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Taken from my WIP:
Her security system confirmed his arrival; it scanned not only every molecule in his body but also analyzed his DNA down to the base-pair level. Zerrana had read an account of how Roidon had once been cloned – or perhaps replicated was the correct word – by the Elusivers, just in the same way as had Toramin.
Roidon looked young, possibly no older than naturally thirty. No one needed to look over twenty-one, but many who wanted to convey a sense of authority or were chronologically older than fifty chose the compromise of about thirty-five. It was funny how throughout previous millennia the appearance of age had such a huge influence on how one was treated. Sometimes humans and B’tari alike preferred to look younger simply because they did not want to bear the responsibility of maturity – what society expected of them, standards to be maintained. While the embarrassments of youth faded with much less in jeopardy, it seemed that middle-age was the most difficult time: the expectations of achievement, so commonly felt to have fallen short. At least this had always been typical of the human male.
So what was Roidon trying to convey now: a sense of not wanting to be loaded by such responsibility? No, it had to be because he felt it maximized his chance with the opposite sex – having the edge on his rivals. But maybe, she reflected, that was too simplistic an analysis. After all, he no longer had any human rivals on this planet.
The door to her suite would have opened automatically but she chose to let him in personally. Have to remember, she reminded herself, this is about business, a colleague – helping a colleague.
He presented to her a bottle. A bottle of wine, with a somewhat mischievous smile, knowing the symbolism in this. Was he playing with her?
“Roidon I,” she began. “A bottle of white—“
“Yes it was, you remember, one of my stipulations for returning to this earth. One of my indulgences. But it would seem sad to drink it alone.”
And so it begins, she thought. “You’d better come in,” she said, in a flat tone, hoping not to sound too inviting. “I’m not one for alcohol,” she added. “It may not agree with my constitution.”
“Most B’tari can process alcohol as well as we human types,” Roidon reminded her.
“You been doing your research, have you?”
“Oh, I know this from personal experience.”
“I bet you do!”
“Zerrana. I am most grateful for your offer to allow me to stay. This bottle of wine is simply a gesture of gratitude,” he said as he followed her into the dining room.
“And gratefully accepted, Roidon.” She did a sweeping gesture at the dining table, a very basic layout of cutlery. She was very conscious not to make it seem like she had gone to any special effort. “I was about to have my supper. I think I can spare some for you. I can put the wine in cold storage for now.”
Roidon nodded reluctantly. Zerrana indicated towards an old-style door. “Make yourself at home,” she suggested. “It will be a while yet.”
“That’s fine,” he said. “But if you need any help with anything.”
“No. Unless you want something more than scrambled egg on toast.” Suitably basic human food, she thought. That wouldn’t really go with the wine, would it?
“My favourite,” he said brightly, which may have been a false cheeriness.
In the kitchen Zerrana assembled the various cooking items: saucepan, spatula, eggs, butter – for a start. Even something as basic as scrambled egg still seemed a bit daunting to cook. Human food still took some getting used to, certainly anything that qualified for cuisine. The standard B’tari process would be to simply replicate it from a preprogrammed memory. But for some reason humans had stuck to the old process of cooking even when the automated process had been available to them for many decades. The process of preparation could be done optimally if automated; so it had seemed curious that any advanced species had elevated the old method to some kind of exalted status. It was as if they enjoyed the labour of it, but she suspected it was something more: a demonstration of skill, a statement of … well, love – or maybe respect. Cooking to some was an art-form, it was competitive. It wasn’t that food was something the B’tari had merely regarded as a means to survival (which, she mused, was probably how the now currently most advanced human lifeforms did regard it). No, eating for her people had had a recreational component for millennia. But why have it less than optimally prepared?
She imagined Roidon imagining her struggling right now, becoming stressed right now. And he’d be feeling a sense of amusement at that thought. Because of course he would know how to cook, he’d know it well. At some point it would have been used as a strategy for seducing a female, just another skill set in his armory. But Zerrana was determined she was not going to give him the satisfaction of intervening. Of being helped. Of succumbing of to whatever trick he had used on all those others. (Perhaps those felt too ashamed to include such accounts for his psyche report. There were only the rumours.)
So, it may be basic. But it would be just right.
“Computer,” she whispered. “Inform me when I have cooked this scrambled egg to optimum taste level … for a human.”…….
Posting new work is always a risk for many reasons. Anyone unfamiliar with my fiction may be surprised by how dark or bleak it can get; after all, this is about someone who wants to die. Anyway this is a novel in its early stages, which may end up very different. Or never even be completed.
The snow, the extreme cold, the lack of air. He loved it all. As near to oblivion as it was possible to get and still feel alive. For here, trudging on ever higher, everything could fade into insignificance. That was his hope. Time after time.
It no longer seemed death was the worse thing of all. No, he reflected, the worse thing of all: the loneliness. Alone because they all go in the end. And the ones that don’t die, they just age. Now with the right treatment those can remain physically young. But people grow apart. And they move on. That’s what life’s about: moving on to the next thing, the next career. Even love fades when it had seemed permanent, friendships lose their meaning when life’s trajectories differ inevitably. No avoiding that inevitable arc towards the end however much you try to stretch it. You hope you figure it out before then. Usually only near towards the end, so he heard it said. All those lessons learnt, all that wisdom accumulated … and so much forgotten.
For Toramin there was no discernible arc. Toramin had no end of existence to look forward to, unless by some extreme act of self destruction. To think you had reached the end, only to have it denied. The things inside working diligently to restore him to proper working order. The ravages of old age, once a curse, now something to envy. Saved from all that for a special purpose.
The snow denser now, swirling, obscuring his vision. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t see, he knew the terrain already, kept moving higher, rarely getting beyond this point. The one time he had, it was … beautiful. Not a rational word it seemed now to describe the slipping away into oblivion. But that was entirely the point: all this rational, analytical – if subjective – thinking faded to pure experience. Now, still, he could enumerate the process of his mind shutting down.
Higher. But unfamiliar. Cold setting into motion his defence nanites, mindlessly restoring his body to homeostasis, boosting blood-flow, repairing damaged flesh. Eventually they would require an external energy source to recharge. In this desolate environ it hardly seemed possible there’d be anything they could extract. But even here, devoid of sun and solid fossil fuel, there are molecules rich in energy from which they could siphon.
Yet there did come a point when the cold, lack of nourishment, lack of oxygen could finally take him. And although he tried everything to evade them, he failed. Well, this time maybe different.
Hours passed, he ambled on. Stumbled but refused to rest, refused to let those things do their job, extract their energy. They were intelligent enough to know not to extract it from him while he was on reserves. And so, in abeyance, the damage accumulated.
He fell finally. Lay there. Felt it all fading. Thought he’d be allowed to die. And hoped when saw the white clad figure before him – like a man made from snow – that it was merely a hallucination. He even tried to dismiss the words.
‘Toramin. You thought we’d leave you here? Is that really what you want?’
‘Yes,’ he thought he managed to reply. But knew he would not get his wish. Not even after eight hundred and twenty-seven years.
What remained was now suspended in a tank, had been for the last two-hundred and thirty Earth years. She would visit him once a week. Him, Zerrana thought, never it. Sometimes the high commander referred to him as an it, and she had no qualms about correcting him on that point, knowing she would not be reprimanded for that.
‘No, he wouldn’t dare, would he, Roidon?’
Roidon did have a speech synthesizer but these days no longer bothered to use it. He seemed to have existed ever since the B’tari had left their homeworld for Earth. No one could know if he even wanted to continue. This was one of the rare times he was not hooked up virtualator, a rare time in reality. Vital signs no longer even showed depression – there were no significant readings to indicate any emotion. She guessed he wasn’t too pleased to be ripped out of his virtual fantasy back to this banality. Still, it was part of the requirement, otherwise. Well, otherwise what was the point in being in this organic state? Roidon had ‘earned’ his immortal status for so so many years of service – thousands of years. And each time he was brought back did he ever feel privileged to be the oldest organic sentient in the galaxy? No. Of course not. He was a relic of a bygone age, a reminder of how powerful the B’tari once were before the erasure, the patriarchal benefactors of a really quite small part of the Milkyway galaxy. Roidon was the lie they told themselves. The myth that lives.
Roidon’s auditory sensor was fully online. Zerrana’s throat felt thoroughly dry despite taking frequent sips of water. She just had to get straight to the point.
‘Mr Chanley. Roidon, if I may. They want to bring you back, give you a body. They have something they need doing. Our representative needs some assistance.’
Now his neural patterns were redlining. Something, a noise, rumbling from the audio out unit. A growl. How may years, she wondered, since he had even said a word?
‘Roidon,’she said. ‘This is your chance to return.’
‘Return. Return to my virtual world is what I want.’
‘So you can forget who you really are? Live a lie?’ Zerrana was was disappointed. She had to admit to herself. This was the legendary Roidon Chanley, after all.
‘Yes,’ he rumbled. ‘That’s exactly it. Not that there is a definitive me. Belief in that was always a delusion – the lie we tell ourselves.’
‘There is a man like you who has lost his way. Forgotten who he is, and his true objective. He can’t complete the mission alone any more.’
‘Mission,’ he boomed. ‘There is always a mission.’
‘We’re nearly there. We – they think things can be restored.’
‘They thought as much a millennium ago.’
* * *
Back in the bright white place where they made him recover. No choice in the matter, he thought grimly. Just keep bringing me back from the brink like some suicidal teenager who doesn’t know their own mind, or what’s best for them.
At times like this, when some cognitive function failed, he would think of his brain as one of those ancient obsolete computers. The hardware – the base processor – had never been upgraded. Memory capacity similarly remained the same – the RAM struggling to cope with the level of input, permanent memory pushed to its limit. Storing new memories required some to be lost in the rewrite process, or in most cases fragmented to the point where they seemed to merge with newer ones to become types and things of likeness rather than specific events or facts. For that’s what the brain does: compress, break down into generalities. Yet why was it that the most embarrassing or shameful experiences, especially those debauched misdeeds, seemed to remain permanently present? Eventually the shiny sharpness of them does fade, like an ageing tableau washed under the stormy tides of life, becoming just another part of the landscape. Perhaps these memories had to remain, as lessons. But he wasn’t convinced. He’d heard of a technique to excise some troubling neural engrams. Still an experimental practice; still only considered for those who’d been through real trauma.
And what of the software? He imagined it as something less definable: his personality
The nanites ran fixes on neurological damage but only beyond a certain threshold – that which would lead to an imminent death. To remain human without artificial addenda only this minimum could be done.
It was not that he was immortal; no one could truly live for ever. Nonetheless he’d put his lifespan in terms of many hundreds of years to over a thousand. One thing his benefactors had not anticipated back then: there is eventually a decline. The wetware, like the hardware of a computer, just becomes less efficient. He felt the decline now but for a while, had been in denial about it. Not just forgetting the past. He was … forgetting, becoming absent-minded, failing to recognise faces, objects, anything that didn’t strike him as being out of the ordinary. Becoming blind to the outside world. The software kept updating to accommodate.
If you liked this try my previous novel The Captured