to the Mansion proper, leaving Ernie and his colleague to their work. First to the armoury, to store the sports-rifles then Hafai and Hebel went 'off duty', the Mansion itself being Gudos watch- their duty here was on standby. Lam went to the residential block, a family of squat aztec-like structures made of huge blocks of almost white Chalk, built around the more funtional plasticrete building of the old base. The sum effect resembled a citadel further armoured by huge slabs of ice. Within walls were large sections of dark brown tinted crystecs, and borders of deep brown wooden panelling. A broad stone-tiled path led from the three other work and garage sheds of the utilities-wing, along the walled-off cliffs edge and its 'green life' gardens, past the service fore-court, the northern driveways disembarkation area- and into the large one of the former lockbay of the Mansion, whose open entrance gaped like a broad toothless mouth, swallowing the grey plascrete driveway.

His dusty simsuede boots clopping against the polished granite floor, nodding absently at the few house-staff and plentiful security people along the way. He took the stairs up to the floor through which he made his way via a connecting walkway to the Mansions central structure; keen to avoid the lower floors, that were beginning to fill with the guests, as well as the staff and crews and hangers-on.

First things first, he would get out of his fatigues, have a shower- and eat. With any luck he would have time to relax in the games room for awhile before his father and the new Si Charmers entourage got back from Towers, and the reception kicked into full swing. Passing through a clear-crystecs walled green-room, he noticed the sky was becoming a deeper mixture of pink and night blue now, the blue-white sun that provided real daylight disappearing from the sky, the crescent of the gas-giant contrasting its clouded pale-orange against the deep blue at the top of the evening sky.

Lam stopped and considered.

In another few hours, the blue sun Yaris would disappear below the horizon- completing the daylight hours (that is to say the captured moons forty hour version of a 'day') and beginning the world’s night in the shadow of Tor. But the red sun Cyger would shine on, its position relative to Yaris, and relative to Tor’s orbit around Yaris- and to the moon Tor9’s orbit around the gas-giant Tor- caused the bright red star to follow the path of a tilting ellipse in the skies of the southern hemisphere which spanned a few degrees in diameter as viewed over the course of a year. Only half its cycle arched above the horizon in this part of the world, and hundreds of hours from now the red star would set, and the nights of the blue-white sun Yaris would lose the reddish hue of Cygers light for months to come.
By then he would have begun his new life, living his new independence.


He stood now in the Mauve Room, dressed neatly in a jet-black formal suit, talking with two of the children of his fathers’ friends- and holding a glass of white wine, for Lams father did not permit the presence of sine on his property. The evening was going well it seemed, at least that’s how things looked from the crystec mirror-monitors that sat within gold frames and lined the padded mauve walls of the observation lounge. Greenflora grew in the corners and there were tall elegant golden bar-bots circulating amongst those gathered.

A wide crystec window spanned the entire curvature of the opposite wall, looking out across the crater- and its sea of trees and the ever-present mid-sky arc of the gas-giant. Beautifully crafted wooden robo-seats were scattered around, like varnished wooden models of leaning praying-mantises holding sets of soft velvet padded surfaces that they would; with expert precision- hold in the configuration most suited to the comfort and attitude of the occupant. People sat in these, some holding vapour wands, and some stood, all in groups and talking and dressed in the same kind of immaculate formals as Lam. The room was not particularly crowded, apart from the handful of the Mansions most elite comfort attendants (superbly discrete and empathicly pre-emptive tactical geniuses at the art of hospitality) only about fifty people filled its modest space.

Outside, along the south-balcony fifty feet below, and on the mirror-monitors along the walls- things were different.

13-06-2002, 17:07:03
Hundreds of people milled and thronged down there, in the main auditorium (specially built for the occasion in the large greenhouse), in the gallery area, and the south balcony that overlooked the crater and in the atriums. Lam hated parties, and had resolved to remain in the sanction of the Mauve Room for as long as possible. Only close friends of his father, his business associates, his pals in the military, his buddies in the government and his aristo friends and other favoured people were invited into the Mauve Room.

Cartez and Mulle were talking to him now, some rubbish about a series of acquisitions they were engaged upon. Lam didn’t know why they bothered- Cartez was already hire to the profits of much of the annual hyperwheat output of North Coast and Areni, and his family was known to own shares in the colossal Nine Moons Corporation- the owner of the Domain, and Mulles mother was one of the major financiers behind the restoration project for the South Zone Union’s Bulk Matter Wells. He nodded and smiled and asked “really” and laughs knowingly but his mind is on other things. He had asked Gudo to ensure he was informed when Alys and her friends arrived, but so far there had been no word.

He glanced at the nearest mirror-screen again, displaying a view main auditorium. His father was down there somewhere now, sitting amongst the VIP audience as the preliminary speakers of the event made their speeches, told their jokes and shared their sincerest desires. Laughter and applause followed silence and applause, and the bright flashes of 3d-mapping devices, correspondents for the major informats and administrators and diplomatic aides and the media-caste and their boyfriends and girlfriends and wives and husbands and friends and hangers on. Lams head reeled with the number of personal, political and professional associations represented in the gathering. Yet someone had invited them all.

He didn’t know how his father did it, he understood that this actually counted as a small reception for a select elite by most standards- and that his fathers ‘business club’- The Enlightened Ones, were the people who had done the inviting and the hiring and organizing- but Lam could not begin to see the angles that had brought them all here, just to say hello to a Si Charmer.

“Ah Lam, how are you my boy” The General had entered the room. A broad man in the strongest form of middle-age, and wearing a dark brown square cut padded bodysuit. He also wore a black simsuede knee length cape and black alterfaunal leather shin-boots. The General approached with all the can-do of his military bearing.
“Have you decided what you will do about your future yet Lam?” he asked, nodding to Mulle and Cartez.
“I think so General, but there are considerations” said Lam, smiling politely and sipping his wine.
“Considerations huh. Don’t leave it too long son, the world moves quickly, the world is a fluid situation. Important times Lam.”
“Yes sir” said Lam
“I’ve been speaking with your father Lam,” continued the general “he agrees with me, sees the way things are going too. I think we may have found the perfect answer-”
“I’ve been talking with Mulle and Cartez about the Si-bot industry” interrupted Lam. You did not interrupt the General, thought Lam- the General is a serious man. He hurried on- glancing to Cartez to include him further in the conversation “Apparently these are good times for a wise man to get involved in the industrial sector” replayed Lam, enthusiasm included.
“Si-bots huh” said the General thoughtfully “Well I have no doubt that Si-bots will be heavily involved in the years to come Cartez” said the General, taking a drink from a vigilant bar-bot, before turning to address Cartez grimly
“But tools, and the traders of tools- are not the axis upon which history is turned, we have to be at the axis.
The Domain is out there, and the Canains, ad the anarchists, the reformers, the archaeologist. The time is coming when we must seize history from them Lam” said the General quietly, looking now at Lam. “The time is coming when your decisions could turn history, the decisions of all you young people”
The four of them stood for a moment before-
“Well there will certainly be military contracts General” from Cartez “a lot more assets for you the military to keep our side strong” he smiled.
“The Union will be investing hugely in all the five triads- land, sea, air, space and dataweave, that’s five markets for the clever man Lam” tipped Mulle with his glass and an eyebrow. “Surely you must see the value of a man like Lam in the market” finished Mulle to the General.
“The world is more then a market-space son” said the General
Lam wasn’t listening; he had managed to veer the General from his usual subtle encouragements to join the army just in time for Gudo to come on-line
“Your girlfriends arrived.” said Gudo through Lams ear-peace.
He lifted the cuff of his sleeve were he had a little-icom attached
“Where?” he asked
“Just pulled up at the main disembark, she’s heading for the auditorium with her two pals- you want I should send her to you?”
“Yes… I mean no- yes”
“Look I can’t talk right now Lam I’m very busy, good-luck” said Gudo, clipping the link.
Lam noticed he was being stared at
“You seem distracted Lam.” said the General thoughtfully
“I er… apologise, I have to attend to someone- something” said Lam not too quickly. He tipped his head at them all and left, deciding not to risk waiting to see if Gudo would send Alys’s party to him- but instead to brave the masses outside and find her.

He found her in the main auditorium, standing amongst some the people drinking and talking in hushed voices and milling around at the back of the half-pipe length of the greenhouse.

Its hundreds of segments of crystec panels overlay the black starry night sky, and gave the gas-giant a delicate lattice to segment its orange and yellow clouds. Down amongst the greenflora, in the purpose-built spaces bordered by trees and plants and framed by water sculptures the rows of minimalist plastec robo-seats were occupied by a well-dressed audience, all facing the podium, were a serious looking woman was making emphatic gestures and talking about the inevitability of change and the need to find greater stability and prosperity. VIP-booths raised on robotic-quadrapod scaffolds stood near the front of the hall to either side of the podium- where his father would be.

13-06-2002, 17:07:59
She was with Twien, there was no sign of Qwis. Both had drinks and seemed to be engaged in deep but relaxed conversation, Twein was pointing out members of the audience whose faces could be half seen from that angle and speaking in Aly’s ear.

“Ah, Alys” said Lam cheerfully “You made it” They both turned to him, for a moment he thought she wouldn’t recognise him but then she smiled
“Lam” she said in greeting “Qwis went to look for you, turns out we couldn’t find the Mauve Room”
“Could’t you? That’s funny I told them to- er… I see you have a drink already, would you guys like to come back to the Mauve Room now?” asked Lam helpfully
“Well Qwis certainly would” said Twien “Wanna wait till he gets back tiger” winked Twien. Lam pretended not to notice the ‘tiger’ comment “The Charmer hasn’t spoken yet” he said, “you want to stay here and hear the Charmer?” he asked. The women exchanged amused glances- Lam began to feel he was loosing ground
“These two are here to work Lam, maybe after the Si Charmers speak we can dump them in this Mauve Room of yours and give me that tour we talked about earlier” said Alys smiling. Lams heart did its double-skip thing and he replied
“Sure- certainly, I would like that” he smiled. Things would be just fine.


Speech-header of the Si Management Specialist Raal tat Huep at the Reception by the Enlightened Ones Five States Business Association
Scarrea Mansion/ Areni Province, Timestamp: 9993.34.28

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Union, and of the Five States, friends, associates, human beings, it gives me great pleasure to address you on this fine occasion. My assignment to the role of persuading… all the powers of this most important of regions…to make the agreement work- and bring in the Five States to the Union… I consider being the most important task of my career so far.

I accept this case… and the right that goes with it to negotiate with this most particular and crucial of Si’s on your behalf, with sincere gratitude- and the promise… that it will say a resounding Yes… to all the compromises required… for a most prosperous future for us all!


The plascrete slab of the skydeck stretched out for over fifty feet over the abyss, and was supported underneath by structures of angled buckymesh framework that connected with the cliff-face a hundred feet or so below it. Standing at the narrow end of the skydeck was like standing on the bow of a giant stone ship, looking out across the great dark green sea hundreds of feet below.
Layers of fine mist from the distant aquifiyer outlets drifted in the eastward winds that blew steadily onto their faces and made the stone ship seem to sail forever forwards into the west, towards the distant pink ribbon beneath the dark blue sky. The red star lit the west now, shinning for months just above the eastern horizon, and casting the far edge of the crater in red sunset, never quite lighting the nights of the blue-star, or rivalling its shorter, brighter days. The gas-giant dominated the sky as a huge arc of pale orange and yellow, a crescent above the distant ribbon that marked the border between land and sky, silent and beautiful, the subtle wisps and whorls on its cloudy surface vaguely discernable.

He turned to her, his eyes dancing lovingly across her face, taking in the graceful symmetry of her brow, her nose, her perfect jaw-line. She turned her head slightly to regard him with an analytical look. His eyes met hers.
His heart stopped then, and a chill touched his spine.
In that instant, he glimpsed in her something utterly cold, utterly ruthless.

Something both terrifying and beautiful peered out from her soul.

The moment was so intense he actually shivered, felt strangely afraid- of what he didn’t know. The fear was a formless thing, like a half seen shadow in the midnight of a suddenly awakened child. He hesitantly reached out, (in his heart- seeking reassurance) brushed her hair with his fingers. Her lips shifted subtly into a quizzical smile. He shook the disturbing feeling away, moved closer towards her. They drew together under the mutual warmth of his great-coat in the cool breeze.

"Who are you really" he asks after a moment. She looks at him again, her face so close to his, those eyes like black pools, bathing him in the consciousness of the beautiful being that now calmly reads him.
"I'm Alys, you know- we met the other night" one corner of her mouth curls teasingly
"I know you're Alys" he chuckles softly "but... "- he feels foolish, silly, the previous moments apprehension now dismissible "Heb thinks you have er..." he reaches for the right term, unwilling to risk offending her "he thinks you might have '' Free-Radical associations".

A silence.

He tries to effect an expression of cheerful nonchalance.
She tugs his waist gently, and they continue their walk along the skydeck"Well I suppose you could say that" she says, "I'm from Mainfac, and up there were all a little- sassy" she smirks. He smirks back dumbly
"I'm no Free-Radical, I'm way too lazy for that" she half shrugs, smiles knowingly at him.
He feels comforted by this simple reply somehow, even knowing it to be a fob off, but inexplicably- somewhere within he feels disappointed. Still he cannot quite relax, she is the most beautiful thing that has happened to him in a long time, she is here with him, in this near perfect moment.
Not perfect of course, because still- there is the matter of the ornament.
"Its just that- well I have to ask you because the Heb found this" he reaches into his great-coats deep pocket and withdraws the ornament "-in your skyler.”

It is cold in the centre of his palm, and surprisingly heavy for its appearance. The ambient yellow light of the gas giant and the nearby light of the Mansion gleaming like quicksilver against its dark shadow scattered casing. It was made of a hard shinny material like highly polished granite- quite different from the dark matt dullness of even hyperplastec.

13-06-2002, 17:08:24
She takes the offered egg, smiles at the frosted design of a single intricate fern leaf. "Ah-" she smiles gently "looks like a gadget, made by scary Starchild anarchists." she withdraws her arm from around his waist, places four fingers carefully against it.
Her movements are those of a dexterous illusionist as she does something to it, and the thing suddenly opens the smaller end of itself and silently sprouts a group of open-ended white tubes.
“A hand-held holocam?” he asks hopefully. She smiles again, he is ever the source of her amusement
"No, not a handheld holocam, its a weapon, a gun actually" she says simply.
Oh, he thinks.
"Ah" he says,
"Ah" she replies.

There is seriousness now, seriousness in her dry smile, seriousness as they face each other. Her right hand, soft and warm and light, still grasps his firmly. The other holds the now transformed 'egg'- now a neat compact and lethal looking bulb sprouting five hexagonal barrels. It still looked pretty, like clever puzzle-toy with one end yet to be solved, almost foolish to call a gun, but a gun she had called it.
There is moment of silence as he stares at the 'gun' in her palm.

"Don't you keep guns Mr Landowner?"
"Of course we do- but... its... they're just practical hunting guns you know" he says too quickly. She continues to look into his eyes. "Okay and maybe a few for the trespassers, raiders you know? You’ve got to be careful out here in the territories these days, you've seen we take security very seriously here, all that fall-outer trash living just a few miles up the road- we have to actually live out here, its not just vidbits for us..." he stops, aware that he is becoming his father. Talking as a landowner stereotype, obsessed with 'territories' and 'squatters' and 'yields'.

She closes her eyes and smiles into his chest, dissolving instantly the fear he'd had that he'd made a confrontation of this beautiful walk along the skydeck. "I bought it in one of the markets near River42, its an area in Mainfa-“
“I know, I’m not that cut-off from the world” Lam insisted light-heartedly. She smiled and continued
“It was a meant to be a gift for a friend, its called an 'Artistic' you see, I got attached to it though so I kept it and got her something else. It’s an antique, quite old... "
She smiles fondly "very old. I got it checked out by a archaeologist specializing nanite archaeology and apparently it’s a gravicle disparity gun, uses a bucky-caged neutronium-fragment core. These things date back to journeytime Lam, they were made by the Starchildren, maybe even pre-journeytime..." she shrugs, she has the thing in her hand like a remote of some kind, her fingers and thumb comfortable against the silver stump of barrels. Lam shifts his feet, uncomfortable with the way she is holding it.

"I've never fired it, the salesman showed me how... I can show you how if you want. Anyway its usually a feature on my windowsill at home." a pause, he is intoxicated with desire looking at her looking at the gun

An extended moment passes

She does something different to the gun now, and it folds away again, packing itself back into its original egg-shaped appearance, recovering its gloss in the grey-blue twilight like a seal of completion.
"Anyway." She finishes.

She tilts her head for a moment, then lifts her icom band to her mouth “Okay we’re coming Qwis, get another drink or something” he looks up at him apologetically “Qwis says he wants an intro with your old man” she says. Lam snorted dismissively at this.

Qwis the joker. Qwis the city slicker. Lam wondered why Alys let him hang around her, part of her professional network of rich-kids he supposed, suppressing a flash of jealousy for the evidently close (and tolerant) relationship of Qwis and Alys- old friends she said, its not like that between us she said, but old, and close. He wished he was close, he wished she had been in his life for much more of it, much earlier then now, before he had become this hollow man, this puppet for paranoid and arrogant mindsets.

He wished he was past the many barriers with her, past the distrustful questions he must ask, and his watchful standoffishness, past all the baggage of being his fathers son, the Landowner, Founder Elite, old-money nationalist, touchy and unsociable and old-fashioned, he wished he was past himself with her, and when he held her like this he was. That’s it he realized in an a small awakening, bathed in the light of those deep black eyes, she delivered him beyond himself, she made his wish come true.
"I want to go to Mainfacs with you" he states suddenly, determined to break through somehow, cross the barrier, be in her life "I want to er... see how you city people live" he covers. She shakes her head smiling "All in good time" she hugs him, her smile is expectant, and close- very close, he kisses her- breathes in her smell, they break for a moment- and gently kiss again, longer this time, bodies making dynamic contact beneath their clothes and generating a desperate kind of energy. There is no more talk; there are just the newfound lovers, the cloudy crescent of the gas-giant and the high star-strewn sky, and beyond even this, the glowing Toraura flowing, beyond the world and silent.

13-06-2002, 17:09:09
Sre Yone.

They arrived at the village before the dawn, in the hour of the Toruara while she slept, in her home beneath a softly dancing sky.

Some solar radiations from the blue sun penetrate the vast aura that is the magnetosphere of Tor- and are caught by the much smaller bubble orbiting within a bubble that is Tor9s magnetosphere. Far less expansive relative to Tors fields, but crucially strong enough to withstand the energies of both sun and gas-world, the captured iron-cored Tor9 projects a strong but distorted field of its own.
Although squashed by the gas-giants influences, Tor9s field and outer layers of rarefied matter are strong enough to shield the surface of the moon, and making the world viable for human life. The charged particles from the blue-star and radiation from the gas-giant get caught in eddies of energy, magnetism, and matter, the resultant photon emitting complex of behaviours create the magnificent spectacle of the 'Toraura'.

For over two hours before and after Yaris rises and sets, shifting ghosts of red, gold, blue and green enlighten the sky.
These rivers of light flow across the infinite starry dome from west to the east. Sometimes the swathes of glowing energy, would take on the patterns on the surface of running water, sometimes shifting and swaying and undulating like huge sheets of silky luminescence blown by vast eternal gales.

The Toraura-in the poetic mode of the ages old Starchild language spoken by the settlements founders, was called Sre Yone, which literally translated to "Spirits in the sky".
Sre Yone was the name of her home.

She had been a child when she lived in Sre Yone, tall enough to look down on the kitchen table without standing on her toes. She had lived with her father- her mother had died when she was born, so she had never known her- but not once had she ever felt short of love or attention from her dotting father, or the extended family of the close knit village.

The raids were still a new phenomenon back then, so the community had been totally unprepared for what happened the morning she left. She had been asleep when they came, and so had not been amongst the few early risers- going about their pre-dawn chores- to see the dark silent forms emerge from the banks of blue alterflora trees, and moving through the long grass towards the group of habitats from the direction of the un-farmed hilly wilderness to the west.

The first shouts of alarm rang out when like night creatures sent by the spirits of light flowing above, the paramilitaries arrived amongst the buildings themselves, walking through the gardens and walkways of the settlement itself, assault rifles held casual and ready. Sounds of fear and anger began to rise throughout the village, and the fighters began to add their voices to those of the residents, barking commands as they began to search through the houses. By the time she had been awoken by a man shouting and banging on the side of the habitat, gunshots had only just begun to fill the air- and then came an explosion that rocked the habitat.

Her father had come running into her room moments later, glancing at her- and then checking the blanked-off window, he had an antique handgun in one hand- and was dressed only in his worn out old work slacks and their boot-ends.
"Stay here, under the bed" he had told her, controlled anxiety in his voice, and fear in his eyes he disappeared behind the door. She had done as she was told, scrambling down and hiding under the bed- and listened throughout the long minutes of weapons discharges that responded to the settlements meagre resistance. The settlement consisted of too few people, and was too poor to be able to afford to resist the thirty heavily armed fighters who were already in command, positioning themselves in complete tactical control, covering every doorway and vantage point.

More moments past as she waited there, under the bed, her heart thundering in her chest as she listened to the shouting and screams outside. Suddenly a series of heavy thumbs on the wall of the habitat- like a body being bashed against it, and garbled yelling and an angry voice- and then more yelling and more collisions.
And then laughter, from other voices, and sobbing, she was sure it was her father.
She had pulled further under the bed then- her face a mask of anguish- terror gripping her entirety. She wanted to run out to her father, terror and love wanted her to go to him but that was where the shouting men were. Stay here he had said.

Noises came from outside her room, the briefest moment of elation flashed through her when she thought it might be her father returning, and then the door smashed open- and from her vantage point under the bed, dirt-worn boots beneath dark brown fatigues moved quickly about the room before stopping before the gap beneath her bed. A moment passed before finally, a gloved hand splayed itself on the floor and a thin weather-beaten face with hard predator eyes stared immediately into her soul.

The small population of Sre Yone had been gathered in the middle of the settlement, centred in the middle of a ring of mobility-habitats. Everyone was on their knees, huddled in a group with their hands behind their heads and encircled by the fighters who stood around in broad stances of contemptuous self-confidence, totting their rifles. Some of the villagers looked badly beaten, and she saw at least one body, lying at the foot of a doorway. As the fighter that had found her dragged her towards them she noticed her father- his head held down by one of the fighters who had a firm grip in his hair. Her eyes caught his- saw despair on his face as he was dragged away.

The children of the village were separated from the adults, all dragged up by fighters and pushed to the ground in either of the two groups. The same unbearable sight of terror on the face of her father painted the faces of all the village adults she could see, and confusion on the faces of her cousins and friends. The fighters were silent as they quickly went about the grim sorting, shouting only when they beat the parents that tried to resist.
For long moments, under the light of the sky spirits they knelt, shivering in the still and chilly air with the blackness of the hills in one direction and the dark wall that was the plains in the other, she starred at the dusty ground before her and cried silently. No thoughts raced through her mind, only an intolerable dread that filled her chest and sat like a weight in her gut.

13-06-2002, 17:09:33
Once the children had been grouped together, one of the fighters that had watched and occasionally parked commands came over and stared at them for a moment. He was no older then Marion, Ben’s older brother, he was the size of a man but his face was smooth. He held his weapon unconcernedly by his side, and seemed to be counting them. Then he started picking some of them out, grabbing a boy and pushing him to the side, where another fighter came and held him by the shoulder. The first fighter then stooped to grab another child, and then another. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to be as small as she could, but a hand roughly grabbed her by the arm and pulled her effortlessly to her feet. She was shoved over to stand with the group of other children, her cousin Shryl, and her best friend Ben, and Yatobe and Ceanu and a few others. Their wrists were bound in front of them with tough plastic bands- and connected to a long pole with loops along its side. The young gunman held a loop at the end of the pole like a handle.

One of the fighters, started to speak. She saw it was one of them that had stood by until now- he held his rifle with the stock hitched at an angle against his hip- almost like her father had sometimes used to carry her. His voice was course, nasal, harsh- and he barked the beginnings of sentences and names when he talked.

"People of Sre Yone, We are members of the Restored Army of Freedom Brigade.
Your children have been conscripted in the cause of the True Freedom State, and your sacrifice is noted.”

At this there were shouts, panicked voices raised querulously- shrill pleading from mothers and fathers. Fighters started to beat people with their guns. After awhile there was silence again and the speaker continued

“Before- the enemies of free human beings, the Feudalists and their Union co-conspirators considered you Squatters, Trespassers, Land-thieves, Illegals...
We say you are human beings- men and women with a right to Freedom. You are paying for that freedom now... investing some of your future in your future freedom.
In reward for your hard sacrifice, you are now made citizens... of the True Freedom State. You are under Our Protection. “

Hw paused for a moment, letting this sink in, and then continued again

“Occasionally… Donations shall be collected to aid in the support of we- the Restored Army of Freedom Brigade- your Children’s army, in support of the Doctrines For A Perfect History and the True Freedom State, and you will be left in peace, and freedom, as is your Inalienable Right."

Shots were fired and Adebe's father- who had gotten up and began to run towards his son, suddenly spun backwards, his arm flung out and he fell on his chest. He began to move on the ground, grunting in pain. The speaker had drawn a long bayonet from its sheath against his thy, and approached the downed man.

"This man is not a Patriot of our cause, he is a Traitor, to your Children, to your Nation- to Freedom, and he will be executed for his crime. The rest of you will live to know that your children are brave Soldiers for the True Freedom State, Noble Servants of the Perfect History"

With that he set himself, and slammed the blade down against the fallen mans neck, there was an abrupt scream from the people of the settlement- cut off into appalled silence as the fighter lifted the severed head into the air, so that everyone could see. For horrific moments, blood poured from its cleanly severed neck. None of the people moved as the other fighters began to drag the children away, back in the direction from which they had come.

She looked back as she and the other children were dragged away, streaming desperate tears and pulling against the restraining cord, but another fighter- one of the older ones, came and started pushing them along, kicking and barking ruthlessly to make them move.

The speaker was still standing with feet set apart, bayonet in one hand and the severed head raised high, blood reduced to a trickle from the slightly angled cut. His cold black eyes moved from face to face amongst the adults, teenagers and children left behind, daring them to defy the warning of the head. Some of his fighters remained spaced around him, maintaining a rearguard as the fighters and children disappeared into the night.

The long grass closed around them, the wiry stems pressing into her feet through the leg-ends of the bedsuit, she kept trying to look back and find her father amongst the pale defeated faces of the gathered people of Sre Yone, but could not see him.

She looked back one more time- just before they entered the thick alterflora- when the speaker and his guards finally flung the head aside, turning away from the village to follow after them, heard the first angst ridden wails emanating from the village, saw the scattered columns of smoke from the earlier explosion rising into the air. The settlement was part of a dreamscape, small and alone at the foot of the hills before the brutally featureless black plain filling the horizon like a wall- all laid beneath the twisting lights of a many-coloured burning sky.
That was the last morning of her childhood, and the dawn of things to come.

14-06-2002, 19:14:36